4 out of 5
Dredd is king. We know this. The man has supported his strip in 2000 AD for 40 years, with enough room to expand into books and a his own JD Megazine as well. But: there’s a reason PSI agent Cassandra has made an arguably equal mark; a namebrand in the judge world: she brings all of Joe’s toughness to her starring thrills but gets the added bonus of personality, and the extra possibilities afforded her tales by supernatural themes. Who’s taken out Death on multiple occasions? Freakin’ Cassandra, man. Looking back at her 80s solo tales under the PSI Files banner – all at least co-scripted by Alan Grant, with Wags assisting on the first few arcs – it’s fascinating to see her personality developing before she ruled the roost; always respected as a premiere PSI agent and always rather cheeky – she calls him Joe; she calls ’em C.J. – she did have to mature a bit. And just as the tough, no-nonsense cop shtick has organically evolved over decades, the same has been true for Anderson, getting the chance to flesh out her upstart role into something much deeper and more nuanced, with thanks to Grant for taking her narrative (and the PSIs) into some darker territory. That would be a tougher fit on Dredd.
Some of that is dated a bit – a fellow empath feels the woes of the last remaining whale – but Grant is wise enough to not overwrite that kind of stuff; so, topically out-of-fashion, perhaps, but emotionally it still lands.
And the bumper format of the case file books – 400 goddamned pages – is a fantastic deal, but the types of artists that were used on PSI Files (David Roach; Arthur Ranson; etc.) tended toward very detail heavy, photo-reference stylings at this point, and it’s way too dense for the black and white printing. I could argue that some of the artists’ styles don’t work for the strip in general, wherein the fantasy could maybe use a more cartoonish hand – Brett Ewins, who kicks it off, is ideal – but first and foremost is the color limitation.
Otherwise, moreso than the first couple Dredd case files, which have a lot of filler-esque strips while the world is getting established, this first Anderson collection is absolutely essential reading, both for those interested in seeing Cass’ youthier self, but also in terms of witnessing one of the other pillars of the Dredd-verse being fortified.