Art by Simon Bisley and Todd Klein (“Judgment On Gotham”), Cam Kennedy, Digital Chameleon, Ken Bruzenak and Mike Mignola (“Vendetta In Gotham”), Carl Critchlow, Dermot Power and Richard Starkings (“The Ultimate Riddle”), Glenn Fabry, Jim Murray, Jason Brashill and Ellie De Ville (“Die Laughing”), Val Semeiks, John Dell, Gloria Vasquez and Bill Oakley (“Lobo/Judge Dredd: Psycho-Bikers vs The Mutants From Hell”)
Published by Rebellion
There are no two crime fighters, anywhere in the halls of fiction, grumpier than Batman and Judge Dredd. Whilst the trope of “two superheroes meet, fight and then team up” is crushingly tired everywhere else, these two guardians of the law were always going to meet, and fight, and fight crime. And then fight again. As this collection of the four crossover specials published in the ’90s shows, whilst both men were left battered and bruised, the end result is some really fun comics.
“Judgment On Gotham”, the first special, sees Batman run across Judge Death and immediately get transported to Mega City One and, of course, the Iso Cubes. The culture clash is smartly handled, with Batman horrified at Dredd’s tactics and Dredd offended that there’s a lunatic dressed like a flying rodent loose in his city. The two butt heads in a hugely fun way until it becomes clear that Death is still in Gotham and something must be done. With Dredd refusing to act, Psi Judge Anderson breaks Batman out of detention and back they go. See, I knew there was a reason I liked Anderson.
This first special is basically an excuse for the two iconic figures to fight each other… and Judge Death… and Mean Machine Angel… and there’s really no problem with that. Simon Bisley’s staggeringly muscular, flexed artwork is the perfect match for these two characters and he excels at action and violence so extreme it becomes funny. The climactic fight is especially fantastic, with Mean Machine stuck on 4½ and butting the stage apart. Fast, nasty and fun, it’s a great one-shot exploration of the two men.
“Vendetta In Gotham”, is superficially more disappointing. It’s literally an extended fight scene, with a very light plot about the Ventriloquist trying to carry out an assassination. However, it’s actually quietly rather smart, with Dredd picking an extended They Live -esque fight with Batman for a very good reason. It’s also worth noting that the fight is one of the most beautiful you’ll see, played out in silhouette atop a speeding train on the outskirts of Gotham. Cam Kennedy’s work is slimmer, more loose than Bisley’s but it emphasises speed and character over spectacle and it’s a perfect fit here. Likewise, the payoff to the fight is an interesting and troubling one, laying the ground work for a third adventure.
What’s really smart is that third adventure is actually a standalone. “The Ultimate Riddle” pits Batman against Dredd and a horde of assorted aliens in a Hunger Games -style battle to the death. Whilst the plot is, again, on the thin side the art is stunning. Critchlow and Power have a deserved reputation for clean lines, muscular action sequences and some lovely design work on the story’s legion of disposable bad guys. In plot terms this is easily the weakest of the four books but it’s also arguably the prettiest and more than earns its spot here, especially with the ongoing debate between Dredd and Batman about whether it’s right to kill.
All of which goes out of the window in the massive final story, “Die Laughing”. In Gotham, the Joker steals a D-Jump belt but something goes wrong, draining him of life. Batman is busy investigating this when Anderson appears, badly wounded. Meanwhile, back in Mega City 1, the Dark Judges are en route to a permanent prison and the Megasphere, a community of 10,000 hedonists, is about to close its doors to Mega City 1 forever. The Dark Judges don’t just have a new target, they have a new manager. The Joker’s in town. Well, most of him…
Fabry and Murray’s gloriously sinewy, burly art is the perfect bookend to Bisley’s work in the first story and they clearly relish showing Mega City 1 off in all its demented glory. There are some lovely full splash pages and some cheerfully grotesque moments, especially the rapid degeneration of one of Mortis’ victims. However, the whole thing pales in comparison to seeing Batman, astride a Lawmaster, side by side with Dredd. Whilst the Joker as a Dark Judge doesn’t quite work, brilliantly that’s acknowledged in the story and it’s touches like that, along with the endless variety of hideous things the Dark Judges do to people, that make it huge fun to read. “Die Laughing” is the perfect, epic summer blockbuster blow off to the series of stories; huge, demented, hideously violent and immensely fun.
The book’s rounded out by the Dredd/Lobo crossover which has some particularly great art and is about as sensible as you might think. However, whilst it’s fun, this book belongs to Dredd and Batman, the two grumpiest men in comics. They don’t like each other, they don’t trust each other’s methods but they do make a great team.
Just don’t tell them that.
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