Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Judge Anderson: The Psi-Files Volume 02

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Judge Anderson: The Psi-Files Volume 02 (Rebellion, 2012).

There was an unfortunate and unavoidable problem with the first of Rebellion's Psi-Files collections. Tracking the solo, spin-off adventures of Judge Cassandra Anderson, a regular supporting player in Judge Dredd's stories, the book presented many stories that had been reprinted countless times already. While a definitive edition was very welcome, overfamiliarity in my case bred enough contempt that just about the only thing left to do when rereading "Four Dark Judges" or "The Possession" was to note just how amazingly often artist Brett Ewins conspired to place his camera behind Cass so that he could draw her perfectly rounded, cute little rear.

The second book features stories that originally appeared from 1990 to 1995, many of which have never been reprinted before. It begins with the terrific "Shamballa." This was the second Anderson: Psi Division serial drawn by Arthur Ranson, for many, the series' definitive artist, and the first of his to appear in color. Not long after this story appeared, the feature left the pages of 2000 AD to become a semi-regular in the companion Judge Dredd Megazine. There, Alan Grant began a long storyline that weaved its way through several adventures. Anderson became disillusioned with the judge force, was ordered to provide Justice Department oversight to a scientific expedition on Mars, met up with her old foe Orlok in a major story painted by Kevin Walker during his "palette of mud" period, and quit the judges to go out on a tour of alien worlds.

"Postcards from the Edge" is the central story - and I use that term loosely - in this arc. A collection of short, episodic adventures, each of these tales are illustrated by different artists, with wildly different approaches. If Ranson had set the tone with his grounded and fidgety, detail-packed artwork, all of these guys just throw the model, and caution, to the wind. Someone called Xuasus delights in murky green and purple paintings of hefty, muscular tough guys and broads, and Charlie Gillespie strides a curious and uncomfortable line between American superhero styles with Kevin O'Neill designs. Tony Luke contributes some utterly bizarre and strangely charming collages, and Steve Sampson, who would spend much of the nineties alternating with Ranson, is engaging but downright strange. He takes photoreferencing to a really weird place - his Anderson is, literally, the musician Madonna - combining meticulous facial detail with giant, solid colors. In his hands, Anderson's hair looks like a floppy, canary yellow jester's hat. Unfortunately, all of these wildly disparate artistic elements overwhelm the stories, to the point that they are much more memorable for how they appear than what they have to say.

I got the sense that Grant had much more that he wanted to do with Anderson in space before he had to bring her home to participate in the big "Die Laughing" crossover with Batman. This is referenced in the text by way of trademark-avoiding foreshadowing, psychic flashes of an eagle (Dredd), a vulture (Judge Death) and a bat (you know). The Sampson-painted "Postcard to Myself" epilogue ends the stories here on a very promising note, with Anderson and Dredd teaming again to re-evaluate her for street duty.

As bonus material, the book wraps up with some short stories that appeared outside the ongoing continuity in various 2000 AD annuals and specials. There's one drawn by Modesty Blaise artist Enrique Romero that I adore, but the real draw here is the fantastic "Mind of Edward Bottlebum," which was drawn by Ian Gibson at the height of his talents. With terrific little character designs, very fun layouts, and an uncharacteristically solid line by an artist well known for dropping his inks, this is more than just a tremendously good one-off. Reprinted in the 1980s Eagle line of American-sized reprints, this was the story that stopped me from thinking that Judge Dredd was merely a very fun comic (two months previously) and made me a fan for life. So I have a soft spot for it. You understand, right? Recommended.

1 comment:

BristleKRS said...

Hi Grant - I recall that you are something of an Ian Gibson fan, so I thought I would let you know that I have uploaded a scan of what I think is a rare IG Judge Dredd strip from a British computer magazine back in 1990... Enjoy!