Judge Death by Frazer Irving
|First appearance||2000 AD #224 (8 August 1981)|
|Created by||John Wagner and Alan Grant (writers)
Brian Bolland (artist)
|Notable members||Judge Death|
The Dark Judges are recurring villains in the Judge Dredd science fiction comic strip in the UK comic 2000 AD. They also appear in the 2003 computer game Judge Dredd: Dredd Vs. Death. They are Judge Death, Judge Fire, Judge Fear and Judge Mortis. Later storylines added the "Sisters of Death" (Phobia and Nausea) to their ranks. Former Judge Kraken was also a Dark Judge for a brief time during the Necropolis story.
The Dark Judges were originally a group of four lawkeepers from a parallel dimension. They were led by Judge Death, who had determined that all crime was committed by the living - thus, by his logic, all life was a crime. The other three were slavishly devoted to him and his philosophy, and the four went around killing people on whatever justification they could find (Judge Fire sentenced a whole school to death for noise pollution). The society of the parallel universe they inhabited placed very little value on human life and many inhabitants were sadistic and violent, but even by the standards of their people the Dark Judges were vicious.
Things changed when Death encountered Phobia and Nausea (the future Sisters of Death) in a cave. The Sisters were death cultists and mass murderers with supernatural powers, and Death fell in love; the three of them committed acts on victims that he admitted sickened even him. With their help, he and his acolytes were able to become undead beings, thus being 'pure' to judge without hypocrisy. The Sisters would themselves become ethereal beings with hideous magical powers. The Dark Judges subsequently murdered the entire population of their world.
Dimension-travelling visitors chanced upon the now 'Deadworld' and found the Dark Judges. After 'judging' (i.e., killing) them and taking their dimension jumping warp devices, Judge Death travelled to Mega-City One, against the opinions of his colleagues, in order to 'dispense justice'. Death was eventually defeated by the combined efforts of Judges Dredd and Anderson, his body having been destroyed, and his spirit form held inside Judge Anderson, herself encased in the miracle plastic Boing on display in the Justice Department's Hall of Heroes.
Having sensed Death's peril, his comrades Fear, Fire and Mortis crossed the dimension warp to rescue him. Released from imprisonment and with a new body created, the four Dark Judges continued their 'judgement' upon Mega-City One claiming thousands of victims. Dredd and Anderson intervened, and pursued the Dark Judges back to Deadworld using a Dimension Jump Globe liberated from the Dark Judges. There, the spirits of the Dark Judges' millions of victims flowed through Anderson and seemingly extinguished their spirits forever.
However, the Dark Judges were not destroyed but merely weakened, and four years later, Judge Anderson was duped into returning to Deadworld, where she was forced to resurrect them. Armed with teleporter technologies, the four returned to Mega-City One, leaving Anderson for dead. Anderson survived, however, and used the dimension warp technology against the Dark Judges, consigning them to limbo, the void between dimensions. This is where they were to remain for the next few years.
Following Judge Dredd's resignation and his replacement by the ex-Judge Kraken (recounted in the Judge Dredd stories Tale of the Dead Man and Countdown to Necropolis respectively), the sisters of Death - Phobia and Nausea - used their powers to influence Kraken and rescue the Dark Judges from Limbo. With the Mega-City One judge force under their control, the Dark Judges created Necropolis - the city of the dead, killing 60 million citizens. Judges Dredd, Anderson and Chief Judge McGruder, together with a handful of cadet judges, returned via The Undercity to defeat them - returning the Sisters of Death to Deadworld, imprisoning Fear, Fire and Mortis within secure containment, and executing Kraken, who had become a fifth Dark Judge.
Judge Death eluded capture by hiding in the burial pits of the Cursed Earth and departed for another dimension, but was eventually captured by Dredd with the aid of Batman (see Judgement on Gotham). Judge Death would escape several other times, with the most significant being when the Joker (see below) dimension-jumped to Mega-City One and freed the four prisoners when they were being transferred to a more secure prison. They entered a sealed hedonist community and slaughtered their way through it before Dredd, Anderson, and Batman could stop them again.
