On History: The Fist of Dredd
But why exactly is that first of Dredd panel so powerful?
Introduced in 1977, Judge Dredd had been spent his first three years fighting mostly forgettable perps. He dispensed justice in his typically cold, ruthless fashion, and the backdrop of Mega City One allowed for some insightful commentary for contemporary British culture. But readers hadn't really seen much in terms of a recurring bad guy. No Mean Machine or even Chopper yet, just a stream of virtually nameless, interchangeable antagonists.
Then, in early 1980, John Wagner and Brian Bolland introduced Judge Death. He acted like a dark version of the Judges; he believed that all crimes were committed by the living, so killing everyone would therefore prevent all crime. Naturally, this put him at odds with Dredd. However, the challenge was that Judge Death was a spirit that could travel from host body to host body, making even capture difficult. After a challenging chase, he was only able to be captured by Psi-Judge Anderson willingly letting him take possession of her body, allowing her to hold him in place long enough to be completely encased in a gelantinous-like substance called Boing, which seemed to keep the spirit imprisoned as well. Anderson's body, still encased in Boing, was laid to rest for sacrificing herself in line the of duty.
A year later, Judge Death was released by his companions: Judges Fear, Mortis, and Fire. The four of them then start a killing spree, murdering literally every person they come in contact with. The Judges are once again called on, and they soon find that Boing is very combustible, thus allowing Judge Fire to render it unusable. Every weapon they have is effectively useless, while the Dark Judges continue their rampage.
Eventually Judges Dredd and Andreson confront Judge Fear, who has been killing his victims by opening his mask and forcing them to gaze into fear itself. The sheer terror kills them almost instantly. Judge Fear captures Anderson in a mantrap (basically one of those jaw-clamp-looking bear traps) and assaults Dredd directly, grasping his head and forcing him to "gaze into the face of Fear!"
Readers then come to the end of the page with a lingering caption that reads, "For a moment the icy chill of terror courses down Dredd's spine. The shock of this gaze can kill an ordinary man--"
But damn if Dredd isn't going to try.
And that is why the "Gaze into the fist of Dredd!" panel is so powerful, despite a rather static and flat angle. It's not the punch itself that was so compelling, but everything that led up to it.