Review by Karl Verhoven
Psi Files 03 has roughly as many pages as Psi Files 02, but as more Judge Anderson strips were being produced, this only covers a little more than three years of her continuity, from early 1995 to mid-1998.
Alan Grant continues to be responsible for the overall direction of Cassandra Anderson’s stories, although there are some here by other writers produced for annuals and specials, and the art is shared predominantly between Arthur Ranson and Steve Sampson. There couldn’t be a greater contrast between the styles, although they’re both broadly illustrative. Ranson creates an immersive world packed with detail, and imaginative viewpoints frequently from distance for maximum effect, with people who move across the page. Sampson’s preferred method is to emphasise the single static image, preferably close-in, with the panels arranged as if a succession of hastily snapped photographs catching people mid-movement. While Sampson’s fine art approach has improved from his earliest outings, it remains meagre storytelling in comparison with the richness of Ranson, and there are far more of his pages in this volume.
Artistically, the redeeming factor is the inclusion of ‘Satan’ a six chapter drop of magnificence from Grant and Ranson. Is it the real biblical Satan that’s manifested outside Mega-City One? It seems to be the case, and if so how can the Judges possibly stand against such a force. Grant’s script is clever, raising multiple ethical and philosophical questions, and questioning the Christian faith. It’s a great story also issued along with a couple of others by Ranson as a collection titled Satan in 1996. It’s the only story from this collection found in book form anywhere else. The second Ranson-illustrated story is shorter and slimmer, although has a cynically pleasing ending.
There’s less clash between writing and Sampson’s art when Grant tailors his writing style to Sampson’s approach. It results in slimmer content, with captions predominating. These are generally Anderson’s thoughts, be they of her assessment under Judge Dredd in the opening story or when she dies. The assessment, chapters of which are drawn none too decoratively by Charles Gillespie as well as Samson, are also a prelude to the ‘Satan’ story, with dire warnings of what’s coming.
Grant continues to use Christian religious touchstones through the remaining stories. A message of “The children need you. Protect the children” is delivered by the Virgin Mary, this in an overstated story about child abuse heavily quoting campaigner Andrew Vachss, and Grant and Sampson also supply angelic visions. Children also feature in the epic ‘Crusade’, a story written as well as ‘Satan’ with even stronger impact and emotional core, but not delivered as well as it could be by Sampson’s distanced art. The same applies to an emotionally charged evocation of 17th century witch hunts, although this is a slimmer tale. Sampson’s better on Grant’s wrestling satire, infused with philosophical fencing, and there’s early art from Trevor Hairsine on a story of the Judges being embarrassed.
All remaining content is slimmer, with those by other writers text and illustration pieces. Peter Milligan’s is clever, if a little off message, and the best of this section is by Grant about aliens. It’s nicely drawn by Ian Gibson, switching between his distinctive colour work and full value black and white.
‘Satan’ is first rate, and even though one could wish for different art the strengths of ‘Crusade’ aren’t entirely blunted. As they occupy just under half the book, it makes for a worthwhile purchase.