The beloved British anthology comic 2000 AD has been published weekly since February 1977. The 40th Anniversary Special (22 February 2017) of “the galaxy’s greatest comic” features Judge Dredd, Zombo, Ro-Busters, Durham Red, Sláine, Nikolai Dante, and a 2000 AD 40th Anniversary Primer. Cover artwork by Carlos Ezquerra with a variant cover by David Aja.
The 2000 AD 40th Anniversary Special (also referred to as the ‘Special Bumper Birthday Issue’) begins in the deservedly indulgent and endearingly irreverent manner befitting a true “celebration of four decades of thrill-power”: Judges Anderson and Hershey, accompanied by Devlin Waugh, Walter the Wobot, ‘Mean Machine’ Angel, and the Dark Judges are filming a video birthday greeting for 2000 AD, seemingly more than a few drinks into a cheeky booze-up, when Dredd shows up uninvited. Mega-City One’s alpha lawman is predictably disgusted to discover that the party is in honour of the “seditious freak-out weirdo magazine” 2000 AD. Written by ‘The Mighty One’ (TMO) himself and illustrated by Jock, this frivolous one-pager sets the tone for the revelry to follow.
Foremost among the anniversary antics, another five gratulatory single-page appearances by the likes of John Probe of M.A.C.H. 1, Hammerstein and Mek-Quake of A.B.C. Warriors, Middenface McNulty of Strontium Dog, Tomás de Torquemada of Nemesis the Warlock, and Cyber-Matt (current 2000 AD editor Matt Smith). Scripted by TMO and featuring art by Rufus Dayglo, Mark Sexton, Patrick Goddard, Mike Collins, and the legendary Bryan Talbot, and with lettering by Simon Bowland, these one-pagers – interspersed between the longer feature strips – are impudent, mischievous, recalcitrant, unrepentant, and populated by rascals; they both stand as highlights of the 40th Anniversary Special and epitomise what devoted readers have come to expect from each weekly issue of 2000 AD over the years.
Judge Dredd opens the 40th Anniversary Special proper with an atmospherically illustrated, solidly scripted, but largely unremarkable police procedural in the form of ‘Blood’ (written by John Wagner, with art by Carl Critchlow and the letters of Annie Parkhouse). Like many of the strips featured in the 40th Anniversary Special, ‘Blood’ engages with the theme of ‘ruby red’ (as fortieth anniversaries are associated with ruby). Without an Ugly Clinic, Aggro Dome or sky-surfer in sight, we find Dredd plodding grimly around Mega-City One, casting a pseudo-forensic – but ultimately weary – eye over a large pool of blood (and a vomit stain) found in an alleyway, and investigating further. While arguably a masterclass in retroactive action, the resultant tale of bastardry, kidnapping, murder, and even more murder seems to struggle with pacing (i.e. builds too slowly and concludes too quickly) and an all-pervading, fatigued insouciance.
Replete with “oozing, pustulent flesh” the half-human, half-zombie biological weapon-on-legs Zombo delivers a welcome dose of eccentrically violent action-comedy in Al Ewing and Henry Flint’s ‘Z.O.M.B.O.’ When Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service Director Snarle pairs “public school toff with a hidden heart of gold” Agent Tarquin Ruby with the undead cockney Zombo (Zombie-Human Originated by Macro-Power Bio-Puncturation) to repel the fiendish attacks of foreign agents “from the thinly disguised Republic of Communigrad” the result is a genuinely hilarious spoof of the 1970s secret agent / action hero comic genre. As the villains of Communigrad open fire – targeting Zombo’s compu-printed codpiece, which acts to regulate “his awesome zombie power” – bullets fly to no effect as Zombo strips off and gets to work wrenching apart limbs, decapitating with karate chops and tearing out hearts, and naturally enough the doomed malefactors cry out “Nain!” and “Stak!” before they perish. The unbridled aggro leaves poor Agent Ruby (“the boring half of this duo”) positively startled and left to stammer: “I-I’ve never seen such unremitting brutality – and I went to Eton!” In the context of the 40th Anniversary Special, Zombo is a satirical show-stealer.
