Discover more from Agent of Weird: Exploring the Write Fantastic
Why the Greatest Character in 2000 AD Is NOT Judge Dredd
She’s the psychic cop who has patrolled the dystopian streets of Mega-City One for over four decades, and she’s nobody’s sidekick
I first met her in 1991 within the pages of the Judge Dredd/Batman crossover Judgement on Gotham. It was love at first sight. Her first scene had her answer the phone before it rang. What a perfect introduction to Mega-City One’s premier psychic. It was the promise of a bust-up between Dredd and the Dark Knight that got me to buy the book, but it was the supporting character of Judge Cassandra Anderson that got me hooked.
Written by her co-creator John Wagner and her long-time chronicler Alan Grant, she brought a goofball energy to every scene in which she appeared. Superstar artist Simon Bisley was perfectly tuned into Anderson's eccentric frequency and drew her more like a musclebound Tori Amos than the chic Debbie Harry lookalike she had been under Brian Bolland - who drew her first appearance 11 years before in issue #149 of legendary British sci-fi anthology 2000 AD.
Thanks for reading Agent of Weird: Exploring the Write Fantastic! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Smitten, I started tracking down the books and annuals that collected her previous adventures while discovering her more recent and harder-edged psychotropic epics, which were then running in the monthly Judge Dredd Megazine. Reading all these alongside Dredd’s regular adventures in 2000 AD, it was clear that Judge Anderson was a vital component of the Dredd saga. More open to introspection and enquiry, Anderson could open windows into the dystopian world of Mega-City One that remain forever closed to her stone-hearted colleague.
Her continued adventures in comics, spin-off novels and her appearance in the 2012 Dredd movie (essayed with twitchy assurance by Olivia Thirlby) - not forgetting her various cosplay incarnations at comics conventions around the world - testify to Anderson’s continued popularity. Arguably the highest-profile female character in the 2000 AD pantheon, Anderson has been subject to more than her fair share of cheesecake over the years, but she’s always been more than just a pin-up for teenage sci-fi nerds. And she’s more than just Dredd’s sidekick or protégée. She’s every inch the iconic lawman’s equal and here’s why:
1.) SHE’S HUMAN
Judge Dredd - like Batman and the Punisher - is pure Freudian superego. He indulges the fantasy of total control over one’s body and mind. He subdues the passions of the indulgent id, and surpasses the limits of mundane reality imposed by the ego. Dredd’s body is a hulk of muscle, his expertise born of ruthless training, and is driven by an unequivocal moral vision. He is precisely who he wants to be, without compromise. Indeed, he is the Law.
And as such he is completely inhuman.
It’s what makes him and other male monsters like Batman and the Punisher so beguiling, especially if you’re a teenage boy craving an idealised father figure.
Dredd’s appeal runs even deeper, I believe, but on a dramatic level he’s one of those characters who - on his own - is just a dreary impenetrable slab. Frankly, every Judge in Mega-City One dresses like him, is trained like him and wants to put away criminals. Dredd needs other characters around to provoke him and bring out the extremities of his personality, to show just how cynical he is, just how terrifying and ruthlessly logical he is, and just how far he’ll go to uphold the law. How many other Judges would nuke half-a-billion men, women and children without pausing to wonder whether they were doing the right thing? Without the right kind of situation - and people - to dramatise that, Dredd is just another bully with a gun.
On the other hand, Judge Anderson can bring the drama all by herself. She’s a dynamo of emotions and conflicts and abilities and doesn’t always need other characters around to bring her to life. While Dredd is a monolithic embodiment of fascistic justice, Anderson is complex and entirely human, driven by a sense of duty to redeem the city, to prove good exists despite the odds and that the people are worth fighting for – not because the law says she must but because she wants to.
It’s only in Anderson’s weaker stories that she succumbs to angst and mopeyness; her best stories use her inner turmoil as a rocket-fuel motive for battling the worst the city can throw at her. She’s our avatar in the sprawling madhouse of Mega-City One, the perfect character through whom we can view the horrors and delights that dwell there.
Dredd may show you what life is like in the Big Meg, but Anderson can really make you feel it.