In 2124, Death was released again - after a series of child murders to bring out Anderson, he beat her into a coma so she couldn't track him, infected her with the supernatural Half-Life virus, and escaped into the Cursed Earth. He then went on a killing spree and searched for weapons of mass destruction, finally taking out Las Vegas before seemingly being destroyed by the angry ghosts of his victims. However, the Sisters of Death - now with three extra members - attacked again in 2127, striking blocks with poltergeist activity and plagues before Psi-Division drove them back; and during Death's time in the Cursed Earth, he created another undead killer named Mordechai to carry on after him.
In 2134, during a major Soviet-backed attack on Mega-City One, Soviet sleeper agent Judge Haldane used a forged warrant to enter the Dark Judge containment vault and open the containment vessels. He stole the imprisoned Fear, Fire, and Mortis, and with another sleeper agent he gave the Dark Judges physical form again. (They promptly killed the agents, to Haldane's horror.) They were later captured by genius serial killer PJ Maybe.
Later Death was freed from Hell by the Sisters of Death. He entered the home of PJ Maybe and rescued his brothers. They escaped from Earth on a spaceship, the Mayflower, and killed most of the passengers and crew. They were pursued by Dredd and Anderson, who managed to defeat them and left them stranded in space.
The Dark Judges are undead, and as such, cannot be conventionally killed. Their true forms are incorporeal spirits that must inhabit corpses in order to cause physical harm. This involves obtaining recently deceased cadavers, which are subsequently processed by machinery that produces "dead fluids." These fluids bring the corpses to "full ripeness," prefatory for the spirits to inhabit and animate. The incarnate Dark Judges are emaciated, zombie-like humanoids with sharp claws that frequently serve for them to injure their victims. All four speak with a hiss.
Once incarnated, the Dark Judges don uniforms (or "robes of office") which reflect their identities. The uniforms are variants of the traditional judge uniforms, with specific modifications based upon the judges' personalities.
Judge Death wears a helmet similar to that of a traditional Judge, with a modified visor resembling a portcullis. His mouth is pulled into a rictus. In place of the Judges' eagle-shaped shoulder pauldrons, Death sports a pterodactyl on his right shoulder; his left shoulder and elbow pads are festooned with bones. His jacket is fastened with crude stitches rather than a zipper, and his badge and belt buckle are each shaped like a human skull with extended fangs, the latter is also adorned with bat wings. Death most often kills his victims by reaching directly into their chests (in an intangible state) and squeezing their hearts until they burst, without ever breaking the skin.
Judge Fear is an imposing figure who wears a black great helm accented with large, bat-like wings. When passing judgement, he opens his helmet's faceplate and frightens the accused to death with whatever lies within, whilst reciting his catch phrase, "Gaze into the face of Fear!" The actual face under the helmet has only been revealed twice: once as a mass of eyeballs, and on another occasion as several grotesque mandibles. No explanation has been given as to whether these monstrosities are indicative of Fear's physical face, or if they are simply manifestations of his victims' fears. Fear sports an assortment of tools on his belt, notably miniature bear traps, which he is known to throw at his enemies in order to immobilize them; and an enormous padlock which he uses to secure his victims' potential exit routes. His belt buckle is a shrunken head. In "Die laughing" the shrunken head was revealed to be an explosive weapon, similar in effect to a hand grenade, when Judge Fear used it in an unsuccessful attempt to kill Batman. He wears a heavy black cape with large, bear trap shoulder pauldrons. In Progs. 421 and 423, Judge Fear is seen to exhibit powers similar to Judge Death's "phasing" ability, thrusting his hands through victims' bodies.
Judge Fire is immersed head-to-toe in ethereal flame. He wears no helmet, and instead has a human skull for a head. He wields a flame-spewing trident. He earned the name "Judge Fire" when he was still alive, after he burned down a school for violating noise regulations.
