The crime is life, and the sentence is death this March, when writer Duane Swierczynski finally introduces American versions of Judge Death and the Dark Judges — Fear, Fire and Mortis — in IDW Publishing’s “Judge Dredd” #17. “American Way of Death” debuts not only Death and his three undead brothers, co-created by John Wagner and Brian Bolland, but nine all-new Dark Judges created by Swierczynski and regular “Judge Dredd” artist Nelson Daniel.
Swierczynski laid the law down to CBR News about the introduction of the Dark Judges, revealing what leads to “American Way of Death,” why he thinks Judge Death and the Dark Judges are such enduring villains and providing the exclusive unveiling of Judge Choke, one of the nine Dark Judges making their debut in this arc, along with ‘cameo’ appearances of the names of several other new Judges. Swierczynski also channeled the spirit of Dredd himself to pass judgement on the quality of CBR News’ questions; CBR News’ legal team subsequently ruled that through an odd loophole, all sentences are somehow legally binding.
CBR News: How’s your second year of writing “Judge Dredd” been going?
Duane Swierczynski: You may have come to me looking for answers, Karl, but, surprise — I’m going to judge your questions!
This first one: not good. Too open-ended. If I answer in the positive (“It’s been awesome”), I sound like a boastful ass. If I answer negatively (“Well, I could have tried harder — “) I’ll sound like an idiot.
SENTENCE: 3 months in the iso-cubes.
Fair enough. Now, “American Way of Death” is kicking off in Issue 17. What can you tell us about it?
Again, an extremely broad question, and I’m not sure how to answer. Do I presume you’ve read up through “Dredd” #16 (impossible, because it hasn’t been published yet)? Do you know all about the chaos that broke out in Mega-City One during the previous arc (“13 Badges”) when an unknown gunman with D-jump device started picking off street judges? And that killing spree leads directly to the events of the issue you mention? If not, telling you what’s happening in #17 would spoil the living stomm out of the story.
SENTENCE: 6 months in the iso-cubes.
What do you think makes the Dark Judges such iconic villains?
They’re the classic flip side of our own dark selves — the monsters in the closet (or in this case, Deadworld). But beyond that, they’re just genius. John Wagner, Alan Grant and Brian Bolland tapped into something truly hideous and primal with this lot. You can practically hear them hissing on the page.
SENTENCE: Decent question. Sentence suspended — for now.
What does your take on the Dark Judges look like?
This is more a question for the amazing Nelson Daniel, my partner in crime. I’ve seen his sketches and concepts for all of the Dark Judges, and they’re absolutely terrifying. Longtime Death fans are going to go crazy with his take on thisssss one —
SENTENCE: 2 weeks in the iso-cubes and a handwritten apology to Mr. Daniel.
Is “American Way of Death” inspired by any previous Judge Death or Dark Judges stories?
The first, certainly — but they’re such amazing villains that I couldn’t imagine writing a “Dredd” series without them showing up at some point.
SENTENCE: Okay, that’s more like it. I’ll let you off with a warning this time.
Death, Fear, Fire, Mortis — which of the undead clan is your personal favorite?
Why would my favorite matter? These things are ripping through citizens like tissue paper! Damn, Karl, you’re a sick ticket. Why not ask me for my favorite bacterial infection?
Besides, there are more than those four to worry about this time. Oh, yes. There are a total of 13 Dark Judges running wild through Sector One — and Dredd is nowhere near ground zero. Every Dredd arc has had the flavor of a different subgenre — sometimes it’s cyberpunk, sometimes country noir. In this case, it’s most definitely “grindhouse.”
SENTENCE: A one-on-one interview with Judge Sludge, in person (no Skype.)
Can you talk about how you and Nelson Daniel developed 9 new Dark Judges for this story?
I started with a list of things that made me afraid or repulsed — and kind of built them from there. I’m a middle-aged guy, and like many people my age, I pop awake at 3 AM and worry about all kinds of gruesome things. So why not put them into a comic book?
