My love for Judge Dredd is well documented (at least, if you read my dream journal). There’s a lot of reasons for that, but rather than just rant about how Judge Dredd is the most important fictional character to have been invented in the last 2000 years (that’s right, since Jesus), I think I’ll try and stick to reviewing this book. Batman/Judge Dredd: Judgment on Gotham is a crossover that came out in 1991. At the time it was the first American/European super-hero crossover. Batman is an American creation from DC, and Judge Dredd is a U.K. creation from 2000 AD. It’s almost tragically unfortunate that many North American audiences associate Judge Dredd with a terrible 1995 movie starring Sylvester Stallone and Rob Schneider. Fortunately, there’s an R-rated film coming out this September called Dredd that seeks to redeem the name, but that’s neither here nor there, so lets get on with the review.

Writers: John Wagner and Alan Grant

Artist: Simon Bisley

Publisher: DC Comics

Age: Older Teen

The plot of the story revolves around one of the most striking Judge Dredd villains, Judge Death. Judge Death came  from an alternate universe where he and three other judges had eliminated all life, due to the fact that all crime is caused by the living. The judges fight him on more than one occasion and one of the reasons he is so frightening is the fact that he can only be contained, never killed. The comic starts when Batman and Judge Death meet-up in Gotham, as Judge Death has hopped to the DC Universe. Once he gets there he begins his customary purge of all local life. This rampage is considerably more gruesome than most Batman books and sets the tone for the rest of the story. This is one of many reasons that this book is more suited to fans of Judge Dredd than Batman. Eventually Batman gets sent to Judge Dredd’s Mega-City One, a conurbation that covers most of the Eastern seaboard. Once there he clashes with Judge Dredd as clearly Batman is a vigilante, which warrants him being arrested and thrown in jail. This something that the Gotham P.D. has had a “problem” with accomplishing in the past. I know that this is a small crossover, so the story needs to be told quickly, but I think it’s important to note that it takes Judge Dredd less than a day to capture, arrest, and unmask Bruce Wayne. Eventually the story ends up being Judges Dredd and Anderson and Batman facing off against Judge Death, Mean Machine and a wholly deranged and more violent version of the Scarecrow. The Scarecrow and Judge Death have a mutually beneficial relationship that comes straight from the heart of fear, but never fails to laugh at itself. Its truly strange but works very well. In fact, see below for an example of what happens when Judge Death is exposed to the Scarecrow’s fear poison (its so fluffy).

It’s safe to say that the real star of the book isn’t Batman or Judge Dredd, but Simon Bisley’s art. The violence is triumphantly gory, and Bisley doesn’t pull any of his punches, instead preferring to plunge in wholeheartedly to some vicious decapitations and dismemberments. His painted works have been compared to Bill Sienkewicz and Frank Frazetta, and it’s easy to see why. He is a master of what he does, excelling, in my opinion, with his handling of Batman in Mega-City One. Nothing can ever really seem out of place in a universe as weird as Judge Dredd’s, but its jarring to see Batman in this world. I think this is intentional on the part of Bisley because it gives the crossover more weight – this isn’t just two characters from different companies meeting because its good for sales, these two icons are really interacting and their disparate personal philosophies are in conflict.

Despite what a lot of readers think, Judge Dredd doesn’t show blind loyalty to his duty of upholding the law. The thing that’s Judge Dredd’s character is that he upholds the law 100%, but when it delves into insanity, he has no problem calling BS on the legal system. However, in the Judge Dredd world, Batman is a clear cut vigilante, which makes him a criminal. Albeit an incredibly resourceful and well-trained criminal. There is no moment in the book where the two resolve their differences or shake hands, and even though they accomplish the goal of defeating their mutual enemies, the closest thing to a compliment between the two is that Dredd calls Batman “a bit of a tough guy.” Anyone that has ever seen Batman do anything knows that he is much more than that, and anyone who has read a Judge Dredd strip knows that this is actually high praise when coming from Joe Dredd.

Writing duties are handled much the way they are on 80% of all Judge Dredd stories, by either John Wagner or Alan Grant, and in this case it’s both. To say that these two know Dredd would be an understatement. John Wagner created the character for 2000 AD in 1977, and has handled the majority of writing duties since then, often overseeing major story arcs that if not actively scripting. Alan Grant has written for pretty much every American comic book company, but teamed with Wagner on Judge Dredd throughout much of the 80s, which was when Dredd was solidified as the most popular 2000 AD franchise. The two eventually had a creative split and stopped working together except for special projects. Judgment on Gotham is thankfully one such special project. The two also collaborated on Detective Comics from 1988-1992, so their synchronicity transferred to writing Batman. It’s certain that if these two individuals weren’t on working terms in the late 80s/early 90s that this crossover wouldn’t have happened when it did, and it certainly wouldn’t have been as good. For American audiences it was the introduction to a character with a long history in law enforcement and kicking ass, and for British audiences it was a kind of validation that DC and American comics have acknowledged 2000 AD and Judge Dredd.

From the creative pairing of Wagner, Grant and Bisley, we get a book that is very well-balanced, highlighting character interactions while maintaining a steady pace that even features some genuinely funny moments that seem to come out of nowhere but echo the absurdist nature of Judge Dredd’s universe. The art is astonishing and merits a more than just a second glance. There were four crossovers in total that involved Judge Dredd and Batman, this is the first and definitely the best. This can be attributed to Simon Bisley’s fantastic art, the unease that exists between Batman and Judge Dredd, and the credibly terrifying villains. Despite being from 1991, the book doesn’t feel dated, which is an indicator of it’s strength. I’d recommend it to both fans of Dredd, Batman, sheer terror, and heavy metal concerts.