Preview: ‘Best Of 2000 AD’ Volume 1 Is Your Perfect Entry Point To The Wonderful World Of Thrill Power
by Richard Bruton
For anyone wondering, “What’s so great about 2000 AD?” or “But how do I get into 2000 AD?” The answer is simple – The Best Of 2000 AD.
Under a gorgeous Jamie McKelvie cover and Tom Muller‘s design, The Best of 2000 AD is coming out 28th September – but it’s time RIGHT NOW to head to your comic shop and badger the owners to do all they can to support it.
Across six quarterly graphic novels, The Best of 2000 AD promises a mix of classics and modern material, a graphic novel feature presentation every volume, alongside so many great tales of Judge Dredd et. al., all under brand new covers for the six-volume series from a line-up of stellar artists.
Frankly, it’s absolutely perfect for new readers – no essential convoluted continuity to battle with, no serialisation, absolutely ideal for someone new to 2000 AD – or indeed perfect for existing fans to hand to someone who you reckon will love 2000 AD.
And many years ago, that someone would have been me. I’d never read 2000 AD religiously when I was a kid. Sure, I knew Dredd, Strontium Dog, Rogue Trooper et al from the occasional copies or annuals that fell into my hands over the years but, even into my comic-reading teens I was still not a weekly reader, only really picking it up for the likes of Alan Moore and Alan Davis‘ DR & Quinch or Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell‘s Zenith. It actually took me until well into my 30s to make the decision to read it weekly, something I did more as a ‘what’s it all about’ reviewing exercise for the old Forbidden Planet International blog in the mid-2000s.
But since then, I’ve become one of those people… the convert. Yeah, sorry.
Although actually, not sorry. Because 2000 AD really is the Galaxy’s Greatest. There’s simply nothing to compare it to in terms of longevity, characters, thrilling stories, and the sheer variety of what’s inside.
It’s part of 2000 AD‘s long history that, even with the longest running of strips, continuity isn’t the all-encompassing and terrifying thing that you find in Marvel and DC books and characters. No, all of the strips in 2000 AD that have been running any length of time are completely accessible to new readers.
Here in the UK, with 2000 AD readily accessible, these best of volumes maybe aren’t as necessary. After all, a couple of times a year we have jumping-on points for the Prog, but it’s just as easy, as I did, to just grab a random issue as a starting point, enjoy what you can, and know that there’s going to be a new set of stories coming in a few weeks or so. Where this Best of volume may really work is over in your good ol’ US of A where you still have the Progs delivered in monthly packs to comic shops – and coverage is spotty to say the least.
Having these six quarterly volumes could well prove to be the way to bring onboard newer readers, particularly US ones, and all of us fans, no matter how long we’ve been fans… we bid you welcome to the Thrill Power.
So… here we go for a first look inside The Best of 2000 AD Volume 1 – seven different strips, some long, some short, from throughout the illustrious history of 2000 AD.
Opening the volume, naturally, we have a classic bit of John Wagner-written Dredd from 2008, Mutie Block. This is followed by part one of the first book of Dan Abnett and INJ Culbard‘s brilliant Brink series, a strip that really does represent both the now of 2000 AD and just how much variety you’ll find in the comics’ pages.
For the shorter strips, we have a classic Strontium Dog from the year 2000, a great short comedy Dredd from 1989, and a perfect DR & Quinch’s Agony Page from 1987. Then, from 1984, we the complete Ballad Of Halo Jones Book One, one of Alan Moore‘s masterpieces, drawn by Ian Gibson.
And, fittingly, albeit completely coincidentally, the full-length, feature presentation for this volume is perhaps the greatest of Judge Anderson‘s many incredible stories – Shamballa, written by the sadly recently passed Alan Grant.
So… you want to get into 2000 AD?
There’s nearly 200 pages of perfect thrill power for you to start with right here.
JUDGE DREDD: MUTIE BLOCK – John Wagner and Kev Walker, colours by Chris Blythe, letters by Annie Parkhouse
Later on in this volume we have a comedy Dredd perfectly written by Alan Grant, but here’s Wagner doing something darker and full of social commentary, focusing on MC-1’s troublesome relationship with the Muties of Cursed Earth.
