So while it could end up taking years for a “Dredd” sequel to happen, Adi Shankar — who was also a producer on the 2012 “Dredd” film — has taken matters into his own hands with his animated bootleg “Dredd” series, “Superfiend,” which debuted yesterday.
The “Superfiend” series is six episodes long, with each installment being about ten minutes in length, and it features Dredd battling his ultimate enemies, the Dark Judges, four apparitions who could easily destroy the world if Dredd doesn’t stop them. If it were to become a big screen feature, it could make an even more insane battle than Christopher Reeve going up against General Zod and the space villains in “Superman II,” (for one thing, the Dark Judges are a much more morbid, ghastly, and lethal bunch than your usual super villains, and a knock down drag out brawl through a major metropolitan area could really get messy). But as it turns out, “Superfiend” has a much different, wilder vibe.
As Shankar told Indiewire, “I’m a massive animation fan. Many years ago, before I’d even made a movie yet, I wanted to start an animation company that focused on making R-rated animation. I wanted to make ‘Akira,’ ‘Ghost in the Shell’ for adults. I think it’s kinda weird that if you look at the genesis of animation in the west, for the most part, you have a lot of animation right now, but it’s ‘South Park,’ ‘Simpsons,’ ‘Bob’s Burgers,’ Adult Swim, it’s almost all comedies and sitcoms. Where is the American ‘Akira’? Where is the American ‘Ghost in the Shell’?”
Indeed, “Superfiend” definitely has an early ‘80’s adult animation vibe — think of the 1981 movie “Heavy Metal,” or the work of Ralph Bakshi (“Fritz the Cat”). But at the same time, Shankar also drew from the animated superhero cartoons he grew up with, making a pretty wild stew in the process.
“I’m 29, so my formative years were the ’90s,” he explains. “In the ‘90s, every single sci-fi based superhero, or superhero team, had an animated series. You had ‘X-Men’ the animated series, even obscure characters like ‘Wildcats,’ ‘Ultraforce’… the whole idea was to mash up all these different styles. We wanted it to look like a throw back to ‘90’s MTV, kind of like a kid’s cartoon, and play up the satire of it. It made sense that to kind of give Judge Dredd and the Mega City One universe his own animated world.”
Shankar has created four bootleg universe stories so far, including “The Punisher: Dirty Laundry,” which starred Thomas Jane, and “Truth in Journalism,” which was shot in black and white. When Marvel started doing “one shot” superhero stories like “Agent Carter,” Shankar’s bootleg of “The Punisher” got a lot of attention by proving that a fan can take the reigns and make their own comic adaptations as well. (The Marvel one shots have become so popular that fans were disappointed to learn there wouldn’t be on the “Guardians of the Galaxy” Blu-ray.)
As Shankar wrote on his YouTube page, “The ‘Bootleg Universe’ is my way of creatively reinterpreting the characters I love without red tape.”
“The moment things become in the fan realm, you don’t deal with as much nonsense. It’s a lot easier,” he told Indiewire. And as you may recall back in 2011, a young director with $7,500 brought ‘Mortal Kombat’ back as a web series, and it became wildly popular, proving that the fans have tremendous power in reviving a franchise.
Shankar couldn’t recall exactly when the idea of doing superhero bootlegs first dawned on him, but when he was making “The Voices” with Ryan Reynolds in Germany, he remembered thinking, “Oh my God, wouldn’t it be hilarious if Ryan and I went and made a ‘Deadpool’ bootleg?”
Then he visited the Robot Chicken studios at the urging of his friend Seth Green. “I remember going there, looking at all the stop motion stuff and going, ‘Wow, this is really great.’ And I remembered thinking Judge Dredd would be really cool if it was done in stop motion.”
Working with shorter lengths has given a lot of filmmakers more freedom, financially and otherwise, and as Shankar said, “I think the whole concept of a film is kinda archaic and ass-backwards in the sense that… I like movies, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think movies are ass-backwards, but the word ‘film’ is. A film is defined by 90-to-120-odd minutes. That’s not a creative decision, that’s a decision guided by the business practices of a completely different era. Why can’t a movie be 45 minutes? What’s the [current] word for that? Well it used to be featurette, but DVDs kind of stole that word, and changed it to mean something else. There’s a lot of creative boundaries that are not explored because of the rigid nature of the definition that we’ve been a slave to. The internet has been a nuclear warhead that has been dropped over all these definitions.”
As far as where Shankar’s bootlegs could fit in the grand scheme of upcoming superhero films, or the industry moving more towards streaming… Well, he’s not really thinking along those lines at the moment. While the bootleg universe is what he’s most passionate about, he also said that “It’s the thing that I care most about, but this is not a business model — this is something I do because I feel like it and I’m a fan. And I’m making it for other fans.”
Of course, with this being an unauthorized take on ‘Dredd,’ Shankar could run the risk of getting in trouble, even though he was a producer on the 2012 ‘Dredd’ feature, but as he explained in an interview with newmediarockstars.com, 2000 AD (the publishers of the ‘Dredd’ comics) are “cool.” And a character like Dredd could be just under the radar enough that the powers that be could see that this is done out of respect to the comics and the fans.
(It should also be mentioned that Shankar apparently didn’t catch any heat from Marvel when he did the ‘Punisher’ bootleg, although Marvel did shut down another fan made ‘Punisher’ movie.)
Shankar has another bootleg (for an unspecified universe) he hopes to get out into the world before the end of the year, and he says the fans have been thrilled so far with the bootleg universe. “The fanbase for ‘Judge Dredd’ is huge,” Shankar said. “Fans usually respond well to other fans making stuff. It’s a nice little community feeling. Little fan communities cause something to explode, and they end up being more powerful than any billboard outdoor campaign. That’s the kind of shit that studios can’t buy. I don’t care how big your P&A spending is, you can’t purchase that.”
“I think if you alienate your fanbase, you’re fucked,” Shankar added. “Look at World Wrestling Entertainment. Perfect example. Professional wrestling is a cult sport. They have not embraced their fanbase, it’s become a corporate entity, and didn’t their stock price just tank hard? At the end of the day, you’re making it for the people, and the minute you pretend you’re not, you’re fucked.”