Judge Dredd – “The Cape & Cowl Crimes”

Written by: John Wagner, Alan Grant, Andy Lanning, Steve White, Robbie Morrison, Simon Spurrier & Alec Worley
Art by: Mike Collins, Mark Farmer, Alan Davis, Dermot Power, Simon Bisley, Richard Elson, Paul Marshall, Carlos Ezquerra, Ben Willsher & Eric Powell
ISBN: 978-1-78108-525-7
Price: $19.99 (US)

The Graphic Novel reprints the following stories:

  • Fairly Hyperman” – (Prog 529 – 530)
  • Bat Mugger” (Prog 585)
  • The Juve Mutated Kung-Fu Kleggs” (2000AD Sci-Fi Special 1991)
  • Chicken Run” (Judge Dredd Megazine 1.17)
  • Marauder” (Prog 1617 – 1627)
  • Codename: Weasel” (Judge Dredd Megazine 297)
  • The Adjudicators” (Judge Dredd Megazine 323 – 324)
  • Mask of Anarchy” (Prog 1910)
  • Uncivil Partnership” (2000AD FCBD 2016)

There’s no denying that the superhero genre makes up the bulk of comic-books published in the USA – the colourful, costumed characters are as popular as they’ve ever been, as evidenced by the sheer amount of cinematic exploits that are released on an annual basis. Over the past forty years, 2000AD has always stood separate from its American ‘cousins’ over at Marvel and DC Comics, offering a more mature and subversive take on the format, with its most famous anti-hero, Judge Dredd, adopting the role of fascist as often as he does the part of the hero. This themed collection of stories aimed at the American audience pokes fun at some familiar iconic superheroes, satirising some of the more goofier aspects of the genre whilst showcasing exactly what makes Judge Dredd unique in the marketplace.

The opening tale, “Fairly Hyperman” features a Superman analogue arriving on Mega-City One with the aim to assist the Judges in upholding the peace. Dredd’s natural distrust of this alien refugee from a dying planet is surprisingly similar to Batfleck’s own in last year’s Batman vs. Superman – although the battle royale in this story is a lot shorter and doesn’t involve the two bonding over their mothers. Written by John Wagner and Alan Grant with art from Mike Collins and Mark Farmer, this is a fun tongue-in-cheek storyline that pokes fun at the Superman mythos and probably the closest we’ll ever come to an actual Judge Dredd / Superman crossover.

The second tale, “Bat Mugger” is a single-episode adventure that tells the tale from a citizens POV, relegating Dredd to a secondary role. This is an approach often used in the Judge Dredd strip and works well to highlight the zanier aspects of Mega-City One life, such as Fatties, Simps and its other bizarre sub-cultures. Clearly influenced by Batman, the similarly is merely cosmetic as our titular lead embarks on a life of crime as an fly-by-night thief. Wagner tells the tale perfectly through narration boxes and the twist ending is hilarious. It works great as a one-off adventure, hinting at a superhero connection but not satirising Batman in any way.

Appearing in one of 2000AD’s Sci-Fi Specials is this hilarious parody of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles featuring the reptilian aliens of Dredd’s world – The Kleggs. Released when Sensitive Klegg was merely a glint in Rob Williams’ eye, “The Juve Mutated Kung Fu Kleggs” uses the deadly crocs to comedic effect perfectly and does a great job at taking the TMNT concept to the extreme. Written by Andy Lanning and Steve White, with art from Dermot Power, this is a deliciously dark comedy that really benefits from Power’s gorgeous fully-painted artwork. This is a perfect example of 2000AD’s anarchic personality, especially during the early nineties when it was in its “teenage phase” and flicking the V’s up to the establishment.

Next up is our first tale from Judge Dredd Megazine, which was the more adult-orientated gore-heavy sister title to 2000AD launched in the early nineties. “Chicken Run” certainly amps up the gore quota with some eye-catching Simon Bisley artwork accentuating each violent death on the page. The whole story seems to be set-up for the humourous Ozzy Osbourne punch-line at the end, which still works to this day over twenty years later. Once again, the appearance of Batman-inspired Batgliders is purely cosmetic as 2000AD doesn’t really get around to dissecting the caped crusader.

