As something of a lapsed reader of 2000 AD as a weekly phenomenon, who these days dips into trade collections rather than following short serialised strips, I find the comic’s semi-regular and (mostly but not always) self-contained ‘Regened’ issues a welcome event. While aimed at an all-ages audience they are accessible entry points to new readers while providing those of us of… a certain age…, who struggle to keep up with episodic delivery, a fun sampling of characters that requires little knowledge of current continuity.
While apparently not so popular with a small but very vocal minority of older readers the ‘Regened’ issues are also a reminder that for all its early sophisticated satire and dark humour 2000 AD was originally a comic aimed at young boys. I should know. I still remember vividly picking up the very first Prog in WHSmiths in Romford, complete with now long gone plastic Space Spinner. Building up a newer audience of potential readers is as important as providing new Thrill-Power for the loyal but ever ageing long-term readership after all. A point that shouldn’t be controversial but still somehow seems to be.
2000 AD Prog 2346 is the latest weekly sidestep into the ‘Regened’ arena featuring four complete stories. In the opener we have another tale of a young Joe Dredd in Cadet Dredd story ‘The Exchange’. Here Boniek, a Mega-City Two cadet judge, comes to Mega-City One on an exchange visit and Dredd is given the task of mentoring him. But as time passes he begins to suspect that this visitor to the justice department may not be all he appears.
James Peaty crafts a simple but intriguing mystery but the real draw of ‘The Exchange’ is the junior Dredd’s characterisation and curt dialogue, and the subtle exploration of the toxicity of Dredd’s dystopian society in its indoctrination of the children who make up the cadets. Joe Currie’s portrayal of Dredd’s body language gives us an incarnation of the character that is both humorous in its depiction of juvenile authority while simultaneously also being rather chilling.
David Barnett and Mike Walters’ Lowborn High strip featuring a comprehensive school for young wizards who don’t get into the more prestigious establishments is arguably putting a new spin on a genre fad we’d long since moved on from. However Barnett’s focus on genuinely relatable teen dramas with a mystical flavouring and a likeable cast of characters elevates it from another Rowling pastiche. This time wheelchair user Maisy’s desire to be able to enjoy just one dance with her crush Androgeus “Andy” Frost leads to magical trouble while Lowborn High has to deal with a school inspection. Mike Walker’s art and Pippa Bowland’s colouring here combine well in emphasising the fantastical elements infiltrating the otherwise mundane school environment. This one ends on a cracking cliffhanger though the wait for the next ‘Regened’ issue in a couple of months is probably something of an ask for a younger readership used to instant consumption of their media.
2000 AD’s one-off Future Shocks have been a staple of the comic since the early days and ‘Autocop’ is a fine example of the kind of satirical content that established 2000 AD’s reputation back then. Tying into recent discussions about AI we meet Murtin Spork, employed as a taster of plasti-soups recycled from plastic, as he loses his job to a robotic AI taster. Forced to become an armoured autocop as a sideways career move, Murtin’s conflicts with AI have only just begun. Karl Stock’s script has an old school 2000 AD feel, echoing those stories where unfortunate, blameless individuals would become victims of the system, and it also makes its social points with an economical but cutting clarity. Toby Willsmer’s art is replete with a level of brutal slapstick that serves to underline the hopelessness of Stock’s narrative.
Finally there’s another Renk story written by Paul Starkey and illustrated by 2019 Broken Frontier ‘Six to Watch’ artist Anna Readman. A fantasy/detective mash-up, Renk features the titular character, a one-armed dwarf who lives in the city of Crespuscularia. In this instalment Renk is hired to recover a stolen dancing trophy. Starkey’s story is witty and self-aware but it’s Readman’s stunning art that makes this the standout offering of the issue. The world-building in terms of environment and society depicted is astonishing with individual panels so crammed with detail that they seem to contain multiple stories within the main story. Readman’s depiction of a floating restaurant surrounded by crocodiles is a highlight and colourist Gary Caldwell does an excellent job of bringing strangely vibrant life to the seedy city streets of Crespuscalaria.
With such established luminaries as Annie Parkhouse, Jim Campbell and Simon Bowland involved each story is in the very best hands when it comes to the lettering duties. 2000 AD Prog 2346 is yet another example of the always appealing immediacy of the Regened programme.
James Peaty, David Barnett, Karl Stock, Paul Starkey (W), Joe Currie, Mike Walters, Toby Willsmer, Anna Readman (A), Pippa Bowland, Gary Caldwell (C), Annie Parkhouse, Jim Campbell, Simon Bowland (L) • Rebellion, £4.99
Review by Andy Oliver