Today I’ve got another Unseen Influences for you all. The previous two articles in this series are by far the most popular and visited posts on Warp Signal as of now, and I’m really pleased to be able to write about something that so many of you seem so interested in. Thank you all for taking the time to read.
I’m going to talk today about the British comic book publisher 2000AD, and the sometimes overlooked influences that their works had on the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Many of you will know of 2000AD primarily through the iconic character Judge Dredd, but the books actually follow a multitude of characters in the same universe as Dredd, as well as (in more recent times) other universes such as the mythological Celtic world of the barbarian Slaine.
Of course it’s Dredd and his cohorts who we are talking about today. At first glance it may seem as though the influence of 2000AD on Warhammer 40,000 is limited to that hallowed Imperial institution, the Adeptus Arbites. It’s not hard to see that the Arbitrators in 40k, who were quite commonly referred to as “judges” in the older background, are dead ringers for the Judges in the 2000AD universe. Both are exceptionally trained and deadly law enforcement officers, barracked in fortified precincts. They could both be better described as paramilitaries rather than police. Both will not hesitate to use extreme force to prosecute criminals, and they have the power (at least in theory) to reach out and touch anyone who breaks the law, without a trial.
These similarities were far more obvious in the early days of 40k, when Arbitrators were frequently shown wearing the distinctive half-face helm and padded shoulder armour of Judge Dredd. Today, Arbitrators are not referred to as “judges” so often in 40k Black Library fiction, and authors are always very careful to show that the Arbites do not enforce everyday order, only Imperial Law, whatever that may be. In my opinion, all this is mainly to distance them from 2000AD. The merciless judge, jury and executioner role still exists in modern 40k lore, but it has largely shifted to the Inquisition.
As always, there are subtler influences still. Back in the late 70s and early 80s, when 2000AD was making their name, they did so mainly through their reputation for ultra-violence. British comics did not have to follow the Comics Code that had restricted American comics for so long and created the “kid’s book” perception that they are still trying to shake today. Judge Dredd was merciless and the violence was graphic, over the top and silly, and the GW studio absorbed it into their new sci-fi game with relish. Combat chainsaws, pointy hood-wearing religious fanatics, secretive mutants and illegal psychics all abound in 2000AD before 1980.
Not only that, I think a good case can be made that the concept of the 40k hive city owes a lot to Mega City One, the vast, continent spanning metropolis where Dredd keeps order. Without 2000AD and Judge Dredd, not only would there be no Arbites in 40k, there would probably be no Necromunda. And no Inquisition, mutants and psykers as we know them.
If Dune gave 40k it’s science-fantasy identity, 2000AD gave the Imperium the dystopian and sometimes darkly humorous feel that makes it such a powerful and distinctive setting.