2.) SHE’S FUNNY AS HELL
Although some of Anderson’s later stories tend towards sombre psychodrama, I always preferred her as the whip-smart wisecracker she was in her early stories. Her time-travel team-up with Dredd in City of the Damned (1984) and the first two Anderson: Psi Division stories Revenge (a.k.a. Four Dark Judges; 1985) and The Possessed (1986) feature Anderson at her most lovable.
It’s always a joy seeing characters poke fun at the parental seriousness of the Justice Department and Anderson takes her colleagues’ tolerance for the quirks of Psi-Division to the absolute limit. She insists on calling an irate Chief Judge “CJ” then “Baby” (she had the hip patter of an off-duty rock star back then) and treats Dredd himself like an endearingly cranky uncle. I love that panel in Judgement on Gotham where she sticks her fingers in her ears while Dredd bellows at a suspect.
In these stories Anderson is breezy, cheerful and expressive. In other words, she’s the perfect foil and partner for Dredd, who remains as resolute as a tombstone. There’s a lovely little panel in her debut story Judge Death (1980) where she swaggers into a mortuary to perform a post-mortem exam and reminds Dredd that you can’t hide secrets from a telepath.
“I have no guilty secrets,” snorts Dredd.
Anderson grins enigmatically.
The Possessed is probably my favourite ‘fun Anderson’ story. Called in to deal with a case of demonic possession, Anderson finds the host’s head has been warped into a wad of chewing gum covered in eyes by a demon who calls himself Gargarax.
“Sounds like some kind of mouthwash,” says Anderson, who foregoes a lengthy exorcism in favour of punching the patient’s lights out.
3.) SHE’S PSYCHIC
What must THAT be like? To have the ability to tune into the thoughts of someone else and hear what they think of you as plainly as if they were telling you to your face? Never mind the psychos and criminals. You don't need to be psychic to know they despise you. Never mind the citizens and all that avalanche-of-pain stuff. You hear that all the time.
What about those closest to you? Your superiors, colleagues and friends, those upon whom you rely to do your job and reassure you that you’re doing the right thing? The people who have the strongest influence on you as a human being. They may be telling you that you’re too full of yourself. That you’re too cocky, or maybe even crazy, and that one day it will all get the better of you. Maybe they don’t care enough to have any kind of opinion about you at all, except how hot you look in that tight leather uniform.
What kind of woman - what kind of human being - could possibly carry the weight of all that ghastly truth and still think people were worth a damn? How powerful would that person’s mind have to be to not lose their sense of self in that maelstrom? In terms of strength of character and force of personality, Anderson is a Hercules, a troll-proof superhero of the information age.
When the Devil himself rocked up at the gates of Mega-City One in Satan (1995) and started giving it the big metaphysical I-Am. I’m a-billion-years-old, child. If you could’ve seen the things I’ve seen, blah, blah, blah! No wonder Anderson literally blew his mind like a pumpkin full of firecrackers.
4.) SHE KICKS ASS
As a two-fisted comic book heroine, Judge Anderson is up there with Wonder Woman and Red Sonja. She’s an accomplished Judge who has survived several decades on the lethal streets of Mega-City One and gone toe-to-talon several times with the Dreddverse’s number-one superfiend Judge Death. Worryingly, her early stories had her relaxing by kicking the crap out of hapless street punks in her spare time. “Sometimes the only way to escape the pain in your brain is to pass it on to some other creep.”
For all her bleeding-heart storylines, it’s easy to forget that Anderson has often been ruthless in the execution of her duties. She not only volunteered to join Dredd’s commando unit sent to wipe out East-Meg One in The Apocalypse War, she also gave Dredd the codes required to do it!
But for a less psychotic example of courage and warrior spirit I’ll return to The Possessed, in which she faces a demonic horde armed with nothing but a boot knife and a crutch for her broken leg. “Okay!” she snarls. “Who’s first?”
5.) SHE’S NOT PERFECT
If Barbie has taught us anything, it’s that being human is heroic enough.
Judge Anderson isn’t some paragon of virtue and competence. She actually dares to let the side down by screwing up from time to time, just like the rest of us. She’s also taken some pretty strange sidesteps during her career. She once gave up being a Judge and went on a sort of gap year across the universe. At one point she was having acid visions in the desert with help from a buxom, bongo-playing shaman. She’s also weirdly prone to winding up in a coma.