From initial immigration, through processing, and out onto the streets, Mutie Block might be fantastical but its brutality is Wagner at his absolute best, reflecting modern life and its problems in the sci-fi of Dredd, all the modern issues of immigration, xenophobia, and racism writ large.
Of course, given that it’s Dredd, there’s also plenty of action, with Dredd alone against an assault on Norma Jean Baker Block, recently cleared of ‘normal’ cits to hold the Mutie immigrants. Through every twist and turn of the action, wonderfully depicted by Kev Walker, Wagner’s in complete control of every moment, giving us a tense and taut tale that’s a reflection of the worst of the society outside our windows and on our TV screens.
It’s what Wagner does so well.
BRINK: BOOK ONE, PART ONE – Dan Abnett, INJ Culbard, letters by Simon Bowland
Brink is a sci-fi cop procedural that’s also a fascinating mystery and a full-on horror story, one that’s now deep into book 5 and one that’s right up there in the best that’s come out of 2000 AD for the last couple of decades.
It’s all slow-build, events unfolding, quietly, carefully, and as such it’s somewhat different from the faster-paced strips it sits alongside. But again, that’s the glory of 2000 AD, there’s never been a formula to what is or isn’t a 2000 AD strip, something that’s given the comic its success and longevity across its 45-year history.
Anyway, back to Brink, and here we’re right back to the beginning, the first 30 pages of the first book, where we’re introduced to a spectacular world with very relatable problems. Sometime in the late 21st Century, the last vestiges of humanity have fled Earth and now find themselves crammed into the claustrophobic confines of the Habitats, huge artificial space stations. And the conditions of the Habs breed crime and madness, with the officers of Habitat-Security attempting to keep the lid on the powder keg.
Into this, we follow Hab-Sec officers Bridget Kurtis and Carl Brinkman in the wake of a routine drugs bust that goes south, taking them down a bizarre and deadly path of mystery cults, madness infecting the Hab residents, and something bigger and sinister that seems to be behind things.
Masterfully written, beautifully drawn, Brink is one of those stories that draws you in, continually surprises you, takes you in wonderfully inspired different directions, and amazes you with how Abnett and Culbard control absolutely everything.
Like I say, easily one of the best things from 2000 AD in the last couple of decades and quite rightly sitting in here as representative of the absolute best of 2000 AD.
THE BALLAD OF HALO JONES: BOOK ONE – Alan Moore, Ian Gibson, colours by Barbara Nosenzo, letters by Steve Potter
From something modern and incredible with Brink to something classic and incredible in Halo Jones. Presented here in the sympathetically newly-recoloured version by Nosenzo, Alan Moore and Ian Gibson’s Halo Jones is the one Moore-written saga that never seems to get the attention it rightly deserves. Sure, it’s early Moore, but all the impressions of genius are there pretty much from the start and having the entire first book here certainly gives you plenty of reading to get your teeth into.
When it was published back in 1984, Moore and Gibson’s ground-breaking feminist space opera was something very different, a sci-fi adventure featuring a young everywoman heroine who was unique for her absolute normality and following her through the three books that make up her tale sees Halo journey through dead-end jobs, nightmarish wars, and personal tragedy along her journey from an innocent teenager to a world-weary woman, with Moore and Gibson going through comedy to heartbreak along the way.
Here, it’s right back to the start, with young Halo Jones trapped in the massive floating ‘Hoop’ housing estate, with a bored out of her mind Halo dreaming of escaping out into the galaxy any way she can. This first book takes place across a single day, all starting off with a shopping trip on the Hoop and ending with Halo’s decision to leave Earth, never to return.
This was Moore’s last work before leaving 2000 AD and going on to make comics history, but it still stands as one of his best, beautifully nuanced, empathetic, a lead character that still resonates so many years later.
STRONTIUM DOG: THE SAD CASE – John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra, letters by Tom Frame
Perhaps an interesting choice of Strontium Dog tale for those who’ve read his prior exploits, but it’s still a Wagner and Ezquerra Strontium Dog and that automatically elevates it into always readable.
