Graphic Novel Reviews

Young Death: Boyhood of a Superfiend

(1992) John Wagner & Peter Doherty et al, Mandarin Paperbacks, trdpbk, 6.99 pp??. ISBN 0-749-31461-3

(2008 edition) John Wagner & Peter Doherty et al, 2000AD / Rebellion, trdpbk, 12.99 pp??. ISBN 978-1-905-4-3765-8


Judge Death is a long-standing foe of the 2000AD comic's Judge Dredd. He is a supernatural parody of a Judge who, as a walking skeleton garbed in a macabre lampoon of the Judge's uniform, dispenses only death as judgement. The reason for this is because crime is only committed by the living, ergo life itself must itself be a crime. And so in the interests of ridding crime and creating a lawful society, the Dark Judges set out wiping out life. Now, we already knew that Judge Death's origins, and those of his equally supernatural Dark Judge compatriots, are in a parallel universe where there is also a system of Judges maintaining law and order. On their own parallel world the Dark Judges had wiped out the population but in discovering our parallel Earth they then had a whole new population to be judged and cleansed with the purity of death.

The Dark Judges had a couple of forays into our Earth (recounted in Judge Dredd featuring Judge Death) and then a big invasion (as told in Judge Dredd: Necropolis). Young Death: Boyhood of a Superfiend picks up the story following this Necropolis invasion. Judge Death escapes from the Mega City One authorities by hiding out in suspended animation/hibernation among one of the mass grave pits (the Necropolis resulted in too much death and destruction for the usual dead resyk). But he is disturbed by grave robbers and so returns, but wants to have his life story immortalised in print. To this end he advertises for a journalist who, sensing a scoop, begins to interview Judge Death.

The story that unfolds is one of how Judge Death started out as a normal human on his parallel Earth who joined the Judges as he relished in their brutality combating crime. However for him even petty crimes deserved the harshest punishment. How his transformation to a supernatural state comes about is revealed.

The artwork in this graphic novel is very good (looks like a combination of inks and pastels) and the story lives up to Wagner's standards. This story was first serialised in the Judge Dredd Megazine back in 1990. This is at least the third time these adventures have been collected: in 1992 there was a Mandarin edition and in the late 1990s a Hamlyn edition, but this 2008 edition is in the new, more compact, 2000AD, graphic novel format. Though Dredd (as well as Judges Hershey and Anderson) only feature peripherally this story is a Dredd classic.

Young Death: Boyhood of a Superfiend was originally serialised over a year commencing in the first edition of Judge Dredd Megazine back in 1990, and first compiled into a graphic novel in 1992 by Mandarin: a fact not included in the copyright details on the 2008 edition's masthead page! Manderin were the people who published 2000AD graphic novels back when 2000AD was owned by Fleetway: this was after the original owners IPC had sold it and before Rebellion took over 2000AD. The 1992 Mandarin edition is a full-size reprint reflecting that of the original Judge Dredd Megazine's dimensions. Conversely the 2008 Rebellion edition is a slightly reduced format (hieght reduced by 10% and width by 5%) with a greater vertical border to the body of artwork on the page. However the 2008 edition does come with an additional Judge Death short story: Masque of the Judge Death that originally appeared in the Judge Dredd Mega Special No. 4 (1991). This extra story itself is rather fifty, though the very black and white artwork, it must be said, is horrible. Taking place during the Necropolis (i.e. just before the events of Young Death: Boyhood of a Superfiend), it sees one of Mega City One's wealthy elite attempt to ride out the ravages of the Dark Judges' reign of terror. 'Vincent Prospero' gathers his friends to a party in his ultra-security protected apartment within the luxury 'Edgar Allan Poe' Block... And you can guess the rest (but if not check ' Masque of the Red Death' book and film into a search engine noting the book's author and the film's star). Despite the awful artwork, this extra short story is a minor gem.

Overall Young Death: Boyhood of a Superfiend is a bit of a classic and a key element to the broad 'Judge Death' arc within the Judge Dredd series. Dark, witty and not to mention nicely drawn, this makes for an essential addition to any Judge Dredd fan's collection.

Jonathan Cowie

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