The Batman comics had been going through a hot streak since 1986 under the guidance of Group Editor Dennis O’Neil. This resulted in a high volume of quality stories and many memorable tales. Throw in the batmania of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie into the mix, and it was a license to print money.
Similarly, Judge Dredd had also been going through a golden period. The Judge Dredd strip found its groove in the late-70s, which resulted in a treasure trove of quality stories in the following decade. The dark satires and exploration of authoritarianism through a science fiction lens were ripe for the picking in the Thatcher era, cementing Judge Dredd as the top series in the pages of 2000 AD.
With both franchises buzzing at a high point in their publication history, they were bound to cross paths eventually. That’s just what happened with 1991’s intercompany crossover Judgment on Gotham.
These kinds of crossovers walk a precarious tightrope. Writers need to capture the essence of two franchises and then combine them into a compatible story that makes sense within that context. It’s a line that Judgement on Gotham managed to walk, much in part due to the creative team involved. Alan Grant had written both characters, with extensive runs on the Judge Dredd strip in 2000 AD and an underrated run on Batman in Detective Comics and the self-titled series. As for John Wagner, he co-creatored Judge Dredd, having written the majority of strips to that point. He also had a few Batman scripts to his name and a long working relationship with Grant. They were joined by artist Simon Bisley, who was red-hot off the back of Slaine: The Horned God and had recently entered the DC Comics system with Lobo.
At first glance, Judgment on Gotham follows the character crossover formula. Batman encounters Dredd villain Judge Death and, in the process of pursuing him, ends up in Mega City-One. There, he meets Judge Dredd, and they butt heads. Usually, this is where the two characters will let bygones be bygones for the greater good. However, this comic flips that on its head for interactions more on-brand for each character and gives supporting cast member Judge Anderson a larger role.
Having the pair not seeing eye-to-eye is far more interesting than if they teamed up. Grant and Wagner use this as a tool to explore their differences. While the characters have the same goal, methods and philosophies are oceans apart. Batman is a vigilante working outside of the law. However, he’s not willing to kill anyone in order to achieve his goals. This is stressed when he feels remorseful about accidentally “killing” Judge Death on their first encounter. Inversely, Judge Dredd is part of the law, working strictly to his interpretation of it, and yet has no issue with shooting wrong-doers. By placing Dredd next to Batman, Grant and Wagner have found a new way in their ongoing exploration of the former and his dystopian future.
While that sounds grim, Judgement on Gotham has a healthy dose of irreverence. It’s the character exploration I mentioned before, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s one of the many modes the Judge Dredd strip takes in its rich catalogue of stories. For Batman, it’s a bit more out of place. Although, considering how many interpretations there have been of the Dark Knight, he’s malleable enough for it to work. Much of this comes down to Bisley’s art, taking things to his signature extreme.
The character designs are an example of this. While it’s not the first time we’ve seen a bulking and buff Batman, with Frank Miller’s rendition in The Dark Knight Returns coming to mind, Bisley takes it to a new level with the detail he adds. The artist has painted them with an understanding of light and colour. Yes, they’re excessive in a Liefeldian kind of way, but with a better grasp of anatomy – even if he’s potentially invented new muscles. However, it plays to the tone and is evenly distributed where it makes sense, with Dredd being equally bulky. (Judge Anderson is nowhere near the size of Batman or Dredd. However, she’s much more muscular than was usually depicted at the time.)
The excess is not limited to big muscles. There are other flourishes that contribute to the irreverent tone. The Batmobile’s design is gloriously ridiculous. It has gigantic fins and a protruding hood. You’d think it would be impossible to find a conventional parking spot, let alone see the road while driving. Even small things, such as people smoking big fat cigars while on the job, make the comic larger than life.
Many people would be coming into Judgment on Gotham as Batman fans, not knowing anything about Judge Dredd. Does it offer a suitable introduction to the character for the uninitiated? While reading dozens of stories will give you the full three-dimensional view, Judgement on Gotham introduces readers to some foundational qualities. These include: Dredd’s stern demeanour, the strict interpretation of the law, and his unflinching stone face. It’s enough to give readers a taste and be a launching pad to search out other stories.
Judgment on Gotham is an intercompany crossover that brings two franchises together to tell a fun story. Contrasting the characters makes it another exploration of Dredd through a lens that can’t be achieved in his own strip. At the same time, it’s a story with a healthy dose of irreverence thanks to Simon Bisley’s bombastic art. If you’re new to Judge Dredd, this is a good introduction. For everyone else, it’s a wild ride.
Batman/Judge Dredd: Judgment on Gotham has been collected in The Batman/Judge Dredd Collection. It can be found in all good comic book shops, online retailers, eBay, Amazon/Kindle, and the 2000 AD webshop.