Thursday, September 4, 2008

65. Crossover in Gotham

Thrillpowered Thursday is a weekly look at the world of 2000 AD. I'm rereading my collection of 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine, one issue an evening, and once each week for the foreseeable future, I'll see what I'm inspired to write.

October 1998: Years and years in the making, Die Laughing finally limps into stores amid a small publicity blitz from Fleetway and a noticeably smaller one from DC Comics. This was the fourth time that John Wagner and Alan Grant scripted a team-up between Judge Dredd and Batman, but although this was the biggest - a 96-page story told across two squarebound editions in the US - it is a story long past its time.

When Dredd and Batman first met in 1991's Judgment on Gotham, it was a huge success that sold by the truckload. A sequel was released called Vendetta in Gotham which didn't sell quite as well, perhaps in part because Cam Kennedy's splendid artwork on the second did not have the fully-painted wicked-cool heavy metal bloodsplodo of the first book's Simon Bisley work. It's certainly fair to speculate that many of the first comic's buyers picked it up more for Bisley than for following the continuity of either character.

Die Laughing was intended to be the third story, and was pencilled in to be released in 1995 to capitalize on the Batman Forever film. But the artwork was not ready in time, and another title, The Ultimate Riddle, appeared in its place. By the time Die Laughing finally did make its way into shops, it was no longer anything special. DC was releasing at least one, and as many as three, "prestige format" Bat-books a month, ranging from "Elseworlds" stories of Batman as a Victorian detective or a space vampire to crossovers with every comic company on the planet. Judgment on Gotham had been a novelty, and an occasionally impressive one, in its day. Eight years later, with comic shops sagging under the weight of shitty squarebound Batman comics jammed into longboxes that nobody wanted, this two-parter seemed to get little attention from anybody.

The delay was mainly down to Glenn Fabry, who had been contracted to paint the adventure, but in the end completed less than forty pages, with Jim Murray and Jason Brashill stepping up to finish the project. The story isn't Wagner and Grant at their finest. Forced once again to contrive some reason to get the characters and their villains together, they have the Joker get hold of a dimension-hopping device left over from the first story, pop to Mega-City One, learn the lay of the land, take over a criminal gang and, in the most credibility-straining incident since disbelief was first suspended, this gang hijacks the armed transport carrying the disembodied spirit forms of the Four Dark Judges.

It gets even stupider. Despite a pretty amazing track record of murdering every self-serving criminal who's ever released him from the judges' custody, Death doesn't kill the Joker immediately, but instead arranges for the Clown Prince of Crime to become the fifth Dark Judge and... oh, just stop it now.

It would be another five years before Judge Dredd crossed over into anybody else's fictional universes. That would be 2003's excellent "Judge Dredd vs. Aliens," published in tandem with Dark Horse, and it would be many, many times better than this. Nevertheless, "Die Laughing" is available, along with the first and third crossovers, in the first of the titles co-published by DC and Rebellion in 2004, The Batman/Judge Dredd Files.

Next time, Sinister Dexter take a Caribbean holiday and meet some ugly, ugly artwork.

(Originally published Sept. 4 2008 at hipsterdad's LiveJournal.)

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