Saturday, 20 June 2015

Young Death: Boyhood Of A Superfiend (Judge Dredd Megazine #1.1-1.12, #2.15, 2000AD #1114-1115, #1168)

"Let people know my ssstory I want them to underssstand there is an alternative" - Judge Death

Judge Death is arguably the most iconic adversary Judge Dredd ever faces.  He comes from a parallel earth which had a Judge system similar to Dredd's earth but he had come to the conclusion that because crime was committed by the living, life itself was a crime.  He and three other "Dark Judges" - Mortis, Fear and Fire - carried out judgement upon their world until no one was left alive.  They then turned their attentions to other worlds and that's where they tangled with Judge Dredd and the psychic Judge Anderson.  The Young Death storyline comes after the Dark Judges most effective attack upon Dredd's world. With the help of the two sisters Phobia and Nausea they corrupted Judge Dredd's replacement (The real Judge Dredd was off larking about in the Cursed Earth having grown a conscience and quit in the build-up to the epic plotline that followed) and waged war on Megacity one killing millions upon millions in a year long storyline called "Necropolis". The real Judge Dredd then returned and, with the help of Judge Anderson and some trainee Judges, they wrestled back control of the city, but Judge Death himself managed to escape.  That's the background to the Young Death storyline in which Death recounts his lifestory and philosophy to a terrified journalist in the hope he can bring people around to his way of thinking.  This storyline ran in the first twelve issues of the Judge Dredd Megazine and is collected in the trade paperback "Judge Death: The Life and Death Of..." along with several related one-shots and other post-Necropolis Judge Death series. But it's the twelve part Young Death I will be covering today, (with a quick look at the following one-shots) returning to the rest of the volume as a later date.

The story begins with Judge Hershey overseeing the picking up of a naked, chemically burned corpse.  Apparently they were alerted as to its location by a phone call from someone claiming to be Judge Death.  They find an electronic device in his hand and call it a "hackers licence".  Hershey advises the other Judge there to get an ID quickly just in case Judge Death really is involved.
Oh he's involved alright.
The story then flashes back to a journalist called Brian Skuter.  He is phoned up by someone claiming to be Judge Death, who gives him an address and time for them to meet up.  Later Brian arrives at a flat owned by a Mrs. Gunderson.  She has appalling eyesight and describes her lodger "Mr De'ath" as a "handsome devil".  Brian wonders how she can be unaware of the atmosphere of evil in the place.  She then shows him into Mr De'ath's room and he is revealed, of course, to be Judge Death.  He assures Brian he won't hurt him.  "Thesssse dayssss, I wouldn't hurt a fly."

Brian gets out his recording device and asks Judge Death to "hiss into this".  Judge Death gets irritated and says Brian should not abuse his tolerance.  Brian kicks off his interview by asking him how he escaped during the last days of Necropolis.  Death says he just lost himself in the piles of bodies and was buried in a mass grave.  Then sometime later two grave robbers started digging them up to steal from the dead and unearth Judge Death.

Judge Death:  "You dare disturb be from my resssst?"

He kills them, although he says he saved them from their wickedness and gave them peace.  Brian says he thought Judge Death wouldn't hurt a fly.  "They weren't fliessss" Judge Death says ominously.  Hurriedly Brian asks him what it was like down amongst the corpses.  "Mossst comfortable" muses Judge Death:

Judge Death: "Asssleep with the pure and the purgggged for monthsss, it wasss my refuggge.  A sssafe, comfroting cocoon.  Hidden from the preying eyesss of the Mega-City.  The probing tendrilsss of the cursssed Psssi-division."
Death takes lodgings in his own style.
Once woken up, he decided maybe it was time to restart his mission and took lodgings with Mrs. Gunderson.  He introduced himself to her as "Jay De'ath".  She took him to have supper with her other lodger Mr. Peel who freezes in silent terror when he sees Judge Death.  Judge Death sat down to table and pushed his arm through Mr. Peel, killing him.  Back with Brian Skuter, Judge Death wordlessly points to Mr.Peel's coprse stashed under the bed.

Brian: "But you said you were sick of killing!"

Judge Death: "Sick of killing and not being appreccciated for it!"

Brian tries to halt the interview but Death threatens him, saying whose wrath does he fear more, his or the Judges?  Mrs. Gunderson opens the door to check everything is OK and to let Judge Death know the rent is due the next day.
Brian gets a lesson in the facts of Death.
Judge Death tells Brian he will do Judge Death's bidding or die, simple as.  Brian asks why he called him.  Judge Death rants that Megacity One has been ungrateful for all his efforts to save it. He intends to leave, but before he goes:

Judge Death: "The world ssshould known my ssstory Mr. Ssskuter.  You will tell it."

