Shot Glass of Rocket Fuel: 2000 AD Progs 1800 - 1807
By Chris Gannon
07 November 2012 — Greetings Earthlets, and welcome to the first bumper-sized edition of Shot Glass of Rocket Fuel, my new 2000 AD review series. For those of you who aren't familiar with 2000 AD, it's a sci-fi anthology title created in 1977, back when the year 2000 seemed like a long way off and a children's anthology title wasn't expected to last quite that long. 2000 AD has had quite a storied history, one you could write a book about. In fact, someone has: Thrill-Power Overload by former editor David Bishop. For those of you familiar with the name but not the actual title, here's the long and short of it: 2000 AD features a rotating set of five- and six-page stories by various writers and artists. The lead strip is usually Judge Dredd, which has only been absent from three issues to my knowledge (1, 1100, and 1139), and has its own monthly title: Judge Dredd Megazine. The other strips will have short runs before being rotated out and could be returning stories, entirely new stories, or one-offs. Okay, with the past established, let's get on with the present. I'll provide reviews by story rather that by issue, with the issues that they appear in in parentheses.
Judge Dredd (1800 – 1807)
By Chris Weston, Mike Carroll, PJ Holden, Rob Williams, Mark Harrison, Al Ewing, and Henry Flint
Judge Dredd is a Judge of Mega City One, a vast metropolis stretching from Washington DC to Boston, and surrounded by an irradiated desert which is the result of a global nuclear war. The Judges are the police, the army, and the government, dispensing instant justice in a city ruled by boredom and violence.
Last July a story called "Day of Chaos" began, and writer / Dredd co-creator John Wagner claimed it would change Dredd's world forever. He wasn't kidding. Over 40 issues, he proceeded to have Mega City One attacked by every major enemy they'd accumulated over the previous 30-odd years of the strip's existence. (Judge Dredd runs in real time, so one year of our time is equal to one year in the strip.) At the end, 350 million of Mega City One's 400 million citizens had been killed by a horrific virus, the Academy of Law and most of the cadet Judges had been destroyed, as had a large part of the Judges' surveillance network. One of the things that Wagner said he was looking forward to after he'd finished was seeing how the other writers would handle the new status quo, and, from the stories here, we can see they're handling it in an impressive manner. The first story is from Chris Weston who writes and draws "The Death of DAN-E Cannon," a tale that brings to mind some of the early Dredds. It also serves to give a kicking to Danny Cannon and Steven DeSouza for their 1995 Judge Dredd film just in time for the much better 2012 version. (By the way, see this film if you still can.) Michael Carroll and PJ Holden provide a two-part story following up on their earlier story concerning the return of Dolman, one of Dredd's clones, to the city. Rob Williams and Mark Harrison provide a two-part story about a Sov secret agent who missed the call for Chaos Day. And Al Ewing and Henry Flint serve up "Bullet to Kings Four" and "The Cold Deck," both of which promise more big things for the rapidly shifting political landscape of Mega City One. While Weston, Carroll, Holden, Williams, and Harrison provide fairly self-contained but incredibly enjoyable stories with gorgeous art, the work of Ewing and Flint is the stand out story. It feels like the first part of something big, and that feeling has only grown after reading Prog 1807 which has fast-gained praise for an incredible storytelling feat. A few years ago, going this many issues without a John Wagner-penned Dredd would have left me a bit antsy, but the quality of Williams, Carroll, and Ewing's writing has left me more than happy. God I can't wait for next Wednesday.
ABC Warriors: Return to Earth (1800 - 1807)
By Pat Mills and Clint Langley
The ABC Warriors were robots built to be resistant to atomic, bacterial, and chemical warfare in the 21st century. Thousands of years have passed and the warriors have been trying to bring peace to Mars, which has been ravaged by Civil War. For the first time in years the Warriors need to return to Earth to recruit a new member. As they approach Earth, Hammerstein recounts a tale from his earlier earthbound days.
First of all, the artwork is utterly gorgeous. I often get so lost in Clint Langley's art that I forget to read the story itself. For this tale he employs two styles: his standard digitally painted style, and a black and white / pen-and-ink style with washes for the flashbacks. It's truly stunning to look at and works particularly well with the robots.
With the story itself, I have to say that it's probably the least friendly to new readers as it's a chapter in a story that Mills and Langley have been telling for six years now. Episode to episode it's fairly impenetrable, but when you read them all in a row they're great fun. The initial episodes may be difficult for new readers, but I suspect that the flashback tale should be open enough that everyone will enjoy it. I think this has a few more weeks to run, so I'll have to come back to it again once it's finished. For now, I'm just going to get lost in Langley's art again.
Grey Area: This Island Earth (1800 – 1804)
By Dan Abnett and Lee Carter
In the mid 21st century a large section of Arizona has been given over to housing for extra-terrestrial immigrants, and it's now known as the Global Exo Segregation Zone — or, more commonly, The Grey Area. The area has become dilapidated as more aliens have come to find a new home, and the Exo Transfer Control teams, a heavily armed police force, do their best to maintain the peace amongst the various alien races while combating the more xenophobic factions of the human race.
Grey Area was one of a number of new strips introduced this year, and it's become another one of Dan Abnett's sci-fi hits. If you recognize Abnett's name, I'm not surprised as he seems to be a writer who gets no sleep. He's the go-to name for licensed novels (Doctor Who and Warhammer 40,000 in particular), usually has a credit on 20-30 2000 ADs a year, and has been co-writing various Marvel and DC comics with Andy Lanning for over a decade. The man is a machine, and the quality of his work is incredibly high. This story — painted by Lee Carter in a very gritty, worn-in style — is another one he can be proud to put his name on. This five-part story is adding to a morally complex tale where high-minded goals have been mixed in with reactionary politics and half-baked solutions. I'm looking forward to the next run from Abnett and Carter who are well on their way to establishing this series as a classic.