Judge Mortis is in a perpetual state of disintegration, and his touch can cause spontaneous decay at a rapid rate. His head is a sheep skull and he has a bony tail. His uniform's right shoulder pauldron is a bird skeleton, and his left shoulder is protected by a perforated mantle. His badge is a stylized sheep skull with his name emblazoned in wood. Like Fire and Fear, Mortis spent his early years as a rookie Judge at Law School, Deadworld's equivalent to Mega-City One's Academy of Law, and graduated after Sidney De'ath. He developed an admiration for Sidney's methods and beliefs, and shares his comrades' zeal for passing arbitrary death sentences. He is sometimes employed by Judge Death to prepare the Dark Judges' host bodies.
- Nausea is a haglike, decayed humanoid with an assortment of gory tentacles, claws and eyeballs on her right shoulder and elbows. Her left shoulder has two apparently live human heads on it. Her badge is a human skull, much like Death's. Both she and Phobia have supernatural and psychic powers, including the power to increase decay and darken the sun in areas. As spectral beings, they cannot be physically damaged and need only a psychic anchor in Mega-City One to attack.
- Phobia looks much like her sister, but has an extended proboscis and live heads as earrings. Her right shoulder is covered by a large scorpion, and her elbows and knees by spiders. Snakes wrap around her arms. Her left shoulder is a mass of worms, and her badge is a spider.
- Judge Kraken (using the name Dredd), while a Dark Judge, was appropriately decayed. He suffered the loss of his right hand by inadvertently trying to use another judge's lawgiver, thereby setting off its self-destruct mechanism. He wore the usual Judge's uniform, though it was cracked and deformed. Unlike the others, he was forcibly turned into a Dark Judge by Death and made to kill people against his will, while being allowed his normal feeling and remorse as "a final twist of the knife".
- Pustula, Ephemera and Dementia are three "cousins" of the Sisters. Pustula is an obese, boil and pus-ridden monster who spreads the "blisteria-101" virus, which turns its victims, including robots, into a mass of boils. Ephemera is a naked ghostly figure with a mane of hair, who creates heavy poltergeist activity. Dementia resembles a normal human, naked, and surrounded by bats - covering her breasts and genitalia - and toxic mud on her hands, who inspires waves of suicidal dementia. Where they came from is unknown.
- Half Life was a formerly human victim of the Sisters, before being turned into an insect-headed, poison-spreading monster. His toxic, disease-ridden spirit was turned into a psychic virus, one that Judge Death infected Anderson's mind with when he defeated her in 2124. When modified by the insane Judge Fauster of Psi Division's Department of Magic, it became a psychic infection, inspiring a wave of mass murder across Mega-City One.
- Mordechai, while not said to be a Dark Judge, was another one of Death's creations and possessed similar powers and motive. A walking corpse, he possessed telekinesis and plants rotted at his passing. He considered himself working for the Cursed Earth itself, keeping it free of life.
In February 2014, IDW announced that nine new Dark Judges were to premiere in a forthcoming Judge Dredd title. The IDW Dredd is usually considered non-canonical. The new judges were:
- Judge Choke, a skeleton surrounded by fog that choked its victims.
- Judge Sleep, a female dark judge that put her victims into an endless sleep.
- Judge Stigmata, a humanoid covered in cuts and carrying a knife in its stomach who induced its victims to self-harm.
- Judge Burroughs, a mole-like creature that created tunnels that destroyed buildings.
- Judge Sludge, capable of spraying victims in a thick ooze.
- Judge Fistula, a walking, talking tumor that stabbed victims with extruded tendrils.
- Judge Skinner, a humanoid with transparent skin who could magically remove its victims's skins.
- Judge Metastasis, a conglomerate being composed of many victims, each of whom it summoned to join the whole, forming a human-shaped giant.
- Judge Blank, a creature of pure void that could teleport victims. Judge Blank was not in league with the others and was implied to be Judge Anderson.
The Dreams of Deadworld arc in the September 2015 2000 ADs introduced dark judges that existed on Deadworld prior to a coup by Death and his three lieutenants. They were:
- Judge Reaper, a large, male human with a dark, empty face.
- Sister Despair, a female who teams up with Judge Reaper.
- Judge Omen, who was precognitive.
- Judge Flyblown, an obese man with digitigrade legs.
- Judge Ossify, a misshapen giant with protruding bones.