Brian: "An 'Origins'.  Oh wow.  Ulp."

In the present The Judges have identified the burned body as Brian Skuter.  He apparently had a massive heart attack before being dumped in the chem pit.  Hershey asks if there is any trace of Judge Death but the body was too badly damaged.  They look him up on the computer system and find an article he wrote entitled "Judge Death Lives!  Is Judge Death Your Next Door Neighbour?"  Hershey sends the Psi-Division to his flat and says Dredd should be notified too.

Back in the recent past with Brian and Judge Death, he manages to get Judge Death to tell him his first name - "Sidney". But further probing about his age gets an angry response.  Death starts his tale by saying he lived on a similar world and his first kill was the family dog who he had been abusing.  He tossed "Woofie's" ball off a cliff and Woofie leapt off the cliff after it and was killed.  "Good boy" said young Sidney as he looked down to where Woofie's body was.
His first kill.
He goes on to tell Brian that he got his own back on his sister as well, who had reported on his mistreatment of Woofie.  He place a poisonous creature on her face as she slept.  His dad ripped it off while his mum called him "wicked, wicked boy!".  She didn't die, but suffered prolonged hospitalisation and on-going side effects afterwards.

Judge Death says he learned two things from all this.  First that once Woofie was dead he never got Sidney into trouble again and he was never a bad dog again.  And two:  "Don't get caught".  Other people were not as enlightened.  His parents watched him shooting birds from his confinement in his room.  His mum says he ought to see a doctor, his dad says he's just a normal healthy growing boy.  His mum said she didn't like being left alone with him and had a terrible feeling he'd one day kill them all.

Sidney's dad said he'd take Sidney to work with him.  Brian notes a wistfulness about Judge Death when he speaks of his father.

Judge Death: "He wasss consssumed with hate and loathhhing for people.  He lovvved to caussse them pain.  To torture them ssslowly and hear their sssilent ssscreamsss of agony... He wassss a denstissst."

And we get a rather in-depth look at how his travelling dental practice mistreated people.  His dad allowed Sidney to partake in some "Dentistry" telling him how to cause the maximum amount of suffering in a horrifying Marathon Man stylee.
Brian asked how he got away with it.  Judge Death says that people are afraid of dentists and perhaps people thought his father might come for them if they raised a fuss.  Soon just torturing people didn't suffice and his dad started flat out murdering people.  Judge Death said his father gave him his philosophy of the inherent corruption of life and the forgiving nature of death.

His father told him that everyone's heads are filled with worms.  "Only the dead are truly without worms."  Judge Death says this was a metaphor for sinfulness.  Sidney then reported his father to the Judges, having decided to join himself seeing it offering ample scope to apply his ideas.  His father was sentenced to death and as a special favour, Sidney was permitted to throw the switch on him. After admitting his own head was also filled with worms he said "Good boy" to Sidney and then he fried.
Sidney takes out his father.
Judge Death called executing his father a "cherisshhed memory".  Sidney was then an immediate success at the academy.  He was able to find sympathic ears for his philosophy.  Some thought him "sick" and would succumb to unfortunate "accidents".  When the Senior quarters caught fire, Sidney managed to shift the blame to a student who had been annoying him. He suggested they be allowed to hunt the unfortunate boy and their tutor agreed.  A pack of students then chased their victim through the snow and blasted him to ribbons.

Brian: "I gather life was uh.. fairly cheap on your world?"

Judge Death: "It wass not the ssacred insstitution it iss here.  In that way we were more enlightened than you."

Mrs. Gunderson interrupts and clumsily serves them tea.  Back in the present Judge Hershy breaks into Brian's flat and a phone message leads her to the tapes of the interview with Judge Death.

A bad day in court for the defendents.
We return to the story of Sidney.  He was allowed one day to run a court the way he saw fit.  Twenty seven people were bought in front of them with trivial charges against them, and he executed every one of them.  There were a lot of complaints and the Principal called Sidney to account.  Sidney tells him "only the dead are innocent" and he's reduced their chances of reoffending to zero.  The principal sends him away telling him he be the death of them all.

He was now being known as "Sidney Death", which he knew was a jibe, but he took it upon himself to make it a badge of honour, he even adopted it as part of his name shield.  In the present, listening to Brian's tapes he finds out where he was going and tells control that Judge Anderson should be notified and unites sent to Mrs. Gunderson's flat in Sylvia Plath block.
He wore his nickname with pride.
Judge Death continues his story.  He had graduated with top honours.  His mother and sister were not there to witness the ceremony.  They had run away from him and not told him where they were but he tracked them down, arriving at the lighthouse they were staying in, the rain pouring down.

