Written by: Alec Worley
Published by: Abaddon Books
Synopsis: After a string of apparently random, deadly assaults by customers at Meet Market – Mega-City One’s biggest, trashiest dating agency – Anderson is convinced a telepathic killer is to blame. Putting her career on the line, the newly-trained Psi-Judge goes undercover to bring the murderer to justice. She’ll have to act fast. Mega-City One’s annual huge, riotous Valentine’s Day Parade is fast approaching, and the killer has a particularly grand gesture planned…
Following the same format as the wonderful Judge Dredd: Year One series of novellas, this story focuses on Judge Anderson’s first year as a full-eagle Judge. Previous stories seen in 2000AD have showcased Anderson as a cadet, demonstrating her growth and development throughout the Academy, whereas here we see a more mature version of the character, two years before her first encounter with Judge Death – which was also her first appearance in the magazine back in Prog 150.
Alec Worley manages to accurately capture Anderson’s persona through the prose format, distinguishing her from the gruff street Judges by making her more emotionally receptive to the plights of the common citizen – a trait that Alan Grant also explored in Anderson’s solo series. Worley also makes a concerted effort to portray Cassandra as a expert in hand-to-hand combat, referencing her many years of training in the Academy of Law. Her wry sense of humour is also present, further distancing her from the likes of Dredd and Hershey. While she bears some uncertainty in her decisions and her role within the Justice department, Worley focuses more on empowering the character as a determined detective, willing to risk everything in the pursuit of Justice.
Worley excels in communicating the Psi experience to readers, particularly with the opening chapter which tells the story of a murder from the point-of-view of the victim as Anderson posthumously searches his memories. It’s an effective narrative technique and one of many that Worley uses to let the reader feel the “curse” of being a psychic. It’s much more engaging in prose than on a comic panel, and it results in a much stronger connection with the central protagonist as a result. With a psychic serial-killer as the core antagonist, Worley has plenty of opportunities to showcase Anderson’s skill with a psi-blast, as well as a daystick. Some of the psychic battles seen in “Heartbreaker” are beautifully realised in the mind’s eye of the reader, thanks to the descriptive prose that Worley provides. It is these sequences that make this novella stand out from the crowd, adding a extra shot of hard sci-fi into proceedings!
The main plot of “Heartbreaker” revolves around a psychic serial-killer with a penchant for wreaking vengeance on those looking for love. Worley infuses a Silence of the Lambs atmosphere to proceedings as the rookie female cop goes up against a deranged killer. It’s an effective tone and one that drives the narrative into some dark places. I love how Worley pits the two Psi’s against each other, battling it out in an elaborate chess game with the citizens as pawns. The concept of the Meet Market is inspired as well, blending dating websites like Match.com with auction sites like eBay to create a literal “meat market”, not unlike the ones farmers attend to get prime livestock. It’s yet another example of Judge Dredd’s keen satirical sense of humour, exaggerating aspects of modern life to the extreme.
Fuelled by some impressive action set-pieces, “Heartbreaker” is a pulse-pounding adventure that does justice to the character of Psi-Judge Anderson. Alec Worley maintains tension throughout the tale, alongside some vivid descriptions of the psychic mindscape. It’s definitely the best representation of psychic powers I’ve ever read. There is an additional romantic subplot for Anderson that doesn’t quite ring true. While it does showcase the character’s humanity and neatly foreshadows the events in “Shamballa“, it feels like an unnecessary complication to the story, even if it does provide a dual meaning for the novella’s title. Overall, this is an electrifying read from start to finish, and a refreshing alternative to the Judge Dredd: Year One series. With her empathetic inner voice, Anderson suits the prose format far better than Dredd does, allowing for internal moral quandaries and an in-depth exploration of the character. I am really enjoying these 2000AD novellas from Abaddon Books and am glad that they are continuing to produce more titles going forward.
Score – ★★★★
Judge Anderson: Rookie – “Heartbreaker” is available as an eBook from Amazon Kindle, or collected in paperback format alongside two other adventures as the Judge Anderson: Year One Omnibus, also available on Amazon.