Fiction Reviews

Judge Anderson - Shamballa

(2008) Alan Grant & Arthur Ranson, Rebellion, 15.99, pbk, pp??, ISBN 978-1-905-43767-2


Judge Anderson - Shamballa is set in the same future as Judge Dredd from the Brit comic 2000AD which, of course, is 'the Galaxy's greatest comic'... In the 22nd century much of humanity is crowded together in Mega Cities away from the radioactive wastelands following a nuclear holocaust. Policing these cities are the Judges who have the power of police, judge and jury in one.

Judge Anderson is a telepathic Judge in the Justice Department's 'Psi Corps'. It is not exactly clear how psi powers arose as the 'Dredd' future has both genetic modification of humans and mutants from the nuclear fallout. However it is clear that there are malevolent paranormal forces that are decidedly unlawful, hence the need for the Psi Corps.

Judge Anderson first appeared in 2000AD early in 1980 from a script by John Howard (an alias for Judge Dredd co-creator John Wagner). In this story Mega City 1 and Judge Dredd confronted Judge Death and the 'Dark Judges' who came from a twisted parallel Earth. She was a dashing blonde babe in tight Judge's leather, but no bimbo as she had not just telepathic powers but the complementary cerebral smarts. She went on to have a number of adventures in the 1980s and proved such a popular character that she soon had her own strip. Many of the Anderson stories since then were scripted by Alan Grant (who himself was for a while 2000AD editor).

This 2008 Shamballa collection brings together a number of these Alan Grant stories from 1990 - 1996 plus one story from 2001. In this phase of Anderson's evolution her long blonde hair had been cropped to a bob cut and her gloss lipstick is gone. (This last was never convincing for Judges though it is well known that psi Judges are given certain leeway to allow a temperament that facilitates their psi powers). The title story 'Shamballa' concerns the investigation into a sprinkling of paranormal events that have taken place across the globe. There seems to be an epicentre of sorts in Tibet, and so it is that Judge Anderson joins forces with an East Meg (Sov Blok Russian) counterpart to investigate.

There are a number of other small stories within this collection to provide added value. However one of these, 'The Jesus Syndrome', together with the collection's one other big story, 'Satan', have previously appeared in the twin-story graphic volume Satan from publishers Hamlyn in 1996. In 'Satan' an encounter with the near Earth asteroid Icarus ultimately reveals that it harbours an alien with vaguely god-like powers. At this point one has to feel a little sorry for the citizens of Mega City 1 as they have twice survived nuclear attack (or three times if you count the original Armageddon), dealt with the Dark Judges and the Sisters of Death turning the city into a Necropolis, and survived a zombie invasion let alone all the mundane activities of 22nd century organised crime. The last thing they need is a super-being threatening their collective lives.

Aside from Alan Grant, the other common feature to the stories in this collection is the artwork of wonderful inks, watercolour and airbrush from Arthur Ranson - at least I think these are the media he uses (I am not an art expert).

All this is solid stuff and Judge Anderson - Shamballa is a worthy anthology to add to the graphic collections produced from the 2000AD cannon. As such consider this a firm recommendation.

Firm recommendation aside. I am getting a little niggled with the lackadaisical way the 2000AD graphic collections are being assembled. OK, I accept that there may be good cost reasons for the down-sizing from a near A4 format (Titan, Hamlyn and 2000AD used for a quarter of a century) to a near 'B' format and I guess that after the past few years we now have to live with these. Yet what really is irritating is the minor lack of thought, or care, in the way these graphic collections are presented. Admittedly this 2008 Shamaballa edition does have a better colour contrast compared to when the stories first appeared in the Judge Dredd Megazine (I assume that this is the benefit of digital technology) but with this edition the artwork's presentation (and certainly in 'Shamballa' itself) has lost some of its definition, much as you would get with the loss due to copying a copy. And then there is the title of the collection Shamballa which also happens to be the title of the volume when it first appeared as a stand-alone graphic novel in 1991 (but then without the other stories featured in the 2008 collection): why could they not have come up with a different title to avoid confusion and if nothing else to signal to collectors that this was different? What is more, while Rebellion in their graphic collections tell us which prog (editions) of 2000AD or The Judge Dredd Megazine the stories originally appeared, they do not give the date of publication. This is a right pain in the proverbial if you are trying to put stories in place within the broader Dredd universe context: indeed the 1991 edition clearly states both the prog numbers and dates of publication whereas with this edition you have to assume that the stories are chronological and then try to marry the prog numbers with the dates in the copyright line. (This notwithstanding that The Megazine itself has changed its numbering system three times in its history!) Of course it is not just casual readers inconvenienced but also any future archivist (and indeed reviewers trying to give you good folk the gen). Indeed half a page of editorial explanation as to how the adventures fit in to the overall series would not hurt: such as the sequence is missing (probably due to it involving a different artist) Anderson's Mars adventure 'Childhood's End' and also her deciding to return to Earth and resume being a Judge. Some past 2000AD graphic collections do have a page of explanation as to where the work fits in with the broader cannon of the strip not to mention the 2000AD stable. And so the sequence of stories presented in the Shamballa 2008 collection do not flow as they might.   It is all triply irritating as such niggles could very easily be sorted with next to zero cost! But then the new Rebellion-hired editorial team are not exactly noted for being the sharpest tools in the 2000AD box. Witness the publication of Judge Dredd: The Complete P. J. Maybe which was just asking for trouble: it being 'complete' being undermined just a year later with the appearance of - you guessed it (they didn't) - another 'P. J. Maybe' story. Future-proofing is not the current 2000AD team's forte. This is a decided hole in their managing a brand that has lasted decades and especially as it is their presumed intent for it to last for decades to come.

Well, I do not know about you but I feel a lot better for getting that of my chest: not that it will do any good - do you think they will either listen or care? Of course not, given they currently demonstrate lack of care in their product management and presentation. But do not let my gripe (or their poor editorial execution) put you off what is essentially a fine collection.

Jonathan Cowie

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