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by Gavin Johnston on October 30, 2017

Writer: Kek-W
Artist: Dave Kendall
Letterers: Annie Parkhouse; Ellie De Ville
Publisher: Rebellion

It started with the bees…

Dark Judges: The Fall of Deadworld is a tale of desperate survival in a world which has tipped beyond the point of collapse. A world of civil unrest and extreme weather, where deadly toxins have irrevocably contaminated the food-chain, poisoning the water and air. Where a bloody coup has replaced the already brutal ruling order with a darkly extreme alternative. Fall of Deadworld is the story of people dealing with the terrible realisation that their rulers are incurably insane and that things are not going to get better.

Judge Death first appeared in the pages of 2000AD back in 1980 in a classic story by John Wagner, illustrated by the legendary Brian Bolland, which also introduced PSI Judge Anderson. An undead, dimension hopping foe who could not just be killed or locked up, Judge Death later returned several times, accompanied by his loyal lieutenants, Judges Mortis, Fire and Fear.

Over time, these characters where developed and given more of a back story. They had been Judges in an alternative dimension, now known as Deadworld, where they had killed the entire population in order to reduce the crime rate. Since all crime is committed by the living, life itself must be a crime. Now they were in Dredd’s universe and eager to spread the good word.


At first a Hammer Horror style unstoppable monster, Death was later a genocidal manic, the result of a troubled childhood, or a wisecracking super zombie. The original terror slowly leaked away with familiarity.


Fall of Deadworld doesn’t just return the Dark Judges to their scary roots – it goes further than ever before, building a world of abject terror and misery with the Dark Judges at its centre. It’s an origin story, giving us the rise of Death and his conquest of Deadworld. How does one go about murdering an entire planet? You start with the bees.


In the capital city, the thing that was once Judge Sydney De’Ath has seized power in a violent coup. Using a blend of science and magic to transcend the need for a living body, he is building an army and transforming the world into his own vision of utopia.

Judge Fairfax is on the run. The Chief Judge has been removed from office and Fairfax has some history with his replacement.

Far beyond the city walls, a family struggle to get by on their small farm as the world decays around them. Fairfax stumbles into their lives, a figure of a system they hate and fear, but soon the family realise that the alternative is much worse.


Writer Kek-W makes the wise move of building the world of the Dark Judges in which they barely appear. Told mostly from the point of view of normal civilians and a street judge, the supernatural monsters are completely alien to the protagonists. When Fear, Fire and Mortis do appear, they do so briefly, and their appearance has not quite developed into the icon figures they would become.


Judge Death meanwhile, appears mostly in flashback in his still living form, allowing the cruelty and obsession of the character to be built without humour. In a particularly brutal scene, he calmly attacks and mutilates a group of cadet judges with cutlery. This is far from the darkest act committed here.


Artist Dave Kendall, whose uniquely twisted portraits of the Dark Judges inspired the script by Kek-W, builds a world of deformed humans scratching a surviving amid rotting, rusting environments. The art is unrelentingly bleak and muddy. Each panel is a nightmarish vision. Deadworld is unflinchingly violent, at times stomach churning in its detailed morbidity.


Also within these pages are the four short stories which make up Dreams of Deadworld. Set centuries after the Fall in an empty world where Judge Death’s loyal followers bicker and squabble amongst themselves, desperately seeking purpose after achieving their dreams of a lifeless world. Each short tale is told from the point of view of one of the four Dark Judges, addressing their own hopes and fears. The Dark Judges are developed in these brief tales far more than they have been elsewhere in four decades. Mortis obsesses over time, Fire dreams of lost love, Death plots and schemes, whilst Fear hides his own insecurities. These monsters have always been portrayed in the past as icons whose personal weaknesses where conveyed through humour and typical super-villain flaws. Here they are people who have chosen to become all powerful monsters, only to have their personal flaws emphasised along the way.


Fall of Deadworld is about the desperate struggle to survive, but we already know how this story will end. The Dark Judges win. Everyone will die, and they will reign supreme over a world of corpses. The truly scary thing about the story is that the heroes cannot defeat the monsters, and their bloody struggle will be fruitless. Hope has already been lost. The only question is how long the heroes can stay alive, and how will the end finally come.


There are few comics as dark as the Fall of Deadworld. Jump scares are easy, gore is predictable and evil monsters are forgettable, but Fall of Deadworld isn’t just a horror comic. It is a vision of terror and despair, which will get under your skin and haunts your dreams.



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