The largest story, and arguably the best of the bunch, is “Marauder” which actually ran as a separate series to Judge Dredd within 2000AD. Focused on failed cadet Danny Falcone, this storyline sees writer Robbie Morrison creating a superhero vigilante for Mega-City One. Wisely, Morrison doesn’t make Dredd the focal point of this adventure, although he does make a cameo in the early episodes and instead, he makes this a self-contained storyline revolving around corrupt Judges and crime-lords. The art from Richard Elson is absolutely amazing, bringing the kinetic action to life on the page with a deceptive sense of ease. While the Marauder identity isn’t a reference to a specific superhero, the story seems to be a mix of Spider-Man and Batman’s origins. Despite the obvious influences, the character stands on his own two feet and confidently stakes a place in Dredd’s world. Unfortunately, “Marauder” has yet to see a follow-up in the Prog, and its a shame as Falcone is a well-written character and I’d love to see him make a return.

Up next is “Codename: Weasel” from Simon Spurrier, which mercilessly mocks the character of Wolverine and several of his key traits. With some serious inner-monologing and constantly referring to people as “bob”, Weasel returns to the Weapon X-esque facility he was created in and discovers a group of Judges there. Paul Marshall does a great job with the art on this story, especially the scenes where Weasel bounces about attacking Judges with his “unbrakium claws”. Unfortunately, the ending seems a bit uncharacteristic with Dredd allowing the mutant to leave alive after massacring his fellow Judges, but it allows for a fun X-Men homage at the end.

Simon Spurrier returns with another superhero parody, this time mocking the Avengers and superhero teams. Showcasing the PR Judges and their attempts to build positive buzz for the Justice Department, “The Adjudicators” is a fun examination of why superheroics don’t fit in Dredd’s world, and why the Mega-City One populous must fear their guardians instead of worship them. Paired with the one-and-only Carlos Ezquerra, Spurrier does a great job at deconstructing the concept of the superhero and contrasting the role against Dredd’s anti-hero persona. Instead of playing the story firmly for laughs, there’s an interesting point to be made at the heart of this adventure that aligns nicely with the theme of this collection.

Mask of Anarchy” doesn’t feature any superheroes per se, but it does take place during a comic-con panel and features a masked vigilante that is possibly inspired by V for Vendetta. It’s an interesting tale that ties into the series’ recent focus on anti-mutant sentiment, whilst poking fun at various real-world comic-book problems, such as creators fighting over credit and rights. Ben Willsher does a tremendous job at bringing Alec Worley’s geek-inspired adventure onto the page, and the design of the Salvador Whiskers mask is fantastic visual that stands out from the tale.

The final, and most recent, storyline to appear in this collection comes from the 2016 Free Comic Book Day edition of 2000AD, with Alec Worley returning to the character alongside legendary creator, Eric Powell. Powell’s unique artwork really enhances the story and gives it a different flavour compared to the typical Judge Dredd artists who work on the series. Worley’s witty script not only pokes fun at the rivalry between Marvel and DC Comics, but also the general public’s obsession with celebrity break-ups. The fact that the two romantic leads are both male demonstrates just how forward-thinking 2000AD is, challenging bigotry in its pages.

Overall, this is a great collection of stories that showcases a range of different emotions, despite possessing the same core theme of superheroics. Even when mocking iconic comic-book institutions such as Wolverine and The Avengers, the humour clearly comes from a place of love, and is often actually a celebration of the superhero genre. These stories manage to demonstrate the dark humour that pumps through the heart of 2000AD, revealing just how different the anthology is from anything in the states. This graphic novel works well as an entry to Judge Dredd’s world, enticing comic-book readers with familiar touchstones before taking them on a no-holds-barred journey through the lunacy of Mega-City One. The clear highlight of the collection is the magnificent “Marauder”, which is worth the price of entry on its own – but there’s also the added bonus of eight other superbly-written and expertly-drawn adventures. If you’re tired of seeing heroes in tight spandex and capes, then you should definitely consider picking up a copy of Judge Dredd: The Cape and Cowl Crimes for a radical take on the genre.

Score – ★★★★

Judge Dredd: The Cape and Cowl Crimes is available in print from Amazon, book stores and comic-book stores via Diamond. It is also available in digital from the 2000AD webshop, 2000AD iOS app, 2000AD Android app and 2000AD Windows 10 app.

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