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Judge Dredd Classics: The Dark Judges

    Ian Jane

  • Judge Dredd Classics: The Dark Judges

    Judge Dredd Classics: The Dark Judges
    Released by: IDW Publishing
    Released on: December 20th, 2017.
    Written by: John Wagner, Alan Grant
    Illustrated by: Brian Bolland, Brett Ewins, Cliff Robinson, Robin Smith
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    Originally published in 2000 A.D. Progs 149-151, 225-228 and 416-427, IDW collects what is widely considered to be a high point in the long running Judge Dredd series - the introduction of the Dark Judges and the best of their early stories.

    The first story, Judge Death, written by John Wagner (using the alias of John Howard) brings us into the heart of Mega City One in the twenty-second century where we meet a criminal named Tiny The Tap who is foolish enough to believe he can escape the law. A Judge comes at him out of the shadows, but this is no ordinary Judge… his hand goes right through Tiny's chest. This Judge says to him 'My name is Death… and I have come to judge you!'.

    Later that day, Judge Dredd is called in to investigate. Tiny was found dead, as if he'd died of terror! The Judges note the smell of decay and find some rotten human tissue at the crime scene. Meanwhile, Death, who hates all that live, heads into a nightclub where he kills the DJ. Dispatch calls Dredd who arrives on the scene where he and his cohorts find a mountain of corpses. They also find Judge Death, dressed like a 'mockery of justice.' Judge Ross announces 'We've come to slam your butt in the pokey, mister!' (not the best choice of words) but Death makes quick work of him.

    In the second chapter, entitled 'The Guilty And The Damned' we see Dredd and company open fire with their Lawgivers but to no avail. They switch to incendiary fire and the flames lay down the fetid corpse but they watch in terror as the spirit of Death leaves the body and escapes, threatening to return. Dredd vows to find out as much about Judge Death as possible, and to do this he heads with the body to the morgue where he meets up with Judge Anderson of the PSI division. She channels Death so that Dredd can speak to the spirit and is told in no uncertain terms that the living are judged to be guilty and that they must be punished. “The sentence is death and it will be carried out!”

    An exhausted Anderson heads back to her apartment for some rest when a familiar looking spirit arrives at her window…

    In the third chapter in this issue, entitled 'The Monster Within', we see Anderson possessed by Death as she heads into the morgue to steal away Death's body. Dredd arrives but Anderson has already left. Out on the streets she fights Death's spirit as best she can, but it's powerful. Meanwhile the other PSI Division agents tell Dredd that Anderson is sending him a message… the single word 'boing.' It doesn't seem to make sense but Dredd claims to understand and with that he takes a team of Judges out to save her. They show up and find Death controlling Anderson and rejuvenating the body it once used. Anderson, still under Death's control, attacks Dredd but her message to him really was enough of an advance warning for him that he came prepared…

    From there, in the second story entitled Judge Death Lives (written by T.B. Grover - who in reality was Wagner and Alan Grant), we see Anderson encased in plastic and on display in the Hall Of Justice's Hall Of Heroes section. She can't ever be released, for to release her would be to release… death! The museum closes and a stranger makes his way to Anderson's display and uses a laser cutter to open the seal. The spirit of Death comes out, and promptly takes over his body commanding him to 'take me to those who sent you.'

    Dredd arrives on the scene, though Death is long gone, and frees Anderson. The stranger heads back to his apartment to find that three 'Dark Judges' have arrived and killed his wife despite their promise to spare her in exchange for his help, which leads into… the next issue! It's here that he realizes the Dark Judges will twist their words - their promise to let his beloved Janine live if he helped them is not something they intend to honor.

    Outside the Hall Of Justice the press pesters Dredd about these events. He gets back to work and heads to the block in question and soon comes face to face with Judges Death, Fear, Fire and Mortis! Four Judges who found their own world guilty and destroyed it who have since moved to this world for more of the same. Dredd and his crew do the best they can to keep the citizens of Mega-City One safe from these fiends, but will it be enough when the crime is life and the sentence is death…? With Anderson's help, it just might be, but then, there's the not insignificant matter of their homeland, Deadworld itself.

    The term 'classic' is thrown around all too easily these days but this really is some of the best of the best when it comes to vintage Judge Dredd material and it's easy to see why the Dark Judges storylines have always been fan favorites. The stories, from Grand and Wagner, are dark and twisted and strange but not without their own sense of quirky black humor - always a trademark of a good Judge Dredd tale. The Dark Judges themselves are great characters, more unfeeling and resolute in their quest to judge the living than even Dredd himself in his quest to uphold the law. Here in these early chapters it's really a matter of Dredd trying to figure out just what the heck is going on but soon enough it will become very much a battle of wills.

    Brian Bolland's artwork is top notch. He draws each character and every background piece with plenty of attention to detail and he really does a fantastic job creating facial expressions for all of the main characters here. His design work in regards to the Dark Judges is creative and horrific and just a pleasure to look at. Charlie Kirchoff's coloring work in the series compliments Bolland's fantastic artwork in nice ways - the greens and the blues and the yellows in the Judges' uniforms popping nicely against the grays and blacks of much of Mega City One's exteriors. Most Dredd fans, at least long term ones, will be familiar with these stories already but revisiting them is a blast - and for new readers looking to explore the stories that made Dredd the iconic character that he is, they don't get any better than this.

    In the third story line, Four Dark Judges, written by Grant and Wagner and featuring art by Brett Ewins, Cliff Robinson and Robin Smith, Anderson wakes up when Death communicates with her psychically. She's understandably upset as she thought that in their last encounter she and Dredd had killed him. When she's later called in to check out a corpse, she and Judge Grogan wind up investigating the strange happenings at the Wilson Tucker Block ruins. After saving a baby from some punks, the spirit of Judge Death brings her to the basement where she learns once and for all that, yep, Death is very much alive. Or is he? Is Anderson losing her mind?

    She follows the clues, prods through the memories of different corpses and winds up checking out the corpses of the four Dark Judges on display in the Hall Of Justice's Black Museum. All of this brings her back to Deadworld. And of course, Anderson's initial hunch was right - the Dark Judges have somehow made it back to Mega-City One, the result of some arcane resurrection and once again bent on sentencing the living for their crimes.

    A fair bit longer and more involved than the other stories, this is nevertheless pretty gripping stuff. It's nice to see Anderson front and center in the story, holding her own against all who come at her. The character is smart, well-written, interesting and powerful. Grand and Wagner take full advantage of her abilities to create some pretty horrifying concepts. The artwork isn't as good as Bolland's work, but his influence is clearly seen here not just in the style employed by Ewins, Robinson and Smith, but in the attention to detail as well. It isn't on par with the first two stories but it is still damn good.

    Rounding out the collection is a cover gallery.

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