Welcome to the 889th installment of Comic Book Legends Revealed, a column where we examine three comic book myths, rumors and legends and confirm or debunk them. This time, in a RoboCop theme week, our second legend is about whether RoboCop was originally written as a Judge Dredd movie before being changed into RoboCop instead.
One of the things that people often struggle with as a concept is the idea of the pastiche (an artistic work in a style that imitates that of another work, artist, or period). I mean, don’t get me wrong, I think people generally understand what a pastiche is, but for whatever reason, when pastiches are actually put into place, it very quickly turns into a case of people thinking that “Piece of pop culture X that is a pastiche of piece of pop culture Y was originally intended to be about piece of pop culture Y before it became piece of pop culture X!” And hey, I won’t front, that sort of thing actually DOES happen all of the time, from Rob Liefeld using his unused Captain America stories as Fighting American stories to Barry Windsor-Smith taking his unused third LifeDeath story and turning it into an original graphic novel, instead (Windsor-Smith also did this with an unpublished Hulk story that became his recent, critically acclaimed graphic novel, Monster).
However, there’s probably a bit too quick of a trigger on people thinking that this sort of thing is happening, as it is still fairly rare, while pastiches are VERY common. In any event, long story short, this brings us to today’s legend, about whether the classic film, RoboCop, was originally written as a Judge Dredd film before the rights couldn’t be acquired, and so it was altered to become RoboCop. That does not appear to be the case.
Was RoboCop originally a Judge Dredd movie?
Simply put, it is obvious that Judge Dredd was an influence on the creation of RoboCop. In many ways, RoboCop was a direct riff on Judge Dredd. However, that doesn’t mean that it was literally written as a Judge Dredd movie at first.
In an interview by Clarie Shaffer for Newsweek, she asked RoboCop creator Edward Neumeier about the influence of comic books like Judge Dredd on RoboCop:
A lot has changed in the film industry since RoboCop. Comic book movies are now the norm for blockbusters, but in 1987, when you looked to comic books like Judge Dredd for inspiration, it was still a pretty newfound idea. When you decided, “I’m going to write a film about this robot cop,” what made you decide to turn to comic books instead of Isaac Asimov or George Orwell or any of the sci-fi writers?
The comic book thing came to me because I was a reader at Columbia Pictures. My story editor, John Byers, gave me a stack of comic books one day. I think they were Green Arrow. I had had comic books in my childhood, but they were, like, Donald Duck and Huey, Dewey and Louie. I was not a superhero guy. But he gave me a bunch of comic books because someone had said, “Could we do a superhero movie about this?” Now Superman had been a hit, but it had kind of faded. And comics were going through a bit of a second coming. Guys like Frank Miller were coming up. Suddenly comic books were getting serious cred. And I thought, There’s a style here. The way people act, the way they talk, the behavior…. It’s kind of dumb, but it’s fun in that way too.
He then noted:
[RoboCop] producer Jon Davison, unlike many others, understood that immediately. And then the director [Paul Verhoeven] came in, and at first said, “Well, why is this so dumb? Why is this so America?” And then he went and read some comic books, and he came back, and he said, “Oh, I see. I see what we’re doing.” And he really did. He recently said, in an interview, that nobody understands that the reason RoboCop works is because it’s funny. The humor, the tone, is what allows it to have this potent mix of entertainment and ideas.
In addition, Neumeier wrote the screenplay for RoboCop with another writer, Michael Miner, after Neumeier discovered that Miner had an idea for a film called SuperCop. Miner recalled to Esquire, “Ed was looking at a package of student films, and mine was among them. We talked on the phone, and decided to have lunch, which is when we realized we were working on similar ideas. Ed’s idea was called RoboCop, mine was called SuperCop. So we sat down, nights and weekends. And in three months, we had a spec script, in December 1984.”I’ve previously shown that their film treatment was from 1984, as well…Neumeier apparently looked into getting the rights of Judge Dredd in the early 1980s, after they had been acquired by Charles Lippincott. Lippincott executive Susan Nicoletti recalled (courtesy of poster sans saisons on the 2000 AD forums), “In 1985, we started talking to comic book writers and fans. Jan Strand, I think, was the first writer. The first comic book fan was Ed Neumeier, who was a fan of DREDD. Charley was in Ed’s office and saw either DREDD comic books or DREDD posters, and it turned out that Ed had tried to buy the rights, but couldn’t, because, you know, we had them. And, of course, he went on to co-write ROBOCOP, which borrowed liberally, to say the least, from DREDD.”Again, if it was 1985, Neumeier and Miner had already written RoboCop by that point. So was Neumeier inspired by his plans to get the rights to Judge Dredd? Sure, that’s totally believable, but that’s not the same thing as “He had a Judge Dredd script that he re-worked into RoboCop,” because there WASN’T a RoboCop script until Neumeier wrote it with Miner in 1984.
What’s the deal with the Judge Dredd sculpt of RoboCop?
There’s an amazing shot of an early RoboCop sculpt in 1987 by Rob Bottin that is literally Judge Dredd…It’s a very funny photo, but, again, this was 1987. The movie was going into production AS RoboCop. So at worst, this was Bottin using Judge Dredd’s design as an inspiration for the RoboCop suit design, and at best, this was Bottin just making a joke about the similarities between Judge Dredd and RoboCop. It has nothing to do with RoboCop originally being a Judge Dredd film.
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