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Waiting for the Trade = Batman * Judge Dredd

Batman & Judge Dredd: Judgment on Gotham
writers Alan Grant & John Wagner, artist Simon Bisley
This is an original graphic novel from 1991

Why I Bought This: It was in the $1 bin of a local comic store and I’m always a sucker for an intercompany crossover. Even though my knowledge of Judge Dredd is limited to that bad Stallone 90s movie and a Free Comic Book Day issue two years ago at this price I figured it was worth a shot.

The Plot: Batman & Judge Dredd are forced to team-up when Judge Death comes to Gotham and teams up with Scarecrow.

(spoilers below)

Judge Death (undead psycho-cop who seems to have powers of rot touch, intangibility and razor sharp nails: his philosophy is only the living commit crimes so life itself is a crime that should be punished by death) kills some young lovers making out in an alley. The couples’ screams attract Batman and two Gotham cops. The cops unload their guns on Death to no effect and he kills one of them. Batman uses martial arts and accidentally impales Death on a fence. Bats thinks its dead but Death soon rises up to attack again. This time the cop’s bullets hit a gas tank and the ensuing explosion burns Death to ash, though its spirit rises up and vows vengeance.

Batman examines Death’s gear and when he touches its belt buckle he is transported to Mega City (Judge Dredd’s fascist crime-ridden future). Batman encounters another Dredd villain: Mean Machine—a big bruiser with a low IQ, a cyborg arm, a metal plate covering most of his head and a dial that controls his aggression on the headpiece. Apparently he stole the dimension travel belt for Judge Death and wants to know where Death went and why Batman took his place. Batman outmaneuvers him and throws M.M. from a building but then uses a cable to save him. Their fight attracts Judge Dredd. Batman sees Dredd is the law on this world and is willing to cooperate in order to get home and stop Death; however Dredd insists Batman be cuffed leading to Dredd sucker punching Bats and arresting him.

Mean Machine arrives in Gotham via the belt and head-butts the cop from earlier. Meanwhile a telepath in Dredd’s unit named Anderson is called in to talk with Batman after he claims Judge Death is alive and on the loose.

Batman is appalled by what passes for law and justice in Dredd’s world. Dredd meanwhile wants to jail Batman for 20 years for various unlicensed weapons on his utility belt. Anderson’s telepathy verifies Bruce is telling the truth but Dredd is not dissuaded that Batman belongs in jail. He also feels if Death has gone to another world he is no longer in their jurisdiction and has no interest in chasing him down. After hearing that comment, Batman breaks free and pounds on Dredd a bit until the rest of the Mega City police force subdues him.

Back in Gotham, Scarecrow breaks into a morgue to get glands he uses to create his fear toxin. Judge Death’s spirit also arrives at the morgue looking for a new body to inhabit. The villains quickly hit it off so that Scarecrow helps Death with the reanimation ritual. Of course when its done Death decides to double cross Scarecrow and kill him but Scarecrow’s fear gas puts a stop to that (and in a funny page we see Death’s worst fears are cute cartoon animals).

Anderson frees Batman from the prison transport and takes him to a dimension door facility and from there back to Gotham. Dredd hears about the break out and follows. Back in Gotham, Mean Machine is head-butting various people looking for Death and gets directed to a heavy metal concert for a band called Living Death. This just so happens to be where Scarecrow wants to take Death to see what kind of fear they can instill together on a large crowd. Anderson’s psychic powers also track Death to the concert.

At the concert Death kills the band in gory fashion and then attacks the crowd. Mean Machine sees Death with a new partner and feels double-crossed so he attacks the stage itself by head-butting the support pilings. Batman and Anderson arrive. She shoots Scarecrow’s fear canister exposing him to his own gas which takes him out of the fight. Batman is not doing as well against Death but then Dredd arrives and shoots Judge Death a lot. Just then the stage collapses burying Dredd in the rubble. Death is about to use his rot touch on Dredd when Batman makes the save with an electric batarang that fries this body. When Death’s spirit goes to escape Anderson pulls him into her own mind to imprison him.

Dredd makes Mean Machine docile by shooting out his aggression dial. He’s ready to fight Batman too but Anderson convinces Dredd they need to go before she loses control of Judge Death. And with that everyone goes home while Batman takes Scarecrow back to Arkham.

Critical Thoughts: I liked this well enough. It certainly isn’t breaking new ground, but then most intercompany crossovers don’t break new ground—they just follow the template Gerry Conway established in the 70s with Super Man vs. Spider-man.

It comes off as more of Dredd story than a Batman story as it has two of villains and one of his supporting characters it, whereas Scarecrow’s involvement is minimal and non of Bruce’s supporting cast is present. Yes, I’d have liked to see a little more of Batman in Mega City or a longer fight between Batman and Dredd (even if we know these fights always end inconclusively) but the story told here is a consistent narrative throughout. As someone unfamiliar with Dredd’s world I had no problem follow it (and I’d even seen Judge Death before in the Free Comic Book Day issue, and he’s a strong villain for this world.)

The art is painted, which gives the book a unique look. There are some real nice splash pages in here. Judge Death comes off very creepy in this format. Overall the art is a definite highlight.

Grade: C+. For what I paid this delivered more than enough entertainment, but even its original cover price of $6 would be fine for this story. Again we’re not reinventing the wheel but it is a better than average example of the intercompany crossover genre.