Sunday, March 4, 2012

Judge Anderson: The Psi Files Volume 02

(Reprints: Judge Anderson stories from Judge Dredd Annual 1985, 1986 and 1988, 2000 AD Annual 1987, 2000 AD Progs 700-711, and Judge Dredd Megazine #2.08, 2.10, 2.11, 2.14, 2.22-2.24, 2.27-2.34, 2.37, 2.50-2.60 and 2.73)

We're actually reaching back a bit in the chronology for this volume--although this is also the newest volume we've covered so far, released about two weeks ago in the U.K. As I mentioned at the time, the first volume of the Psi Files wasn't exactly complete: it included a Judge Anderson story from the 1984 Judge Dredd Annual, but skipped over the long Arthur Ranson showcase "Shamballa" (already in print in the volume of the same name) to get to "Engram," and omitted other stories from specials and such.

This one plays catch-up: it goes back to catch "Shamballa," which initially ran immediately before the first half of "Engram," but was in color rather than black and white, meaning it would've looked awful in the first Psi Files. ("The Random Man" was a particularly painful victim of decolorization in there; it's reprinted in glorious Ezquerravision in the new, confusingly titled American collection The Psychic Crime Files, which we'll be getting to in, I think, July.) It also hits a few of the one-off Anderson stories from '80s annuals that the first volume missed, most notably "Golem," from the 1987 2000 AD Annual, the sole Anderson story drawn by Modesty Blaise/AXA artist Enrique Romero. It's interesting how drastically different those early stories are from the material in this volume--the feature went very quickly from being "supernatural-themed Dredd-world stories with a less charismatic protagonist who can resolve any short plot by willing the problem to be fixed" to the more meditative, dreamy/trippy tone of the color stories collected here.

We've already covered most of this volume's opening third in Shamballa, with one notable exception: the second and final episode of "Reasons to be Cheerful," which has basically nothing to do with the first, and if I'm not mistaken introduces Anderson's judicial opposite number Judge Goon as he's beating up one Rodney Ding. (Grant has rarely been particularly subtle with character names.) It's also, I believe, the sole episode of this series painted by Siku, about whose work on "Fetish" I had less-than-complimentary things to say a few weeks ago in the context of Devlin Waugh: Swimming in Blood. At several people's suggestion, I picked up a copy of the Hamlyn edition of Fetish, which makes his art look totally gorgeous. Moral of the story: reproduction matters a lot.

The core of the rest of this volume, though, is two long storylines, "Childhood's End" and "Postcards from the Edge," the former of which was collected in a Hamlyn volume of its own that seems to command ridiculous prices (and seems to be registered in some ISBN database as being the same book as an earlier Titan volume, which doesn't help matters). Kev Walker's artwork has that super-modeled-looking check-out-every-character's-muscles look that wandered over from Heavy Metal in the early '90s; he doesn't have the kind of grainy, pointillist precision that Arthur Ranson had brought to Anderson, but he's got much more of an eye for fantastic and horrible imaginary things.

Grant's writing in "Childhood's End," though, is an unusual kind of failure: high-grade craft in a page-for-page storytelling sense (he's particularly good about letting Walker carry the story through silent sequences), coupled with an irredeemably stupid concept and structure. The page where he introduces the supporting cast is, as anyone who's seen a story anything like this one can tell, a list of the characters who are going to be gruesomely killed off over the next few dozen pages; the mystery is not what's going to happen to them, but in what order. I normally tend to like Grant's "I've been reading some interesting books lately--let me tell you about them!" tendencies, but the idea that Chariots of the Gods? was right on the money, and that now the aliens in question are coming back to kill us all, gives us those tendencies at their worst.

Also, tthe suggestion that mass-murderer Orlok is really just like Anderson at heart and is depraved on account of he's deprived is an exceptionally fuzzy piece of thinking: right, they're not dissimilar in every way, but that doesn't make them equivalents. That said, the two-page sequence where Grant and Walker lay out that idea--with static pen-and-ink head shots of the two characters, photocopied and repeated in a way I associate with what Dave Sim and Gerhard had been doing a few years earlier, and overlaid with abstract color washes (which make them look more like Andy Warhol's grid paintings) and parallel sets of captions--presents that fuzzy thinking in a very seductive way. Craft, like I said.

