2000AD turns 40 today. The anthology comic has launched countless careers over the decades and even though it’s best known for Judge Dredd, old chinface is far from their only iconic character. Out now, the 40th Anniversary Special shows just how much else is going on under the hood and just how fun 2000AD can be.
“Blood” – lettered by Annie Parkhouse, illustrated by Carl Critchlow and written by John Wagner – does an excellent job of showing how Judge Dredd is still relevant. It’s a straight up and down piece of detective fiction that opens with Dredd finding a pool of blood and no body and ends with everything about that blood being revealed. Even if it’s owner is not.
Wagner excels at this sort of near-future police procedural and the script is refreshing for just how little artifice it has. There’s no, “HERE IN THE HELLSCAPE OF MEGA CITY 1!”-style hyperbole, none of the tiresome pop culture satire that Dredd still dips into from time to time. It’s just a quiet, methodical story about a veteran police officer discovering why and how something terrible happened. It’s Cormac McCarthy in a flak vest, quiet and sad and painfully clear-eyed.
Al Ewing, Henry Flint and Simon Bowland’s “ZOMBO” is up next and manages to do two impossible things at once. The first is to be very funny and cheerfully nasty at the same time. The second is to balance a plot based entirely around a good natured parody of 2000AD’s earlier days with an actual… well… plot. The amiable monstrosity of the original series is replaced by a ZOMBO designed to be a secret agent in the brave new world of 2000AD’s 1970s, complete with whiny sidekick and stereotypical villains. Ewing is one of the best writers in the business right now and Flint’s brawny artwork is always a delight and both are on top form here. Better still, Bowland’s smart, subtle lettering helps the total lack of subtlety on both characters’ parts shine. And “As the boring half of this duo, I say do what he says!” is officially the line of the year so far.
“Seeing Red” – written by Pat Mills, illustrated by Clint Langley and lettered by Ellie De Ville – is up next. Starring the Ro-Busters, a group of robotic first responders and problem solvers/causers, it’s the most retro of the stories included here and, for us at least, the least interesting. The Ro-Busters are fun but pretty one note and there’s nothing here that changes that. Langley’s intense artwork and De Ville’s smart lettering impress though.
Lauren Beukes and Dale Halvorsen’s Durham Red story “The Judas Strain” follows it. Durham is a Strontium Dog, one of a group of mutants who make their living as bounty hunters. The original series lead, Johnny Alpha, is a mutant freedom fighter with unique visual abilities. Durham is pretty much a straight up and down vampire and the pair team up here to great effect. Beukes and Halvorsen have great fun writing the strait-laced Johnny and the exuberant Red, and the script is a model of clever, fun, economic writing. Illustrated by legendary 2000AD artist Carlos Ezquerra and lettered by Simon Bowland it’s a real highlight of the Special.
“Red Branch” is up next starring Sláine. The Celtic barbarian, warrior, king and outlaw is one of 2000AD’s iconic characters and his life has been largely mapped out. However, Pat Mills finds a moment in Sláine’s youth here which is as darkly funny and violent as any of his other stories. In a contest to become part of the Red Branch group of warriors Sláine is continually outmanoeuvred by an increasingly deranged opponent. As the story comes to a close, he steps outside the bounds of his society for the first time and simultaneously solves the problem and sets up a lifetime of new ones. It’s a clever script, illustrated with typically impressive style by Simon Davis and lettered with subtlety and intelligence by Ellie De Ville.
“Devil May Care” closes the Special. Written by Robbie Morrison, it’s a Nikolai Dante story illustrated by Simon Fraser, coloured by Gary Caldwell and lettered by Annie Parkhouse. Dante is one of 2000AD‘s newest icons; a cheerful Russian scoundrel bonded with an artificially intelligent weapons crest. A reluctant emissary for the Romanov Dynasty, Nikolai drinks, fights and sleeps his way through the increasingly brutal war for control of the Empire.
There has never been an ugly Nikolai Dante story and this is no exception. Parkhouse’s letters hit different vocal beats perfectly, Caldwell’s colour work is realistic and vibrant and Fraser’s art style is both pleasingly brawny and fluid. All of this wraps Morrison’s light-on-its-feet script up perfectly. There are cheeky cameos from other 2000AD alumni, a less-than-subtle nod to a certain famous Russian super spy and an awful lot of violence. It’s light, smart, fun and nasty. Much like Nikolai himself.
Wrapping these stories up is a series of one-page interludes featuring other famous 2000AD characters. All written by TMO, they feature an array of artists including Jock, Rufus Dayglo, Mark Sexton, Patrick Goddard, Bryan Talbot and Mike Collins. They’re funny, affectionate pokes at the various eras of the comic’s life and never get too referential. Plus, best Zenith joke ever.
2000AD at 40 is 2000AD at its best and this Special shows it. Inventive, funny, very nasty and cheerfully aware of its occasionally ridiculous past the comic still feels as fresh, vibrant and just a little punky as it did on day one. Happy birthday, everyone. Here’s to decade five.