Hey, it's about time you grew the balls to tackle Greg Horn's J.U.D.G.E.
Challenge answered, my friend!
I think Greg Horn is good at what he does - let's just get that out of the way now. The guy's a talented artist who is mostly known for his cover work. Greg Horn specializes in photorealistic-yet-painted art of hot but curiously emotionless women. I'm sure his covers for Elektra and Emma Frost helped those books sell and were, um, passionately studied by male readers everywhere. Horn also has done covers for game magazines and some commercial art for big clients like Nike. Perhaps this is limiting of me, but I think of Greg Horn as a cover artist, like Alex Ross and Adam Hughes. Greg Horn is good at covers.
Unfortunately, Greg also created his own comic book J.U.D.G.E., published by Image. Horn wrote the book and did the art, which wasn't a great idea. The story is a weird downbeat mess full of shrill, screaming characters. The art is lurid and confusing, doing little to advance the scant plot. In my mind, J.U.D.G.E. is a classic example of a comic made by somebody who is good at creating covers and posters, but not so great when he applies his skills to the tricky world of sequential art. In other words, J.U.D.G.E. blows.
Seriously. It's Uwe Boll bad. That's right; this is the comic book equivalent of House of the Dead.
I'm not saying that each individual panel of art sucks. Some of them do, but overall it's okay. It's just that the art doesn't visually tell the story well and it's really hard to read. I would bet that if you took a panel from J.U.D.G.E. and a panel of any Matt Wagner art and showed it to Johnny On-The-Street, they would say that Horn's art is better. And that's because people are stupid. It's also because Matt Wagner's art is designed as part of a narrative, existing to serve the story and work as part of a greater whole. (It's also because Matt Wagner fucking rules) That's not the case here.
Horn used models to attain his photo/painting look. I imagine he just took a lot of pictures of his subjects and used them as photoreference or something, I'm not really sure. As a matter of fact, a Dave's Long Box reader named Sam was a model for one of the characters in this issue. Here he is:"I too look forward to your review, because I am IN J.U.D.G.E.!
Greg used a lot of the guys from his local comic shop as models (he had already killed the owner in Espers)... He does however have a shit load of money and is married to the girl on the cover."
Nice! I say more power to Greg. I still think this particular comic sucks, but more power to him. Sam, you'll have to tell us which character you were!
Or I should say, which mannequin? The characters in this book are as stiff and posed as the pirates at Disneyland. All of the annoying characters in the book are either yelling or wincing, and are often put together awkwardly in a frame in ways that seem to defy perspective. J.U.D.G.E. is like a fumetti - the strangely inert yet always fascinating photo comics that we all loved. Well, not all of us. There are a lot of floating head shots in J.U.D.G.E., too - when there's no room for a character in a panel, they get reduced to a tiny floating head in the background. Plus, the lighting! The characters are always the same vibrant flesh tones, regardless of setting; it's like the lighting in the circus tent is the same as the lighting in the cemetery. Horn also eschews the use of conventional comic book panel borders and gets creative, but the result is that some pages, particularly the ones that feature a lot of characters, turn into this big jumbled mess of colors with little distinction between panels. It's like an optic puzzle or something. Let's take a look. Click on the image if you'd like to enlarge.
The whole thing just blurs to me, until it looks like this:
You see what I mean about floating heads? Well, not literally floating, but there are characters who are kind of just pasted into the background, barely tethered to their surroundings. And where is all this golden sunshine coming from that lights all the characters from every angle in this gloomy cemetery?
Moving on: the story is about a group of young, incredibly bitchy and high strung operatives for a secret organization called J.U.D.G.E. If they worked for a secret organization called J.U.G.G.S. I might have bought the second issue. This gang of petulant assholes receive their orders, visit the circus(wa-huh?), then ambush some bad guys in a cemetery, arguing and whining the entire fucking time. We learn important details like their names at the end of the book, in a little bio section. Why they put it back there, I don't know, but somehow I doubt I would have picked up any extra understanding of the material if I had known the name of the purple-skinned asshole. Anyway, the incompetent and bickering assholes spring their ambush in the aforementioned brightly lit cemetery, and Things Go Horribly Wrong. You guessed it, The Nice Girl dies.
So does my interest.
Horn may have hit his stride in later issues of J.U.D.G.E., but I stopped at number one. Can you blame me? I don't have money to spend on comics that suck.* As LL Cool J says, "you only get one shot at love."
*Obviously, this is not true.