Review by Karl Verhoven
The writing switches from John Wagner to David Hine, but the artist remains Nick Percival, and this is a continuation of Dark Justice: Dominion. That was a bleak and depressing experience, but when the Dark Judges are around the result is never a laugh fest. Officer Rosco is the sole survivor of the ship that arrived on Dominion, and while she’s been able to transmit a message back to Earth, it’s going to be six months before help arrives. Until then it’s her against the Dark Judges and the zombies they create.
Percival mixes near photo-realistic art, presumably some form of digital tinkering, with looser, more amorphous figures when it comes to the Dark Judges and their creatures. He colours this primarily working shades of icy blue and fleshy pink, creating grim, detailed tableaux, structures constructed from human bodies twisted in pain, the modern equivalent of Medieval depictions of hell. It’s not for anyone with a weak stomach, but serves the strip well in presenting a place no-one in their right mind would approach.
Hine’s approach is more literary than his predecessor, referencing O. Mirbeau’s horror novel supplying the title as well as the inspiration for Judge Death’s new creation. “What do you think of my torrrture garden?”, he asks a human librarian, presumably rhetorically, “Don’t these ssssculturesss elloquently capturrre the missery of the human condition?” They certainly do if there’s a sadistic maniac and his pals running the place. Such bleakly tongue in cheek pronouncements and scenes of sadistic killings serve to separate Rosco observing, but powerless to do anything other than protect her own life, counting down the days until the promised help arrives.
We know it is coming, as at one point Hine seemed to be heading down the action thriller highway, but is thankfully diverted. He does, however, introduce another complication, because until now we’ve only seen three of the Dark Judges. From that point The Torture Garden improves because there’s a massive injection of tension. While Rosco’s fate is horrible, self-preservation means she’s too passive within the story, but Hine has the confidence to provide a surprise addition to the ranks of the Dark Judges. We’re given thrills, surprises and redemption in this conclusion, and as grim as it is in places, the activities of the Dark Judges here are an improvement on Dominion.
The Torture Garden is only available as a digital collection.