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BATMAN/JUDGE DREDD: JUDGEMENT ON GOTHAM REVIEW

by Gavin Johnston on May 09, 2018

Writer: John Wagner; Alan Grant
Artists: Simon Bisley; Cam Kennedy
Letterers: Tod Klein; Ken Bruzenak
Publisher: Rebellion


Judge Dredd has battled the Xenomorphs from Alien, the Predator, and even the weird, cackling invaders from Mars Attacks, but 1991’s Judgement on Gotham, in which Dredd finds himself facing off against Batman, is easily the best and most fondly remembered of Dredd crossovers.

 

The little known character of “Batman” has apparently been a cult classic since the 1930s, and Judgement on Gotham introduces fans of Judge Dredd to this lonely playboy who gives purpose to his life by dressing as a giant bat and, armed only with billions of dollars worth of technology and training, manages to defeat a series of villains each themed around a different mental illness. Unlike Judge Dredd, who has been known to execute jaywalkers, Batman’s own brand of justice involves avoiding taking life, instead assisting a corrupt police force in imprisoning criminals in easily escapable jails and asylums. How will the goody-two-shoes World’s Greatest Detective compare when faced with the man who is The Law?

 

When classic Dredd-universe villain Judge Death gets his hands on dimension jumping technology, an unfortunate turn of events see the alien superfiend journey to Gotham City, whilst Batman is accidentally trapped in Mega City One, unable to save the day. Once within Judge Dredd’s jurisdiction, Bruce discovers that the Justice Department takes a somewhat sterner view of vigilantism than Gotham’s own authorities. Whilst the boys are comparing testosterone levels, it’s up to PSI Judge Anderson to help save the day.

 

It would seem obvious for Batman to take the lead. Instead, it’s Dredd’s universe that seems to dominate the story. Judge Death joins forces with the Scarecrow, but the fear obsessed Dr Crane plays second fiddle and is given little to do. Whilst most of the story plays out in Gotham, there’s little atmosphere given to the city. From the pages of 2000AD we also get PSI Judge Cassandra Anderson and the psychopathic Mean Machine, but from the Gotham side of the crossover Bruce Wayne is pretty much on his own, and within a few pages is de-cowled and inside an interrogation cell.

 

Judge Death has developed as a character over time, starting as a Hammer-Horror style unstoppable monster, slowly developing into a pantomime villain, and more recently reimagined as a thing of nightmares. Judgement on Gotham see Death at the peak of his absurdity, and coming close to stealing the show from both famous chins. Dressed for much of the story in a comedy version of his usually garb, this version of Judge Death seems perilously close to the Joker, eager to dress up and perform, never without a witty quip, and viciously violent.

 

And Judgement on Gotham is violent. Characters are decapitated, disembowelled, and set on fire. In one memorable image, an entire head is swallowed whole. Simon Bisley’s gloriously anarchic, fully painted artwork gives Judgement on Gotham its punky, angry edge and revels in bloody murder. His Gotham is typically gothic and overblown, with a massively-eared Batman and an elaborate Batmobile. We also get a few wonderful full page images of iconic moments – Anderson taking a peak inside Bruce’s troubled mind, or Judge Death under the influence of Scarecrow’s fear inducing drugs, which would make greater poster images.

 

Full of these awesome set pieces and images, Judgement on Gotham also has a great script and dialogue. Dredd might just scowl his way through every scene he’s in, but with a wisecracking Anderson and an over the top Judge Death given starring roles, in places it's laugh out loud funny.

 

Vendetta on Gotham rolled around in 1993, and saw Dredd travel to Gotham whilst bad guys Ventriloquist and Scarface hatch a plan to bomb a theatre. It’s a far simpler story, and almost entirely forgettable, serving only as a lead in to a later crossover. Batman and Dredd battle it out in an empty landscape for several pages, whilst an unmemorable villain commits a crime. The art, this time by Cam Kennedy, is far tamer than Bisley’s angry style. A chance at a call-back to an iconic image of Bruce Wayne punching Dredd in the face is disappointingly squandered. This Gotham might be shrouded in shadow and the story might even involve child-murder, but the tone is much lighter. It seems strange that when Judgement on Gotham utilised a Dredd-universe mega-villain with billions of murders to his name, the follow up would choose a small time gangster and his puppet, rather than pulling out the big guns.

 

Whilst Vendetta in Gotham might be a mild disappointment, Judgement on Gotham is a gloriously overblown adventure, and well worth picking up.

 

 

 

Our Score:

10/10

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