Like two-thirds of the previous outtings, this one was fully painted, featuring art by Glenn Fabry, Jim Murray and Jason Brashill, and the narrative included scenes in both Gotham City and Mega-City One, and villains and characters from both Batman and Dredd's regular milieus.
Die Laughing opens with a five-page sequence set in Gotham. Fabry's red-eyed Batman has tracked down The Joker, who is outfitted in a green suit and matching fedora, both covered in a pattern of red lips (not his best suit, honestly). The Joker has just gotten his hands on the Dimension Jump Belt from 1991's Judgement on Gotham crossover, and he uses it to escape from Batman.
But something goes wrong. The belt malfunction sends The Joker's intangible spirit to Mega-City One, leaving his now all-gray, semi-lifeless body in Gotham. That will prove rather important to the story.
Meanwhile, in Mega-City One, there are two big news stories dominating the airwaves. One is that the huge, 10,000-strong "Seventh Day Hedonists" cult is preparing to seal its members eternally in "The Megasphere," where they plan to spend the rest of their days in their hedonistic pursuits, completely separated from the outside world.
The other is that Mega-City One's judges are preparing to transfer the evil, incorporeal beings known as The Dark Judges—Judge Death from Judgement, and his fellows Judge Fear, Judge Fire and Judge Mortis—to a special, hidden tomb where they will never be heard from again. They are eacb encased in "glasseen crystals," which are promptly stolen by a new master criminal on the scene:
Some exposition and fight scenes later, and the stage is set for a big action scene, as Batman and Dredd ride those massive Lawgiver motorcycles to the Megasphere, where the Dark Judges plan to seal themselves in with the Hedonists, who they can kill at their leisure, free of all interference from the law.
Each of the Dark Judges has a striking appearance and manner of killing. We've already met Judge Death, of course. Judge Fear wears a special helmet which disguises his true face, so horrible it scares those who look upon it to death:
|Did Judge Fear steal this gag from Beetlejuice, or vice versa?|
Judge Fire, is, perhaps self-explanatorily, a constantly burning, skeletal judge, who kills with fire:
Judge Mortis has steer's skull for a head, and kills via corruption; one of the running visual gags in the book is the way his infection of Judge Herriman causes his host to gradually rot until he's practically falling apart:
And as for the new Judge Joker?
Batman and Dredd must race through the Megasphere—filled with strange rooms to cater to bizarre fetishes and hobbies that make for wild set-pieces, and peopled by cartoonish characters in all manner of strange costumes—destroying the Dark Judges' host bodies and capturing their spirits in different, inventive and, occasionally, slightly silly ways.
As for Judge Joker, Dredd blasts his host body to pieces until The Joker's spirit jumps ship...landing bak in his own body, already strapped to a chair in Arkham Asylum.
As with all superhero crossovers then, Die Laughing featured incredibly high stakes, but ended pretty much where it began, with nothing really changing...unless you count Dredd and Batman hating one another less then they did during their first meeting as change.
In terms of highlighting particular aspects of each of the stars and their home comics, and fitting them together in interesting ways, this turned out to be a really rather perfect crossover story. The fact that Grant and Wagner spent literally years building up to it, with the story calling back to both Judgement and Vendetta in Gotham, only made it more so. It's easy to imagine that, with some tinkering, this could have served as the only Batman/Dredd crossover story, and served rather well.
But the fact that Grant and Wagner gradually introduced the threats, with one Dark Judge proving a challenge in the first story, and that menace multiplied by five in this one, and gradually built up a relationship between the two title characters and (to a lesser extent, Batman and Anderson) really helped get this one over as a big story with a real sense of occasion.
It therefore almost seems too bad that the collection keeps going after Die Laughing ends.
As previously noted, The Batman/Judge Dredd Collection includes not only all four Batman/Judge Dredd stories, but also 1995 one-shot Lobo/Judge Dredd: Psycho-Bikers Vs. The Mutants From Hell, which does not feature Batman, but does feature another Grant and Wagner-written Dredd story in which the Judge meets a character from Batman's home universe.
I like the work Val Semeiks, who pencils this story, quite a bit too, and his pencils look great under John Dell's inks, but, eh, this isn't really my kind of thing, and probably isn't helped any by coming after four far superior stories.
Lobo has been hired to serve as the body guard of a children's entertainer (in space), who turns out to actually be a shape-changing mutant from Mega-City One who is impersonating the children's entertainer, who is dead. When the mutant's fellow mutants show up to kill him, he escapes back to Mega-City One, and Lobo follows.
The mutant's brother is trying to acquire a pair of special rings that give him incredible powers, with which he hopes to start a mutant revolution. Lobo ends up fighting them alongside Mean Machine and Dredd.
There's a lot of shooting and fighting and, when all is said and done, Dredd and the less-bad bad guys win.
There's not much to it, but Semeiks draws a mean Mean Machine...