BOOK REVIEW: 2000 AD’s Greatest: Celebrating Forty Years

Title: 2000 AD’s Greatest: Celebrating Forty Years

Author: Pat Mills, John Wagner, Alan Grant, Carlos Ezquerra, Kevin O’Neill, Steve MacManus, Brian Bolland, Colin Wilson, Steve Dillon, Dylan Teague, Duncan Fegredo, John Burns, Rob Williams, Malcolm Shaw, John Smith, and Chris Weston

Publisher: Rebellion Publishing

Published: 08 February 2017

RRP: $15.99 USD

From humorously twisted Future Shocks to the dystopian escapades of Judge Dredd, 2000 AD has inspired generations of readers for decades and has spawned some of the greatest talents in the comics industry. A selection of writers and artists from all periods of 2000 AD’s forty-year history were asked to choose their favourite one-off story. The result was this anthology containing the thrills that made them the droids they are today!

The iconic British anthology comic 2000 AD is preparing to celebrate its fortieth anniversary during February 2017. From numerous 2000 AD-related art exhibitions to the “immersive live extravaganza” of the imminent 2000 AD: 40 Years of Thrill Power Festival – replete with its “Prestige events! Original programming! Exclusive merchandise! [and] Live drawing!” – the living legacy of “the galaxy’s greatest comic” is being honoured like never before. Coincident with the anniversary celebrations, a number of commemorative publications from Rebellion Publishing including the anomalous anthology, 2000 AD’s Greatest: Celebrating Forty Years.

By employing the editorial device of asking current 2000 AD creatives and alumni to select their favourite one-off story, 2000 AD’s Greatest adroitly skirts the nigh-impossible task of generating a truly representative anthology properly encapsulating the small mountain of stellar strips to have emerged from the ‘Nerve Centre’ during the past four decades. The result is unashamedly indulgent and more than a little Dredd-heavy, neither characteristics detracting overly from what is an insightful and educative miscellany.

Comprised of thirteen stand-alone strips originally published in 2000 AD throughout a period spanning from Prog 5 (26 March 1977) to Prog 1889 (09 July 2014), plus selections from various 2000 AD and Judge Dredd specials and annuals along with the Judge Dredd Megazine, 2000 AD’s Greatest is bookended by tales centering on the comic’s flippantly authoritarian alien ‘host’ and editor, the Betelgeusian Tharg the Mighty (also known as ‘The Mighty One’).

The first, ‘Tharg and the Intruder’, written and illustrated by Kevin O’Neill (who would continue on to great renown via Nemesis the Warlock, Marshal Law and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), tells the gently twisted tale of young Alfie, a ‘renegade Earthlet’ and ‘Wonder Comics’ fan who thinks that “2000 AD is a load of rubbish and …” decides to bust into the 2000 AD ‘production module’ and shirtfront Tharg accordingly. Tharg graciously offers a guided tour – with highlights including his “writer and artist ‘Imaginoid’ robots” and his museum housing relics “from the farthest corners of the universe” – during which Alfie takes it upon himself to break into Tharg’s vault, only to be mauled by Tharg’s ‘living axe’. Unperturbed, Alfie presses Tharg for access to the vault which, unknown to him, contains “undiluted future shocks … stories and images so strong that you will only be able to bear one minute’s exposure to them!” Alfie barely scrapes through ten seconds before his brain is “turned inside out” – understandably so, because it’s at this point in the three page strip that O’Neill’s artwork gives us the first hint of the ghoulish greatness to come, via a nightmarish centre panel. ‘Tharg and the Intruder’ was selected by the immensely talented artist Henry Flint.

