Graphic Novel Reviews

Dark Justice

(2015) John Wagner & Greg Staples, Rebellion, £14.99, hrdbk, 96pp, ISBN 978-1-781-08318-5


The Dark Judges – Judge Death with Judges Mortis, Fear and Fire – are back!  And back – literally – spectacularly.

This Dark Justice graphic novel is as much for SF comics art collectors as it is for Dredd fans as a continuation of the 'Dark Judges' story arc that has periodically been running Judge Dredd stories in the weekly comic 2000AD since 1980. (Yup, they have been around seven years longer than Concatenation!) Now, we usually have to wait a few years between Dark Judge appearances and, given that, it is around now (2015) that we are due for another helping.

We last saw Judge Death at the end of the anthology My Name is Death (2005) that was compiled from strips appearing in the near-monthly Judge Dredd Megazine (2002 – 4).  My Name is Death Spoiler Alert: Then Death – having been blown up by a nuclear missile – was condemned to eternal spiritual-plane battle with the father of a Cursed Earth family Death had previously killed.

We last saw Judges Mortis, Fear and Fire in Judge Dredd: Day of Chaos – End Game (2013).  Day of Chaos Spoiler Alert: A Sov agent traitor judge had released Mortis, Fear and Fire from their containment prison to add to the confusion of the Chaos bug infecting Mega City One. Fortunately P. J. Maybe (hiding out as the husband of a wealthy billionairess) managed to bottle the Dark Judges.

Dark Justice begins with multi-billionaire Bruce Jacques taking four thousand of Mega-City One's wealthiest citizens on a massive luxury generation ship purportedly to colonise another world (but actually it looks more like they are after a lifelong cruise in space) and so escape the nuclear-war tainted Earth with its crowded mega cities under the tyranny of the Judges.

Meanwhile elsewhere in Mega City One P. J. Maybe, who is playing the new husband to an elderly billionairess widow, tries to prevent an intruder from entering their mansion. He fails. The intruder is someone under the influence of, or possessed by, Judge Death who has come to find Judges Mortis, Fear and Fire.

Judge Anderson (the telepath) and Dredd are on the case but they are weeks behind; they discover that they have missed the Dark Judges who have secreted themselves on the now-departed, multi-generation starship…  It is time to go to space…

The principal thing about this graphic novel is the artwork. Greg Staples has done a very talented job with high-quality, detailed, full colour painting renditions for the graphics: it is the artwork that makes this graphic novel notable.

Having said that, and not to deprecate his technical ability – which is truly astounding – some of Greg Staples artistic decisions are a little questionable. For instance, given that the goal was to produce a high-quality art rendition it is a shame comedic imagery occasionally crept in – such as the rural, folksy portrayal with the starship's first harvest festival – that are out of place with the rest of the production's visual style and indeed story.  Another visual disappointment is that Greg Staples had not chosen to draw the telepath Judge Anderson the way the artist Bolland had created her back in the early 1980s. She is meant to be a tall-ish, slim-but-athletic built, slightly leggy blonde judge. What we get in Dark Justice is an Anderson that is a bit of a short-arse: diminutive in height and short in leg.  This is NOT the Anderson look! Bolland was going for the beautiful, tall blonde look so as to subvert the dumb blonde 1970s/'80s stereotype with someone who was actually intelligent, independently minded and athletically fit.

Having said that, one visual joke I did enjoy was multi-billionaire Bruce Jacques' likeness being that of Virgin's Richard Branson. What is it the copyright statement on the masthead says? 'The stories, characters and incidents featured in this publication are entirely fictional.'  Really?!  Anyway, it's a chuckle.

The story is a little less satisfying, but fortunately only a 'little' less satisfying. The bottom line is that the story is not that long. Having created the set up, matters simply progress through to their logical end. However, I can forgive this as the effort to create the stunning artwork must have taken some time.  Even so, another thing was that the storyline seemed to have a gap in the overall Judge Death arc. For those following the Dredd graphic novels, it was not clear how Death made it back to our physical plane other than the Dark Sisters had something to do with it. I found that this niggled.

However, the story did leave open some intriguing elements. Principally, what happened to P. J. Maybe?  Now, P. J. Maybe has had his own story arc since 1987 that has taken him from being a juvenile through to Mayor of Mega City One, while all the time being a dyslexic, psychopathic killer. So, where is he now?  His hideout as the toy husband of an elderly billionairess is now blown.  Besides, how did he escape Death?  I like to think that perhaps the Dark Sisters let him escape as, after all, P. J. Maybe, when a youngster, did cross paths with the Dark Sisters during the Mega City One Necropolis (in the 1990 Judge Dredd story 'Wot I Did During Necropolis by P. J. Maybe, Aged 15½'). Back then, the Dark Sister Phobia reached down and patted him on the head. Could there be a connection between Maybe and the Sisters that gives him some kind of dispensation from the Dark Judges? Let's hope that we will find out in the next P. J. Maybe story.  Having said all that, any reader of Dark Justice who is not aware of the P. J. Maybe story arc may not realise that P. J. is in it as he is not referred to by name once.

Notably, Dark Justice comes with extras. Starting at the beginning (and end) the inside front (and back) covers sport double-page, full-colour artwork spreads.  Turn over the page and the copyright masthead and opposing title page also sports a double-page full-colour spread of Judge Mortis. Again turning over to the introduction and dedication page we get another double-page spread of Anderson shouting a warning with Death and Mortis approaching through the smoke in the background. This artwork appears to be a blow-up of a single frame later in the book, but the detail is so good that even more features can be seen in this double-page spread!  This page also sports a dedication to, the much loved by die-hard, longstanding 2000AD aficionados Tom Frame who did the majority of the comic's lettering for 2000AD's first two decades. (Tom: John Wagner and the other early 2000 crew have not forgotten you and nor have we at Concat' central.)  Once more turning the next page, we get another double-spread, this time of the ensembled Dark Judges.  Finally, at the book's back we get the common-to-recent-2000AD-graphic-novels gallery of covers from 2000AD itself over the period (2014) when the story was originally serialised. We also get some pages of page layout rough sketches. It is all lovely stuff.

And that is really it.   Something a little different.   Something spectacular.  Something that fans and collectors will hugely enjoy.  Trust me, I am a very good Judge.

Jonathan Cowie


Other Judge Dredd graphic collections reviewed on this site include: Goodnight Kiss, Judgement Day, The Art of Kenny Who?, Brothers of the Blood, The Complete America, Judge Dredd Featuring Judge Death, The Chief Judge's Man, Satan's Island, Total War, The Complete P. J. Maybe, Dredd vs. Aliens, The Henry Flint Collection, Judge Dredd Origins, Tour of Duty – Backlash, Tour of Duty – Mega-City Justice, Day of Chaos – The Fourth Faction and Day of Chaos – End Game.

There are also reviews of the Dredd spin-offs Chopper: Surf's Up, Batman – Judge Dredd Collection, The Taxidermist and Insurrection.

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