Rob Williams (Writer) • Simon Fraser (Artist)
Reviewed By Tarn Richardson
There’s something which must play on the mind of publisher Rebellion, and chiefly the editor and writers of their flagship weekly publication 2000AD. Their most consistent and popular strip, Judge Dredd, played out in real time with each prog, has an ageing cast of heroes.
Characters who have been followed, and often idolised, by readers for twenty, thirty, even forty years are starting to audibly creak, even if the only noises illustrated in the comic are those of gunshots. Among this ageing list of ‘heroes’ is ex-Chief Judge Barbara Hershey, long term mercurial colleague of Dredd, whose exit from Mega City One was hastened by Judge Smiley’s treachery and a nasty dose of alien pox. Believed dead in a ceremonial burning beyond the stars (well, she was highly regarded so deserved a decent send-off), her reappearance in Hershey : Disease will come as a surprise to many a fan grieving her death.
Hershey : Disease follows the escapades of the ex-Chief Judge and her own version of the judicial ‘Long Walk’. Usually involving retired judges taking justice into the Cursed Earth, the radiated world beyond the walls of Mega City One, Hershey’s Long Walk instead sees her set out to undo the wrongs of Judge Smiley’s brief soiree with alien Enceladus energy (stick with it, it’s worth it) and the mischief caused when released into the wrong hands.
First up, there’s no miraculous cure or salvation for Hershey here. From page one we’re told clearly that Hershey is a dead woman walking and only pills and a mean-bitch attitude will keep her alive. This story is no bed of roses, there’s to be no unexpected twist and miracles will not be happening. Whatever happens, she’s not walking away from this alive. But whoever took the Long Walk expecting to survive?
Heading into the corrupt cesspit that is Colombia and later the outskirts of Ciudad Barranquilla, Hershey brings her no-nonsense style of justice and retribution to those who have profited from Smiley’s deceit and, as Hershey sees it, her own lapse of command whilst chief judge. One ageing dying ex-judge against such odds? What hope is there?
Mirroring the pessimistic outlook is the immaculate script from Rob Williams and faultless artwork from Simon Fraser, combining to create something which is both desolate and desperate in Hershey’s outlook and options, and yet oddly inspiring. Now released from the shackles of Mega City One and focused on her final task of redemption, Hershey is afforded the opportunity find the authority she once held, the revenge she seeks and the peace she desires. Of course, this is the world of Judge Dredd and no one ever finds peace for long.
Hershey : Disease is a remarkable feat of comic book storytelling. Williams, a frugal writer of dialogue and prose at the best of times, balances brevity of words with an almost symbiotic connection with Fraser’s monochrome visuals. A classic case of show, don’t tell, which draws the reader even deeper into the panels and story.
As for the story itself, a knowledge of the Dreddverse will help, not least because there’s plenty here for fans of Judge Dredd to cheer, despair and marvel at. It covers a lot of ground very quickly, everything about the script muscular and lean. As a result, just occasionally, I found myself having to read back to check I hadn’t skipped a page, such is the speed at which this thing moves. With writing this good, every scene, revelation twist and turn was so perfectly pitched that the seat of my chair has never been so well worn.
Death is not always the end for characters from ‘Tharg’s mighty organ’, as comic 2000AD is sometimes called. We can only celebrate that the same is true of Hershey and that her adventures will continue, at least for now. Though the odds are against her and the clock is ticking, whilst there’s breath in her body there’ll be blood on the streets.
Hell hath no fury like Barbara Hershey!
You think you know her story. Chief Judge of Mega-City One, Barbara Hershey had been a powerful ally to Judge Dredd, until she became infected with an alien pathogen and – supposedly – died. But little do the citizens and judges of Mega-City One suspect that Hershey’s death was faked.
Now, join fan favourite character Judge Hershey as she embarks on a new adventure beyond the grave and beyond the walls of Mega-City One, to right the wrongs of her past and dispense justice! Critically acclaimed creative team Rob Williams (Judge Dredd, Doctor Who) and Simon Fraser (Judge Dredd, Doctor Who) tell a globe-spanning, gritty story of retribution.
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Tarn Richardson was brought up a fan of fantasy and horror, in a remote house, rumoured to be haunted, near Taunton, Somerset. He is the author of THE DARKEST HAND series, published by Duckworth Overlook in 2015-2017 and republished by RedDoor in 2019. Comprising of THE DAMNED, THE FALLEN, THE RISEN, and free eBook prequel THE HUNTED, the books tell the epic story of Inquisitor Poldek Tacit, battling the forces of evil to the backdrop of World War One. He has also written the novels, RIPPED, and THE VILLAGE IN THE WOODS, to be published in 2020 and 2021. He lives near Salisbury with this wife, the portraiture artist Caroline Richardson, and their two sons.
Official Website www.tarnrichardson.co.uk