But I also kept Nelson in mind the whole time, knowing how much fun he’d have bringing these things to ugly life. We’ve already had a lot of fun with weird characters in previous arcs, from Dann the multi-eyed mutant to the Butter Lady. And wait until you see these Judges. Nelson truly outdid himself.
SENTENCE: Dinner for one with the Angel Gang. Hang on, don’t sit down just yet —
What other genres are you interested in tackling in future Dredd stories? Which ones do you think work best for the character?
Hmmm. Giving you a stern look here for trying to pry spoilers out of me —
But I’ll give you one hint. I’ve been dying to tell a sort-of Cold War/espionage story set in Mega-City One. So maybe that’ll happen. If the city survives the assault of the Dark Judges.
Was bringing the Dark Judges to IDW’s “Judge Dredd” something you had in mind from the early stages of the book?
Oh, yeah. [IDW Editor-in-Chief] Chris Ryall and I were dying (sorry) to do a Dark Judges story since the beginning, but we thought it best to wait until we’d established Dredd, his colleagues, and Mega-City One for new readers. And there’s a subplot way back in #1 that paved the way for the return of the Dark Judges.
SENTENCE: A coffee date with Judge Stigmata.
Dredd’s been getting hassled a lot by his superior Judge Cal lately. Is your Cal destined to head down the same insane path as the original?
Asking for spoilers? That’s a serious crime ’round these parts!
SENTENCE: 30 years in the iso-cubes. (On the plus side, you’ll be out just in time for the publication of “Miracleman” #29-34.)
What’s the story behind Judge Choke? What inspired his smokey appearance?
Are you trying to get me to reveal the secrets of the Dark Judges? Clearly you don’t care if I live or die. Let’s just say that Judge Choke has the ability to look deep into the hearts of all mortal beings… and then pull our their lungs if he doesn’t like what he sees. (Note: Judge Choke never, ever, likes what he sees.) As for his look? Well, I just imagined this one friend of mine who’s forever smoking a pipe, then imagined being locked in a room with him for hours on end.
SENTENCE: Three months in an iron lung. Then we’ll see how you feel about spoilers.
We’ve seen your take on the “Cursed Earth” saga, and now we’re getting your take on the “Dark Judge” saga. Are there any other big, classic Dredd sagas you’d like to adapt?
I have many favorite sagas, but I wouldn’t want to tip my hand here.
See: previous sentence, and DOUBLE IT, punk.
In issue #14, Dann appears to die. After all the twists and turns his character has taken, it’s a shame to see him go already. Is this truly the last we’ll see of the (formerly) multi-eyed mutant?
Oh, that’s right. I did kill Dann, didn’t I? What the hell was I thinking? I loved Dann. I thought he’d have a long career with the Justice Department. I have no one to blame but myself, so I guess judgment falls on me this time.
SENTENCE: The Long Walk away from this interview, head bowed in shame.
Death originally appeared as a solo character in “2000 AD,” so why did you decide to have him debut here, not only with his three dark brothers, but nine new Dark Judges?
I used Richard Matheson’s rationale when he wrote “I am Legend.” What’s scarier than one vampire? An entire world full of vampires. Thirteen seemed like a good number. Plus, there’s a reason for the growing ranks. They have a plan in mind, you see —
SENTENCE: Some hang time with Judge Metastasis.
Does Judge Death work best as a true horror villain, or when he’s infused with comical elements, like in many of his later “2000 AD” stories?
I prefer him to be a proper horror villain, but there’s always room for some dark (ahem) humor. This is “Judge Dredd,” after all.
SENTENCE: A stern look from Judge Fear for not mentioning him.
Death and Dredd both believe in absolute adherence to the law — they just follow different laws. Are they two sides of the same coin? Are they each other’s ultimate adversary?
Actually, no. I think Mega-City One is Dredd’s ultimate adversary. He’s married to his work, and his work is the city, and damn, is she a harsh mistress.
SENTENCE: Solid question but a faulty premise. Life in the cubes, scumbag!
“Judge Dredd” #17, featuring the first part of “American Way of Death,” is out this March from IDW Publishing.