Graphic Novel Reviews

Essential Judge Anderson: Shamballa

(2023) Alan Grant et al, 2000AD - Rebellion, £21.99 / US$27.99, trdpbk, 160pp, ISBN 978-1-786-18935-6


Judge Cassandra Anderson was one of the first Judge Dredd spin-off characters to get their own strip. She was introduced in one of the first Judge Dredd epics in the weekly British comic 2000AD's in its first decade in 1979 to assist Dredd in tackling the first appearance of Judge Death. (Dredd needed a supernatural Judge to help him bring down his first supernatural foe.)

Anderson is a telepathic judge belonging to the Judge's Psi Division: a lot of weird stuff manifested in the 22nd century due to the radioactive fallout from the global nuclear war that reshaped the world. (That's the science-fantasy rationale as to her abilities.) Created by John Wagner (under the pseudonym John Howard) her look, was initially envisaged by the artist Brian Bolland, and was based on the singer Blondie, Debbie Harry as she looked in the late 1970s, but subsequent to her initial appearances a number of 2000AD artists have tweaked her look. (A great shame but there you go.)

Before diving into this review, I should provide some provenance background to the graphic collection and other graphic novels Shamballa and its original story. This story originally appeared in 2000AD running in issues from 13th October and 29th December 1990.  This was then collected together and appeared as the graphic novel Anderson Psi Division: Shamballa in July 1991 with the story 'Shamballa' being its only content: so I guess this was not so much a graphic novel but a graphic novelette or novella? It was published by the former 2000AD Books which was then a division of the Fleetway publishing house. (This was before Rebellion took over 2000AD from IPC in, ironically, the year 2000, and the creation of the current 2000AD – Rebellion imprint under which 2000AD graphic novels are currently released.) I see that back then this Anderson Psi Division: Shamballa cost £5.99 / US$8.95: those were the days.

Hang on, more provenance to come…

Jump forward to June 2008 and 2000AD – Rebellion published collection of Judge Anderson stories also called Anderson Psi Division: Shamballa. It contained the following stories: 'Shamballa',  'Reasons to Be Cheerful';  'The Witch? Report',  'The Jesus Syndrome';  'Satan';  'The Protest'  and  'R*Evolution'.  Actually, truth be told, other than the omission of 'Triad' (needed to explain the twins that appear in 'The Witch? Report'), this is the graphic collection Shamballa to get as all its stories were written by the wonderful Alan Grant and all the artwork was excellent inked line work that was then coloured – marvellous stuff – by the superb Arthur Ransom.

I see that I have reviewed this Shamballa (2008) edition before.  And, as I said, do seek this one out.

All of which brings us up to 2023 and this new, different edition of Shamballa which is strictly called Essential Judge Anderson: Shamballa. This is because it is the first collection in a new series called Essential Judge Anderson which is a companion series of graphic collections to the recently launched Essential Judge Dredd series.

It has to be said that there are a number of series of Judge Dredd graphic novel collections depending on who you are and what you are after: the whole lot; a selection of the best; thematic tracking of recent Dredd stories; and so forth. If you are a long-time 2000AD reader, with many decades under your belt, it is not worth getting the complete series or selection of the best as you will likely already have picked up many of the stories over the decades (sometimes two or three times as the collections and stories have been repackaged over the years/decades). Conversely, if you have only recently come to 2000AD you may not want to track the recent stories in the recent thematic graphic collections as you will miss out on the key past stories that have shaped the Dredd universe and be versed in recent offerings.  So this new Essential Judge Dredd series of collections and now Essential Judge Anderson series are perfect for relative newcomers in recent years, who find that they need a regular fix of 'thrill power', as such readers will get the best and key stories from over the past four and a half decades. (It's now coming up to half a century which is decidedly frightening for some of us…)

Essential Judge Anderson: Shamballa contains the following stories in the order:  'Triad';  'The Witch? Report';  'Judge Corey: Leviathan's Farewell' and  'Shamballa'.

'Triad' sees a number of gruesome deaths starting one rainy with a driver who picks up a hitchhiker wearing a hat and overcoat who turns out to be a skeleton. Mass spontaneous combustion follows. Elsewhere, twins Corann and Lesley go to their mother complaining about identical nightmares. It looks like the twins saw the killings in their dreams. But who is responsible? An old enemy of Dredd is in the mix… (I give no spoilers.)

'The Witch? Report' sees Anderson on patrol the night of Halloween and Mega-City One's citizens are out celebrating.  The now trainee, twin telepathic judges Corann and Lesley together with another young Psi Division trainee call Anderson… This is a short story that originally appeared in just one episode.

'Judge Corey: Leviathan's Farewell' features a Psi Division colleague of Anderson, Judge Corey.  The empath Judge Corey, Anderson's colleague in Psi Division tracks down a sugar smuggler on the docks of Mega-City One. She and other Judges then go to sea to intercept incoming smugglers but encounter a giant from the deep… This is an environmental story that also taps into other's pain empaths feel. This is a worthy environmental story, but hardly one that is 'essential' to the Judge Anderson canon. It does, though, provide a set up for a conversation Anderson has in the next story, 'Shamballa'.

Finally, there is the collection's titular story 'Shamballa'. Psychic events are taking place all over the world. Cassandra Anderson is sent to East-Meg Two (in former Russia) to team up with one of their telepaths. Detecting a psychic force emanating from the Himalayas in what used to be (before the global nuclear war) Tibet, a small force of East-Meg 2 judges and Anderson set off to Tibet by train…  One special thing of note to Dredd-verse fans is that early on in this story there is a map of the Dredd-verse Earth of the 22nd century depicting the locals of the three, former USA, mega cities, the two (well now one following the 'Apocalypse War') Sov mega-cities, the two Sino-Cities, Hondo and others. It is not by any means a complete map but it is a useful summary of the principal 22nd settlements. (We really could do with a new, more complete, detailed, double-page spread, map of Dredd's 22nd century, perhaps in a 2000AD Christmas special! Come on 2000AD, you know this makes sense and it would make for a great advertising point for the more expensive special.)

To my knowledge – please check for yourself as I may be in error – 'Triad' has never before been reprinted in colour so if so this is a first. Remember, in its early decades both 2000AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine were largely black and white and so, apart from a couple of colour double pages, most of 'Triad' is in black and white.

And that's really it. As said, the new Essential Judge Anderson series, of which this is the first volume, should provide die-hard 2000AD fans who have come onboard the past decade or so, some of the key Anderson back stories in addition to others that really are not that 'essential'. Of course, such folk should also get Judge Dredd: The Dark Judges anthology to see Cassandra Anderson's debut.

Finally, I see that when I reviewed the Shamballa (2008) edition back in January 2009 I noted that the graphic collection Judge Dredd: The Complete P. J. Maybe was, in fact, not 'complete'. Now, a decade and a half further on, there have been a fair number of additional 'P. J. Maybe' stories, so perhaps it is time for The Complete P. J. Maybe: vol. 2 – The Mayoral Years. (Hint, hint.)

Jonathan Cowie


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