Review: The Batman/Judge Dredd Collection / Author: Alan Grant, John Wagner / Artist: Simon Bisley / Publisher: 2000AD / Release Date: November 27th
After a busy year for them both, Batman and Judge Dredd's comic book crossovers are collated, just in time for Christmas. And, a bonus present under the tree too: Lobo/Judge Dredd: Psycho Bikers vs. Mutants From Hell.
Batman might not need any further exposure, but Dredd is still a relatively lesser-known quantity (especially since hardly anyone bothered to see his quite brilliant film). These crossovers, then, serve as a neat little introduction to Joe Dredd and his world. The stories might lack 2000AD's usual satirical bite, but they immediately tell you everything you need to know about Old Stony Face. He's a cop, he lives in the future, and he doesn't take too kindly to vigilantes. Batman is hardly the most laid back of superheroes, but his encounters with Dredd make him look like the boyscout by comparison. In fact, if The Batman/Judge Dredd Collection is your first taste of comic book Dredd, you may come away thinking the Lawman of the Future a bit of a dick.
Dredd is at his most dickish in Judgement on Gotham, in which the alien superfiend Judge Death steals a dimension-jump belt and flees to Gotham. After accidentally killing (or so he thinks) Death, Batman is himself transported to The Big Meg, where he gets into a fight with Mean Machine Angel and is arrested by Judge Dredd. Back in Gotham, Death teams up with the Scarecrow to bring the citizens to justice. Dredd is at his most stubborn here, refusing to release Batman or help save his city. John Wagner and Alan Grant do a fine job writing Dredd at his most anal, but slightly less so in their depiction of Batman. He does get in one good punch though, smashing in Dredd's face in a brilliantly illustrated panel by artist Simon Bisley.
Those disappointed by the lack of fisticuffs between the two in Judgement on Gotham should be more satisfied by Vendetta in Gotham, which is effectively one long fight scene. Looking to settle scores with the Bat, Dredd arrives in Gotham. Ventriloquist is involved there somehow, but mostly the story is Batman and Dredd, beating the hell out of one another.
The weakest link is The Ultimate Riddle, which transports Batman and Dredd into The Hunger Games. The art is fine, but the story is hopeless. If it feels like filler, that's because it was rushed out to keep audiences keen for the heavily delayed Die Laughing. The setting is dull, the villains boring and the Riddler a bad fit for the story. A panel in which Dredd defeats a villain by shooting a ricochet bullet off Batman's body armour is ridiculous, by anyone's standards.
Finally, the main event: Die Laughing transforms the Joker into a Dark Judge and has him team up with Judge Death and his colleagues (Fire, Fear and Mortis) to torment Mega City One. Where Dredd was perfectly content to let Gotham rot in Judgement on Gotham, Batman doesn't hesitate to lend the lawman a helping hand. The Joker's interactions with Death and the Dark Judges are a joy; Batman's encounter with Mortis even more so. It's more fun to see Batman and Dredd at odds than it is fighting side by side, but Die Laughing is still a tremendously enjoyable read. Best of all, while Batman may have forgotten about his encounters with the lawman, the stories remain canon in the 2000AD universe. Lobo/Dredd is worth a look too, although it lacks the gory dynamism of Lobo's crossovers with Batman and The Mask.
Despite some occasionally weak characterisation for Batman and a properly bad instalment in The Ultimate Riddle, this is a great book. These stories are amongst the greatest comic book crossovers of all time. But given Dredd's extremely antisocial demeanour, don't expect him to go joining the Justice League anytime soon.