First published in Progs 1973-1981 in 2016.
Artist: David Kendall
Kek-W and David Kendall followed up their excellent Dreams of Deadworld with this, the first of several Fall of Deadworld stories. While Young Death had given us Judge Death’s origin story, Kek-W was looking to explore the last days of Deadworld in more detail. Indeed, early Judge Death stories almost wrote off the whole ‘they extinguished life on their planet’ thing but Fall of Deadworld explains how that happened and what it was like.
In the foreword in the first collected works (there are two Fall of Deadworld collections), Kek-W explains how David Kendall had had a nightmare about the Dark Judges which inspired him to draw them but this time with no humour, all horror. 2000 AD’s Editor, Matt Smith, then asked Kek-W to use them for inspiration for Dreams of Deadworld but then this had got Kek-W thinking about how the Dark Judges could “depopulate an entire world.”
And so, Tainted begins a new epic series with several entries, all created by the Kek-W/Kendall partnership. As we said on our write up of Dreams of Deadworld, Kendall’s artwork is just fantastic and Kek-W’s writing on Tainted is entirely uncompromising. He’s given the room he needs to really explore the story and never shirks from displaying the true horror of Deadworld. So, Tainted is as essential as it gets when it comes to the Judge Death timeline, especially considering its legacy.
If you’re this far into our write ups, you’ll know that Judge Death is from an Earth-like planet in a parallel dimension but one where life was a little cheaper than it is here. Tainted looks at his tenure as Chief Judge on Deadworld and how he systematically began eradicating life there but does it from the perspective of a family of farmers who are struggling to survive now that the planet is starting to die, thanks to the Dark Judges tainting the ecosystem.
Cassandra is a mother who is trying to keep her family together. There’s her father, John, her grandfather and her daughter Jess as well as her brother Luke. The grandfather is something of a conspiracy theorist and is trying to show young Jess how to use a gun, believing she’ll need to learn to protect herself and that all of this turmoil is being deliberately caused by the government.
The populace are starting to riot and Judge Fairfax has escaped the city against the orders of the Justice Department. He shows up at the family’s farm, wounded and unconscious, his bike getting him there despite it’s AI malfunctioning. On waking up he attacks the family and demands that they get him out of there. Meanwhile, he’s being tracked by a Psi-Judge who appears to be transforming into a Dark Judge thanks to the Sisters of Death.
A travelling group of religious zealots, led by Pastor Moses Dodge, finds the family and starts judging them, claiming that God hates the living. Uncle Luke is deliberately poisoned with a snake but Fairfax’s bike, named as Byke, tricks the group and starts the counterattack. The family escape further judgement.
The story is alternating focus at this point between the family and the Psi Judge who explains that Chief Judge Death wants Fairfax brought back alive and that he had been considering him to be his fourth Lieutenant. Another Judge, Gates, gives her the new ‘dead fluids’ to drink and this expands her powers. She begins referring to herself as Judge Psiren, a new Dark Judge.
The dead fluids are a key part of what is going on. Judges are forcing people to drink it and it is being pumped into the ecosystem. It takes away reason and causes extreme violence and is the reason that the Judges are so hellbent on killing everyone without thinking that ultimately Chief Judge Death will want to kill them too.
Eventually a plague of locusts breaks out, presumably engineered, and starts creating more chaos. The family are trying to make it to a doctor to treat Luke but the symptoms of his poisoning are getting worse and he has become delirious. When they do finally get to the town with the doctor in it, there is a crowd of people and John, Cassandra’s father, is shot and killed.
At this point any police are declaring everything illegal, including talking and listening, and are executing people on sight. Luke begins attacking Cassandra and a member of the local Sheriff’s Department announces that he’ll have to kill everyone but Jess shoots him, her last piece of innocence dying with him.
Grandpa finds the local medical centre and knocks on the door. The doctor opens up and smooshes some dead fluid into his face. He’s tempted to submit to it, but Grandpa’s will is strong and he resists. However, Judge Gates catches up with him and is about to kill him when Fairfax shows up and puts a bullet through his head. However, Gates has swallowed so much of the dead fluids that it doesn’t kill him. Another Judge, Pierce, holds Fairfax at gunpoint.
Elsewhere, Judge Fire (still human but carrying a flaming torch) is training a young recruit when Judge Death contacts him over a video link looking for a report (his only appearance in this story). He also contacts Mortis (who is revealed to be responsible for the changes in the environment), Fear, who is investigating the resistance and the Sisters who reveal a prophecy that the “Judge Child” would be the only one who could stand in Death’s way.
Jess and Cassandra are fighting the local law enforcement. Cassandra is killed and Jess escapes, swearing vengeance. While, Fairfax is saved from Judge Pierce by Grandpa, who puts a shotgun blast through his chest, his last effort before dying. Pierce and Gates are slowed down but still alive thanks to the dead fluids and so Fairfax shoots a gas tank and detonates the building but is able to escape outside. Pierce is still trying to kill him, despite being on fire, but Jess intervenes and shoots him through the head with a shotgun.
Jess and Fairfax leave together, on Byke.
Loose in the colony of Dominion with Mortis and Fire. Judge Fear trapped by Dredd and Anderson (in main timeline).
Buy it now
Thankfully, this story and the rest of Kek-W’s Fall of Deadworld series were re-printed as two hardcover collections. You’ll need the first one, Fall of Deadworld: Book One to read this story.