Why Cassandra Anderson is way more than just Judge Dredd’s sidekick; she’s the heart and soul of 2000 AD
I first met her in 1991 within the pages of JUDGEMENT ON GOTHAM and 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 Judge Dredd and Batman that made me buy the book, but it was the supporting character of Judge Cassandra Anderson that had me hooked. Written by her co-creator John Wagner and long-time chronicler Alan Grant, she brought a goofball energy to every scene in which she appeared. Superstar artist Simon Bisley was also 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 Prog #150.
Smitten, I started tracking down the books and annuals that collected her older adventures while discovering her more recent and harder-edged psychotropic epics, which were then running in the JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE. Reading all these alongside Judge Dredd’s regular adventures in 2000 AD, I felt that Judge Anderson had become almost as much a part of the DREDD saga as Dredd himself. Her continued adventures in comics (she’s just landed her own American series published by IDW), her appearance in the 2012 DREDD movie (essayed with twitchy assurance by Olivia Thirlby), and the character’s various cosplay incarnations at comics conventions around the world testify to Judge Anderson’s continued – if not increased – popularity. But Anderson is more than just a pin-up for the 2000 AD set. 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
Dredd is one of those characters who relies on the presence of other characters to really bring out the best in him. Frankly, every Judge in Mega-City One dresses like him, is trained like him and wants to put away criminals. Dredd needs other characters in there to register the difference, 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? But without the right kind of situation to dramatize the subtle extremes of his character, Dredd is just another bully with a gun. Getting Dredd ‘right’ is a feat that’s been mythologised by fandom over the years, but it can be a tough writing gig nonetheless.
Judge Anderson on the other hand is a writer’s dream. She’s a dynamo of emotions and conflicts and abilities and doesn’t need other characters around to bring her to life. While Dredd is a monolithic embodiment of ‘justice’ – you may as well try and relate to your refrigerator – Cassie appears 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. At the climax of the 1991 story ENGRAM she ponders the fate of the powerful psychic infant she has just rescued. “The world’s a cesspit,” she says. “I dunno what one kid can do to clean it up… Even one with power like that. But maybe – just maybe – a little hope is all we need.”
It’s only in Anderson’s weaker stories that she succumbs to angst and mopeyness; her best stories use this 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 Cassie can really make you feel it.
2.) SHE’S FUNNY
Although 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 likeable.
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 as 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 magically twisted into something resembling a pile of eyes and chewing gum by a demon who calls himself Gargarax. “Sounds like some kind of mouthwash,” says Anderson, who foregoes a lengthy exorcism ritual in favour of punching the patient’s lights out. She later ventures into a demonic realm where she is heckled by stone gargoyles. “Wheeeep-Wheeeooo! What’s the rush, gorgeous?” Quite why these spirits of the netherworld speak like Brooklyn construction workers is anybody’s guess, but Anderson is having none of it. When told “No admittance, lady,” her response is brief and to the point: “HI-EX!”
(Writing this paragraph has made me realise that if I could pick a favourite Anderson artist it would probably be 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 Chaoswarrior strip he did for the CITADEL COMPENDIUM called KALEB DAARK.)
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 – the people you rely on 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 get the better of you. Maybe they don’t care enough to have any kind of opinion about you at all, except perhaps how hot you look in that uniform.
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 themselves in the maelstrom? In terms of strength of character or force of personality, Anderson is pretty much a Hercules. 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; 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
I don’t want to start banging on about the whole ‘strong female character’ thing. I’ll let Sophia McDougall’s excellent piece in The New Statesman do it for me. As far as I’m concerned, ‘strong’ in this context should mean ‘well-written’. Then you take the word ‘female’ out of that phrase and you’re left with what every story needs, regardless of gender: ‘well-written characters’. Anderson’s oft-exploited sexiness is part of the package and that’s fine, so long as that aspect doesn’t exist at the expense of all else.
So anyway, as a comic book heroine Judge Anderson is up there with Wonder Woman and Red Sonja. She’s an accomplished Judge who has survived over two decades on the lethal streets of Mega-City One and she’s gone toe-to-talon several times with the Dreddverse’s number-one superfiend Judge Death. How does she like to relax? 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.” Well, if they’re dumb enough to break the law in the presence of a Judge, even if she’s off-duty.
For all her bleeding-heart storylines, it’s easy to forget that Anderson can also be ruthless in the execution of her duties. Lest we forget that she not only volunteered to join Dredd’s commando unit sent to wipe out East-Meg One during the Apocalypse War, she also gave Dredd the codes required to do it! But for another 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
Judge Anderson screws up from time to time. Quite a bit actually. She’s also taken some pretty strange sidesteps during her career. Remember that time she 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 lady shaman. (Well, it was the '90s.) She also seems weirdly prone to winding up in a coma. She’s clearly no 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. For me, 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 and must therefore age like everyone else. How stringently this rule is upheld in the comics is debatable, but, really, who cares? I’m more interested in seeing how her personality is visualised by different artists. She’s callow and intense in the early Arthur Ransom stories; airy and refined under David Roach; supple and sensual under Boo Cook; mature and troubled under Mike Dowling. Unlike Dredd – an Easter Island head with a cool helmet – Anderson never hides her face, nor the emotions that play there. She’s a character who can reward artists just as much as writers and, of course, readers.
Imperfection and variety make for great storytelling, just as the foibles of modern life make for great satirical sci-fi. This is why, for me, Judge Anderson – arguably the most human character in 2000 AD’s flagship series – is the soul of JUDGE DREDD if not 2000 AD itself.
1.) JUDGE DREDD: THE COMPLETE CASE FILES 03 and THE COMPLETE CASE FILES 05
CASE FILES 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.
2.) 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.
3.) JUDGEMENT ON GOTHAM (included in THE BATMAN JUDGE DREDD COLLECTION) – Bats teams up with Dredd and Anderson to take down Judge Death, the Scarecrow and the Mean Machine. One of my all-time favourite Dredd stories.
4.) JUDGE DREDD: ANDERSON, PSI-DIVISION
The new series from IDW, written by 2000 AD’s own editor Matt Smith with art by Carl Critchlow. It all starts with Anderson awaking from an unusually strong vision of an attack on the Megapolitan Museum showcasing artefacts excavated from the Cursed Earth…
5.) JUDGE ANDERSON: HEARTBREAKER
By, erm… me! This one’s an e-book novella in which Anderson is on the trail of a telepathic killer who has been picking off victims via ‘Meet Market’, Mega-City One’s biggest – and trashiest – dating agency. Now she must go undercover and bring the murderer to justice before the citizens attending this week’s Valentine’s Parade find themselves smitten with something even deadlier than love. It’s available on Kindle now from Amazon UK and Amazon USA, the Apple iBook store, Kobo, Nook and the 2000 AD e-book store.