In the third millennium, the world… changed. Climate. Nations. Borders. All were in upheaval. Humanity itself turned as violent as the planet. Civilization threatened to collapse. And then… a solution was found. The crumbling, teetering legal system was merged with the overburdened police, creating a powerful and efficient hybrid. Trained equally in jurisprudence and combat, these new guardians of Society could dispense both justice and punishment. They were police, jury and executioner, all in one. They were… The Judges.
Judge Joseph Dredd, the most infamous of all the Judges in Mega-City One kicked his Lawmaster into gear and rolled it slowly down the street away from the pile of rapidly cooling corpses. He’d call it in but in this neighborhood the bodies would be gone by the time the clean-up crew arrived. That was why the Slo-mo drug cartel had been able to survive for as long as it did; in a city made up of bad neighborhoods this was the one that parents warned their children about. Not that Dredd worried himself with such trivialities, he was the law and the law had no borders, no fear and no remorse.
As he cruised down the street his dark mood deepened; the city was dying, and everyone knew it. The humane thing would be to put it down, move on and start again but there was little humanity left in the world nowadays. Mega-City One once the shining beacon of progress and culture was now a crumbling edifice of a forgotten age. Ancient sky scrapers leaned drunkenly, spewing black smoke from their shattered windows, trash was piled up in the broken streets and everywhere he looked bright gang tags covered the crumbling walls. He rounded a corner and filth covered beggars, brightly tattooed gang-bangers and even a few honest looking citizens scattered for cover. As always he drove in a bubble of calm in a city of chaos.
It had a been a long week but even Judges were allowed time off now and then and for the next 48 hours Dredd was free and clear. He kicked his Lawmaster into high gear and sped down the freeway heading for home, a shower and a change of clothes.
Dressed in his civies Joe felt like a completely different person. On the street people hawked their counterfeit holo-discs, offered him small packets of white powder or flashed him a leg and the promise of an unforgettable night. He felt his hand reaching to where his gun should be and clenched his fist with a grimace. ‘That way madness lies Joe,’ he muttered under his breath. ‘Remember Judge Sterling.’ He could still see the madness in his eyes as he’d rampaged in the streets blasting men woman and children; and the relief that replaced it when Dredd had put him down. If you tried to be a judge 24/7 you ended up answering to one. Dredd ground his teeth lowered his head and pushed through the crowd, he was only a block away then he could finally relax.
The door opened with a soft click and Joe was instantly assaulted by a miasma of sweat, fear and desperation. Eyes darted nervously in his direction then away again before he could make eye contact; a couple of the more skittish patrons darted behind the high wooden bookcases at the back. Joe kept his face neutral and tried to blend in with limited success; there’s only so submissive a six-four, 240 pound off-duty Judge could look. He wandered down an aisle fingering the thin plastic sleeves, eyes roving the merchandise for something to take his mind off the terrible scenes of the day, but nothing caught his eye until he rounded the corner and saw her.
She was maybe five-seven, slim but strong like a gymnast with fiery red hair and piercing eyes. She ran her delicate fingers over one of the cellophane wrapped packages and smiled to herself; Joe felt his mouth flop open, she was perfect. She looked up and Joe darted his eyes away, grabbed the nearest package and pretended to study it closely. He waited for his heart o climb back down into his chest then after two long calming breaths peeked around the edge of the package and came face to face with the beautiful girl who was stood only inches away from him her head cocked and that smile on her face.
“Jezz!” cursed Joe jumping his face turning bright pink; the girl giggled and Joe felt his face flush a deeper red. She reached out and took the package from his unresisting grasp.
“2000 AD Prog 2009, The Cannibal Run. I remember this issue, it was a good one.” She turned the comic over in her hands then froze. “Wait a minute, you’re..” She held it up to his face. “You’re THE Judge Dredd.”
Joe turned a deeper shade of red; he felt faint as every ounce of his blood was pumped to his face. “Umm…”
“It IS you!”
“Ah, Umm… Well…”
“What are you doing reading your own comics you’re not…” she looked around then leaned in conspiratorially. “one of them are you?”
“One of them?” asked Joe finally remembering that he spoke English.
“You know, like him…”
As if on queue the door burst open and in stepped… “Batman?”
“I’m Batman,” growled Batman striding into the store in full bat-getup his cape swirling in the gust from the closing door. “Where’s my latest issue? I need to see what the caped crusader has been up to.”
The girl leaned in close to Joe as Batman strutted around the foyer of the shop like he owned the place. “He comes in this time every week, he only buys his own comic he is super vain.”
“Ha Ha there it is,” said Batman as a nervous fanboy tentatively offered him the comic he was holding. “Oh I remember this, it was a good day a good day.” He tucked the comic in what appeared to be a specifically designed comic book holder in his utility belt. “Right now who wants autographs? Only 10 bucks a pop.”
