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Morrison & Millar Assign Judge Dredd to a Crusade

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The Thing meets Where Eagles Dare as two of the world's most popular comic book writers - Grant Morrison and Mark Millar - produce a high-octane thriller!

Judge Dredd: Crusade collects a ten part tale by contemporary comics superstars Grant Morrison and Mark Millar penned in 1995 combined with Millar’s scripted The Frankenstein Division. It was the year that Vertigo comics published Morrison’s excellent Kill your Boyfriend with artist Phillip Bond for DC Comics and the rather madcap Skrull Kill Krew with David Yeowell for Marvel Comics. Morrison and Millar had already established a smooth working relationship by then, most notably in the US on several issues of The Flash comic book series featuring an old school Flash fact arc inspired by the heyday of Julius Schwartz entitled Emergency Stop. One year later their Aztek the Ultimate Man would be published through DC Comics featuring a new DC superhero that would explore silver age themes logically thought through in a fictional setting to much lauded critical succes but in the end proved to be a commercial bust. Their tales for the Dredd-verse are largely unknown to the US audience though so Simon & Shuster make a good marketing move bundling the self contained stories in a separate volume for US release with in big bold letters the names of the creators on a rather splendid original Brian Bolland cover.

In Crusade, when a scientist returns from a 15-year deep space mission claiming to have a message from God, judges from all of the world's Mega-Cities race to Antarctica to try and claim the Almighty's secrets for themselves, among them is the toughest future lawman of them all - Judge Dredd. In The Frankenstein Division, the sinister judges of East Meg create the ultimate judge by stitching together pieces of their best - but when it goes on the rampage it heads for Mega-City One and the one man responsible for the death of its many 'donors' - Judge Dredd!

All art previewed courtesy of Mick Austin

Judge Dredd meeting with the Voice of God certainly sounds exciting but it is diluted from the start with the rather fan-boyish idea of a meeting of Judge representatives of several other mega-cities. The ensuing fighting and race to meet the God creature turns out to be so predictable that any esoteric implications of the core idea is totally shoved to aside in favour of a monster movie ending. It’s a shame because there are some cool ideas in Crusade, from the IndoCit’s eastern religion influenced judges to the VaticanCit’s mob Judge enforcer (‘Pax vobiscum, creep!’) to the running gag involving the Egyptian judge and the religious implications for the Dredd-verse of having to deal with an incarnation of God (Grudd?). However, all of it is put aside for action and comedy, only saved by the bold stylings of artist Mick Austin. I really don’t see much of a Morrison influence here, the fancentric gathering of the Judges reeks more of Millar while the God-aspect is more Morrison and since the last is neither explored or followed through, I can reasonably conclude that this is mostly Millar’s yarn.

Though Mick Austin’s art is suitably gritty with rough brushwork coupled with some exciting body dynamics, Judge Dredd comes off a bit too much like a Judge-on-Steroids. Lawbringer Dredd works best as a cold calculated machine in mind and body, visualizing him as a future bodybuilder diminishes the character and his analytical mindset. His brain and body is capable of split second action because it works in unison, both are inseparable and over-enhancing the muscle parts just draws attention to one aspect of his being namely his physique. For Crusade it really doesn’t matter all that much since it is pure action from beginning to end and there is not much need for brains since Dredd largely makes it through on the wave of incompetence the other Judges seem to emanate. But still, it is an important aspect that sets Dredd aside from the usual muscle bound crop of anti-heroes.

Going into a pure physique mindset, it also is illogical that a man like Dredd develops all those muscles in his upper body. It requires a specific set of training techniques that is not a priority for Judges, just watch the excellent1977 Pumping Iron documentary featuring a young Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno being interviewed and followed while preparing themselves to out-compete each other in the Mr Olympia and Mr Universe contests. It is an insightful look into the body building business and the specific rigours of training and developing a choice set of muscles, click here for some outtakes. Carlos Ezquerra however perfectly understands this as his Dredd has always been less of a muscle man but a human being trained to near perfection, as smooth in body as in mind.

The second story in the book, The Frankenstein Division, fares a bit better in the sense that it doesn’t completely feel as exploitation. Written by Millar and drawn by the great Carlos Ezquerra, it is a clean action oriented typical Dredd set of progs centered on the single idea (just not a terribly good one) being a super soviet Judge composed of the best of the dead judges died in The Apocalypse War where Dredd ordered the nuking of five soviet cities in a desperate act of self preservation. After some high octane and rather uninspired violence, Dredd defeats the monster, turns his back towards the camera and delivers the standard soundbite, exit stage left. The art saves the progs and Ezquerra at least makes it a visual feast of violence and mayhem.

In the final equation, Judge Dredd: Crusade can best be described as a no brainer action fest but not the best of entries for a newby in the Dredd-verse since it reducess Judge Dredd to a pure one-dimensional anti-hero. The big blocky lettering on the cover featuring Morrison and Millar is a bit misleading since Morrison is not exactly present while Millar rather phones it in here. The art of Mick Austin and Carlos Ezquerra largely save the book, both are accomplished artists and showcase the best of their abilities.

Judge Dredd: Crusade by Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Mick Austin and Carlos Ezquerra is published by 2000 AD / Simon & Shuster. It is a full colour trade paperback counting 96 pages and retails for €16,99.

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