- Sister Bedlam, a female with a vertically-oriented mouth.
- Judge Silence, who held his hands over his mouth and said nothing.
- Judge Scourge, who attacked with spike-studded tentacles.
The Joker as a Dark Judge
For a very brief time, DC comic's "The Joker" character was a Dark Judge, in the original graphic novel Die Laughing (1998). The Joker helped free the original Dark Judges in exchange for immortality. He received his payment by having his spirit merged into a corpse (which was not quite the "immortality" he'd sought), creating "Judge Joker". As a Dark Judge, the Joker could kill masses of people with his laugh, which caused human heads to explode.
His tenure was a brief one, as he quickly became bored with slaughter simply for its own sake and did not share the original Dark Judge's fanatical zeal for their "sacred mission" of purging all life. The Joker was restored to his normal, mortal form upon returning to Gotham City via a defective dimensional jump device.
The Judges of Deadworld wore similar uniforms to those of Mega-City One judges, coloured black with red trim; and a pterodactyl device on the right shoulderpad. They were brutal and a law unto themselves: a recruitment poster exhorted candidates to join the Judges and offered such incentives as "Beat people up. Kill anyone you like (within reason). Good rates of pay. Plenty of graft. Vicious nature a plus. LUNCHEON VOUCHERS." Unsurprisingly they easily attracted psychopaths such as the future Dark Judges; and in their last days applied the death penalty for even the slightest of misdemeanors. When the Dark Judges seized power, the Deadworld Judges were inspired to join them and assisted in the massacre of the entire population before being killed themselves.
Deadworld, despite having a Judge system and having some degree of future tech, did not possess City Blocks or most of the features the Mega-Cities do, instead being very much like 20th Century Earth. Dreaming was considered abnormal and dangerous, and those who dreamt repeatedly were often Psis, who were rounded up by the Judges. Instead of the Academy of Law, they had Law School overseen by a Principal. Trainee Judges would spend a day in court, sentencing minor offenders (a young Death would be told that it would be "fine" to sentence a minor offender to death and borderline acceptable to kill two or three).
- Judge Dredd
- Anderson, Psi-Division
- Judge Dredd
- "Aftermath Ron Reagan" (by John Wagner and Alan Grant (writers) and Ian Gibson (artist), 2000 AD #420, 1985)
- "House of Death" (by John Wagner and Pat Mills (writers) and Bryan Talbot (artist), Dice Man #1, 1986)
- "Dear Annie" (by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, 2000 AD #672-673, 1990)
- "Necropolis" (by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, 2000 AD #674-699, 1990)
- Young Death
- Judge Dredd
- "Return Of The King" (by Garth Ennis and Carlos Ezquerra, 2000 AD #733-735, 1991)
- "Judge Death: The True Story" (by John Wagner and Ian Gibson, 2000 AD #901-902, 1994)
- "The Three Amigos" (by John Wagner and Trevor Hairsine, Judge Dredd Megazine vol. 3 #2-7, 1995)
- "Dead Reckoning" (by John Wagner and Greg Staples, 2000 AD #1000-1007, 1996)
- Batman / Judge Dredd
- Judge Dredd
- Dreams of Deadworld
- "Fire" (by Kek-W and Dave Kendall, 2000 AD #1946, 2015)
- "Mortis" (by Kek-W and Dave Kendall, 2000 AD #1947, 2015)
- "Fear" (by Kek-W and Dave Kendall, 2000 AD #1948, 2015)
- "Death" (by Kek-W and Dave Kendall, 2000 AD #1949, 2015)
- Judge Dredd
- "Dominion" (by John Wagner and Nick Percival, Judge Dredd Megazine #386-391, 2017)
- Progs 1779-1781, "Day of Chaos: Eve Of Destruction"
- 2000 AD #1786
- 2000 AD #1912
- 2000 AD #2015 and #1912-1921
- flickeringmyth.com "The Dark Judges returning to 2000 AD for Dreams of Deadworld"
- Review at Every Day is Like Wednesday website (retrieved 4 July 2016)
- Young Death: Boyhood of a Superfiend, Judge Dredd Megazine issues 1-12