Graphic Novel Reviews

Judge Dredd: The Dark Judges

John Wagner, Aland Grant, Brian Bolland et al (2012) 2000AD - Rebellion,
pbk, £6.99, ??pp, ISBN 978-1-781-08045-0


In case you missed the various previous graphic, collection reprints (and it has now [2013] been a decade since the wonderful collectors' hardback edition of Judge Death) this is a nice and cheap, albeit small format, edition of the original Judge Death stories. These first appeared in 2000AD back in a three-part story commencing in Prog 149 (1979) a third of a century ago! Since then Judge Death has become one of Dredd's arch foes and a firm favourite with 2000AD and Dredd aficionados.

Judge Dredd, as many of you will know (but for those who don't), is the law enforcer of the future. In the 22nd century the Earth had been ravished by atomic war. There are survivors out in the bad lands, including mutants, while the rest of humanity is crowded into giant mega cities. Mega City 1 smothers North America’s east coast, its huge, unemployed masses pampered with 22nd century technology. But crime is rife, and the only way to combat it was to have law enforcers who were both police as well as judge and jury. These enforcers are the Judges. They are fair, for the social good, but firm: ruthlessly firm, passing sentence on the spot.

Into this dystopic/utopic mixed future comes a creature from another (quasi parallel) dimension: Judge Death. Judge Death looks like a parody of a judge wearing a costume superficially similar but very different. For example, instead of a badge-of-office shaped like a shield, Death's is shaped like a skull. His body is also different being little more than a skeleton covered by a thin coating of flesh. He is horrific to behold. In Judge Death's parallel world life was a crime and the sentence was death. Now he has come to Earth and Mega City One to purge it of the sinful living.

Judge Death was to return to 2000AD in August 1981 but this time accompanied by three fellow dark judges: Mortis Fear and Fire. And this adventure is also included in this volume.

Importantly the first Judge Death story introduces the concept of the Judge's Psi Division of telepaths and precogs (those with precognition) and the female Psi Judge Anderson. In this and future Death stories she plays an integral part and indeed the next follow-up Judge Death Story (commencing July 1985) included in this collection was not a 'Judge Dredd' story but a spin-off strip entitled 'Anderson: Psi Division'.   (By the way I hope you appreciate my providing you with dates as this history is not included in this volume Judge Dredd: The Dark Judges.) And in case you did not know it, but by now you will have guessed, some Judge Dredd stories are not hard SF but science fantasy.

This graphic collection is in black and white (as were the original strips apart from the centrefold colour spread back in the early days of 2000AD). It is also in small format. While the reduced size does mean some loss of visual enjoyment, this is made up by this collection being so cheap and that (unless you are a long-term buff) these strips have not recently been reprinted. (Perhaps a full-sized and coloured edition is overdue Rebellion?) Other Judge Death collections to look out for (but again some could do with a reprint) include the epic Judge Dredd: Necropolis and the darkly comic horror graphic novel Young Death: Boyhood of a Superfiend.

Hugely recommended for anyone into SF and British comics as these are historical, landmark tales.

Jonathan Cowie

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