I imagine I am not the only long-term 2000 AD fan (yes I did buy Prog 1 from my local WHSmith way back in 1977) who, while perhaps not considering themselves entirely a lapsed reader, did give up on that weekly method of incremental narrative delivery a long time ago. In recent years I have been more likely to cherry pick collections of the anthology’s strips in trade or hardcover format, having reached a point in life where trying to keep up with a story in 5-6 page bursts is no longer the effortless exercise it was in my younger years.
2000 AD is the last bastion of British comics from a classic era of newsagent shelves filled to excess with serialised weekly publications. In many ways it’s an anachronism. But it’s one that we delight in; a reminder of UK publishing traditions that publisher Rebellion are also bringing back to a new audience of readers through their Treasury of British Comics line of reprints. Given its near five decades of publishing history it is, by definition, an institution that will be to some degree daunting for new readers to access. But Rebellion have been canny in their thinking in that regard, providing regular jumping-on point issues for the uninitiated, curating their truly excellent Best of 2000 AD series, and publishing quarterly, largely standalone ‘Regened’ issues for younger readers.
It was with this in mind that I decided to dive back into the print experience several weeks ago with the most recent relaunch Prog. In that time a number of new and returning thrills/characters have featured in the weekly with the most recent edition, Prog 2362, also serving as the end-of-year bumper-sized special, mixing the continuing serials with one-off stories, and a number of hints and teasers as to what to expect in 2024.
In that latter regard this issue’s complete Judge Dredd strip, ‘A Matter of Life and Dredd’ written by Ken Niemand with crisp artwork by Tom Foster, positively plunders continuity pointers from the strip’s history. Here a gravely injured Judge Rico has a series of visions that appear to be setting up the near future of Dredd’s world while revisiting its past at the same time. Similarly, a one-off for newer thrill Azimuth from Dan Abnett and Tazio Bettin, set in a “data-driven metropolis” where anything is possible, has already revealed links to previous 2000 AD properties, and ends on a cracking cliffhanger that will doubtless keep readers on tenterhooks for the story’s eventual return this year.
Other highlights from the “complete-in-one” offerings include a festive outing for supernatural war story Fiends of the Eastern Front (written by Edgington with art by Trevallion) though for fans of the understated, less-is-more, 1980s original its gradual metamorphosis over the years into something far more explicit may still feel jarring – the gritty humanity of Ezquerra’s pages back then now replaced by Mignola-esque fantasy.
No doubt it will be comedian and actor Rufus Hound’s debut as a 2000 AD script droid that will have drawn many readers’ attention to this giant-sized collection and this story doesn’t disappoint. With a carefully constructed narrative framework Hound shifts effortlessly from profound, near spiritual reflection to violent, comedic slapstick, with plenty of nods to Johnny Alpha and company’s past pointedly inserted. Artist Dan Cornwell and colourist Dylan Teague complement the themes of the tale with visual storytelling that moves back and forth from monochrome to full colour to reflect the mood and atmosphere of events, and Hound’s skewering of the toxicity of men’s rights activists is glorious in its brutality. A reminder to that strange and thankfully small “keep the politics out of 2000 AD” contingent that they’ve rather been missing the point for a number of decades.
The continuing serials in Prog 2362 indicate both the richness of the sometimes (very loosely) shared, sometimes not 2000 AD universe and the complexities of exploring its worlds. Abnett & Elson’s witty and offbeat fantasy series Feral & Foe, for example, is accessible because earlier chapters are available in a collection but eco-thriller Enemy Earth is in its third arc and, as such, a difficult proposition to follow at this point if you are just jumping in. Peter Milligan and Rufus Dayglo’s The Devil’s Railroad continues to shine, though. This allegorical treatment of the refugee crisis is steeped in the essential traditions of 2000 AD, fusing vital social commentary with science fiction trappings.
Celebrating the past while acting as prologue to the next slate of 2000 AD story arcs, Prog 2362 reminds us that while its long and storied history may seem an intimidating prospect the galaxy’s greatest comic is always worth that extra investment of time. Again, those looking for a starting point are directed to the Best of 2000 AD series which is an expertly considered sampling of material for potential new fans of this seminal British comics experience.
Cat Sullivan, Ken Niemand, Dan Abnett, Torrun Gronbekk, Ian Edgington, Geoffrey D. Wessel, Cavan Scott, Peter Milligan (W), Tom Foster, Tazio Bettin, Kieran McKeown, Dan Cornwall, Simon Coleby, D’Israeli, Rufus Dayglo, Richard Elson (A), Gary Caldwell. Matt Soffe, Pippa Bowland, Dylan Teague, F. Segala, S. Del Grosso, Jose Villarrubia (C), Annie Parkhouse, Jim Campbell, Rob Steen, Simon Bowland (L) • Rebellion, £5.99
Review by Andy Oliver