Clearly, she’s no invulnerable superwoman. At times it’s hard to tell if she’s even sane. But heroes need quirks and vulnerabilities. Die Hard wouldn’t be half as thrilling if John McClane were bulletproof. Anderson’s imperfections make her even more appealing.
Much has been made of the fact that Anderson, as a Psi Judge, cannot take the same rejuvenation treatments as street Judges like Dredd and must therefore age like everyone else. How stringently this rule is upheld in the comics is debatable
I’m more interested in seeing how her personality is visualised by different artists. She’s callow and intense in the early Arthur Ranson stories; airy and refined under David Roach; spiky and psychadelic under Boo Cook; mature and troubled under Mike Dowling; sinister and sensual under Anya Morozova.
Unlike Dredd – an Easter Island chin with a cool helmet – Anderson never hides her face, nor the emotions that play there. She’s a character who rewards artists just as much as writers.
Imperfection and variety make for great storytelling, just as the foibles and paradoxes of modern life make for great satirical sci-fi. This is why, for me, Judge Anderson – arguably the most profoundly human character in 2000 AD’s flagship series – is the soul of Judge Dredd if not 2000 AD itself.
Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 03 and Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 05 Case File 03 contains Anderson’s debut story Judge Death by John Wagner and Brian Bolland. Case Files 05 features the sequel Death Lives by Wagner, Alan Grant and Bolland. This was Anderson and Dredd’s first proper team-up – “Gaze into the fist of Dredd,” and all that.
Judge Anderson: The Psi Files Volume 01 The cream of the early stories, including The Possessed and Hour of the Wolf, as well as a couple of hard-to-find one-shots from the 2000 AD annuals and specials, among them Leviathan’s Farewell, a pivotal story in the evolution of Anderson’s character.
Judge Anderson: Shamballa Anderson faces a global psychic apocalypse written by premier Anderson writer Alan Grant with stunning naturalistic art by Arthur Ranson.
Dredd / Anderson: The Deep End Collects my two movie-Anderson tales with artist Paul Davidson, plus movie-Dredd by Arthur Wyatt and Ben Willsher.
Judge Anderson: Year One My three Anderson novellas collected up: Anderson trails a dating agency killer in Heartbreaker, becomes trapped in the Meg’s most notorious psychiatric prison in The Abyss, and embarks on a dream-quest to find a cure for a psychic virus in A Dream of the Nevertime.
This piece is an updated version of an article that first appeared on my blog in 2014.
We’ve lost count of the number of Anderson stories that open with her getting dressed or showering…
Lest we forget 2000 AD in the 70s and 80s was written specifically for young boys, a very different audience from the diverse adult readership to which it caters today.
I’ve always felt there’s another paradox at work within Dredd. Yes, he’s the ogre father endlessly troubled by the unruly children of Mega-City One. Yes, he’s a heartless, authoritarian monster. And yet… He remains uncomfortably heroic, unfailing in his duties as protector, so much so that he wouldn’t hesitate in putting his life on the line to save anyone under his charge.
In The Apocalypse War (1982) written by Wagner, Grant with art by Carlos Ezquerra.
There’s such a surprising amount of thematic complexity under the surface of Dredd that the notion of getting the character ‘right’ is a feat that’s been mythologised by fandom over the years.
If I had to pick a favourite Anderson artist it would probably be the late Brett Ewins, whose simple, confident lines always put a palpable strut in Anderson’s step. However, nostalgia may be at work here. I was big on Games Workshop in the ‘80s/’90s and loved Ewins’ artwork from the Blood Bowl board game and this bizarre Elric-inspired Chaoswarrior strip he did for the Citadel Compendium called Kaleb Daark.
Okay, full disclosure: Anderson’s being psychic is also what can make her a nightmare to write, as I can attest when I wrote Heartbreaker (2014), the first of her three Year One novellas. Given that most characters can’t hide their secrets from her, she has the potential to destroy every scene in which she appears. (“The butler did it. Anyone need coffee?”) She’s also adept at extracting psychic clues from the recently deceased. If you put her in the Jodie Foster role in Silence of the Lambs, the movie would be over the minute that first body is dredged out the river. Given her psychic prowess, straight detective stories can be a tough gig for an Anderson writer. As her nearly 45-year bibliography attests, she tends to be better suited to horror, trippy psychodrama, and supernatural action-adventure.
It was the nineties.
Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! “Debatable.” Dude, it’s completely ignored!