REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
Origin stories tend to be very hit and miss. When they’re done correctly they can be a fascinating insight into how our favourite heroes or villains came to be who they are. When done badly however, they can have a damaging effect on the character, or in some cases prove to be just very underwhelming stories. The character of Judge Death himself is something that has to be handled in the right way. He can be an extremely dark and menacing villain, arguably being one of the greatest comic book bad guys when portrayed in this manner. He has been known to be turned into a comedic figure at times though, which served only to diminish his character, and thus the threat he would bring to any story he appeared in. So as you can imagine I was somewhat cautious about reading a strip which gives us the origins of 2000AD’s most iconic villain. I needn’t have worried though, as John Wagner delivered a suitably dark and disturbing background story for Death.
In comic strips bad guys are often shown to have been good originally, with some event in their lives turning them down the wrong path. Thats certainly not the case with Death however, as he is portrayed as thoroughly evil from the very beginning. As a child Death seems to enjoy causing pain to anyone and anything he chooses, including his sister whom he handicaps at an early age. We learn that his father was much the same way as Death, except in his case he was a dentist who enjoyed torturing his patients. If you have a dentists appointment in the near futur then I advise you don’t read the scenes in which Death and his father perform surgery on a patient without anasthetic. The young Death soon decides to join his universes version of the Judges, and rapidly rises through the ranks sentancing people to Death for pretty much any minor offence. This includes his own family who he seems only too glad to judge. A chance encounter with the Dark sisters Phobia and Nausea sees Death cast off the final vestiges of his humanity as he turns into the now familiar Judge Death. We’re not just shown these events however, rather we are told them by Death himself. Still in hiding following the events of Necropolis, Death agrees to an interview with a journalist in order to change their opinions about him. Needless to say thats not quite how things turn out.
Its a very dark story, and fortunatly the art is a perfect match for it. Drawn by Peter Doherty, I was suprised to read that this was his very first work for 2000AD (or in this case the Judge Dredd Megazine). Not only does his art look far more professional than one would expect from someone who had never been published before, but its also a testimony to John Wagner who was willing to allow a young rookie artist too draw such an important strip. Even more so when you consider that this was one of the strips to feature in the very first issue of the Megazine.
It was crucial that everything was perfect in order for a Judge Death origin story to work. With Wagner’s art and Doherty’s art, I’m happy to say that this is very much the case. If you’ve recently read Necropolis then I recommend you pick up a copy of this trade immediatly, as it shows what Death did in the immediate aftermath. If your a fan of the character then I can also recommend that you take a look back at how this particular fiend came into being. You won’t be dissapointed.