Ex-Chief Judge Barbara Hershey comes back from the dead for one last mission, a near-suicidal mission that will her across the world for atonement for her own failings. Rob Williams and Simon Fraser take a much-loved character and give her one last, extended, adventure. Cold, brutal, cinematic, exhilarating, and stunning artistically, Hershey: Disease is a worthy addition to the world of Dredd.
Well, we previewed this at Comicon a few weeks ago, but it’s one that I wanted to have a bit of a longer look at here. It’s well worth the time for a book that’s doing great things with a familiar character to all Dredd fans.
It was a hell of a surprise to see this one come out when it did, seeing as John Wagner had already said his farewell to ex-Chief Judge Hershey in his Dredd: Guatemala storyline, so to bring Hershey back was a bold move, a beloved character had had her send-off, had her moment. To bring her back, to set her off on what increasing looks like a suicide mission, one that’s pushing her to the edges and beyond of the realms of her Justice Department training, well that was a major thing.
And 2000 AD did it quite brilliantly. Where other companies would have been spoiling this one for weeks, even months, the preview copies of Prog #2175 came out without a cover, without the Hershey strip, all the better to up the interest, up the hype.
Thankfully, Rob Williams and Simon Fraser have managed to do a great job on delivering the goods here, giving us a very different kind of Hershey story, but one that makes sense, one that’s as brutal and nasty as Hershey believes she has to be, and one that just doesn’t pull any punches.
She’s still dying, the alien pathogen in her body is still killing her, she’s just bought herself a little bit of time to make amends for her failings. After all, it was under her watch that Judge Smiley armed the world with the Enceladus energy, on her watch that the enemies of Mega-City One became more powerful.
And although Smiley might be dead, the network he set up across the globe lives on – unless Hershey takes it down. So, she’s cut herself off from MC-1, she’s on her own, and her first stop may well be her last, as she heads down to the brutal and dangerous streets of South America’s Comuna to take down the Enceladus-powered cartel boss, Falcao.
It’s almost an impossible task, especially for the dying Hershey. But it’s just the first step in her mission.
The whole thing is brutal, as Hershey boulders her way into the cartel, her desperation to get revenge, to make things right is possibly clouding her judgment, changing her, until it’s quite obvious that Hershey sees this as a one-way trip and one where she’s quite prepared to break all of the rules that were drummed into her throughout her time in MC-1 and the Justice Department.
It’s Hershey versus the world pretty much, although she does have some help, somewhat unexpected perhaps, and no spoilers just who that is apart from this…
For the first chapter, ‘Disease‘, Williams treats it all almost like a Western, with Hershey as the lone figure coming into a town that’s under the cruel rule of the bad guy. And just when you think he can’t make it harder for Hershey, he does. It manages to be so many different things. There’s a sense of a real slow build to it all, whilst also being action-packed, violent, fast-paced, quite a clever trick to pull off.
‘Brutal’, the second chapter perhaps doesn’t work quite so well, the whole Hershey getting to the cartel head in Ciudad Barranquilla through having her man progress through boxing rounds just seems that little too contrived, too forced. But once that moment of hmmm is over, the actual mechanics of what’s going on work, all about Hershey and her companion coming to terms with the changes in their lives (and deaths), going from Judge to assassin, throwing out the training, the indoctrination.
The voice that Williams uses in his Dredd stories is here in spades, that clipped, sparse style, and it works very well, especially in conjunction with this gorgeous-looking artwork from Fraser. It’s very different to anything of his you’ve seen before, gone is the lush, rich artwork that you’ll hopefully have seen on his Nikolai Dante work and instead, with Hershey, we get something as raw and uncompromising as Williams’ script. His figure work is so tight, the action explodes from the panels, which are frequently unusual, angled things, adding to the tension, the almost staccato sense of the storyline, the fragmented artwork merely adding and improving upon the bang, bang, bang timing of Williams’ storyline.
And then there’s the colouring that Fraser’s using here, those gorgeous tonal effects that wash over the page, subtle yet striking, with Fraser holding back from full-colour right until unleashing them for maximum effect. And then there’s the subtle moments of stylistic shifts in the flashbacks – Fraser evoking Bolland at one point to grand effect.
This is merely the first in what could be a long series of Hershey tales, there’s plenty of areas across the world corrupted by Smiley’s touch, meaning that this is just the start of the quest for redemption and atonement. But it’s a damn fine start to things, the tone, the bleakness, the pace, and particularly the artwork making this a grand read.
Hershey: Disease – by Rob Williams & Simon Fraser, letters by Simon Bowland
Published by 2000 AD
Released on 17th August 2021
Contains the stories Disease (Originally published in 2000 AD Progs 2175-2182) and Brutal (Originally published in 2000 AD Progs 2212-2219)