Sunday, 19 June 2016

Judge Death: The Wilderness Days (Judge Dredd Megazine vol.2 #209-216)

"I'm a natural born killer." - Judge Death

Of all of Judge Dredd's many enemies, the Dark Judges and their leader Judge Death in particular, have to be the most popular and enduring.  No matter how often they are defeated and imprisoned, they'll always find a way out to continue judging the living merely for the crime of being alive.  Their warped thinking is that because all crime is committed by the living, life itself must be a crime.  They quickly wiped out the population of their own Earth and via reality shifting shenanigans, came across to Dredd's Earth to continue their mission.  This storyline focuses on Judge Death, the only one of the four Dark Judges to escape in a previous storyline, and his road trip across the Cursed Earth (the radiactive wasteland outside of Megacity One) as he considers how to enact a quantity over quality policy of judgement. Normally he likes to do his killing up close and personal, pushing his hand into a person's chest and squeezing their heart until they die.  But feeling that judging a whole world alone might be a bit beyond him, he starts to search for weapons of mass destruction to aid him in his task.  This storyline also gives us a peek into his mind as he interacts with the various humans he meets along the way.  The story is penned by veteran 2000AD scribe John Wagner and the art is by Frazer Irving whose thick, black linework gives it a medieval woodcut look that befits the somewhat dark subject matter in hand.

A small farmhouse in the Cursed Earth, a family working outside it.  A rangy figure comes into view.  It is Judge Death and "I mean you no harm".  However the woman points a shotgun at him while the old man says "It's the Devil Incarnate" and the two young boys cower behind them.  The woman tells Judge Death to get lost or she'll cut him down where he stands.  Judge Death shrugs and says:

Judge Death: "I can ssee I am not wanted.  Sso be it.  I havve never been one to impossse myselff.  What happened to the old tradition of welcoming ssstrangers."

The woman says he is "too damn strange" for her liking so he leaves, bidding her a "good day" as he does so.  But he lurks close by waiting for nightfall as he needs to be careful out here, he has no way of repairing damage to his body.
Not even children are safe from Judgement.
It is out in this wilderness that he understands the vastness of this world and his task.  So many born every minute, faster than he can bring them to justice, "each one a new sinner born into crime". 

He returns to the farmhouse and lures the woman out to the barn where he impales her on a pitchfork and shoots the old man with her shotgun.  She yells at the children to run before Judge Death kills her via a squeeze to the heart.  The boys run, but Judge Death has found the quad bike and is able to catch the older one and runs him through with the pitchfork.  The younger one hides in the cornfield until Judge Death gives up looking for him and moves on.

Next day his father, Hocus Ritter, returns home to find his family killed apart from Morty who he holds tight when he finds him alive.  He says Morty can tell him all about what happened once they have buried the others.

Biking across the Cursed Earth, Judge Death comes across some circled wagons and kills everyone there.  He makes use of the gun, but:

Judge Death: "Where possible I have come to prefer passing sentence face-to-face.  Up close and personal.  Justice with a smile".

Next day he comes across a lone dwelling, feeling vaguely unsatified by the previous nights judging.  There is a man sitting outside the house drinking tea.  He is blind and invites Judge Death to sit down and have a chat and a cuppa.
The friendship of the blind.
He asks if Judge Death is travelling far, and Judge Death complains that it is such a big world with so many sinners, maybe he should leave back to his own world or find one smaller.  Then he scolds himself saying if he shrinks from the magnitude of his task he has no right to call himself a Judge.  And his brother Dark Judges need freeing as well. 

The blind man seems unfazed by what Judge Death is saying, and just makes polite interjections every now and then.  Three men walk past and shout at him that Judge Death "doesn't look right".  Judge Death shoots two of them, the other flees.  The blind man says he should be careful with the gun, "somebody could get hurt."

Judge Death reiterates his philosophy that crime is committed by choice, therefore choice is a crime.  "Simple logic.  Yet so few of you seem to grasssp it" he hisses.  The blind man comments that "you sure have a lot on your mind stranger".
Truly an evil book!
The blind man decides to let Judge Death into a secret of his saying, "you seem like a decent sorta fella."  His home is on top of a "mine" that leads to a library of books that predate the war that saw the formation of the megacities, "the answers are all in there stranger" he says.  Although he cannot read them, he likes to hold and touch them, "be warmed by the knowledge burning inside."

