Batman. Judge Dredd. They ought to be an interesting team-up, right? Judge Dredd is the law, Batman isn’t. There’s a lot of gristle for competing philosophies, if one wanted to do a story with a lot of gristle. The Batman/Judge Dredd Files consists of three one-shots and a two-parter. It took DC eight years to get these comics out. The first one-shot, Judgment on Gotham came out in 1991 (I remember buying it, my first exposure to Dredd). The second issue of the two-parter, Die Laughing, came out in 1999. The first one-shot still stands out. It’s an interesting mix of a 2000AD Dredd adventure with a Batman comic, with some truly beautiful art from Simon Bisley. The rest of the Files is a waste of time (through it varies depending on the one-shot).
Since Judgment’s the only one worth spending much time on (or reading at all), I’ll go through its “sequels” first.
Each of the included issues–including both parts of Die Laughing–have different artists. They have the same two writers, Alan Grant and John Wagner, who both wrote a lot of Dredd and a lot of Batman. It seems like they should be the perfect creators for these team-ups, but things go dreadfully wrong with the second special and never get any better.
Vendetta in Gotham, with some rather light art from Cam Kennedy, is mostly about Batman and Dredd fighting while Scarface and Ventriloquist kill some kids. No, really, they’re going to kill some kids. It’s a good Scarface and Ventriloquist story from Grant and Wagner, but it’s a terrible comic. Batman and Dredd’s issue long fist fight is a bore. The whole thing is a setup for the next special, which promises something interesting given the title–Die Laughing.
Only the next special is The Ultimate Riddle, with some incredibly wanting painted art by Carl Critchlow and Dermot Power (they split the special). Judgment on Gotham, with that glorious Bisley, shouldn’t have been the visual standard for the team-ups. Before I forget, it’s interesting how the Batmobiles in each series look like whatever’s in the movies at the time. It’s like DC wasn’t sure a 2000AD reader coming to the team-up would be familiar with the latest Batman continuity.
Except there’s a terrible tie-in to Zero Hour in The Ultimate Riddle, which has Dredd and Batman trying to get out of a Most Dangerous Game-type situation. It’s dramatically inert and often really dumb, but Dredd’s got a criminal along with him and it does provide some comic relief. There’s very little for 2000AD fans in Riddle, so it helps a lot.
Then comes Die Laughing, with the Joker. DC published it as two issues, each with different artists. One wonders if Ultimate Riddle originally had a similar publishing plan. Anyway, Glenn Fabry does the art on the first issue, Jim Murray does the art on the second. Both painted; it’s Batman/Judge Dredd after all. It needs to be painted.
Fabry’s painting is okay. Murray’s is bad. Murray’s is a little more ambitious though. Fabry’s just churning it out as fast as he can. There’s no enthusiasm to Fabry’s issue, just magnificent competence. Murray flops, but he tries for some humor, which is important since the story’s so strange. It’s like a 2000AD Dredd story, with the Dark Judges trying to take over a hedonist biodome (or some such location), but Batman’s around. And he gets together with Judge Anderson. He seduces her, rather creepily. It’s disappointing. (For her; Batman’s a bit of a tool in Die Laughing).
Oh, and the promise of the Joker and Judge Death and Dredd and Batman and so on? It’s lame. Wagner and Grant have no story involving Joker and Batman going to Mega-City One. Did they sign a deal for these series with DC after the success of Judgment and spend almost a decade churning out lame scripts?
Now for Judgment on Gotham, which features Dredd in Gotham hunting down the Scarecrow. Judge Anderson’s along. Bisley’s Anderson is a lot different than Murray’s. She gets to be just as iconic, as a female Judge, as the boys do in Bisley’s Gotham, whereas Murray tries for cheesecake in Die Laughing. Fabry does a little better, but not much. Her writing is terrible in Die Laughing. It’s great in Judgment. Judgment is this great Judge Dredd 2000AD story where Batman guest stars.
The comic has that early nineties Batman enthusiasm–after the movies, DC thought they’d get new readers and went all out creatively. Bisley’s perfect for it. His Gotham is nightmarish but incredibly realistic. It’s scary because Bisley’s got so much reality to the physicality of everything, he can sell the darkness. This approach to the painting is what the other team-up specials choke on (and what Vendetta doesn’t even attempt). Bisley’s engaging in the characters’ iconic natures every page. Even Scarecrow. It’s glorious to behold.
At the time Judgment on Gotham came out–and I was thirteen years old–I remember Scarecrow seemed a strange villain choice for a team-up. But having since read some 2000AD–by Grant and Wagner–Scarecrow makes such a better villain for Dredd. Mean Machine Angel shows up too, facing off against Batman, who’s hilariously out of place. Judgment has the humor of a Dredd comic. The rest of the collection doesn’t.
I didn’t even know there were subsequent Batman/Judge Dredd team-ups. I’ve always had a decent memory of Judgment (Bisley’s art is fantastic), but it’s better than I remember. Even when compared to its entirely lacking follow-ups, Judgment on Gotham is a high point for “event” crossovers.