His sister asks if he's come to kill them.  Sidney says no, "merely to judge you".  He decides the wheelchair marks on the floor are a breach of health and safety and the larder is overstocked so they are guilty of hoarding and the sentence for both of these is death.

His mother tries to escape with his sister, pushing her wheelchair at speed.  But Sidney shoots his sister through the head and keeps chasing his mother up the lighthouse. At the top and with nowhere to run, Sidney explains to his mother what he's doing is an act of love as he grabs her and dangles her over the edge.  She shouts that he's "stark, staring mad" and he lets go and she is dashed on the rocks below.
And there goes the rest of his family.
Brian says his family got unlucky, having a psycho among them.  Judge Death gets angry saying he was not a psycho, he acted out of love like a dutiful son should.  Now Sidney saw things clearly:

Judge Death: "I musst dessstroy the world - evvery livvingg thhingg in it.  I mussst return the world to a ssstate of perfect innocence."

He was being followed by three other like minded Judges.  They found crime everywhere and one day, one of them found an entire school guilty and killed them all with a flamethrower.  Sidney nicknamed him "Judge Fire".

Brian wonders how the Judge's ended up the way they were.  Judge Death says it was a stroke of good fortune.  He found the two sisters, Phobia and Nausea who had been preying on a town.  They had a temple devoted to death.  He saw the sisters and it was "love at firsst sssight."

Judge Death: "Asss I gazzzed upon the divine madnesss in their eyesss - I felt a sstiring in my breasst and lloins ssuch as I had never felt before.  Ffrom that moment on, I was theirsss." Squick.

In the present, Dredd and Anderson are outside Mrs. Gunderson's block.  Anderson can pick up something faint, but she is sure she should have picked him up before.  Dredd calls for his back-up to move in.

Dredd and Anderson are on the case.
Back with Judge Death and Brian, Judge Death tells him that he and the sisters got up to acts of "unssspeakable deprravvvity."  The sisters however reminded him of a flaw in his philosphy.  He was alive himself and possibly the greatest sinner.   The sisters said he must die, but that they can bring him back once he is dead.  For weeks they let his body rot and rubbed him with "foul-sssmelling unguants and corrossive fluidsss".  Finally he became a spectral form.  Using "dead fluids" they prepared a new body for him, of which he took possession.  Impressed his three leiutenants asked if they could go through a similar transformation.

Immediately Judge Death began putting his plan into action.  He first killed the Chief Judge and then the four of them went to war on the world until it was completely and utterly dead.  His tale told, Judge Death lets Brian go, much to Brian's relief. In the present the Judges crash into Mrs. Gunderson's flat and find that although Death has been there, he's not now.
The Dark Judges triumphant.
Mrs. Gunderson is interviewed by them and says "Mr De'ath" made an angry phonecall to Brian the previous night.  We then cut to Judge Death confronting Brian with the tabloid headlines relating to his story.

Judge Death: "Trivvvia Mr. Ssskuter!  I give you my lifffe and you givvve me trivvia!"

Brian says the quality papers wouldn't believe him, they thought he made it all up.  So an infuritated Judge Death slowly kills Brian and as he does so, the action cuts to the present with Dredd and Co. listening to Judge Death killing Brian on the recorder.

The Judges decide to cover up the tapes and leave Mrs. Gunderson alone.  Judge Anderson is concerned that Judge Death has found a way to block her.  Dredd tells her to to get to work on finding him as Judge Death could "still be the death of us all."
And that's how Brian died.  Slowly and painfully.
And so finished the twelve part, Young Death: Boyhood Of Superfiend.  But there were some short stories that were related to it that came in later progs.

TEA WITH MRS. GUNDERSON - In this strip, Death has been recaptured and is imprisoned in his spirit form.  Mrs. Gunderson has been wanting to meet with him and this time has been allowed to.  She wants to know what he'll do about the rent he owes her. Then his containment is removed.  The Judge in charge is testing a hypotheses that Judge Death likes Mrs. Gunderson and is her friend.
Death's spirit form.  Awful artwork.
Judge Death takes control of Mrs. Gunderson and threatens to sequeeze her mind until it pops unless they let him go.  Inside her mind is a little girl having a tea party to which she invites Judge Death.  He grabs the girl by the throat, she says he is wicked, but that she forgives him.

Judge Death: "Nooooooooo!  I cannot execute - ssshe is innocccent!"

And he leaves her body and goes back into his cell.  The Judges lead Mrs. Gunderson away and cover her missing rent from the petty cash.

