Bizarro Back Issues: And Then There Was The Time Judge Dredd Fought Stan Lee (1986)
When I'm looking for something to read, there are certain things that will make me pick up a book immediately. It's probably the same way with you, and while I think we all have the usual soft spots for a favorite villain or a cool plot point, every now and then you run across a story title that's just so weird that you absolutely have to see how it all plays out. This, for the record, is the reason for about 90% of my back issue purchases, and was basically the leading theory on how to design a DC Comics cover for about thirty years.
What I'm getting at here is that when I was looking at the stories included in the new Judge Dredd Complete Casefiles v.10 paperback and I saw that there was one called "The Fists of Stan Lee," I pretty much dropped everything so that I could read it. And yes: It is, in fact, Judge Dredd fighting Stan Lee. Just, you know. Not that Stan Lee.
Rather than the affable face of Marvel Comics, the Stan Lee that appeared in 1986's 2000 AD #484 was an assassin also known as Deathfist (delightful!), but really, considering the satirical bent that you get from creators like John Wagner, Alan Grant and Barry Kitson, I'm pretty sure the confusion was every bit as intentional as it was amazing. And trust me, it was amazing, mostly because Dredd refuses to refer to his enemy by his codename and just keeps talking at length about how much he hates Stan Lee.
Dude was not a fan of Nightcat, it seems.
The story kicks off with Lee appearing in Mega City One, sporting a stylized "S.L." tattoo across his chest.
He promptly starts kung fu murdering of a bunch of crooks, taking them out with a handful of shuriken and, at one point, even gouging out a dude's eyes with a pair of nunchuks. Despite the pretty great joke of the name, the influence on the action is more Bruce than Stan, and it probably won't surprise anyone that Kitson, even this early in his career, does a pretty amazing job with it.
Unfortunately for Stan, even well-drawn and action-packed murders are still illegal in Mega City One, and Dredd quickly arrives on the scene to take down the lawbreaker. The thing is, even though he gets shot in the process, Stan Lee beats the hell out of Judge Dredd.
I've read a lot of these comics, and there aren't a whole lot of characters who pose an actual physical threat to Judge Dredd. I mean, he once punched the immortal embodiment of fear in the face so hard that his hand came out the other side, and when the Predator showed up in Mega City One, Dredd took his shirt off and killed it with a combat knife. He's a tough man, but Stan Lee takes him down like nobody else, leaving him unconscious and making a clean getaway, which is almost unheard of.
At least, that's how their first encounter ends.
That said, the story's a little problematic in terms of race. It's something that you can see in the panels above --- Until he learns his name, Dredd refers to Lee as "Charlie Chan," and when the second Stan Lee story rolls around in 1987's Prog 540, it climaxes at a restaurant with the truly terrible name "Chang's Chinee Hottie House."
It's easy to write it off as a product of Judge Dredd being a satire set in a dystopian future --- the joke of Judge Dredd has, after all, always been that it's a future so terrible that the fascist cops are the good guys, so seeing how regressive that society can be certainly fits in with the larger picture of what Wagner has been doing for almost forty years --- but there are spots where it's more than a little uncomfortable. It's definitely something to watch out for if you plan on picking it up and hunting it down yourself.
But yeah, Stan Lee manages to thoroughly trounce Dredd, and after a panel that makes him sound like the greatest Shadowrun character of all time...
...he vanishes for a solid year. When he finally does show back up, attempting to get paid for the hit from the first story, Dredd sees it as a chance to not just bring a criminal to justice, but to restore the honor of the Judges by defeating him in single combat. Which is, as you might have already guessed, pretty awesome.
The whole thing feels like a showcase for Kitson's fight choreography, and he's truly fantastic at it. He builds the battle through a brawl outside, an attempt at escaping, and then a final climactic slugfest inside the restaurant that sees Deathfist being set on fire by a waiter preparing a flambé before Dredd spears him into a fishtank. It's almost all action, and it works pretty beautifully.
I will say, though, that the way it all ends could use a little work. Dredd just sort of remembers in the middle of the fight that his name's on the cover so he just sort of overpowers Stan Lee, boots him in the face, and hauls him off to the Iso-Cubes. Admittedly, Deathfist did spend a few panels on fire before it happened, but in the last story, he was shot and still got the better of Dredd. As much as I love a good kick to the face, Dredd just shouting, "No way!" and flexing his way to victory is a little unsatisfying.
Then again, it's the only way this story could ever really end.
Thus, the order of law is restored and the scourge of Stan Lee is finally ended. There is, of course, one more follow-up where Deathfist's daughter shows up and similarly hands Dredd his ass, but to be honest, I'm actually just a little upset that it wasn't a sinister assassin named Steve Ditko showing up to bring down the Judges once and for all.