‘Predator Vs. Judge Dredd Vs. Aliens’ Is Exactly As Awesome As It Sounds [Review]
There are a lot of things that happen regularly in comics that I've never really understood, and chief among them has been the sheer number of superhero crossovers with Aliens and Predator. I mean, I understand wanting to see Aliens and Predators fight each other because they're both these mysterious, lethal alien enemies, where one's a cunning, vicious hunter and the other's an almost mindless biologically driven killing machine, a natural contrast that makes them cool opponents for each other and a deadly combination for anyone who gets trapped between them. The thing I don't get is why you'd want to throw Superman or Batman in there, if only because of the sheer amount of storytelling gymnastics you have to do to make it work. And yet, they happen all the time, and I have long since accepted that it's Just Not My Thing.
And then I read Predator vs. Judge Dredd vs. Aliens, and now I get it. Mostly because the first story in this collection ends with Dredd taking off his shirt (while leaving his helmet on, of course), and fighting the Predator with a knife.
Despite the title, Predator vs. Judge Dredd vs. Aliens isn't a single story where both extraterrestrial bad guys show up in Mega City One looking for trouble at the same time. Instead, it's a collection of two separate stories, one for each murderous invading alien -- or in the case of the latter, one single army of acid-bleeding xenomorphs. That said, what it lacks the visceral thrill of seeing Dredd take on all comers at once, it makes up for in being a really, really solid story.
What gets me about these particular comics is how much they feel like Judge Dredd stories. I mentioned above that my previous experience has been with the DC crossovers and how much those feel like they're bending each franchise so that they can wedge it in with a crowbar. I'll never forget that ad from the '90s promoting Superman vs. Aliens about how maybe, maybe, Superman at full strength could take out one Alien, and even as a teen I remember thinking how stupid it was to suggest that a guy with impenetrable skin and the ability to shoot fire lasers out of his eyes couldn't wrap up this whole Alien business on his lunch hour. Here, though, there's no wedging necessary. Everything falls into place as neatly as it possibly can, to the point where it even feels logical.
Part of that, of course, comes from the fact that both stories are written (or co-written, in the case of "Incubus," the Alien story) by John Wagner, Dredd's co-creator and the man who's been the architect of the character's adventures since he first appeared in 1977. If you want a story about Dredd to feel authentic, he's probably the guy to go to. But there's a little more to it than that, too.
Dredd is, at heart, a science fiction story. It's set in a post-apocalyptic future, the Judges control a city on the moon and send disgraced lawmen to a prison colony on Titan, and there are mutants and aliens already in the mix. It seems logical for the capital-A Aliens to show up, and when you throw in the idea that Judges in general and Dredd in particular are known throughout the galaxy for being tough, then it makes perfect sense that the Predator would show up, too.
What really makes it work, though, is how fun it is. Predator vs. Judge Dredd, by Wagner, Alcatena, Perry McNamee, Jimmy Johns, John Hanan III and Dave Stewart, is told with Dredd's usual deadpan humor, and like the original movie, it's full of snappy one-liners and ridiculously over-the-top action scenes. I think my favorite element of the entire story is that it introduces a new supporting character, Judge Schaefer, a part-timer with Psi Division who also happens to be the great-great-granddaughter of Major Alan "Dutch" Schaefer, better known as Arnold Schwarzenegger in the first Predator movie.
The only thing I don't like about this is that Dredd never tells her that she's been brought into the case "because some damn fool accused you of being the best," but it makes up for that by introducing the idea that Dutch had kids, which makes me think that Commando was a stealth sequel that took place after Dutch had been debriefed by the government and given a new identity. I mean, that makes sense, right? There's no way "John Matrix" is actually anyone's real name.
In one of the most bonkers moments in the history of comics, Judge Schaefer ends up accidentally drinking the Predator's blood (believe me, it is as complicated a setup to get to that point as you could imagine it would be), which of course enhances her psychic abilities and allows her to detect the Predator's thoughts and motivations. Which also has the effect of making her actually pretty sympathetic to the monster -- a sympathy that Dredd completely ignores.
The whole thing is a hoot, but it's not quite what I'd call slapstick. Instead, it's the same kind of dark comedy and brutal action that you get from the Dredd series as a whole.
Judge Dredd vs. Aliens: Incubus, cowritten by Wagner and Andy Diggle with art by Henry Flint and Chris Blythe, is a little bit darker, but that's because it actually ties more tightly into the ongoing themes that Dredd's been dealing with for the past few years. Instead of coming across the Aliens by happenstance, they're brought into Mega City One by a group of pro-democracy terrorists, one of whom has a particular vendetta against Dredd himself. There's also a psychological element to the story focusing on Sanchez a rookie Judge whose first day on the job finds her dealing with an infestation of xenomorphs, something that I'm pretty sure could shake the best of us. Needless to say, this is all presented with Dredd's usual level of subtlety, which is to say, none. But still, it's there, and given that a whole bunch of seemingly expendable characters are introduced pretty early on -- Sanchez in particular -- it definitely makes a solid attempt at capturing the horror atmosphere of the original.
Don't get me wrong, though. It's still Dredd.
Even though I've recently become the kind of person who wants to read every bit of Dredd that he can, I probably wouldn't have picked up this paperback on my own, owing simply to just not being a big fan of the Alien and Predator crossovers. I'm glad I did, though. It's a pretty great example of how to make a book like this work.
Predator vs. Judge Dredd vs. Aliens is out on the 21st of October from Dark Horse.