Judge Dredd: The Dark Judges, a collection of four stories featuring Judge Death and his “Lawmen of the Apocalypse” (Judges Fear, Fire and Mortis respectively), acts as the perfect sequel to 2012’s underrated (and unfortunately under viewed) DREDD 3D. Yet while The Dark Judges features characters, locations and a tone all familiar to last year’s cinema goers, this action packed and darkly humorous collection of comics serves as a fine introduction not to Mega-City One’s premier Lawman but also to the unique storytelling on offer at 2000AD.
The Dark Judges graphic novel tells the story of the four demonic Judges who, having reached the conclusion that the law is only broken by the living, decree life itself a crime, wreaking their twisted justice across the squalor of Mega-City. John Wagner and Alan Grant’s narrative is 120 pages of perverse righteousness, blunt force trauma and personal vendetta, before the narrative pivots in the final third to focus upon Psi-Division’s finest telepath’s, Cassandra Anderson, battle with Death himself.
As a story, The Dark Judges rarely savours a moment, instead choosing to move quickly between panels. There is little room for the narrative to breathe and even less time to rest as the story transitions relentlessly from one scene to the next; from cliff-hanger to cliff-hanger. This means that The Dark Judges is more akin to a teaser trailer than a full-length motion picture. Such is the design of comics however, that this highly compacted storytelling technique, the result of the restrictions of 2000AD’s original weekly format, actually involves the audience more in the storytelling experience, the reader frequently having to connect and unify large gaps in time, space and action. The benefits of such a quick yet immersive experience are that, firstly, a reader is unlikely to be bored while reading this collection and, secondly, the more dated material, exposed especially through well-worn and unsophisticated dialogue, is quickly brushed aside as the reader advances through the comic, and the complexity and intricacy grows.
A quick reading experience The Dark Judges may well be; however it is the fantastically high quality of art on offer within this collection that will have the reader returning to this graphic novel again and again. The opening trilogy of stories in this collection, Judge Death, Death Lives and The Dark Judges, all feature art from the incredible Brian Bolland (The Killing Joke). Bolland’s storytelling here is of the highest calibre, never confusing or unclear despite the density of panels per page. Bolland fills each and every scene with incredible detail, visual horror and, through well-studied characters, rich and resonant emotion. His art is playful too, Anderson at one point kicking an opponent hard enough to go through the side of the comic’s panel into both the comic’s, and Mega-City One’s, gutter. The focus on Brian Bolland, however, is not to say that accompanying artists Brent Ewins, Cliff Robinson, or Robin Smith fall short of his high watermark. Their artwork and visual storytelling maintain a level of detail and clarity that makes The Dark Judges a unified and enjoyable reader experience. It is, however, a real shame that 2000AD have decided to shrink this collection down into a small digest format. Pages become cramped, writing (especially captions) difficult to read and the smallest panels almost agonisingly so. The quality of art found within the pages of this collection deserves better treatment; yes this format is practical but practicality is not always synonymous with ease.
Judge Dredd: The Dark Judges is a fine collection of stories. Exciting and often unsettling, it features some of the best comic artistry you’re ever likely to see and overcomes its age with the deep vein of warped dark humour that runs throughout.
Daniel William Raper