Terror Tales: Blackspot (1801) and Twisted Tales (1802 – 1803)
By John Smith and Edmund Bagwell, and Bob Byrne
Every so often 2000 AD will have a spot in their schedule that isn't big enough for a standard run of comics, so they usually fill it with a four- to five-page one-off tale. Here they've chosen to give that spot over to John Smith and Edmund Bagwell, as well as Bob Byrne. Smith and Bagwell have previously collaborated on Cradlegrave, one of the best horror stories for some years and a prime candidate for a film adaptation. Once again they've produced a great horror piece about a remote road notorious for a high number of accidents. The end of this will provide you with nightmare fuel for years, and will probably convince you to drive a bit more carefully at night.
Bob Byrne has produced another couple of silent (RE: word-less) strips. What you see is literally what you get, and what you get is very good. Twisted is most certainly the right adjective for it, too. With 16 stories published over the last few years, we're probably close to the point where they can be published in a single collection, a prospect I look forward to greatly.
The Simping Detective: Jokers to the Right (1804 – 1807)
By Si Spurrier and Simon Coleby
Jack Point is a PI working in Angeltown, the scummiest part of the scummiest sector in the scummiest city in all the world: Mega City One. He wears the guise of a Simp, a citizen who uses bizarre clothing and mannerisms as a method of fighting off the endemic boredom of life in the Big Meg. Jack solves crimes for people who don't want to go to the Judges for one reason or another, often getting mixed up with seedy underworld types who would probably kill Jack if they ever found out his dirty secret: he's a member of the Wally Squad, the undercover Judges.
The Simping Detective is a series that was created by Spurrier and Frazer Irving some years ago. This is the first new story for some time, and, given Irving's incredibly heavy workload, Simon Coleby provides art duties here. The story's trademark is its film noir presentation with Point providing puns galore and Marlow-esque narration throughout. Coleby provides some very angular black and white art, with splashes of color. This style is perfect for showing off some of the more freakish denizens of the Big Meg and the more gruesome action. I've sorely missed The Simping Detective, and this has been a welcome return.
Low Life: Saudade (1805-1807)
By Rob Williams and D'Israeli
Dirty Frank is also a member of the Wally Squad, and is keeping a surreptitious eye on the criminals of the Low Life — one of the most poverty stricken parts of Mega City One. Well, he should be, yet he's woken up in a luxury apartment on the moon with no idea how he's gotten there. Oh, and he has to deal with a villain who's something of a shark. Well, not "something of a shark." He has become a shark after bonding his DNA with that of a great white. It's not often that Dirty Frank, a man who refers to himself in the third-person and often loses his ability to keep his internal monologue internal, looks normal next to someone, but Mr. Overdrive (who again is a literal shark) manages it. Lunar City was an idea established early in Judge Dredd's run, but was essentially abandoned. Really, the only other time it's been used again was by Rob Williams for one of his first 2000 AD stories, "Breathing Space," where it had become somewhat underfunded and broken down. I'm looking forward to seeing what Williams and D'Israeli do here. Williams has made Dirty Frank an endearing character, incredibly sympathetic, and mad as a sack of badgers. For my money, there is no one better at drawing futuristic cityscapes than D'Israeli. Also, how can you not love a comic that includes the following panel?
That's right, shark trajectory.
Brass Sun (1800 - 1807)
By Ian Edginton and INJ Culbard
The Orrery is a fully functional, life-size, clockwork solar system. A clutch of planets, moons, asteroids, and comets orbiting a vast, life-giving brass sun via immense metal spars. Its origin and purpose long since forgotten, the once-unified collection of worlds have regressed into eccentric fiefdoms and petty baronies. Some are no longer aware that life even exists on any of the other worlds. The only certainty is that the sun is winding down. The Orrery is dying.
When this was first announced, I was greatly excited. Ian Edginton has produced some great stories that are a mix of sci-fi and fantasy, and this pitch looked like it could be his masterpiece. So far, it's living up to my expectations, providing this vast and beautiful universe realized by INJ Culbard who will be splitting art duties one arc at a time with D'Israeli. It starts with a familiar trope of a young hero sent out by a elderly relative on a quest. In this case, Wren is sent out by her grandfather to travel to the other planets of the Orrery to try to reactivate the sun. Initially she has to escape from her own world, which has fallen under the thrall of a theocracy that has become obsessed with burning those who dare to claim, correctly, that the winters are getting longer and harsher. If you love hard sci-fi, this is definitely not the series for you. Take a look at this image.
Lovely stuff, and I look forward to seeing what Edginton, Culbard, and D'Israeli bring to this over the many years that I hope this runs.
No review of 2000 AD would be complete without mentioning the covers, which really are a gorgeous site to behold. In fact, Pete Wells hosts a blog dedicated to them, often getting a breakdown of how the covers were put together from the artists. It really is recommended reading.
Where to buy 2000 AD
For UK readers, it's just a matter of visiting your local comic book shop or newsagents. For people in the US, getting ahold of physical copies can be difficult due to Diamond, well, being Diamond. You can try pre-ordering it from your shop, or, better yet, directly from 2000 AD's site. For those with iPads, I would suggest getting it through Apple's newsstand.
See everyone next month. Splundig vur thrigg!