Sunday, July 06, 2014
The Batman/Judge Dredd Collection Part 1, Judgment on Gotham
It was one of my earlier exposures to comic book Batman, my first exposure to Batman villain The Scarecrow and, of course, my very first exposure to Judge Dredd and the members of his supporting cast that appeared within the story: Psychic fellow officer of the law Judge Andersen, archenemy Judge Death, less-arch eneemy Mean Machine Angel.
I loved it, although re-reading it many years later, I see that I missed a lot of elements of it, particularly the fact that Dredd and the comics world that emanates around him isn't meant to be a straight one in the manner that Batman and his Gotham are. If Batman comics were usually meant to be read as serious, Judge Dredd comics weren't necessarily meant to be un-serious, but they are often, written, drawn and intended with tongue-in-cheek, with parodic elements, with jokes. Not that it mattered to 14-year-old Caleb, who was mainly entranced by the art of Simon Bisley, who presented an exaggerated, heavy metal album cover world of Gotham City and Mega-City One, with garish, cartoony characters covered in realistically rendered muscles, flesh and textures. It looked like Dave McKean's Arkham Asylum, but read like a regular Batman comic from the era (Thanks, in large part, to the fact that it was written by John Wagner and Alan Grant, a writing team with plenty of Dredd and Batman experience; Wagner, of course, was Dredd's co-creator, and while he and Grant started out co-writing Batman comics for DC, Grant later went solo, become one of the more prolific and longer-tenured Batman writers).
I suppose Bisley's images of a topless Anderson didn't hurt...
This, remember, was among my earliest exposure to DC Comics' Batman, and the suggestive painting of a strange, scary, brightly-colored world seen in that splash went a long way toward selling me on Batman comics. If that image was representative, what was I missing by not reading Batman comics...?
As much as I liked the book, and as much as it served as a gateway into the world of Batman comics (and DC superhero comics in general), I never read the three sequels. Each of these was also written by Alan Grant and John Wagner, but none of them were painted by Simon Bisley (the major draw) and, by 1995 the very words "Judge Dredd" caused me to recoil in terror, having seen a movie by that title that...didn't really help sell that particular brand to me.
It is now 2014, of course, and in the (jeez) 23 years since Judgment On Gotham, there have been seven more Batman films, one more Judge Dredd film, and I've read hundreds and hundreds of comics, including plenty of Judge Dredd comics (though still nowhere near as many as I have Batman comics) and learned the names and work of almost all of these other guys who made all of these other Batman/Dredd crossovers.
So remembering Judgment On Gotham the other day, I thought it was well past time I read all those sequels, and thought I'd see if they had ever all been collected and, naturally enough in our Golden Age of Collections, they have been!
In 2012 DC published The Batman/Judge Dredd Collection, featuring all four of the two characters' crossovers, with Lobo/Judge Dredd: Psycho-Bikers Vs. The Mutants From Hell thrown in as a sort of epilogue; despite its complete lack of Batman, it does feature Dredd crossing paths with a DC Universe character, and it is written by Grant and Wagner.
The collection is rather recent in vintage, coming after the New 52 reboot and after the intro of the new new DC Comics logo (which "2000 AD" appears directly beneath) in the upper right corner. They used Mike Mignola's cover for the Vendetta in Gotham, the second Dredd/Batman get-together, and the only one in this book that isn't painted (save the Lobo cover). I woulda used the Judgment cover, which both came first and looks a bit more prestigious, but I suppose Mignola is a bigger name than Bisley, and one that's moved more trades from the shelves of US book stores and comic shops over the years. On the right, all of the titles of the stories are listed (note how you can determine the particular Batman villains used in the final story based solely on their titles), and, in a column on the left, the creators, with Wagner and Grant getting top-billing, followed by artists Simon Bisley, Glenn Fabry and, surprising to me at least, Val Semeiks (who only contributes the Lobo story) and then Cam Kennedy, who I would have thought a bigger name than Semeiks.
The tone of the collection seems to hew closer to that of 2000 AD than DC Comics, with the dust jacket issuing such warnings from the "Justice Department" as "Warning: Explosive Contents—Handle With Care and Contains excitement levels that may cause unexpected side effects.
I considered reviewing the whole she-bang in one interminably long post, which are, of course, the only kind of long posts I do here at EDILW, but I figured I would split them up, story by story, in part to make the piece more reader-friendly and, in greater part so that I could kill the better part of a week reviewing a single book.