Hot on the rotting heels of Zombo, the warped shenanigans of former sewer droid Ro-Jaws and his second-hand robot compadres Hammerstein (ex-military robot and A.B.C. Warrior) and Mek-Quake (the psychotic robot kill-dozer) in Ro-Busters, ‘Seeing Red’. With the disaster / rescue squad robots of Ro-Busters worried that the unrelentingly perverse Ro-Jaws is “not his usual foul-mouthed self” Hammerstein decides to get to the bottom of things. The cause of Ro-Jaws’ capitulation and self-reinvention as an obedient and politely-spoken “reformed character” becomes apparent (after much violent cajoling by Hammerstein) and soon the former robot soldier is seeing red. Opting for peskiness over brutality, the Ro-Busters overwhelm the singular source of Ro-Jaws’ dismay and get the job done in their typically eccentric manner. Writer Pat Mills offers the kind of biting satire of contemporary capitalist Britain that he’s renowned for, and artist Clint Langley is in as formidable form as ever. Ellie de Ville brings the letters.
Vampiric mutant bounty hunter Durham Red teams up with fellow Strontium Dog Johnny Alpha in ‘The Judas Strain’. Written by Lauren Beukes and Dale Halvorsen and illustrated by the master, Carlos Ezquerra, the story unfolds in true sci-fi western style on “the devastated planet of Tokay” with our favourite Stronts “searching for survivors to testify against notorious warlord Leopold of the Gotha.” Coquettish and confident, Durham Red leads the comparatively uptight Alpha through a melee among Tokay’s cracks and crevices, the interplanetary delivery of a star witness alien queen, a fancy party with a blood fountain and a memorable cocktail dress, and a heaping helping of revenge – served cold-blooded, with a side dish of sprandelions. ‘The Judas Strain’ is bloody good stuff in the vein of classic Strontium Dog.
To prove his worthiness and gain admission into the Sessair tribe’s elite warrior group known as the Red Branch, a fifteen-year-old Sláine must undergo a series of trials against fellow youth Calad. Under the watchful eyes of trial masters Cathbad and Trego, the two young Celts are pitted against each other. As the trials degenerate from desperate goriness to blatant madness, Sláine discovers the duplicity of one of the trial masters and decides to create an extra vacancy in the Red Branch. Written and illustrated by the dynamic duo of Pat Mills and Simon Davis, ‘Red Branch’ owes as much to Monty Python’s Black Knight as it does to the Red Hand of Ulster.
Swashbuckling con-man and womaniser (and illegitimate scion of the Romanov dynasty!) Nikolai Dante gatecrashes Tsar Vladimir’s anniversary party with a mind to filching the Faberge Ruby – or something else equally rare and exquisite – and at the same time proving that he truly is a “sex-god” and “too cool to kill.” When Natalia Rostov, aka ‘The Scarlet Spider’, attempts to assassinate the Tsar using her army of cybernetic arachnoids, Dante springs into action in typically debonair fashion, ably assisted by his on-again-off-again love interest, the Tsar’s daughter, Princess Jena. Featuring cameos by Judge Dredd, Johnny Alpha, Halo Jones, and Ro-Jaws, ‘Devil May Care’ is written by Robbie Morrison with art by Simon Fraser, colours by Gary Caldwell, and letters by Annie Parkhouse.
To its credit the 40th Anniversary Special also includes a handy 2000 AD 40th Anniversary Primer comprised of a one-page fact-file for each of the issue’s featured characters, specifically Judge Dredd, Zombo, Ro-Busters, Durham Red, Sláine, and Nikolai Dante. Each fact-file details the character’s first appearance in 2000 AD along with recommendations for where to start reading (e.g. collected volumes and specific progs), listening (via the 2000 AD Thrill-Cast podcast) or watching (via the 2000 AD ABC video alphabet series), accompanied by interviews with the respective creators. The Primer works as a decent starting point for readers new to 2000 AD, or reference resource for ‘Squaxx dek Thargo’ and ‘Deca Thargo’ alike.
With its ‘ruby red’ theme, playful one-pagers and carefully considered selection of ‘greats’ from the past four decades, the 2000 AD 40th Anniversary Special offers a polished balance of the irreverent and the action-packed, the saucy and the serious. Considering the enormous cast of characters – both beloved and bemoaned – and influential strips to have appeared in the “galaxy’s greatest [anthology] comic” since 1977, such equilibrium is not easily achieved: ‘The Mighty One’ and his horde of script and art ‘droids’ have done very well indeed.
Title: 2000 AD 40th Anniversary Special
Publisher: Rebellion Publishing
Reviewer: Paul Hardacre