He leaves Judge Death to read in peace.  Outside the friends of the two men Judge Death gunned down have arrived looking for revenge.  Judge Death meanwhile has found a book called "Great Mass Exterminations".

Judge Death: "As I absorbed the words of the ancients, my course of action became clear.  I must complete the task I had begun - the annihilation of the human race.  Satisfying as individual executions may be, I had to be prepared to make sacrifices.  Sheer weight of numbers demanded I seek a more comprehensive solution".

The gang outside seal the mine up with a huge rock, but Judge Death tosses it aside easily and kills several of them, he allows the rest to flee because he will kill them later instead when he enacts his new plan.
You shall be Judged!
When it is just him and the blind man left, sadly the blind man says "don't usually get a man so wrong" as he realises he is next to die.  And Judge Death slowly squeezes the life out of his heart.

Judge Death: "And I took him down and laid him out in the place that he had loved.  Among the words of the ancients.  He had been useful.  He deserved no less.  And they say I don't have a heart".

Still following his trail of death is Hocus Ritter.  He finds one settlement in which only some nuns survived and leaves his son with them to continue his quest for vengeance.  Meanwhile, Judge Death's bike has broken down, but he is almost immediately picked up by a kill crazy couple, the female "Nirvana" and male "Slide".  They shoot people as they drive past and Judge Death thinks, "sinners, perhaps.  But their hearts were in the right place."
"Jay" makes some new friends.
They stop at a small settlement and go order food in a diner.  Nirvana asks the other patrons if they know where there are weapons of mass destruction as "Jay" is looking for some.  When the patrons try to leave, she shoots them and Judge Death kills the diner owner when he protests.  Then the three of them go on a rampage and wipe the settlement out.  Later while Slide sleeps, Judge Death and Nirvana go on a bicycle ride.  She asks if he wants to sleep with her, he kills her with an arm through the chest in response.

Judge Death: "I fffear I'm well passt that ssstage, my dear.  Ssstill.  Iff we're talking fffull penetration..."

I can't believe they got away with that joke! Anyway, then he goes and kills Slide and takes all their weapons and the car and sets off again, looking for clues to something to help him wipe humanity out.

After a couple of days and nights travelling he finds himself in "a veritable den of iniquity", Las Vegas. Unable to control himself he passes judgement on a man playing the slots. He is arrested by a pair of Judges and allows himself to be taken, thinking he'll get closer to the seat of power that way and maybe get some information on tracking down some W.M.Ds.
"Spin, spin, spin the Wheel Of Justice.  See how fast the bastard turns!"
The Hall of Justice is in fact a casino with a Vic and Bob style wheel of justice that has various punishments people can bet on as it is spun, with the sentence carried out there and then.  Judge Death's turn comes up and the wheel picks disembowelment for him, but he kills the two Judges sent to carry the sentence out, then he rips the wheel off its mount and flings it at the other Judges coming for him.  The Chief Judge, now somewhat freaked out, agrees to see him in private in the Council Chambers.

There he tells Judge Death that sometime ago a Judge called Dredd came through the town and put "The League Against Gambling" in charge.  So they bided their time and struck back and ran the "goody-goods" out of time bar one, the former Chief Judge Rudy who is just a head on a small dog's body.  Rudy is somewhat surly and is on the receiving end of a few zaps from a device the Chief Judge has.  Asked what he wants, Judge Death says he is after W.M.Ds to end the human race.

Not-at-all put off by this answer, the Chief Judge says he can help but only if he gets some quid pro quo.  If he agrees to a ten night run fighting in the arena as "The Dark Destroyer" with people paying 10,000 creds to fight him for the chance of one million if they defeat him, he'll help him out.  Judge Death grits his teeth, thinks of his mission and agrees.
The "Dark Destroyer."
His first bout lasts less than one minute as he punches his opponent's head clean off.  We then get a montage of him punching through various challengers, when one opponent tries to avoid him using fancy footwork, Judge Death briefly possesses him and crushes his skull.  When his first night comes to an end, he is left alone in his dressing room.  Then Rudy appears and says he has important information for Judge Death.

