This is one of those comics that is so chock full of talent that by all rights it should be mind-blowingly awesome. Just look at that pedigree; Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Mick Austin, and original Judge Dredd artist Carlos Ezquerra. That is a royal court of some of Britain's comic book talent working on Britain's most popular and enduring home-grown hero, Judge Dredd.
But somehow, Judge Dredd: Crusade falls flat. Not only is this a disappointing comic given all the talent involved, the two stories here are mediocre even by the usual Judge Dredd standards. I don't know what everyone was bringing here, but it wasn't their A-game, especially on the writer's side.
The first story, "Crusade," is written by Millar and Morrison and drawn by Mick Austin. Originally published in 1994-95 in 2000 AD Magazine prog 868-871, this story forecasts what Morrison would later do with Batman. Instead of the international Batmen we get the Judge Dredds of many nations.
The story is high-concept and should have been much cooler than it is. An astronaut on a deep space voyage claims to have reached the end of the universe and to have spoken with God. His return ship crashed in the South Pole, and all of the various nations send a team of judges to fight for the prize of getting the message.
Judge Dredd represents the American Mega City One, and a roll-call of ethnic stereotypes makes up the rest; Judge Sharma from Indo-Cit (India), Judge Shojo from Hondo Cit (Japan), Judge Daktari from Pan-Africa, Judge Kilroy from Brit-Cit (Britain), Judge Ramses from Luxor (Egypt),Judge Spassky from East Meg-One (Russia), and the hard-drinking, lackadaisical Irishman Judge Wilde. Rounding out the cast and playing the villain is the inquisitor Judge Cesare from Vatican-Cit.
After the initial meet-and-greet, the story devolves into a battle royale with the usual goofiness that entails from an ethnic punch-up. There are some good Grant Morrison tidbits — the whole battle takes place at Ultima Thule stations — but there is zero characterization and the story is based on the classic "each person has to die in a cooler and/or more disgusting way than the last person" motif. Mick Austin's art is good and everything looks cool in that 2000 AD style, but nothing raises the story higher than a puff piece.
The next story, "Frankenstein Division," is as much of a throw-away story. By Mark Millar and Carlos Ezquerra. It originally appeared in 2012 in 2000 AD prog 928-937. The story links back to the classic Apocalypse War storyline and the all-out war between Mega-City One and the East-Meg Cities. The Russian side saw most of their highly trained judges reduced to body parts on the battlefield and thought it seemed like a waste. So in Frankenstein fashion they salvaged the best parts and stitched them together to make Project X, the Ultimate Judge. Of course, each of those body parts were killed by Judge Dredd, and every cell of the monster cries out for revenge.
"Frankenstein Division" isn't a bad story; actually, for a simple monster-revenge piece it is pretty fun. But due to the anthology nature of 2000 AD, a 22-page story was broken into four chapters meaning you don't get a lot of story development time for each chapter. And like all "ultimate monster" tales, this Project X just isn't quite the menace that he should be. Ezquerra's art in this story is excellent, and the concept is cool, but Millar didn't have the page space to pull off something really interesting.
Honestly, if Judge Dredd: Crusade was written by a bunch of no-names then I probably would have enjoyed it more. But I know that every person working on this comic is capable of much more, and that fact drags the comic down.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.