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Home ¦ Reviews ¦ Batman/Judge Dredd Files

2000AD Review Extra 15th November 04

2000 AD - Batman Judge Dredd FilesThe Batman/Judge Dredd Files
By Alan Grant, John Wagner, Simon Bisley, Carl Critchlow, Glenn Fabry, Jim Murray, Jason Brashill

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What to Expect: The Mega City Lawman and the Dark Knight clash while fighting the Dark Judges, Mean Machine, Joker, Scarecrow and the Riddler.

Review by Gavin Hanly

The comic cross-over has been around in some form for many years. In the more distant past we’ve had Spiderman vs Superman (something of a pushover you’d think) Superman vs Hulk and even Superman vs Muhammad Ali. In more recent years, the relish for such crossovers has gone through the roof with Batman vs Aliens, Predators, Tarzan and more. Even Superman’s gone up against those Aliens too, while the X-men have even met the crew of the Starship Enterprise. The recent Alien vs Predator movie originally had it’s birthplace in comic books, where the pairing was first suggested over a decade ago.

However, much of the current vogue for such crossovers is arguably owed to the first of the tales contained in the Batman/Judge Dredd Files, the first book out of the gates from DC and Rebellion’s new trade collection deal. Judgement on Gotham (or “judgment” if you prefer American spelling) was the first significant inter-company crossover for some time and while DC was clearly a bigger player than Fleetway, in many ways it opened the floodgates for many others to follow (most notably between Dark Horse and others, as they seemed particularly keen to milk such crossovers). More importantly, The first Batman/Judge Dredd was successful because it was so damned good. It is possibly the best such crossover ever produced.

Batman Judge Dredd FIles
Batman makes a lasting impression on Dredd

There are a number of factors leading to this. Firstly, the writers both had experience with the individual characters. Alan Grant was in the middle of a successful Batman run, and John Wagner practically owns the character of Judge Dredd. In addition, they had already proved successful as a writing team on Judge Dredd, so expanding this to Batman seemed seamless. This is a highly entertaining tale, using key Batman and Judge Dredd villains to wonderful comic effect. Indeed, Judge Death’s reaction to the Scarecrow’s fear gas is still a laugh out loud moment after all these years. The characters of Dredd and Batman also work so well at playing off each other. Both are dedicated to their jobs to the point of psychosis, yet both have diametrically opposed ways of working. Dredd’s order to “subdue” Batman illustrates this perfectly. Indeed, it’s a mark of the first story that there’s no “grudging acceptance” of the other’s working practice, and that they still hate each other at the end. Throw in Anderson as the one trying to keep them from each other’s throats, and you have a perfect group dynamic. No other crossover, even the ones following in this volume, has provided such a satisfying tale.

But perhaps the greatest asset to this first crossover was the up and coming talent of Simon Bisley. Bisley had already proven his exceptional skills on both the ABC Warriors and Slaine: The Horned God, but had yet to really break into the American market. This was to be his big chance, and he doesn’t fall shy of the target. Judgement on Gotham is possibly the best and most consistent work of Bisley’s career to date, with some truly spectacular scenes showcasing the two main characters (you can tell that the contracts stipulated that they should each have an equal number of “cool splash pages”). His work doesn’t lose detail towards the end, as Slaine did, and remains astonishingly accomplished throughout.

Batman Judge Dredd FIles
The staring contest ended in a draw...
After the success of Judgement on Gotham, a sequel was inevitable. The true sequel comes later in this collection, with Die Laughing. However, producing pages at a pace that makes Brian Bolland look prolific, Glenn Fabry couldn’t get the book ready in time for the suits at Fleetway and DC to properly capitalise on Judgement in Gotham’s success. So in the interim, two sequels were born. Oddly, the second of these, Vendetta in Gotham with art by Cam Kennedy is not reproduced in this volume. The official answer is that it was the only crossover without fully painted art, but it’s exclusion makes the package seem a little incomplete, and is a shame because it features wonderful art by Kennedy, as well as the inclusion of the Ventriloquist, a Grant created Batman villain. In addition, Die Laughing actually refers to Vendetta in Gotham at one point, making its exclusion even more glaring.