Then we come to the "Voyage of the Seeker"/"Postcards from the Edge"/"Postcard to Myself" sequence, during which the official title of the feature was "Anderson, Psi" rather than "Anderson, Psi Division." (And yet she spends the entire thing wearing her judge outfit, because otherwise the artists would have fewer opportunities to draw her in skintight gear.) "Voyage of the Seeker" has some eye-roll-worthy passages: "I'm a little girl - a Judge - a telepath - a woman. I've loved and I've hated - laughed and cried - hurt and been hurt. I've saved the world, and been turned inside out by the death-throes of a city. I'm the sum total of everything that ever happened to me... And I'm nothing at all." And I've seen some things that a Psi-Judge ain't s'posed to see...

I will say, though, that I admire how Mark Wilkinson's artwork for "Voyage of the Seeker" goes for it, making the leap from comics as we know them into Tim-White-painting-on-black-velvet territory. I just looked him up, and discovered that this may have been the one interior comics story he ever did; he's best known as the album-cover artist for Marillion and Fish. It all makes sense now.

The visual strategy for "Postcards from the Edge" was a smart one, too: five different artists over the course of eleven episodes that cover a series of brief adventures Cass has out in deep space, all of them drawn in one psychedelic mode or another. Ranson returned for one sequence, and Charles Gillespie's episodes look a lot like "Childhood's End." But the significantly different-looking ones are drawn by Tony Luke and Steve Sampson. Luke focuses on manipulated photographs; he'd already collaborated with Grant as a co-writer on the Megazine's "Middenface McNulty," and later worked with both Grant and Ranson on the Anderson story "Half-Life." (He kind of fakes it on almost every aspect of the artwork that's not directly from a photo.)

And Sampson gave "Anderson" a different look than it had ever had before (and promptly became one of the chief artists on the feature for the next four or five years). Like Ranson and Luke, he obviously worked from photo reference; unlike them, he made no pretense to "photorealism," stripping images down to a few solid fields of bright color for an effect somewhere near the Venn-diagram overlap of Richard Avedon's Beatles portraits and Patrick Nagel. That style had seemed awkward in parts of his artwork for the ill-starred "Brit-Cit Babes"--candy-colored stained-glass effects are a little out of place for a dark thriller--but it worked just fine for the dreamy, introspective mood of "Postcards."

This was also a point where Grant seems to have realized that a sufficiently trippy-looking Judge Anderson story didn't have to have much of a plot: if the stories were ostensibly about taking Cass into outer space, their imagery was more about exploring inner space. As I've noted before, Grant has claimed he had to bring Anderson back to Earth more quickly than he wanted to position her for Die Laughing, which then failed to materialize for three or four years. Fair enough--but it also reads like he'd exhausted the potential of the Anderson-in-space arc. (Particularly if it depended on the "postcards back home" conceit. By the end of the arc, she's written to basically everybody we've seen her talk to in Mega-City One, up to and including Judge Goon.)

"Postcards" doesn't all work, especially the "do not mind if I thump you when I'm talking to you, I have something important to say" tone of the sequence drawn by Xuasus. (Calling the setting "Zerbia" makes the point and then some. Calling one of the minor characters "Sara Yevo" is borderline insulting to readers' ability to get the drift.) On the other hand, I'd have been happy to see another volume's worth of Anderson's inner monologue and Sampson's trip-toy visuals--there's really nothing else like it I've seen in 2000 AD and environs, with the possible exception of  John Smith and Simon Harrison's Revere.

As a bibliographic note, the Psi Files continue to be incomplete. Still-missing stories predating the end of this volume include Grant and Ian Gibson's rather good if abruptly concluded "Colin Wilson Block," from 2000 AD Winter Special 1988, in which we get to see what stuffed toy Cass has in her bed; Grant and Mick Austin's "Confessions of a She-Devil," from 2000 AD Annual 1990; Grant, Luke and Russell Fox's "Baby Talk," from Judge Dredd Mega Special 1992; and Grant and Fox's "George," from Judge Dredd Yearbook 1993. Maybe they'll show up in future volumes--there's plenty of material for a few more.

Next week: Evan Narcisse joins me to discuss Gordon Rennie, Frank Quitely and company's Missionary Man: Bad Moon Rising


  1. Regarding Grant's "letting Walker carry the story through silent sequences" - if I remember rightly Kev Walker talked about taking considerable liberties with the script in an interview in Comic World Magazine(?) not long after Childhood's End was published. Grant was apparently fine with this, in Walker's telling, and the artist reworked the whole ending into the whole caveman vs alien that saw print.
    This is all from the dusty corners of my memory, of course, and I could have misremembered it all.

  2. Ivor Cutler!

    Do you think all that time she was using controlled violence to suppress her disquiet concerning her role in Justice Dept Anderson sang 'I'm happy, and I'll punch the man who says I'm not'?