by John Wagner, Andy Diggle, Henry Flint, Enrique Alcatena
Black or white. Law or crime. Fight or flee. Live or die. Kill or be killed. There are no grays in either the future dystopian world of Mega-City One nor are there any to be found within the primal psyches of two of the universe’s most ferocious races. The terms of the conflict are never in doubt when the grim personification of totalitarian order is faced with the threats of both xenomorphs and Predator. What transpires is unabashedly brutal. These stories aren’t gut wrenching, but rather aggressively-gut-shredding. Dark Horse and 2000AD present Predator vs Judge Dredd vs Aliens, collecting two tales showcasing the gruesome nature of survival at any cost. Subtlety gets a shot of Hi-Ex right to the face in this hardcover that stares you dead in the eye and challenges you: “Take me. If you think you’re hard enough.”
For the uninitiated, Judge Dredd was co-created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra in the late seventies for the British comic magazine anthology 2000AD. Set in a future ravaged by nuclear conflict that has left only an iota of the Earth habitable, populaces are forced into unimaginably dense megalopolises numbering in the hundreds of millions. Any remaining semblance of human civility and order is on the constant brink of total collapse if not for the presence of Judges – individuals granted absolute and immediate authority of the entire justice system. And Judge Dredd is the baddest Judge of them all. He is the Dirtiest of Harrys in a world that has conformed the law to meet those raw standards. Largely, Judge Dredd has been at its best when combining riveting science fiction action with sly commentary on authoritarian rule. It is a series that cleverly gets the reader to root for the fascists. This is the backdrop in which the two stories of this collection are set and while it is not necessary to be well versed in Dredd-lore to appreciate them, a vague understanding of the tenets of Dredd’s world are certainly an asset in grasping the horrific beauty of pairing all these franchises together.
If seeing Judge Dredd punch a newly torso-burst xenomorph fetus clear across a room doesn’t fulfill some base level action craved adolescent fantasy, then perhaps this isn’t the book for you. For the rest of us normal people, however, Judge Dredd versus Aliens: Incubus should strike all the right notes. This 2007 crossover penned by John Wagner and Andy Diggle with incomparable art from Henry Flint is cinematic both in scope and in aesthetics. Originally thought to have been brought to Mega-City One by a small time crook as part of the most disturbing dog fighting ring analogy you can imagine, the Judges become ensnared in a full scale war against hordes of xenomorphs, their queen and the grotesque villain pulling all their strings. Wagner and Diggle tell a smartly woven story for what could have easily devolved into a bloody slugfest between popular properties. Dialogue is tight throughout and there’s nice genre integration; at times it’s an investigative police procedural and at others it’s a brothers-in-arms war tale, but throughout it is still the same science fiction gory action-fest one would expect. Absent are the social winks and political commentary, save for some brief quips regarding “planet weeping Earth-Mothers” whose protest serves a larger plot point in the climax. Oh and there is mercifully one moment where the xenomorphs are essentially labeled “illegal aliens” which is brilliantly funny. Overall, the story is mostly superficial with its greatest strength being capturing tone and skillfully advancing plot points while incorporating the acid blood drenched battles promised by the premise. The real star of this book is Henry Flint, which is saying something consider the character’s original co-creator wrote it. Flint steals the show with his detailed line highlighting every vertebrae of exoskeleton tail, every sinewy meniscus of alien anatomy and every cranny of the signature weathered scowl of Dredd. The world he creates is astoundingly organic, giving a sense of techno-grunge both above and below ground. Panel borders are experimented with (jagged and rough in moments of horror, clean and efficient during procedural happenings) and page layouts provide genuinely suspenseful beats. Honestly, this art is crying out to be seen on oversized pages and whomever decided to keep the book in standard dimensions may need to spend some time in the iso-cubes. The cinematic quality can largely be attributed to the vibrant color work of Chris Blythe who counter intuitively puts a brilliant polish over every surface of Mega-City One without losing any of the appropriate grime. In order to succeed, this book relied heavily on creating atmosphere and Flint’s pencil work combined with the vivid lighting of Blythe’s colors make it look easy.
Next it’s the Predator’s turn to take on Dredd and his heavily adorned shoulders in 1997’s Judge Dredd versus Predator by John Wagner and Enrique Alcatena. Collecting this story second was an odd choice and the opening pages do a much better job of painting an introductory picture of Dredd’s world and his role therein. Compared to the twisting and genre hopping preceding story, this is a linear narrative involving a single Predator loose in Mega-City One and the chase to eliminate him before he eliminates his chosen prey, the Judges. Wagner makes a point to portray the Predator as a sympathetic creature abiding by his nature, a noble warrior serving as a compliment to the mission-driven Dredd culminating in an operatic final showdown between these two pseudo-samurai. Again, it’s a very surface level story, but one that doesn’t need to dig too much deeper as the inherent coolness factor of squaring the starring combatants against each other more than satisfies. Enrique Alcatena’s grainy art effectively conveys the weight of both the bulging fighters and their battleground and the page composition is very well-balanced. There are four credited colorists, but it’s virtually unnoticeable with the matte finish staying coherent all the way through. Visually, it’s a sharp contrast to the sheen and hyper detail of the Aliens story, but it feels appropriate both for the time it was produced and the needs of Wagner’s script. It may be more grounded, but panels flow together tighter and easier than the first half of this hardcover and there’s never a doubt as to what’s happening. If versus Aliens is Avatar than versus Predator is Die Hard for all the best reasons.
If you’re already a fan of Judge Dredd or the Aliens and Predator franchises, there’s plenty to revel in with this collection, but if you’ve never dipped your toe in the 2000AD pool before, there are probably better introductions to Dredd out there that better highlight the wit and violent charm of his world. Price of admission is virtually covered through the spectacular art in both these stories and the sheer thrill of seeing the singularly minded beasts, be they dreadlocked or helmeted or drooling, come face to face with their own primal natures is its own reward. For Grud’s sake, who doesn’t love the smell of napalm fueled justice in their comics collection?