Judge Death was created by John Wagner and Brian Bolland debuting in Judge Death, by John Wagner and Brian Bolland, 2000AD Prog 149, dated 26th Jan 1980. This three part Judge Dredd story, Prog 149 to 151 was a huge hit. I’m not sure if 2000AD knew how popular it would prove as there were no covers dedicated to it. Covers came with the sequel Judge Death Lives, by John Wagner, Alan Grant and Brian Bolland, Progs 224 to 228.
Judge Anderson was introduced in Judge Death and in Judge Death Lives Death was joined by his three ‘brothers’ Fear, Fire and Mortis.
But who and what are the Dark Judges?
There are spoilers in this article for several stories, though I will deal with them out of publication order. Be aware there are spoilers for the current Judge Dredd story in 2000AD Dark Justice, which began in Prog 2015.
When he was introduced and we learnt he was from another dimension many readers assumed Death was an alternate version of Dredd, either Joe or Rico, from an alternate dimension. So his ‘brothers’ could very easily have been clone-brothers in the same way Joe and Rico were clone-brothers. However we learnt his origin in Boyhood of a Superfiend, by John Wagner and Peter Doherty, Judge Dredd Megazine 1.1 to 1.12 (1991).
Judge Death is Sidney De’ath, the son of a Dentist, who he murdered. He was taken in to his dimension’s version of the Academy of Law and became a successful Judge. In his dimension Judges still had Courts, without Juries of course, as well as dispensing immediate Justice as in our Mega-City One. It was in these courts that Sidney came to think of all life as a crime.
Clearly Sidney was deranged, however in his dimension the Judges were harsher than in Dredd’s dimension. He found three kindred spirits and the four of them were as harsh in their Judgement as possible. Sidney investigated an area of the City that had a particularly bad reputation and in their version of the Undercity he found two women with Psi abilities. With their magic Sidney and his friends were turned into the unliving monsters we have come to know.
And unliving they truly are. though almost certainly they are not truly spirits in a supernatural way. Created through Psi powers it would seem likely that they are actually Psi entities. That suspision is borne out by the fact that Psi Judges such as Anderson have always been some threat to the Dark Judges. For example Anderson can contain them in her mind to some degree. Death uses technology from his world including a Psi Shield which also backs up my suspicion.
The four Dark Judges are not the only beings from Deadworld that Dredd and Anderson have faced. In Necropolis, by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, Progs 674 to 699 (1990), we were introduced to the Sisters of Death, Phobia and Nausea. These, in life, had been the two Psis that had created Judge Death and his brothers (this story was published before Boyhood of a Superfiend.
These two creatures are very powerful and can bridge the dimensions, linking Deadworld with the world of Judge Dredd. They used the clone Kraken to assist them in invading Mega-City One and taking control. Kraken was posing as Dredd at the time, with the knowledge of the Council of Five, Dredd was believed to be dead. To bridge the dimensions they need a conduit, in Necropolis they used Psi Judge Agee.
Judge Death began as a character that was to be taken seriously, a dark vision of Dredd. Several stories however made him little more than a comedy. In Boyhood of a Superfiend he lived in a boarding house with the extremely myopic Mrs Gunderson. In The Wilderness Days, by John Wagner and Frazer Irving, Judge Dredd Megazine 209 to 216 (2002) Death was wandering the Cursed Earth and in many ways doubted his rule of all life being a crime. In many ways the character was weakened by being treated lightly, though on the whole I enjoyed Boyhood of a Superfiend.
The cross over story Judgement on Gotham, by John Wagner, Alan Grant and Simon Bisley (1991), featuring Judge Dredd and Batman used Judge Death as comedy relief. Similarly the story The Three Amigos, by John Wagner and Trevor Hairsine, Judge Dredd Megazine 3.2 to 3.7 (1995) Judge Dredd, Mean Machine Angel and Judge Death worked together in a rather unrealistic way. These stories are considered canon in Judge Dredd continuity so in no way can be completely ignored.
John Wagner returned the Dark Judges to their original menacing form for Day of Chaos, art by Colin MacNeil and Henry Flint, Progs 1779 to 1782 and 1786. In that story only Judges Fear, Fire and Mortis appeared. They were foiled not by Judge Dredd but by another of his arch nemesis P J Maybe.
Judge Death resurfaced in Prog 2015 in Dark Justice. seeking out his brothers. We don’t know how or why yet but in Prog 1912 we discovered he was aboard the space ship Mayflower, on which 4000 of the richest citizens were evacuating Mega-City One in search of a better life on a new colony. Meanwhile in Mega-City One Judge Anderson entered the mind of the injured Judge Logan, finding he was possessed by The Sisters of Death, Nausea and Phobia.
That story continues in Prog 1913, published 14th of February, I’ll be previewing that issue on Friday.