Judge Dredd2000 AD
Anderson Psi Division: Shamballa
Medium: comic
Year: 1990
Writer: Alan Grant
Artist: Arthur Ranson
Country: UK
Keywords: Judge Dredd, 2000 AD
Format: 2000 AD 700-711
Website category: Comics UK
Review date: 5 December 2021
I don't think it's much good, but it's different. Alan Grant's being trippy and spiritual, while Arthur Ranson's work is as always so detailed and photorealistic that it's a shock to see that comics can look like this.
Anderson's just lost her best friend, the empathic Psi-Judge Corey, who'd committed suicide in an Alan Grant story in the 2000 AD Sci–Fi Special 1988. (Grant and Wagner had ended their writing partnership by this point and it's almost as if they were tiptoeing around each other. Corey's death hit Anderson even harder than everything with her father... but only in Alan Grant stories. Conversely, she's tormented by helping to kill Kit Agee in Wagner's Necropolis... but not in Alan Grant stories.)
The plot's nonsense, but in a hippy transcendental way that's almost challenging you to say so aloud. (Anderson accepts the challenge.) There's an underground kingdom that spans the entire globe, in which live mankind's prehistoric ancestors and some evil giants. Maybe. Also, our spiritual balance is being preserved by a not-the-Dalai-Lama in Tibet who's thousands of years old and about to die. If Wrinkly Old Bloke snuffs it, then the world will be plunged into chaos and we'll all kill each other.
Anderson is sensitive, doubts herself and nearly shags a psi-judge from East-Meg Two. (They're interrupted by cavemen on the train roof.)
It's spiritual and slow and lots of other things that, in principle, aren't bad. What it's not, though, is particularly on top of its subject matter. There are omens from around the world. The Japanese one has oni (which don't look like that) and a failure of the cherry harvest (which doesn't exist). Japan's famous cherry blossom trees are non-fruiting, which has always struck me as crazy.
The art, though, is extraordinary. The leisurely story and its sense-of-wonder is an absolute gift for Arthur Ranson. You almost never get the chance to draw stories like this in Western comics. Tibet. Wow, those mountains. The vision of Shamballa itself. Even horrible things are beautiful, such as the underground undead vision at the beginning and the largely monochrome montage of Anderson's personal hell. Grant and Ranson clearly liked working together and did it a lot, including other Anderson Psi-Division stories, Mazeworld and some Batman stories for DC Comics.
I was reading the 1991 graphic novel that only contains Shamballa, incidentally, not the 2008 one that collects several other stories too and has 196 pages.
Grant has called Ranson the perfect Anderson artist, while Ranson has said that he feels "quite possessive" of Anderson and considers her "the most human of any comic hero I am aware of, and [one who] deals with some of the knottier problems of being human - morality, mortality, meaning." I admire this story's courage and ambition. I don't think it works particularly well, but it's a trip. If nothing else, I love ep.2 for containing the first ever map of Dredd's world.