The Dark Judges, by John Wagner & Alan Grant
With the new Dredd 3D film launching in September, 2000AD are looking to re-introduce comic fans to their most popular characters most memorable villains, the Dark Judges, in this beautifully collected volume of their earliest stories. Death, Mortis, Fire and Fear find their way to Mega-City One where only Psi-Divisions finest telepath, Cassandra Anderson, stands between them and total devastation - but do these tales stand up to the test of time, or will The Dark Judges whither and die like it’s namesakes victims?
Brian Bolland, Brett Ewins, Cliff Robinson and Robin Smith take up artwork duties and their efforts are reproduced so crisply that I initially wondered if they’d been re-inked for this release. Comparisons to the original print would seem to suggest otherwise which speaks volumes for the quality of artists that 2000AD has always had to offer. High standard work from some of the comics most notable creators that does not feel like it’s missing anything from being black and white.
In terms of the writing, the settings are a little limited by the time in which they were imagined; for example the “Deadworld” from which the Dark Judges originated seems a little unimaginative compared to the kinds of hellish nightmare scenarios that are created within the pages of the modern incarnation of 2000AD, but this does not prevent them from being enjoyable stories, nonetheless. On the flip side, the characters and defining features of Mega-City One are so well designed that they are virtually unchanged yet still look futuristic three decades later – an amazing feat when you consider how dated most Sci-Fi from anywhere up to the mid-90s looks when viewed now.
Today, 2000AD has perfected the art of presenting their weekly titles in such a way that they can be collected as a seamless graphic novel at a later date, but these earlier editions were obviously not written with continuous reading in mind. Cliffhangers repeat themselves and the title of the series (e.g. “Judge Dredd”) is immovably drawn into the artwork at the start of new instalments which can result in breaking you out of the flow a little, but it also adds a little charm so it’s not a huge problem.
Also worth noting is that the format feels a little awkward due to the original artwork dimensions not matching their re-printed counterparts, leaving as much as 1/3 of unfilled space on each page. This was obviously a conscious decision as this series of books is being pushed as 2000AD‘s first collection of “Manga-sized” releases, which also results in the artwork being scaled down quite significantly; roughly half the size of the current editions of the comic and even smaller than those from which these stories originated. I would have personally preferred a larger format but this does not impact on their readability and, on the plus side, these titles are a lot more portable for those wishing to read them on the move.
Those small niggles aside, The Dark Judges represents a milestone in one of 2000AD‘s most enduring series and is a highly recommended read, if for the artwork alone.