Judge Anderson: The PSI Files (Volume 2) – Alan Grant; John Wagner

2 out of 5

I think the overall direction Alan Grant wanted to take Judge Anderson was right, and it was potentially a good way to explore an entirely different point of view on the Dreddverse, but the actual execution across the bulk of the stories collection in volume 2 of PSI Files makes for a chore to read. The concept almost entirely overwhelms the content, to the extent that Anderson no longer has any trace of her core personality, and the stories become subject to the absolute worst navel-gazing and on-the-nose moralizing. And Anderson isn’t the only victim of that – Grant tries to pervert Orlok to his cause, in a way that also doesn’t make sense for the character. There are plenty of Dredd tales that don’t land for me, but I can generally revisit them. Here, stuff like Shamballa and Postcards From the Edge / Postcard to Myself – I have no desire to reread.

Basically, Grant’s m.o. – at least in my take – was to use Cassandra as a vessel for examining the politics and policies of the Mega City from an emotional, humane perspective. That’s been done in snippets (and with humor) from the POV of some of its citizens, but having it come from a Judge in the trenches is differently, and valuable. The suicide of Judge Corey was a smart springboard for causing Cass to question her job; since Corey was something of a one-off, you can run her through that kind of gamut and not have it come off as “out of character.” Unfortunately, there’s no middleground when it came to how Grant writes Anderson’s response to Corey – she pretty much immediately sours on her job, and starts fucking looking for religion, and we drop the bullying Judge Goon into the mix so our PSI can have a clear cut enemy at whom to rage and point the “judges aren’t worthy of judging” finger.

Now, the judges aren’t “worthy” of judging, and that’s always been in the DNA of the series. Admittedly, it’s mostly been handled with dark humor when Dredd is the lead, but it feels kind of weak to fall back PSIs naturally being more sensitive as a justification for why Anderson rather suddenly flips. Again, I do think it was smart to take a strip in a more serious direction, but it quickly got away from being a study on Cass, and the judge system, and turned into poorly veiled commentary, with no undercurrent of humor – which I feel like is / was part of Cass’ persona, to battle some of her struggles with sarcasm. None of this is inherently bad if the execution is immersive, but it’s not – it’s a sudden change, and the way Grant deals with everything, it’s a lot of nonsense lecturing; repurposing the strip to talk about topics that were interesting him.

Shamballa starts fiddling with faith and romance – it’s clunky, but at least we get Arthur Ransom’s artwork in color, but when we move into the endgame and Grant wants to bring in Buddhism and whatnot, we’re starting to head off the reservation. For a couple of strips thereafter, some balance of Cass being Cass and these concepts are maintained, but with the introduction of Goon – beating on a perp named “Rodney Ding” – Grant removes the filter which was used to process real world events / interests through the strip, and just starts laying out the stuff in the most obvious manner possible. This is when we start to lose our grasp on Anderson as a pre-existing character, and she’s just a voicepiece for tossing up “What is life? What is God?” type questions.

Next strip: Cass finds God! And then she and Orlok get all buddy buddy in an incredibly forced, “we’re two sides of the same coin!” manner, she quits the judges, and goes on an interstellar road trip – wearing a belt buckle with a yin yang – and writes postcards to various judges, allowing her to “talk” to us about her experiences.

Again, I don’t think this is a bad pitch (it kinda reminded me of the recent The Out, in a way, but minus Abnett’s much smoother integration of character and commentary, and, like, more interesting topics of discussion), but it feels really illogical in the world of the judges, and the Cass we see on this roadtrip is exactly 0% of the character prior to this whole Grant-y rerouting. The Orlok bit is perhaps the best encapsulation of this, because it tries to retcon eeeeverything about the character to fit this very particular take Grant had. No thanks.

The various artists used in this section are interesting, allowing for a mix of some very surrealistic stuff. Not against that, but I do wish it was mapped to a more interesting narrative. And supporting how ultimately pointless most of this is, it’s “unwritten” when Cass decides to return – she has another weak-ass realization and decides to return home, and is conveniently pardoned for, like, not arresting Orlok and then makes a Cass-like joke in the final panel. Whee!

We get some refreshing bonus strips after that, taken from various annuals in the mid- to late-80s. These show that there were more concise ways of evolving Anderson’s character while still sticking within the purview of the Dreddverse – Cass is, naturally, more emotional than Joe, and that gives her room to view things much differently. But you can’t just rewrite a character wholesale given that leverage, which is how the preceding strips felt, plus the unfortunate addition of schmaltzy college journal philosophizing.

As a last knock, I don’t know if this is just because I read this digitally (currently, physical copies of this book are always going for around $900), but none of the stories are separated with the usual interstitial pages that list the credits – the only thing you have is the front table of contents page, which doesn’t have page numbers or anything. The 2000 AD credit card is also removed from all of the stories, and maybe that’s how they were originally printed, but I would kinda doubt it. Either way, this makes the book not formatted in a way that I enjoy reading, further detracting from my experience.