He knows where he can find W.M.Ds. But first he wants Judge Dredd's assurance he'll wipe the whole of Vegas off the map with them, Judge Death agrees so Rudy shows him his information. He taped a council meeting where the Chief Judge states they will string "the Dark Destroyer" along for another ten night run then kill him, because even he won't be able to withstand twenty guns.  This enrages Judge Death and as Rudy tries to stop him, he marches to the Council Chamber killing everyone in his path, "sometimes the effrontery of sinners would try the patience of a saint - and mercy knows I am no saint".
Immortal but not invulnerable.
Sadly for him, he can't indeed stand up to twenty guns and his body is blasted to bits, while his spirit howls "Foools! You cannot kill what doessss not livvve!"  Along  with Rudy they escape the building.  Rudy says he's got them into a fine mess, but Judge Death says they can make him a new body.

They sneak up on a nurse out with an old male patient, Judge Death takes control of the nurse and goes and buys a Judge Death cosplay outfit the merchandisers are stocking due to his popularity.  Then he takes the old man back to the hospital and into the pathology lab, dresses him in the outfit, kills him and uses the "dead fluids" to soak the body and turn it into a vessel for him.  He leaves the nurse and takes control of it, and kills her.  Rudy is unsure he should be helping him now, "I was a good guy once" he says.

Judge Death: "I prefer you consssumed with hatred and bitterness.  Ifff you know what'sss good for you, keep it that way."

Back with Hocus Ritter, his horse collapses with exhaustion but he soon comes across another settlement decimated by Judge Death.  When they hear of his mission of vengeance they give him a car and he keeps following the trail of the dead.

Rudy shows him the silo.
Judge Death and Rudy arrive at what is labelled a "research facility" but Rudy says "everyone in these parts knew what they were up to".  Judge Death rips his way through the fence and goes inside and is greeted by a tank ful of robot troops.  When they hear he is looking for W.M.Ds they take him to see the General.

The General is old, wheelchairbound and practically senile.  When he admits during a rant that he is the only human left in charge, Judge Death possesses him.  He orders the robots to take Judge Death to the weapons and obey his every order, but first they need to leave them alone.  He relaxes his hold on the confused General and then strangles him.  Afraid, Rudy tries to sneak off, but Judge Death says he hasn't had his reward yet.  Then he goes with Rudy to inspect the missiles, ready for firing in forty-five minutes.

Ritter has made it to Vegas, but when he sees someone dressed as Judge Death he attacks him mistaking him for the real thing.  Then he sees more and attacks them too.  Two Vegas Judges arrest him and when he realises his mistake he apologises, but it falls on deaf ears and they drag him off to the Hall of Justice for sentencing.
Ritter arrives in Vegas.
Back at the missile silo, one of the robots says they are supposed to receive confirmation for launch on the Red Phone.  Exasperatedly Judge Death possesses it and makes it ring which is enough to get the launch codes given to him.  There are not enough missiles to wipe out the whole human race so he picks Megacity One and Las Vegas as targets.  Rudy nervously thanks him and tries to sneak off, but Judge Death says "you can't go just yet.  You'll miss the best part of your reward!"

Rudy is tied to the missile aimed at Las Vegas so he can see the destruction "firssst-hand!"  Then Judge Death launches all the missiles.  In Megacity One interceptor missiles are dispatched to deal with them.  Meanwhile in the unsuspecting Las Vegas, Ritter's punishment is the electric chair.  As they start to fry him, he calls for his horse, while Rudy and the missile he is strapped to hit Las Vegas wiping out everyone in a mushroom cloud of death.  But Ritter and his horse's spirits are suffused in a heavenly light much to his confusion.
Unleashed destruction!
Unfortunately for Judge Death none of his missiles aimed at Megacity One get through.  He is philosophical about it though:

Judge Death: "Ssstill I never exxpected it to be an inssstant sssolution.  No victory worth havving comess eassy".