DEATH BECOMES HIM - This strip shows how Mrs. Gunderson's place has become a stop on a tour of Megacity One's spooky places.   A man dressed as Judge Death attacks one of the tourists.  The tour leader later tells Mrs.Gunderson to get rid of the man as he is starting to "go like the rest".  The man later grabs a knife to kill Mrs. Gunderson but fights the urge and drops it and leaves.
Imaginary Death goads on the actor playing him.
Dredd arrives at Mrs. Gunderson's flat saying one of her previous Judge Deaths has comitted suicide in a Iso-Cube and died making threats against her.  Dredd picks up the knife and muses over it.  The man begins to imagine Judge Death telling him to kill and he goes to his agent and murders him.  Then the imaginary Judge Death tells him to kill Mrs. Gunderson so he goes to the bar she drinks at, but before he can hurt her, Dredd arrives and shoots him.  Mrs. Gunderson takes this all in her stride, saying he was the best Death she had.

A NIGHT WITH JUDGE DREDD - This strip begins with a drunken stag do deciding to leave the passed out groom overnight in Mrs. Gunderson's flat.  They place him under the animatronic Judge Death and leave.  Unfortunately that night the second robot war broke out and his friends were killed, and the terrified man spent five days trapped with the animatronic Judge Death.
Worst Stag Do Ever.
He turns it off, but it keeps speaking to him, telling him to kill.  He ends up putting the model's uniform on and killing several people before being gunned down by Judge Dredd who says he's one of Gundersons for sure.  And that seems to be the last of stories featuring the erstwhile Judge Death's haunted lodgings.

Young Death is an excellent piece of story telling by John Wagner and Pete Doherty.  I'm usually a little wary of projects that demystify a force of nature villain like Judge Death. But the backstory here really works, especially thanks to Doherty's queasy artwork which renders sequence like the dental torture and the tranformation of Sidney into Judge Death, profoundly hard to read through.  Judge Death's philosophy is cleverly developed as the warped philosphy of a disturbed child given free reign by the brutal society he was growing up in.

The framing sequence of the investigation into Brian Skuter's death dooms him in retrospect from the start, but leaves you wondering how things'll get there.  And the idea of Judge Death lodging with a little old lady too blind to see his inherent evil is a wonderful collision of the mundane and the grotesque.  The fact his presence there leaves a mark and attempts to turn the flat into a tourist attraction keep going horribly wrong is also a fun idea.  All-in-all "Young Death" is well worth seeking out, it's been collected in various trade paperbacks (these scans came from Judge Death:  The Life and Death Of... which was a gift from my very good friend Lucy) and back in the day it helped kick the Megazine off with a quality storyline and I'll be returning to more of his post-Necropolis adventures at a later date.


  1. Judge Death is the most iconic. P. J. Maybe is arguably even cooler (he does what he does without any supernatural assistance), but it's hard to be iconic when you keep changing your face.

    Dredd was not "larking about" in the Cursed Earth, you cheeky little so-and-so! He had his face melted off by acid and suffered amnesia so severe that he forgot his own name. Thirty years, creep!

    In Mega-City One they'll try and make creds (their currency, because it sounds more space-age than dollars) out of anything, including murder locations.

    Mrs Gunderson is now living in Sylvia Plath block with Walter the Wobot, and it is hilarious :-D At least, it is for someone like me who has always liked Walter the Wobot. At one point he was considered insufficiently grimdark for a Serious Adult Comic™ like 2000 AD, but now he's back in fashion.

    Thank you for mentioning me :-)

  2. I was pretty sure Judge Death was the most iconic, I just wasn't sure if someone or something had popped up during the period I wasn't reading that might challange him.

    You know I really must read Tales Of The Dead Man again sometime, refresh my memory of what Dredd was doing that definitely wasn't larking :D

    I am very pleased to hear about Walter living with Mrs. Gunderson, it's a mark of 2000AD's maturity now that they can allow fun stuff like Walter back into continuity.

  3. ...And that they don't refer to us as 'Earthlettes' any more.

  4. Yeah that was always a bit weak. Hooray for The Galaxy's Greatest COmic keeping up with the times! :D

  5. oh man, I did not kno they did a backstory for judge death! im scared of dentists as well, that part was gross. but cool as well.

  6. My dentist is the nicest, kindest, most gentle guy I know and I still get freaked out when I have to go for a check-up!

  7. I reckon that 'dentist phobia' is entirely rational. We are all descended from a long line of primates, mammals, etc that didn't want any external force messing with their teeth, thank you very much.

  8. And having to liie back in the titled seat while a bright light is shone in our eyes feels like the prelude to torture as well... brrr.