(2012) John Wagner et al, DC Comics, £25, hrdbk, 304pp, ISBN 978-1-781-08078-8
It has been over 20 years since Gotham's legendary Dark Knight first had a run in with Mega City One's top lawman in 1991 in a stand-alone short graphic novel. There were three more in 1993, 1995 and 1998. Now these have been collected into a deluxe hardback together with a bonus Judge Dredd – Lobo team-up.
I will take it as read that readers of this review are aware of the Batman as a US comic character created in 1939 by Bob Kane for DC Comics in the US, and that he is a millionaire who father was murdered by a mugger when a child who as an adult by night becomes the costumed and atheletic Batman with high-tech devices who combats crime in Gotham city. Similarly that readers are aware of Judge Dredd created in 1977 by Pat Mills and John Wagner for the British speculative fiction comic 2000AD. And that Judge Dredd is a lawman of 22nd century Mega City One that spans the eastern seaboard of the former US next to the radioactive, 'Cursed Earth', wasteland of the former US interior. Judges are combined policemen, jury and judge who can instantly sentence perps (criminal perpetrators).
Both characters are comic-strip classics whose standing is literally iconic for genre comic strip aficionados. As such the team-ups of these two was met with much interest. Indeed it is a shame (as we shall see for more reasons than one) that these team-ups ended in 1998: one hopes that we shall see more in the future. Anyway, if you missed these stories the first time around a couple of decade's ago, here are the introductions…
The first story in the collection is the tale 'Judgement in Gotham'. Judge Death makes an appearance in Gotham city and is confronted by the Batman. Discovering Death's dimension jump device and tinkering with it, Batman finds himself in Mega City One and confronted by the 'Mean Machine' Angel family gang member. Meanwhile back in Gotham, Judge Death has an encounter with the Scarecrow…
The artwork for this story was done by Simon Bisley, best known for his work on the 2000AD strip Slaine. I have to say that as much as I like Bisley's work on Slaine, I find his visual exaggerations of characteristics distracting and, truth be told, unconvincing: would anyone's bulging bicep veins be visible through a costume? (Anderson seemed to be having a bad frizz hair day. Having said that, a couple of Bisely's one-page set pieces do work very well: namely psi-Judge Anderson's peek into Batman's mind and Death's reaction to the Scarecrow's fright gas -- both are brilliant. Alan Grant (anther 2000AD stalwart), co-writer for the strip, and John Wagner do bring to the strip some of the dry humour for which they are occasionally renowned. I particularly loved Death's version of a Rolling Stones' song and Bisley's Mick Jagger style lips on Death, but did wonder how Death knew of the song. Perhaps death heard it earlier, or picked it up from his host's mind? Either (or some other option) would have worked and just needed a single extra panel for explanation. (Yes, know that I shouldn't get tripped up by such musing but one does when one loves to immerse oneself into an author's universe and one would think that writers would both expect and like their readers to do this and so cater for such fundamental logical detail.)
'Vendetta in Gotham', again written by Grant and Wagner, sees Judge Dredd appear in Gotham to confront the Batman (for some as yet unexplained reason that does become apparent). Meanwhile the Ventriloquist and his dummy, Scarface, plan to blow up a Senator attending a children's play… Aside from Batman and Dredd going at each other (tad boring as we did that in 'Judgement in Gotham') there is some humour in the Ventriloquist-Scarface dialogue. The story winds up with a satisfying explanation for it all together with a firm hint that Batman and Dredd will in the future again encounter each other.
The artwork for this story is by Cam Kennedy and for my money is the best of all the team-up adventures, just pipping Carl Critchlow's and Dermot Power's ('The Ultimate Riddle'), although I did miss some of the set-piece, single-box-per-page Bisley and later Glen Fabrey art. (Incidentally, Cam Kennedy's Judge Dredd artwork is best seen in Judge Dredd: The Art of Kenny Who? – The Cam Kennedy Collection.)