“Ugh he’s such a shill,” moaned the girl. “I mean you don’t see us, I mean them, offering autographs.”
“Them?” asked Joe trying to regain some composure.
The girl threw her thumb over her shoulder. “That crowd trying to be inconspicuous at the back there.”
Joe squinted. “Wait isn’t that?”
“Wolverine, Hellboy, Morpheus, Dark Pheonix and yep I think that’s Spire, all in disguise of course they’re not dicks…”
“Spire from those Novel Dreamers short stories?” said Joe.
“Yeah, I didn’t think a big shot like that would hang out with them either but he seems like he’s a pretty cool dude.”
“Wait, how do you know all these guys?” asked Joe.
“What do you mean?”
“Well they’re all famous, but they’re in disguise who are you?”
“I’m nobody,” she said backing off slightly. “Just a comic nerd, anyone worth their salt would recognize you lot.”
Joe squinted at the girl. She took another step back and he swore her eyes flashed yellow for a second. “You sure?” he replied. “You seem awfully familiar…”
Joe leaned in closer, ‘I swear I know her from somewhere,’ he thought to himself. He felt her name dancing on the tip of his tongue. “You look just like, like…”
He was cut off as the door burst open and “Wild” Bill Carmody and the rest of the Badlands Gang burst in.
“Everyone put your hands in the air and nobody gets hurt,” said the criminal mastermind. “I’m just here for the Amiibo figures, once I have those we can all get on with our lives; but if any of you try to be a hero…” he pointed his gun at the crowd and pretended to shoot. “Bang! I’ll blow you’re head clean off your shoulders. We don’t have any hero’s here now do we?” To Joe’s amazement the crowd, including a now quite bashful Batman held their arms straight up in the air and shook their heads.
“Seriously,” whispered Joe. “Batman is just going to bend over and take it?”
“Shhh!” hissed the girl. “You want him to notice us? You heard him once he has those Amiibo’s we can all go.”
“You can’t be serious,” said Joe incredulously.”I mean…”
“Ho, Ho, Ho what do we have here?” said Bill approaching the pair. “A hero in the making eh?” He tapped his pistol against Joe’s face.
“More of an anti-hero actually,” replied Joe.
“I don’t think you understand the dynamic here pal,” said Bill. “You see I have this gun, which means you do exactly as I say or I’ll stick it where the sun don’t shine and pull the trigger ’til it goes click.”
Joe sighed. “The next thing you touch me with you won’t be taking home with you.”
Bill spat, pulled off his leather glove, licked his finger and wiped it down Joe’s cheek.
“Not. Smart,” said Joe. Before Bill could react he snapped out a hand grabbed Bill by the finger and snapped sending the villain to his knees.
“Get this fuck,”roared Bill in agony.
The gang burst into action automatic rifles coming up sending brass flying and everyone skittering for cover; everyone that is aside fro Joe Dredd who simply spun Bill around pulled his pistol from his ruined hand and returned fire.
“Attempted Murder,”said Joe aiming and firing in one smooth movement; the two closest gang-bangers went down, double tapped to the head.
“The punishment is death.” Joe ducked behind a shelf of vinyl figurines that shattered into a thousand pieces in hail of hot lead pushing Bill to the floor. “Associating with a forbidden criminal enterprise,” said Joe popping up and taking bead again. “Death.” He pulled the trigger and two more hapless henchman were down.
The remaining members of the Badlands Gang shrank back eyes darting from side to side.
“Anyone who leaves now gets a stay of execution,” called Joe. The crew looked at each other and as one sprinted for the exit.
Joe got to his feet and wiped bits of figurine from his hair. “Now where was I?”
“You were about to die law man,” spat Bill pointing his backup pistol right between Joe’s eyes.
“You know I’m off duty,” said Joe keeping his gun pointed away from Bill. “If you leave now, I promise I won’t follow you.”
“Good try Dredd,” spat Bill. “But this is where your story ends.” Joe’s mind raced as Bill gave him an apologetic shrug then tightened his finger on the trigger. Joe closed his eyes and waited for the end to come. After a couple of seconds he opened his eye a crack to see Bill sprawled on the floor a beautiful blue woman stood on his back twisting his arm at an alarming angle.
“No dying until you’ve taken me for a drink, agreed?” said Mystique.
“Fine but you’re buying,” replied Joe.
“You want me to let him go?”
Joe looked down and put two bullets between Bill’s narrow eyes. “Do what you want now, I don’t think he’ll be causing trouble any more.”
Mystique let go of the dead man’s arm and blurred back into the beautiful girl he’s been speaking to before Bill had burst on the scene. “Well shall we?” she asked holding out an arm.
“Let’s,” replied Joe taking her by the arm and leading her through the rubble out of the shop.
The shop sat in a stunned silence as they left then Batman poked his head over the counter. “You can come out now people,” he called standing tall. “it’s safe all of the bad guys have been subdued, you can thank me later; now who wants an autograph?”