All the way back in 1978 writers Pat Mills, John Wagner and Chris Lowder, as well as artists Mike McMahon and Brian Bolland, took Judge Dredd on an epic quest through the Cursed Earth. A radioactive wasteland, the Cursed Earth was once the middle of America until it was completely destroyed in the Atomic Wars of 2070. Through the pages of the legendary British weekly science-fiction anthology, 2000AD, the creative team ran Dredd through a gauntlet of horrible trials through this wasteland. All for the noble cause of saving Mega City Two from a horrible virus plague.
From crazed mutants to vampire robots, Dredd faced it all. But there are a handful of chapters we haven’t been able to read since original publication. Until now. And it’s all thanks to McDonald’s and a small handful of others.
First of all, why is Dredd trekking through such a horrible place? He’s been tasked to deliver the cure for a virus which turns its victims into a violent mob which has been plaguing Mega City Two. (Mega City Two is pretty much where California is, while Dredd is based on the East Coast). They’d usually fly over there, but the airports have been taken over. So it’s up to a brave crew to take it by foot through some of the most dangerous and demented parts of America. Dredd naturally volunteers for the mission, bringing along with him a convicted criminal; a few fellow judges; robots; and a motley crew of others they meet along the way.
While the main focus of this is to talk about one of the more famous elements of this epic saga I don’t want to discount the rest of it. There’s truly interesting ideas which create this extended storyline.
He’ll have to handle a vicious storm of rats, which rain down on the violent winds of garbage.
He’ll rumble with blood-sucking vampire robots.
And he’ll face the Slay Riders – science fiction metaphors of the slave catchers of the Deep South in the Pre-Civil War Era.
By now you think that all of that can’t be topped. Well, you’re wrong. The chapters I’m about to discuss are some of the most outrageous and you’ll soon see why McDonald’s didn’t want anyone to read them.
So, after enduring so much already on his noble cross country quest, Dredd’s armoured vehicle brakes down and it will require a few hours to fix. Luckily, Dredd and the others are on the outskirts of a town so they decide to ride over there to suss it out. While it might seem like an ordinary town, trouble is brewing not too far away. That’s when The Burger King arrives.
As the name suggests, he is a guy in a crown who resembles the Burger King mascot. But unlike the well groomed mascot of the real world, this Burger King has dirty and unruly looking, with a wild hair and shaggy beard.
He’s not the only one to appear too. Soon after a vicious and crazed looking Ronald McDonald joins the conflict. This isn’t your smiley Ronald we’re used to seeing. He’s a more like the Joker in a Ronald McDonald costume and equipped with a gun and not afraid to use it.
The two demented mascots and their armies soon duke it out and it’s soon apparent to Dredd what the conflict is about. Each side is battling for dominance over customers, no matter the cost. Even if that means killing a few of them along the way. Dredd, caught in the middle of this by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, is captured by the McDonald’s camp and becomes their “captive customer.” Without spoiling too much, Dredd is able to escape as well as survive a run in with the Burger King camp too.
Not only do they show their characters in a less than savoury light, it also showed the rivalry of the two business at the time. While it might seem odd today, in 1978 McDonald’s and Burger King were not as dominant as they are now. It was still the wild west for fast food chains and their were still plenty of places in which the two could set-up shop. It was essentially a battle for customers. 2000AD thought this corporate battle for dominance was worth satirising. Although, I’m sure the fast food giants would think otherwise.
The publisher’s lawyer’s seeing that they could be in for a lengthy legal battle due to the use of the characters and their representation decided that they could never republish the chapters again. They also had to publish a statement in the magazine apologising.
While it’s a less than flattering parody of the fast food giants, it’s not one that would’ve them any harm. Companies of that magnitude deserved to be parodied, even it casts them in a negative light. At the time of publication McDonald’s had close to 5000 restaurants world wide, so any parody from a niche science fiction magazine were not likely to do any damage. Although, they definitely wouldn’t have liked the fact that Ronald McDonald shoots dead a member of his family in cold blood, so at the same time I can see why the lawyers would’ve been nervous.
All of their effort into getting it banned has all been undone as these chapters have seen the light of day once again. How? In 2014 Europe’s copyright law changed to accommodate parody. This meant that copyrighted characters, such as Ronald McDonald, and brands could be parodied without the fear of being sued.
As a result, 2000AD released a nice hardcover collecting the Cursed Earth in its entirety, completely uncensored for the very first time.
Is it worth the read? It definitely is.
Not just for the curiosity factor of the fast food mascots, but for many other reasons. There’s plenty of great ideas throughout, such as the ones listed earlier, which are told on a grand scale over 25 thrilling chapters. It also has some of the earliest work from legendary artist Brian Bolland. If you’ve read any of his work before you’ll know what I’m talking about and it’s even better when he goes all out in black and white.
* Jolly Green Giant was not parodied in these particular chapters but were in a pair that followed a few weeks later.
NOTE: An earlier version of this article claims that the publisher was sued, when in fact it was the publisher’s lawyers who decided to never republish the chapters. Kids, this is why you shouldn’t use Wikipedia to do research.