'The Ultimate Riddle', again written by Grant and Wagner, is ably illustrated by Carl Critchlow and Dermot Power. The story sees the Batman transported with (having just confronted him) the Riddler to some future/other dimension/other world, where he is a captive along with Dredd and other warriors. Their captor pits the others against Batman in a hunt, but of course Dredd will not play that game and Batman's code is against killing…
The final Batman-Dredd story is 'Die Laughing' and, as you might guess, the Joker is involved. This time Death is back and threatening Mega City One. The Glen Fabrey, Jim Murray and Jason Brashill artwork is both detailed and colourful. It certainly is a feast for the eye but – speaking purely personally – I do wonder whether such quality of artistic detail distracts the reader from the flowing story: but this is probably just me, and those who like comic strip magazines such as Heavy metal will find this a treat. Nonetheless the artists should really have know (or been briefed) that Judge Anderson, though athletic, most certainly does not have a bodybuilder physique!
Finally, there is an added strip featuring a Dredd and Lobo team-up. Though a DC Comics character created by Roger Slifer and Keith Giffen, his first own miniseries, Lobo: The Last Czarnian, plotted by Giffen, written by 2000AD's Alan Grant and illustrated by Simon Bisley: this mini-series changed Lobo's origin. So with that creative background it was not surprising that there was a Judge Dredd team-up. This one is reasonably effective and includes Dredd's foe the Mean Machine Angel.
Given this collection's price and hardback format, it is worth reviewing this offering's production values. Here, I presume that this is down to DC Comics' Robin Brosteran who is DC Books' Design Director. That the collection is in colour, hardback and uses a light gloss art paper is all welcome… However, beneath this facade it is clear that there has been a distinct absence of thought in pulling this collection together. Starting with the cover, it has a gloss art with varnish wash dust cover. All well and good, though I prefer my covers to be part of the board, and not as a separate dust jacket that can more easily get torn and often rides up while reading. But wait… What is this? Remove the dust jacket and there is another, different artwork, cover (without text) beneath! Why, oh why, have separate artwork hidden? Why, oh why, should the reader have effectively to pay for two covers? One wonders whether the Design Director is the sort of person who, going out for a couple of pints of finest micro-brewery real ale, has a glass of vintage premiere cru wine in-between?
The collection's format size is also reduced from the individual story's original UK first edition, but I can live with that especially as it is the same size as the individual stories' US editions. What I cannot forgive is the distinct fading of colour in the 'Vendetta in Gotham tale. Does not Robin Brosteran believe in quality control? Nor was it a good sign that the original recto-verso pagination became reversed in 'The Ultimate Riddle': fortunately the artist did not draw across the pages and only one double page layout was slightly compromised.
And then there is the collection's supplementary editorial content (presumably editor's Scott Nybakken's responsibility?). This is minimal. For a start, it is not clear who has written each story. I know who did what and was able to confirm the details for you because I have the original, individual editions. But what I really would have liked is a couple of explanatory pages as to how these stories and the DC-2000AD collaboration came about. Surely such editorial copy is now standard with collections be they Dan Dare, TV21, Jeff Hawke, etc. The absence of supportive material was a real missed opportunity.
To sum up, with regard to production values, while superficially looking good, this collection has been sloppily assembled with little regard to collectors' needs. It is a shame for these tales represent a historic team-up that have some real neat moments and, though the individual tales are on the short side, the collection is one that genre comics aficionados will want.
As to the future, I do hope that DC and 2000AD get together and do a far lengthier team-up. Perhaps DC and 2000AD could each do two interwoven – but reasonably self-contained – halves of an epic tale, publish each half separately under their own imprints before a year later collecting them and releasing a joint graphic novel. (2000AD have done this before with Judge Dredd: Judgement Day.) In this age of electronic publication, they could share the compilation of the electronic masters and then publish their own editions each side of the Atlantic: a far better option than duplicating effort or alternatively shipping tonnes of paper across the ocean. Such a lengthier epic team-up really would be great, but I would hope that they would get someone decent to do the collection's production design and editing with supporting material. One can but dream.
Other Judge Dredd graphic compilations reviewed on this site include:-
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