So here we are. A little late, to be sure, but to be fair I’m literally in the middle of the Highlands of Scotland, having just come back to the mainland from the Orkney Islands, and my internet connection has been a little hit and miss.
Anyway – down to business. Just one of the 2000AD related collections that I got for review left – and I saved my favourite for last.
Obviously the cornerstone of ‘Tooth has always been Judge Dredd, but oddly, he’s not my favourite character from The Galaxy’s Greatest Comic – or even from the “Dreddverse”. No, my favourite character is PSI Judge Cassandra Anderson. She rocks.
Far less uptight than Old Stoney Face, Anderson is a senior Judge from Justice Dept’s “PSI Division” – the Judges who deal with all things paranormal and other-worldly. Cassandra herself is a Telepath of extraordinary power, and has pretty much single-handedly saved Mega-City One* on numerous occasions. She’s battled demons, extra-dimensional uber-fiends**, East Meg Assassins, you name it.
But Cass isn’t really like Dredd. She’s driven by duty, sure, but she isn’t a blind servant of the law. Dredd is an automaton, even fascistic in his approach. Anderson interacts with people on a much more emotional level, and is far more concerned with what is right than she is with what is legal, and she’s more than happy to bend the rules to “do the right thing”.
Not that she’s soft in any way. You can depend on Anderson to get the job done, whatever it takes. In one of her early solo adventures*** she has to stop a young boy being sacrificed in order to prevent her City being over-run by demons. Unable to reach him in time, she shoots him herself, thus preventing the sacrifice and saving the city. That’s an action worthy of Dredd himself, although Cassandra did at least cry about it.
When we first met Cassandra she was young, sassy, and sexy as hell. Like Dredd, however, she’s aged pretty much in real time and so now she’s pretty much middle aged. Still sassy, and frankly, still pretty sexy too. But there’s a care-worn world weariness about her now. At the start of this latest collection of her adventures, entitled Shambala, Cass is still coming to terms with the suicide of her colleague and close friend Judge Corey, and is by no means sure that her old friend wasn’t right to opt out of the harsh world of Mega City One law.
When, in the opening story, she is called upon to join forces with an East Meg telepath to take on a mysterious and malevolent force that threatens not only the safety of her city, but the whole world, Anderson is less than convinced that saving civilization is the right thing to do. In the end, like Dredd, she does her duty – and at some personal cost.
That dark undercurrent runs through the whole of the book. As the collection continues she will take on subterranean vampires, strange obsessive religious sects, young PSI Judges out on Halloween, and (possibly) Satan himself****. Anderson’s co-creator***** Alan Grant turns in a series of stark and reflective stories that have a real emotional honesty at their core.
It’s this emotional aspect that makes the book what it is, I think. There is always the danger that “supernatural” storylines – particularly when set within an environment that is already a long way removed from the world inhabited by the reader – simply become too far fetched and therefore impossible to relate to. But in spite of her futuristic setting and amazing abilities Anderson remains very much a real person with real feelings and real conflicts. She’s much more human than Dredd in this regard, and in my view is a far more interesting and well rounded character as a result.
Grant’s writing is beautifully complimented by the fine, fine lines and subtle colours of Arthur Ranson’s art. He has an absolutely brilliant take on Anderson, and he really does add something to the characterisation. Some artists make Anderson too overtly sexy – something no senior Judge, no matter how outgoing their personality, is ever going to be.
Ranson’s version of Anderson is attractive certainly, but she’s realistic. She’d have no difficulty in standing up, and her boots are standard Justice Dept issue, and not the implausible high heeled versions that some artists have dressed her in. I mean I ask you – a Judge in High Heels?!****** Ranson also pulls off the none too easy feat of drawing Anderson naked (in astral form) without making you feel like a perv.
What Grant and Ranson give us here is in my view the definitive view of Judge Anderson – as a Judge, and as a person. But even if you’re not a fan of ‘Tooth, even if you’ve never come across the Dreddverse before, they also give us a bunch of damn fine stories, each and every one of which would stand by itself. If the purpose of these collections is to make the very finest of ‘Tooth’s archive available to a new audience, then Shambala is a fine and worthy addition.
Old-timers like me should be grateful for these trade collections because they remind us about stories that otherwise might just get lost in the enormity of our collections*******, and they wrap those stories up in a nice easy to find and easy to follow package, on better paper and with better inks than we would have dared to hope for back in the day. New readers should be more grateful though.
New readers get access to some quality work, without having to track down old issues, and without having to wade through acres of stuff that isn’t to their taste. It’s just handed to them. No mess, no fuss no effort.
And see, that’s where these collections leave me a little conflicted. I know, in my head, that putting good comics in front of new readers can only be a good thing. Of course it can. But in my heart – or possibly my spleen – I can’t help feeling just a little bit grumpy about it. Dammit – I had to work at tracking down all the great stories that were published before I started reading comics. Kids today? They just mosey on down to their comics store – or worse, just click on Amazon, and it’s all there for them.
They have cooler toys than we did too.
Don’t seem fair.
Still, you should take advantage of these great opportunities. Shambala is out now for the outrageously low price of £15.99, and it’d be good value at twice that.
Go on. It’d almost me rude not to…
Nest week, some news of some cool goings on. See you then!
*And the rest of the world, come to think of it…
**Including the Dark Judges – Anderson was introduced into Dredd’s world in the first Judge Death story, in which she sacrificed herself, trapping Death’s evil spirit inside her own body. She was only revived when Death escaped.
***Although she first appeared as a supporting character, her popularity ensured that she got her own series pretty quickly. Indeed, I think Anderson: PSI Division might have been the first real Dredd spin-off, paving the way for the plethora of characters, strips and series that have spring from Dredd’s world since.
****Although real Dredd anoraks will know that The Devil is in fact already in custody, having been incarcerated by Dredd for the crime of “Sin”. The Devil is, naturally enough held in Iso-Block 666… “Beat the Devil” was a sort of joke story though (told in rhyme!) and since it wasn’t a patch on Anderson’s “Satan”, we’ll leave it to be quietly forgotten…
*****With Brian Bolland.
******Although some of the stories I’ve heard about members of our current Judiciary would make your hair curl…
********And that really can be an issue. I have well over a thousand single issues of ‘Tooth in my attic – going through them all to find a particular story if I can’t remember which progs it’s in is waaaaaaaaaaaaay too daunting a task.