The second, ‘A Close Encounter of the Fatal Kind!’, was first published as one of Tharg’s Future Shocks in Prog 102 (03 March 1979). Written by Alan Grant (under his Alec Trench pseudonym) and illustrated by the legendary Carlos Ezquerra (of Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog fame), this six page yarn centres upon the hapless figure of Alec Trench, wannabe comic script writer whose aspirations are crushed by “a thousand rejection slips” from “that stinking Tharg!” Driven to despair, Trench chains himself to his typewriter and jumps off a bridge. His suicide attempt is foiled by an alien duo passing by in their flying saucer in search of a specimen for their experiments. Trench agrees to become their test subject on the condition that he is freed after one month. The aliens concur and a month of ‘tests’ (i.e. torture) ensues. When the alien duo reveal that they considered Trench to have agreed to a test period of one ‘Delta Centauran month’ – “equal to ten … Earth years!” – he promptly hoodwinks his captors (killing them in the process) and teleports back to Earth with a script that would make him “the biggest name in sci-fi!” Unfortunately for Trench, he goofs the coordinates and materialises above Tharg’s ‘Nerve Centre’, plummeting to his death. Naturally the script flutters through the window of the 2000 AD offices, Tharg loves the story and Trench achieves the publishing success he long craved – albeit posthumously. It’s a “pleasingly silly tale” chosen for inclusion by Judge Dredd co-creator John Wagner.

More than half of 2000 AD’s Greatest consists of Judge Dredd strips. The selection spans across the decades, ranging from the very early (Malcolm Shaw and Carlos Ezquerra’s adventurously absurd ‘Krong’, which first appeared in Prog 5) to the more recent (Rob Williams and Chris Weston’s mordantly humorous and surprisingly poignant ‘The Heart is a Lonely Klegg Hunter’, originally published in Progs 1888-1889). Between duking it out with a giant robot gorilla and shepherding Sensitive Klegg – the “crocodilian monster with the soul of a poet” – from the attentions of the Hunters Club (“Shouldn’t that have an apostrophe?”), Mega-City One’s toughest lawman spearheads a merciless crackdown on sugar traffickers (‘The Sweet Taste of Justice’), blows away the blackmailing boss of the Forever Towers Home for the Semi-Dead (‘The Forever Crimes’), crushes the innocent flower-sniffing dreams of a young juve (‘Beyond the Wall’), pursues a runner who “refused an order to halt” and who is then fatally shot for his failure to comply (‘The Runner’), and inspires a devastated and depressed Meat Wagon worker to kill himself (‘Meat’). Featuring scripts from John Wagner, Alan Grant and Rob Williams and a mixture of black and white and full colour artwork from the likes of Brian Bolland, Colin Wilson, Steve Dillon, Dylan Teague, and Duncan Fegredo, these strips – selected by writers Dan Abnett, Alec Worley and Rob Williams and artists Mick McMahon, Tom Foster, Brendan McCarthy, and Jock (Mark Simpson) – are testament to the immense scope and depth of the eccentricities and intrigues of the Dredd universe.

Interspersed among Tharg and Dredd, 2000 AD’s Greatest features a smattering of other classic strips – specifically Grant and Ezquerra’s mutant sci-fi western Strontium Dog (‘Mutie’s Luck’) and Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill’s subversive saga of deviant alien resistance, Nemesis the Warlock (‘The Sword Sinister’) – plus one for the obscurantists via Doctor Sin and his demented occult account of ‘The Strange Case of the Wyndham Demon’ (written by John Smith and illustrated by the fiendishly gifted John Burns) and one for the dyed-in-the-wool fans in the form of ‘Shok!’, a Walter’s Robo-Tale by Steve MacManus and Kevin O’Neill which originally appeared in the 1981 Judge Dredd Annual. ‘Shok!’ achieved some notoriety when the narrative was heavily plagiarised by South African director Richard Stanley for his 1990 underground sci-fi horror film, Hardware; a subsequent court case resulted in MacManus and O’Neill being given writing credits for this now-cult film.

When considered as an exercise in 2000 AD creatives choosing “their favourite one-off story by a fellow creator and [explaining] why they chose it,” 2000 AD’s Greatest delivers the trademark combination of violent action, black humour and accomplished artwork that readers of the revered British weekly have come to expect. Although perhaps best suited to ardent fans and comics aficionados – not to mention readers with some ambition to comics glory – 2000 AD’s Greatest is handsomely produced, as always, by Rebellion Publishing, and deserving of a place among the great and the good of comics industry talent.

Rating: 3.5/5

Reviewer: Paul Hardacre

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