The last time we saw Judge Death and his cronies, Judges Dredd and Anderson dispatched all but Judge Fear to deep space, in the hope that they’d never be seen again. However, things like that don’t happen in the 2000AD universe and here they are, back again. In a million-to-one fluke, the host corpse of Judge Death finds itself speared on the communications antenna of some deep space vessel or other, and needs to be cleared off by some hapless crew member. Needless to say, Death steals his body, slips into the airlock and takes over the ship, to the mortal annoyance of its inhabitants.
The ship is on its way to supply a distant colony planet. On arrival, Judges Death, Fire and Mortis start their usual frenzy of total murder, with one key difference: there’s no Dredd or Anderson here to help the colonists tackle these horrors from another dimension. The Dark Judges turn the people they kill into zombies, to help them kill even more people, and even use the colonists’ own undead family, friends and colleagues against them, to further the Dark Judges’ deadly mission.
To this end, the story is a little different to Death stories we’ve seen before (if you discount Kek-W and Dave Kendall’s superlative origin story The Dark Judges) because the absence of Dredd means that the Dark Judges don’t have their usual indestructible protagonist to fight against (and lose to). This gives it the option of ignoring the usual ending and giving Death a bit more of a chance than usual. And boy, does he take it.
Nick Percival’s zombie-filled artwork is also darker than we’re used to, with truly gruesome illustration. The Judges are more in tune with Dave Kendall’s reimagining than the Judges of old, with a realism that rams the horror home. Likewise, writer John Wagner draws on some of the classic zombie tropes, playing with concepts we’ve seen elsewhere, such as The Walking Dead’s idea that you can walk safely amongst zombies if you’re willing to smother yourself in their gore.
Kek-W and Dave Kendall still hold the high-water mark of recent Dark Judge stories but it’s always a thrill to see them back in the hands of their creator, John Wagner. It counts double when he’s spinning off in a slightly different direction, giving Death a chance by dropping the regular Judges out of the equation completely. Death is back on track.