Johnny Alpha and his trusted companion Wulf Sternhammer return here for a simple bounty hunting tale, picking up another Mutie Stront bounty hunter to come along for the ride, the quite wonderfully silly Kid Knee – and that’s it.
But, in being able to summarise it so simply and easily points out, yet again, that wonderful thing about 2000 AD in that no matter how much continuity there may be, there’s always an accessibility to the stories that keeps things easy for new readers. The ideas and the thrills always come first, the continuity always second, just as it should be.
Case in point with Johnny Alpha and Strontium Dog – all you need to know is here, Johnny and Wulf are Strontium Dogs, bounty hunters on a time jaunt to claim their latest bounty. You don’t need to know that both Wulf and Johnny, at this point at least, are both dead, and John Wagner’s in the midst of doing more tales of their adventures set in their past. You also don’t need to be aware that Wagner, rectifying what he considered a huge mistake, brought Johnny back to life to continue writing what always seemed a favourite character. Of course, knowing and reading the full adventures of Strontium Dog is a great experience in itself, but that’s not the point here, but the huge positive to 2000 AD, again and again and again, is that you just don’t need to.
So, a one-off Stront tale of bizarre mutants, bounty hunting, that much-missed Carlos Ezquerra artwork… yep, works for me.
ANDERSON, PSI-DIVISION: SHAMBALLA – Alan Grant, Arthur Ranson, letters by Steve Potter
I started writing this preview the day before the terrible news of Alan Grant’s death on 20th July 2022. I’m finishing it with a heavy heart knowing that the world of comics is now missing yet another enormous talent.
And I don’t believe there’s ever been a more beautiful, perfect celebration of just how incredible a writer Grant was than the work he did with Arthur Ranson on Anderson, Psi-Division, of which Shamballa (from 2000 AD Progs 700-711, 1990) was the first installment.
In Shamballa, the world is plagued with strange events, ominous precursors to something apocalyptic, resulting in Anderson pairing with PsyKop Amikov from East-Meg 2, acting as bodyguards for two parapsychologists investigating the origins of the events engulfing the globe. Their trip takes them to a fabled impossible city and takes Anderson deep into herself, questioning her place in this terrible, dark world, asking whether the things she does in the service of justice are really for the greater good of this world.
Shamballa might be a short tale – 60 pages – but it feels so much more, it’s an expansive epic Anderson tale that looked nothing like anything else that was in 2000 AD at the time and, even three decades later, stands out as a high artistic point in 2000 AD‘s history.
It’s rightfully here in the first issue of the Best of 2000 AD, but there’s a sadness that’s inescapable with the passing of a British comics legend.
JUDGE DREDD: SPOK’S MOCK CHOCS – Alan Grant, Brendan McCarthy, Jamie Hewlett, Steve Whittaker, letters by Tom Frame
If we opened with John Wagner doing satirical and serious Dredd, it’s right that we end with a very different type of Dredd, one that Alan Grant was perfect for, the ridiculous Dredd.
An infection runs through the citizens of MC-1, dying as they attempt to bite their way through anything in their way, and all of it tied to having eaten one of Spok’s Mock Choc bars just before the infection takes hold. Dredd’s on the case… and it doesn’t take him long to manage to find the cause, and dispense his own specific justice.
Yep, Grant had a way with these one-off Dredds, the ridiculousness of the world he and John Wagner had spent so much time in was never lost on either of them. And with a combination of McCarthy and Hewlett on art – complete with those always iconic McCarthy Judge’s helmets – this one looks as spectacularly weird and wonderful as it reads.
DR & QUINCH’S AGONY PAGE – Alan Davis, Jamie Delano, inks by Mark Farmer, letters by Steve Potter
And finally, just a single page of DR & Quinch, from the time after Alan Moore had moved on and Alan Davis, together with Jamie Delano and Mark Farmer, briefly continued it as a series of one-page gag strips.
Sure, never as marvellously clever and funny as when Moore and Davis gave us the longer tales, but as a final page here, this is a perfect little sign-off.