Whether down to the fidelity to both characters deeply engraved into the badges of office warn by writers Alan Grant and John Wagner, both creative powerhouses within the Judge Dredd universe, and Grant especially to the Batman universe too, or perhaps just down to DC not feeling as though Britain’s 2000 AD was a direct competitor and offering up any threat, but for many of the one-shots/minis collected here, there’s an astonishing lack of the carefully balanced politicking usually involved in a meeting of two companies.
So too are the varied art styles allowed to flourish – from Simon Bisley’s busy punk rock scrawl in the brilliant Judgement On Gotham (1991), to Preacher favourite Glenn Fabry’s eye boggling, vein-popping grotesque. The ’91 encounter is obviously a high point – the first meeting of the two when Judge Death winds up in Gotham City and Batman is transported to the Big Meg to become just another perp in a stupid outfit (“You with the ears – roll away from him.”), viciously batoned by a squad of leering SJS, before the sympathetic Anderson helps him slip the leash so the wraith-like team-up of Judge Death and the Scarecrow over in the DCU can be cut short. The two scowling fan-favourites part with a sort of mutual disapproval mixed with grudging respect that characterises their future encounters.
It’s not sophisticated story-wise, but it gets the best of the commonalities in their mythology. In terms of fan service in the best way, the satisfying Die Laughing (1998) is a worthy second, with the aforementioned Glenn Fabry that sees The Joker briefly inducted the ranks of the Dark Judges, while Dredd and Batman team up to curtail the rampage of Death, Fear, Fire and Mortis, while The Ultimate Riddle (1995) is harmless enough, with the Bat and the Chin (apparently) whisked away to an alien gladiatorial arena to fight with each other and a batch of Warhammer 40,000 concept art for the amusement of a Star Trek-style mad alien god. Artists Carl Critchlow and Dermot Power’s work is suitable dark and visceral, but if the set up is the worst sort of cliché than the ending most definitely is the great big alien queen of all clichés.
Obviously the Judge Dredd/Lobo crossover – Psycho-Bikers Vs. The Mutants From Hell (1995) – tacked unceremoniously onto the end of the collection is the worst thing ever – the standardised Team DC art courtesy of Val Semeiks is competent enough Nineties bluster and energy, but the story is hamstrung by editorial directives designed to predict the inexplicably, albeit briefly, popular Lobo and Dreddites will be wondering why he didn’t get a nightstick in the jaw for his obvious litany of crimes. Vendetta In Gotham (1993), which follows Judgement… chronologically, isn’t as poor in execution, but suffers from ghastly digital colouring 2000 AD and it’s a poor fit for Can Kennedy’s ragdoll artwork. The story too is basically an extended punch-up between the two characters, which is pretty dull even for those many comic fans obsesses with WWE style stat checking and power level league tables. Arguably the best thing about it is the gorgeous Mike Mignola artwork on the cover, and a sentence that sets up Die Laughing.
While most intercompany reacharounds are dour, cautious affairs, most of the Batman/Judge Dredd Collection escapes that – although the Lobo story is horrible, and there’s a sense of one-for-one to the flurry of haymakers that makes up Vendetta In Gotham – for the most part and there’s a clear passion and a real drive to find an overlap where both mythologies can co-exist.
That and the fact most of these rarities are long out of print, makes it a must-buy for fans of either of the protagonists, but an enjoyable curio for everyone else.