But one thing is sure, both the missing chapter and The Ultimate Riddle reprinted here fell short of matching Judgement on Gotham’s greatness. The clichés start to appear, with the two main characters gradually growing to appreciate the other’s methods (although this only happens after a very entertaining fight in Vendetta). This is a mistake, as the story lacks the total disregard that they showed to each other in Judgement in Gotham. In addition, with the main villain being the Riddler, there isn’t enough of Dredd’s world to make this much more than a guest appearance for the Mega City judge in The Ultimate Riddle. As such, the Ultimate Riddle is a pleasant diversion – but little more. The art, from Carl Critchlow is also impressive, but can in no way top Bisley. Critchlow produces some standout scenes, notably the first stunning shot of Batman against the Gotham skyline, but his painted work occasionally looks a little forced, with some scenes coming across as confused. It does serve to highlight how incredibly he has improved as an artist since, however. His current non-painted style and artwork in Lobster Random and more recent Dredd tales proves to be far more kinetic and again proves that the fully painted art that took over 2000AD in the 90’s was not always a good idea.

And we move onto the last tale – the originally two part “Die Laughing”. As mentioned earlier, this is the true sequel to Judgement in Gotham, once again picking up the Dredd/Anderson/Batman triangle. It is certainly much more successful than the Ultimate Riddle, and setting most of the story in Mega City works to an extent as a counterpoint to the 1st tale. The Joker is the key Batman villain this time round, while Dredd still relies on Judge Death (albeit backed up by his cronies Mortis, Fire and Fear) to provide the Mega City threat. It’s an enjoyable tale, but has its flaws. The Mega City setting ultimately doesn’t do the tale any particular favours, as the overall plot feels like just another Dark Judges romp, with not a great deal to set it aside from similarly light-hearted Judge Death tales.

Batman Judge Dredd FIles
Dredd decides to cut Death down to size

In its favour, Judge Herriman being taken over by Mortis and slowly decaying is an amusing subplot and the Joker aspect is handled well, with Dark Judge Joker being a good way to bring him into line with the other dark judges. However, this has its downsides too, as the Joker is such a strong character, he threatens to put his Mega City counterparts in the shade. In addition, perhaps a little too much time is given over to the bad guys. One of the best parts of Judgement in Gotham was the fish out of water aspect of Batman in Mega City One. It would perhaps have been a more successful tale if they’d tried the opposite with Dredd this time around. It also just peters out at the end, whereas the original had a great last line from Mean. Overall, it’s a fun read, but still can’t match the original.

As for the art on this last part? Glenn Fabry turns in what can be described as a patchy job. There are moments of Fabry genius, his Anderson for one, and he draws a fantastic Joker. His Dredd occasionally leaves something to be desired, unfortunately, with his helmet occasionally looking like a bad fit. But as the first issue, and the deadlines, draw on, the art shows significant signs of looking rushed and patchy. Jason Brashill and Jim Murray pop up to help out with the pages that Fabry couldn’t produce for the first half, and while they do a decent enough job, the change in style is noticeable and Brashill’s style can on occasion become a little too cartoony.

However, things pick up dramatically on the second half, when Jim Murray takes over full art chores. Murray’s work is similar to the style he used in Prog 2004’s lead Dredd story, and he proves to be a master storyteller. The art is never anything less than stunning and in addition Murray creates some distinct designs for the Dredd world, like a completely redesigned Lawgiver and Lawmaster that look wonderfully inventive. In addition, his splash pages are wonderful, with the evisceration of Judge Death being particularly dramatic. He puts in such a great job that you can’t help think the piece would have held together better if he’d done part 1 too, as well as coming out a lot faster. But unfortunately he isn’t as bankable a name as Fabry.

So overall, this is a welcome trip down memory lane starting with one of the best crossovers ever, coupled with two lesser tales, which are both nonetheless highly enjoyable. Completists may be irritated at the lack of the Kennedy tale, but there’s plenty here for the price of entry all the same. If you haven’t read them, this is highly recommended, and if you don’t have Judgement on Gotham, this is a must buy. If DC’s deal with Rebellion is a success, then maybe they’ll be another one along before too soon, but until then, this’ll do nicely.

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Original content (c) 2002 Gavin Hanly (contact 2000AD Review).