The book opens with what mus be one of the weirdest openings to any Bamtan comic I've read, the familiar Bat-symbol slowly morphing, over the course of four panels, into two people making out, and then we see a monster's POV sequence as the main villain of the piece sneaks up on his first victims:
Batman, who Bisley draws to look sort of like Kelley Jones' Batman—extremely long, horn-like ears, huge cape constantly curling it's serrated edges like it has a life of its own, muscles bulging through the costume as if it were bodypaint rather than body armor, exaggerated emotion in every expression—but with the careful, painterly detail of Brian Bolland's Batman, hears the screams and reacts. He arrives to find the ghoulish Judge Death, a lisping creature with his own personal dialogue bubble style who "Jjjudgges" every living thing he comes across, then plunges his bony claws into them, sentening them to death, facing off against a few Gotham police officers.
After a brief melee in which Batman first impales Death upon a wrought-iron fence ("Impaled! I didn't mean to kill it--!") and then incinerates him in an accidental explosion involving stray gunfire at a gas station, Batman examines the corpse of Judge Death after its spirit flies away, screaming "Jjudggmenttt will be carried out ALLLL WILLL DIEEEEEEEeeeeeee", and finds a strange belt, which—FAZZZT!—teleports him to Mega-City One.
There he meets Mean Machine Angel and after a fight that leads to Batman saving Angel from plummeting to his death, Judge Dredd assumes the pair to be in cahoots. Angel escapes using the "D-belt" device that allows for travel from the pages of 2000 AD publications into the DC Universe, leaving Batman to meet Judge Dredd.
Unarmed and un-masked, Batman's being interrogated by Dredd and risking a fifteen year sentence just for the weapons in his utility belt, when Anderson arrives. After exposition explaining what the hell Judge Death is exactly—one of four extra-dimensional "Dark Judges" that believes since all crime is committed by the living, all life must be eradicated to prevent crime—Dredd and Anderson argue over whether they should journey back to Gotham with Batman to save the city and capture Death, or throw Batman in a cell and lock away the key.
I loved and still love this scene where Batman punches Dredd in the face:
"Make it twenty!" is a pretty good, Hollywood action movie-like line, too. I think I'd rather watch a Batman V. Dredd: Punching and More Punching than a Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice movie...
Back in Gotham, the now ghost-like Death is seeking a new host body, and happens across Batman villain The Scarecrow in a morgue. In retrospect, I find it curious that Wagner and Grant chose to use The Scarecrow as their Batman villain, in large part because, in 1991, The Scarecrow not only wasn't Batman's archenemy, he might not have even made the top-ten list of most readers.
The two strike a deal and, before long, The Scarecrow and his henchman are providing a new host body for Death and doing their level best to come up with a costume that vaguely resembles the one he was wearing.
It all culminates at a heavy metal concert in Robinson Park, where Scarecrow and Judge Death are drawn for the number of potential victims, Mean Machine Angel is drawn because he hears the band's name—Living Death—and assumes it refers to Judge Death, who stole the D-Belt from him and with whom he now has a score to settle, and Batman and the Judges show up because, well, that's where the bad guys are.
After a brief musical performance by Judge Death—a parody of the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil," which I hadn't recognized as a teenager because I hadn't actually heard
any Rolling Stones songs as far as I knew at that point, everyone fights, and the good guys win.
Bisley gives both of the title heroes pretty bad-ass splash pages:
Dredd wants to take Batman back to Mega-City One with him in order to serve his time, but Anderson intervenes, convincing Dredd to back off for now, and he complies, noting of Batman once the Dark Knight is well out of earshot, "Bit of a tough guy."
Wagner and Grant naturally get the voices of their heroes and villains just right, and Dredd and Batman make particularly good foils for one another. Despite the fact that both are crime-fighters, the fact that Batman is a vigilante with a perhaps-unusual-given-his-vigilantism faith in the 20th century's legal system and Dredd is a completely uncompromising police officer, judge and jury all in one is more than enough to keep them bickering for as many pages as their publishers will allow them to share.
Re-reading this now, I'm also struck by how well the tones of the two strips match-up. The Batman side of things might be slightly more humorous than usual (The Scarecrow's fear gas comes out of a spray can labeled "Fear-O-Sol, Guaranteed Ozone Unfriendly" for example, and there's that awesome scene where Scarecrow shows Judge Death that which he fears the most), but, for the most part, the gag elements come from the Gothamites reacting to the invading characters. The sober, serious Batman more than once refers to the denizens of the Dredd strip as madmen.
But, as I said earlier the greatest attribute this story had, at least as far as I was concerned, was Bisley's art.
There's not a whole lot of difference between his Mega-City One and his Gotham in terms of lighting and texture, but his Gotham is certainly more cartoony and futuristic-looking than usual. There are collage elements used in providing signage, the cops tool around in a big, silver sports car and carry Cable-sized pistols, and most are extremely exaggerated in build and/or design, wearing out-sized blue hats.
I particularly like Bisley's Death when the character is incorporeal, at which point he has his regular head and sometimes hands, but otherwise looks like a rather filthy specter, composed of fluid, flowing ectoplasm.