However in retaliation, Megacity One launch a couple of missiles of their own at the base and it is blown to bits, Judge Death along with it, "Fools!  You only postpone judgement. I shall return!" vows his disembodied spirit.
Ritter's revenge after death.
On the astral plane he is in for a nasty surprise.  Hocus Ritter is waiting for him and Judge Death is shocked when Ritter hurts him.  Ritter keeps attacking him.

Ritter: "Not enough! Nothin' can ever repay you for the hurt you handed out!"

They fight and Ritter calls for help and a whirlpool of angry souls appears and grabs ahold of Judge Death.  "This cannot be -! Thisss iss my domain! I hold power here" he cries.  But he can't stop himself being dragged down by the "lost souls cryin' out for retribution! Such power is greater than you!" says Ritter.

Ritter: "Burn Devil Judge.  Burn in the pits of Hell!"

And Judge Dredd disappears, hellbound, with one final "it cannot be!" And then he is gone and the storyline comes to a close.
The end of Judge Death...? (nah)
It's an interesting ending for a 2000AD/Megazine story.  The world of those two publications has tended to strike me as somewhat atheistic, although there are outliers like the Devlin Waugh stories that confirm the Catholic church at least has survived in some form.  So a biblical punishment for Judge Death seems like it's been a long time in coming.  Is it the end of Judge Death? Well I am only a humble trade reader but I assume he manages to find his way out of hell, he's too good a villain not to use.  Because he is so full of go-ahead, can do enthusiasm for his self-imposed quest to wipe out all life, and does it with such a blackly comic approach you almost forget about the truly awful stuff he does, which is why having Hocus Ritter as a sort of morality anchor all the way through works so well and pays off so nicely.  There's also an interesting indictment of the effectiveness of Judge Dredd's approach to problems as well with the reveal that it didn't take long for the clean-up he enacted on Las Vegas while passing through to revert back to the same-old, same-old with Rudy as the victim of a pretty horrible transformation.  With no one in any position of strength left to defend the cleaned up Vegas Dredd's reforms were basically ignored in the long term after a short term gain. As I said in the intro, Frazer Irving's art is superb, very individualistic and striking, while John Wagner proves he still has what it takes to make the Judge Dredd world live and breathe.  If you don't want to track down the original Megazines, it is also collected in the trade paperback "Judge Death: The Life and Death Of..." along with a couple of other serials and one-offs, including "Young Death" which I have also covered on this blog (and a big thankyou to my very good pal Lucy for the book).  Highly recommended.


  1. Judg death as a boxer, love it!! and I have always thought hes a character that looks soooo much better in black and white than in colour, he looks totally badass in this story!

  2. I admit I am always biased in favour of b/w art most of the time. Judge Death does look particularly gothic when rendered monochrome.

  3. 'Ritter' means rider.

    If Judge Death wants all life to perish, all he has to do is to wait. Entropy will do the job for him. Problem is, he's always been more alive than he wants to admit. He's like one of those gay homophobes.

  4. Yeah you're right, he should be like a floppy haired emo kid and just mope around until entropy does its job, like the Shinigami do in Death Note. He just loves his "job" too much, and I think he'd actually be pretty bored on a planet with no one left to "judge". That's pretty much why they came to Dredd's world in the first place wasn't it? They'd wiped out their own planet and were just left feeling abit bored.

  5. That's basically it, yes. Kek-W wrote a whole story relatively recently about how Judge Mortis was feeling really bored — the sort of boredom where you can feel the passing of each second — until some aliens crashed in his 'garden'.

  6. Hahaha, that sounds awesome. I can imagine Mortis suffering through the long dark teatime of the soul. The Dark Judges should have get togethers and play cards or something.

  7. Well, Judge Fear was paranoid and thought the others were plotting against him, and Judge Fire was busy chasing down an old girlfriend who had a base under the ocean.

    Judge Fear would be good at cards, though, wouldn't he? You can't have a better poker face than a face that looks like it's actually made out of pokers.

  8. This sounds like an amazing story, has it been collected? The daily life of a Dark Judge with no one to judge sounds hilarious!

  9. Tell you what, next time we meet I'll lend you the four progs with the stories in.

  10. Brillz thanks I look forward to it :)