Monday, 25 February 2013

Judge Dredd: The Dark Judges review

Review by Steve Hargett
Writers:John Wagner & Alan Grant
Artists:Brian Bolland, Brett Ewins, Cliff Robinson, Ron Smith
Tom Frame
Previously published in Progs 149-151, 224-228 & 416-427
The most widely known villains outside 2000AD fandom, Judge Death has been an inspiration for many things. Most notably Dredd and his deathly nemesis have appeared on many Anthrax albums and t-shirts.
This collection brings us the stories Judge Death, Judge Death Lives and Four Dark Judges. These stories are reprints so I am assuming most readers will be aware of the general thrust of the stories. There are spoilers below but due to the fact they are reprints I’m tagging them as light. If you have never read these stories maybe they are medium. There is only one heavy spoiler if you haven’t read Judge Death.
I’m reviewing the Kindle version of this book and all pages are black and white. It does suffer slightly from the fact that famous double spreads are cut in half. However the story is still easily read and brought back good memories.

Judge Death

Dark Judges 01
As well as Judge Death this sory introduces us to Judge Anderson and the Psi Division.
Judge Death is an inter-planar travelling mass murderer  A Judge on his home world, where Judges were more brutal than they have been in Mega City One at all times other than perhaps Chief Judge Cal’s tenure of office. They were brutal in life but when Judge Death took charge of their world they descended into madness sentencing the whole planet to death.
Death is a psionically powered spirit creature  able to take possession of a living person or enter a specially prepared corpse to take physical form. His hand pass through flesh without damaging it, only to squeeze the heart within the chest cavity until it bursts. He is stronger than a living human and able to sustain a large amount of injury without affect.
His Judge uniform is a macabre version of Dredd’s own. We later see that is less different to the Judges of his own world in ‘Boyhood of a Superfiend’ (published in Judge Dredd Megazine first volume issues 1-19).
Dark Judges XX
Death embarks on a rampage through the city and is ‘killed’ by Dredd. Anderson interrogates the corpse and is later possessed by possessed by his spirit but due to her own strong will is able to resist him enough to keep other Psi Judges aware of Death’s plans.
Anderson gives the Judges her own plan to defeat Death. Dredd and a team of Judges follow the information Anderson has managed to get to them without the knowledge of Judge Death. Death’s body destroyed, he re-enters Anderson and she sacrifices herself for the good of the city and was sealed in Boing! (see prog 136) and was put on display in the Justice Department Hall of Heroes for all to show their respects.
This story is well crafted and the creation of Judge Death is a masterstroke. Though he is later misused in some people’s opinion as a more comedic character this strip set him up as a very chilling creature.
The art of Brian Bolland is amazing and gives real menace to the villain and true charm to the heroine.

Judge Death Lives

The first episode shows a tourist in the Hall of Heroes leaving a tour and later cutting open the Boing! sarcophagus that housed Anderson and Death. Death possesses the man and he returns to his apartment where we find he had agreed to free Judge Death to safe his wife, though he had been double crossed and she was dead. Who had made this deal with him? Three allies of Judge Death.

Dark Judges 03

Judges Fear, Fire and Mortis all drawn for the first time by Brian Bolland so there is a clear connection between the uniforms of these three and Death. Only Fear’s uniform is devoid of the pterodactyl, though Fire’s isn’t obvious in the picture opposite. I’ve always assumed this mean Fear was not a Street Judge on his home-world but that is mere speculation.
The three Dark Judges prepare their erstwhile Human accomplice and Judge Death again has physical form.
The four Dark Judge soon embark on a Judgement-spree. Killing all those that break their law; Life is a crime and the sentence is death. They seal themselves within a block with a psionic shield that fries anyone trying to cross it.
Anderson, freshly out of the Boing! sarcophagus warns Dredd that there are three others with Death. Anderson can get herself and Dredd through the shield but they have to destroy the shield generator to get more Judges inside.
Dredd famously resists the powers of Judge Fear and they destroy the generator. The Dark Judges retreat to their home-wold but with Fear’s body vacant his corpse is left behind and Anderson and Dredd can follow.
Reading this story in 1981 I was transfixed from Prog to Prog. The artwork again is very powerful. The script is excellent, it was a joy to read.

Four Dark Judges

This was the first strip to be given the title of Anderson Psi Division and was published in 1985. This was the last appearance of Judges Fear, Fire and Mortis until their return in Chaos Day.
The Dark Judges lure Anderson back to Deadworld and force her to help resurrect them using mummified Judges. Though she had been able to partly resist Judge Death’s control she was unable to fight the combined Psionic power of the four Dark Judges.
We learn that their Grand Hall of Justice had been re-named the Necropolis, Brett Ewins’ version of the building created a much more perverse structure than we had seen Bolland draw. Within that building they had access to all of their equipment and returned to Mega City One leaving Anderson presumed dead.
Dark Judges 04
Anderson however had shielded herself from them enough to feign death and returns to the city. Chief Judge McGruder suspends her for unleashing the Dark Judges on Mega City One. Anderson considers her fate.
The Dark Judges again went on a killing spree. This time they had teleport devices so that they could leave any place where Judges were attacking them and continue their mission.
Again Anderson puts together a plan that sees the Dark Judges vanquished.

More to come…

Not part of this book but it has been revealed that Death is coming back…

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