Anderson: Psi Division #1
Matt Smith, Carl Critchlow,
(regular cover to Anderson: Psi Division #1 by Matt Haley; header image at the top from variant cover by Mimi Yoon)
IDW continues their welcome cross-Atlantic collaboration with 2000 AD with another new series, this time featuring one of the most famous female characters to emerge from the house of Tharg, Cassandra Anderson, the Psi-Judge who was originally created to help Judge Dredd in his fight against Judge Death, but who rapidly became to popular to be left in the limbo state that story put her into, going on to be one of 2000 AD’s most popular characters across the decades, with numerous outings, both solo and in the pages of the Dredd strip. For this new solo IDW outing our favourite Psi (Psi Division is a special rank of judges with various mental powers who deal with many odd cases regular Judges simply don’t have the abilities to face) written by no less than Matt Smith, current editor of 2000 AD and therefore right hand man to Uncle Tharg, so you know we have a writer who is more than familiar with the character, paired up with a Brit favourite, Carl Critchlow on art duties. Away from his fantasy and SF illustrations and his own much loved Thrud the Barbarian series Critchlow has drawn numerous 2000 AD strips over the years, so again we’re in experience hands here.
So with those very experienced creators the question is, how does Anderson’s solo debut for North American publisher IDW work? It’s always hard to tell from a first issue, really, but I’d have to say on the whole, yes, it works pretty darn well. We start with a flashback to a couple driving hurriedly to hospital, wife heavily pregnant, baby on the way, while it looks like another Block War is raging nearby, Mega City One blocks going up in flames. For a brief moment it looks like they too will becomes victims of this violent conflagration, but mysteriously, somehow the threat is negated and they are too busy getting to hospital to give birth to think more about it. The child, as you can probably guess, is Cassandra Anderson…
Flash forward a couple of decades to Anderson as an adult, resting after some exhausting work when she’s woken by a psi-flash in her dream, a premonition of a heist at a major Mega City museum. Such flashes are not always accurate but, by the book she calls in a report and leaves it to the regular street judges… Except the dream troubles her and she finds herself dressed and back on the streets heading to the museum, to find out her vision was accurate, there is a heist, but it’s a very specific one, a highly professional team of raiders after one special item from an exhibit of artefacts from the Cursed Earth, the atomic wasteland that is all that is left of what used to be America, that lies between the mega cities now.
And these very professional raiders have a very powerful psi of their own with them…
Quite why thieves would ignore all the other expensive exhibits for one item, and why they would come backed up by a powerful psi is a mystery that can’t be left, and the head of Psi Division tasks Anderson with following it up, on a trail which takes her first to Texas City, then out into the Cursed Earth in the company of a TC Psi Judge (a specialist in psychogeography, making her a remarkable tracker) to the Alabama Morass. Clearly this is far more than the theft of a valuable museum piece and Smith drops tantalising hints of a wider conspiracy to be unveiled and that flashback to her birth and her own lack of memories of her parents may be more than childhood memories being clouded by time (after all, she was enrolled as a Psi-Judge cadet at the age of five, no wonder she remembers little of her parents… Or is there more it?).
It’s always good to see Carl drawing Mega City characters again, and his art here worked very well for this old 2000 AD veteran reader. His depiction of Anderson I especially enjoyed – Cass is a very powerful character, she’s always been both strong and vulnerable at the same time, more human than Dredd can be, and Smith’s script and Critchlow’s art makes this aspect of her quite clear. Critchlow’s art is very much his own style, but there are some lovely hints in there to classic Dredd artists too, with a few scenes – a full-length picture of Anderson for instance – showing what looked to me like a nod to Mick McMahon in a few places. I was also pleased Critchlow didn’t overly sexualise Anderson – none of the provocatively low-zipped, cleavage revealing uniform top or exaggerated figure that some artists have used with Anderson before; she’s not tantalising eye candy, she’s the powerful lead character. And his depiction of Texas City (naturally with the giant “Walk Tall” statue) very much reminded me of McMahon’s depiction of TC many decades ago in Dredd, a nice touch I thought. Both clearly have a handle on Anderson, and use her more complex character here to give us a more human perspective on Mega City One than Dredd himself can usually be allowed to do.
I’m intrigued to see where this goes next and if those flashbacks to childhood will play any part in how her character in this solo series develops. And of course, it’s always good to see Anderson getting into the spotlight again.