In my younger, dumber days, I just assumed that Judge Dredd was some British variation on the EXTREME characters that I’d just yawned through during the ’90s. I mean, the movie came out around the same time as the Spawn adaptation, so who could blame me*? That was, until a friend explained to me that Judge Dredd had existed since the late ’70s, and was actually the U.K.’s Batman in terms of cultural significance.
Admittedly, I’m still not as familiar with Judge Dredd as I’d like to be, and as such The Life and Death Of… ended up being the second Dredd comic I’ve ever read, the first being a collection of the Judgment Day crossover. That said, just reading this collection of Judge Death-centric stories by original Dredd creator John Wagner, it’s clear that, like Batman, you can use Dredd and the world of Mega City One to tell a vast variety of stories — straight sci-fi, action, police procedural, (dark) comedy and even horror.
The Life and Death Of… is comprised of two feature stories (and a handful of one-off shorts) cherry picked from both 2000 AD and Judge Dredd Megazine over the span of 20 years, all revolving around Judge Death, the leader of the Dark Judges, supernatural beings from another dimension where being alive is illegal. Which should hint at the more horror-based nature of the stories within.
The best thing about The Life and Death of… is how accessible it is. I have about as much familiarity with Dredd (judge, jury and executioner in the futuristic Mega City One) as a regular person might have with Batman (Bruce Wayne, deals with childhood trauma by punching ludicrously themed bad guys in Gotham City). This being a handful of (serialized) stories from a long-running series, reading it had me facing the dreaded concept known as continuity, but it still ends up being a perfectly understandable comic book. “Young Death,” for example, comes in the aftermath of a major crossover, but I didn’t feel like I needed to read that crossover to understand what was going on in the book I chose to read.
It may as well have told me that the Joker poisoned half of Gotham and I’d get the idea, which is an example American comic books should be following. Tell the story and use continuity to enrich the story — don’t make it a prerequisite to reading the story. The Life and Death of… even has a dossier-style page that gives a quick rundown of who Judge Death is, what his aims and abilities are and even his first appearance. Superhero comics take note!
All it takes is one good, accessible comic book to convert a person into a fan of a certain character. I know a few people who got into Batman through “Hush,” and I can point to The Life and Death of… as my point of entry into the world of Judge Dredd. Good thing there’s a lot of it to get through.