Being a reviewer, I don’t always get to jump in at the first issue of a comic book run, and that is my situation here. I’m reading the fourth issue of a four-issue run on Judge Dredd: Anderson, Psi-Division by writer Matt Smith and artist Carl Critchlow. And yet, that shouldn’t matter. Instead of an exciting comic book conclusion, what I’m treated to is half a comic of an antagonist doling out exposition to the protagonist. It’s the old cheat: the bad guy talks so long that it gives the good guy an opportunity to get out of the situation. The good guy never is pushed to do something out of their limits or think on their feet, because the bad guy doesn’t amplify the tension. The good guy, in this case, is Judge Anderson, Judge Dredd’s sometimes psychic partner. Though, as the description of the book states, this is early in her career working in Mega-City One.
Reading, I wondered why the bad guy thinks Anderson needs to know his back story, because for his purpose, she doesn’t need to know any of it. She just needs to die, so he can finish what he started. At one point after the exposition is completed, he even wonders out loud why he didn’t just shoot her in the head – yes, why didn’t he? Not a very strong female lead, if it takes someone to tell her everything and she gets to figure none of it out on her own.
One gets some inklings of a terrorist plot in which people have become psychic bombs blowing up selected targets and innocent victims for some kind of revenge or motivation to conquer (even the exposition doesn’t clear that up completely), but anything that could provide tension with that plot is pushed to the background.
This being said, the villain is interesting and how he came to be is also intriguing. I feel like there’s an interesting story here. It’s just not told in a very interesting way. Instead, it’s told in the easiest of ways. For instance, at one point the antagonist can’t even finish a cliché, instead ending with “etc, etc.” I have a new rule: if you know that stating a cliché in any instance is so useless that you can’t actually finish it, then you need to come up with a whole new line. I feel like this book needed that. A push to go beyond the worthwhile concepts into exceptional storytelling.
The art is good, but because it’s basically Judge Anderson sitting in a chair most of the time as we see the backstory take place in a muddy brown color, there isn’t much for Critchlow to work with. We’re dealing with the power of the psionic, of the mind, and much of what we witness lacks visual creativity.
In the end, we’re told the villain left his imprint, his stain, but we’re not shown this in any way dramatically or emotionally. Judge Anderson seems unaffected, and that’s the problem here. We’re being told everything, but never shown, never experiencing. We just have to trust that what the writer is telling us is actually the case.
For the possibilities that this story holds, the end result is average, adequate, but not thrilling. If you’ve read the first three issues, I hope it’s everything you wanted.
On an additional note, the cover work on all three available covers is excellent.