2000 AD: The Real House of Ideas

Think about some of your favorite comics writers and artists: Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis, Dave Gibbons, Brian Bolland, Simon Bisley. What do they have common besides being citizens of the UK? All of these comics creators cut their teeth writing for the British science fiction comics anthology 2000 AD. 2000 AD has come out every week since February 26, 1977 with a blend of eight page (or more) science fiction and occasionally fantasy, horror, or mystery titles. Each issue is called a “prog”, and the editor is Tharg the Mighty, a green alien from a planet orbiting Betelgeuse, who writes the introduction to each prog and gives out prizes for artwork or stories in pounds sterling or “galactic groats”. However, 2000 AD‘s current “real” editor is Matt Smith, who has written several Judge Dredd comics and novels as well as a Judge Anderson miniseries for the American publisher, IDW. Dredd is the most popular 2000 Acharacter and appeared in its second prog. His morally ambiguous actions along with the political satire and dark humor of his comic is a good example of a 2000 AD comic, which are full of imaginative worlds, bold satire, and innovative writing and art from Simon Bisley’s acrylic paintings of the Celtic barbarian Slaine to the crowded blocks of Mega City One (still) depicted by Carlos Ezquerra.

But who are some of the most interesting and enduring characters of 2000 AD? There is Judge Joe Dredd, the uncompromising lawman who keeps law and order in Mega City One, a dystopian city built on the remains of the East Coast of the United States. He has appeared in two feature films: the critically panned Judge Dredd (1995) starring Sylvester Stallone and Dredd (2012), which was closer to the tone of the comics, but sadly underperformed at the box office. (2000 AD has put together a petition for a sequel though.) In 2000 ADDredd has been part of many epic storylines, including  1982’s “The Apocalypse War” about the invasion of Mega City One by East Meg One, a Soviet megacity and “Judge Death Lives”, which introduced the undead Dark Judges. Another major 2000 AD character is Rogue Trooper, a genetically enhanced, blue-skinned soldier co-created by Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons. He is from a planet called Nu Earth where the “Norts” and “Southers” have been fighting for generations and have started to use chemical weapons. Rogue Trooper is on a one man quest to kill the “traitor general” and end this painful conflict. His friends are dead, but he has saved three of them in the form of biochips on his weapons and gear. Judge Dredd and Rogue Trooper are action-packed dystopian and military sci-fi, but they are also sharp critiques of authoritarian governments and the horrors of war.

Johnny alpha

Another big 2000 AD strip was Strontium Dog, made by the co-creators of Judge Dredd, John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra. Strontium Dog was a darker take on the “mutants as outcasts” narrative of Marvel’s X-Men in that the mutants have physical deformities as well as superhuman abilities. One of them is Johnny Alpha, who hunts criminals as a bounty hunter or “strontium dog” because mutations come from a radioactive strontium isotope. He even travels back in time to put Adolf Hitler on trial for his crimes and eventually dies a sacrificial death. Even though it’s not science fiction, Slaine is another popular 2000 AD strip and character created by the first 2000 AD editor Pat Mills and his wife, artist Angela Kincaid. Slaine is a blue, barbarian warrior, who fights and meets characters based on Celtic mythology. He himself is based on Cu Chulainn, the hero of the Ulster Cycle of myths. He begins as a wandering exile, but over the years becomes a father and hero with the power of the “warp spasm” , a potent berserker rage.

These are just a few of the many heroes and anti-heroes whose stories can be found in 2000 AD. It used to be very difficult for American readers to get their hands on these comics with the exception of the occasional Judge Dredd trade or crossover. However, in 2007, 2000 AD went digital, and digital versions of progs and larger collections are now available in an accessible PDF/CBZ (comic reader) format for phones, tablets, laptops etc. The recent prog 1900 is a good jumping on point and features a Judge Dredd police procedural story by Wagner and Ezquerra and Stickleback, a steampunk crime series set in late Victorian England with a villain protagonist and black and white painted art from D’Israeli. The final story in the prog is Kingdom, which is written by Dan Abnett (Guardians of the Galaxy) and is about a genetically engineered dog named Gene the Hackman, who protects the last remnants of humanity on a bleak Earth from killer insects called Them.

2000  AD has published thousands of progs with even more characters, and there is definitely a lot to take in over the different eras. However, 2000 AD is full of diverse and imaginative fictional worlds with a sharp satirical bite and often an irreverent attitude. The anthology format allows for a variety of kinds of stories to be packed in a single comic, and if you get hooked on Dredd or Slaine or Anderson Psy Division, there are trade paperbacks, such as the affordable Judge Dredd Case Files reprinting all the Dredd stories from prog #2 onwards. So if you get tired of capes, tights, or even Adventure Time, remember there are new (to you) worlds to be discovered. Didn’t like Silk Spectre’s portrayal in Watchmen? Check out Alan Moore’s The Ballad of Halo Jones,a humorous and at times emotional story about an ordinary woman living in the 50th century. Did you like Brian Bolland’s art in Killing Joke? Check out more of his work in the 22 part Judge Dredd epic “Cursed Earth” featuring a new take on mutants. There is something for any sci-fi or genre fiction fan in 2000 AD’s deep back catalogue of titles.