Judge Dredd Mega Collection Book 5: Shamballa
The fifth hardback in the Judge Dredd Mega Collection (and you should check out some of other reviews for these collections) focuses on Psi-Judge Cassandra Anderson in a handful of stories from Alan Grant and artist Arthur Ranson. Not having much to go on, as far as Judge Anderson’s character—aside from the awesome Dredd (2012) movie—this was an eye opener of epic proportions. From the title story Shamballa to the insane, mind-bending Satan, this hardback from 2000 AD not only focuses on one of the best characters to come out of the Dredd-verse, aside from the man himself, but certainly also some of the best stories. Granted, all the stories have yet to be absorbed, but these were something special and had a certain nostalgic flair to them that made it almost impossible to put down.
Right off the bat, as with all the stories in this collection, you get a look at Arthur Ranson’s art and you can’t help but be taken back to late 80s/early 90s Vertigo books. The flat coloring, the visual style and cues, it just feels perfect from that era—as it should, since this story is actually from 1990—and brings back memories of things like Saga of the Swamp Thing and Sandman. Shamballa is the kind of story that, when it was released, should have crossed the pond and made its way into a special 2000 AD/Vertigo collection for the masses that were eating stuff like this up at the time.
Shamballa is extremely visually striking and interesting, but Alan Grant’s deep, supernatural story isn’t lost amongst Ranson’s genius. After some heavy happenings in Anderson’s life—which isn’t covered in this collection, but will undoubtedly be covered in later editions—Grant looks at the fallout and how it affects her personal and professional life while still telling this twisting, mind-melting story that grabs you and doesn’t let go. There’s even a connection, all those years later, to the Apocalypse War and the effects that are still felt within this world, which is always cool to see simply because tight, cohesive story is something that’s often attempted, but not always executed correctly, especially on a scale like this.
“The Jesus Syndrome” (Grant/Ranson/Parkhouse)
The Jesus Syndrome is a much shorter look into the life of Judge Anderson and how she deals with her career choice and the after effects of a major event, particularly in the life of someone with her abilities. Ranson comes back with Grant for this story and provides much of the same look and feel. It’s almost eerie how great Ranson’s work would have been back in those 90s days at Vertigo and even if these stories never made it over there in this form, it’s a shame that he didn’t get to work in that world and more people didn’t get to experience this expertise and brilliance. Some of the panel layouts and just the overall look of the panels are easily placed amongst the greats of the medium, and it was an absolute treat to experience them for the first time.
The focus of this story feels more along the lines of just how much the Judges can, and do, oppress the people to uphold the law and to what lengths they’ll go. There are some sketchy things that happen here, and viewing through Anderson’s perspective, as opposed to someone like Dredd who would obviously be okay with it, really left a lasting impression and left little questions about how much power is too much by the time it was done.
“The Protest” (Grant/Ranson/Potter)
While it might feel like this eight-page story is nothing but filler, Grant and Ranson once again produce something spectacular. Once again focusing on things along the lines of how much power is too much and the kind of oppression that the Judges and the judicial system impose on the citizens of Mega-City One, The Protest is far from a simply filler story. The ending, and essentially a resolution, to the brutal protests all around the city is almost laughable while being simultaneously heartbreaking. Ranson, who seems to just top himself story after story, does some of the best work of the collection (up to this point at least) with an insane out-of-body experience for Anderson that is just absolutely visually astounding and could easily fit in the confines of a Sandman story—be it from the original run or the more recent one with the great JH Williams III. These are the kinds of stories, and pages, that have made 2000 AD what it is today and it’s also the kind of stories that, even at such a small amount of pages, you can spend hours looking over and reading into and re-reading and drooling over the art.
R*volution was more of a sci-fi mind-bender than the rest of the stories, but Grant made it fit within the Dredd-verse and the overall story of Judge Anderson so seamlessly and naturally that you just sort of go with the flow of it all and get swept up in the insane story of a man with seven different minds as one, untold riches and, of course, Anderson. Though you probably won’t end up calling this the craziest story of this collection, that is yet to come, Ranson does continue to impress on the insanity that is found in this story. Grant really cranks up the sci-fi elements and feel and Ranson just seems to roll with the punches and whatever else is thrown at him as he produces another stellar set of pages. If The Protest doesn’t make you a fan of Ranson’s work, this one undoubtedly will. Ranson puts it all out there for one of Grant’s crazier scripts, certainly, and once again the two of them put out something that leaves a lasting impression.
And now on to the grand finale that is Satan. This was a story that came right out of left field, in this reviewer’s opinion, but it ended up being, quite possibly, not only the grandest story but also the best within this collection. Satan, the Lord of Lies, against Judge Anderson and (in a way, at least, Judge Dredd) is an interesting concept in and of itself, but then you take the way that Alan Grant created and wrote this character and you add the detail and care put into it from Ranson. The Devil in this story was more than interesting and, frankly, when it was all said and done I really wanted more. Not even necessarily within the confines of Mega-City One, but just in general. The history of him, how he got there, that sort of thing. In that short amount of time, it was that compelling of a character.
Of course, the art would have to be done by Ranson again, because his design was just simply epic. Some sort of insane fusion of what people think angels are, mixed with crazy demonic features and those blazing red eyes… it was one of those beautifully frightening designs that will undoubtedly stick in the back of your mind for a long time to come.
One after another these stories seem to build and getting bigger and crazier and, arguably, better than the last. The stories throughout were absolutely solid as you’d expect within the Dredd-Verse while also being deep and about more than just this crazy Judge with psi-abilities sneaking into people’s brains to get a confession. They took that simple power-set and expanded it well beyond that; into regions of sci-fi and religion and right back down to how a character who is so different from Dredd views the city and even how the city views the Judges. Well, one of many examples of what these citizens think of the Judges, for the most part anyway.
Shamballa continues this trend of fantastic collections from the Judge Dredd Mega Collection initiative that play out thematically rather than chronologically. If you can get your hands on these, there is no better time than right now to get into Dredd. This is a character, and a universe, that has and continues to stand the test of time.