2000AD in 2012 was a symphony in three sections, with the dual Dredd movements flanking the supremely orchestrated conclusion to the much loved Nikolai Dante. Dante’s conclusion may not have gathered the press coverage plaudits that accompanied both Wagner’s terse unrelenting destruction and the contained trickery of Trifecta but for long-term readers the drawing of the curtain on a host of loved heroes and villains captivated the audience as had the strips glorious 15 year bolt through monarchy, masculinity and murder. 2000AD is rarely flawless but for the prog’s featuring The Day of Chaos, Dante and Trifecta everything else could well have been not great and the creds would have been well-spent. Thankfully, and due in no small part to the un-showy stewardship of the magnificent Matt Smith, the rest of the prog was far from ‘not great’, indeed it was bloody excellent and here are 12 of the best non-Dredd moments from the years Progs and Megs.
12) Meg 319 – 321 – Fay Dalton’s American Reaper Adverts
The Megazine featured a great deal of excellent art this year, Jock’s dynamics on Snapshot, Boo Cook’s lush colours on Anderson and Patrick’s Goddard’s magnificent inks on Armitage to name but three, however each instalment of Pat Mills / Clint Langley’s American Reaper also featured mock-adverts from Tharg newcomer Fay Dalton. In a year when the Prog had an abundance of naked ladies these gloriously sexy retro-sirens showed other droids how to put the fetish into the female form. Dalton’s retro technique contrasted beautifully with Langley’s own fumetti style and added an extra world-building layer to yet another joyously insane Mills-verse. More Dalton please Tharg.
11) Prog 1805 – Hammerstein’s still a comedy Target.
Mills / Langley also served up another helping of The ABC Warriors with Langley turning to retro inks to evoke both Bisley Black Hole era Warriors and then stripping back even further for the return of Ro-Busters as more threads of the Savage / Ro-Busters / ABC Warriors / Nemesis patchwork were pulled together. In the midst of a tale came this sublime moment where Mills, who clearly never forgets 2000AD’s roots as a boys comic and knows exactly what boys want, puts the over-proud hero in-front of a gert big tank and repeatedly fires shells into him at point blank range. Detractors will call it silly, any kid reading with think GUN! ROBOT! x100! FANTASTIC! Once more Hammerstein’s pain and pomposity are the readers gleeful joy. ‘BOOM!’ and ‘DANG!’ indeed.
10) Prog 1797 – Aquila vs Eryri
Prog 2012 saw the debut of Gordon Rennie / Leigh Gallagher’s Aquila and its popularity soon ushered in a full strip which took an unexpected turn when the muscular near-immortal hero started taking a beating from just about any other magical creature he encountered. Eryri, attack harpy of Boudicca, was the first to best him and suitably, as the strip rocketed to its conclusion, a re-encounter with a different outcome signalled the eponymous hero’s return to form. Gallagher’s switch of panel style and dynamic composition added to that 2000AD classic storytelling economy of ‘done and dusted on a page’ made this a thrilling moment in an excellent new strip.
9) Prog 1801 – RoadGrave
There were many fine Futureshocks and other associated shorts this year, including the continuation of the very welcome 3hriller extension to the concept but none hit the mark quite as sweetly as the return of John Smith and Edmund Bagwell (Cradlegrave / Indigo Prime) with the slight but superb Blackspot. A simple tale of a road accident that isn’t as it seems and reminiscent of the opening salvo of many a modern horror movie the five pages of downfall reinforce what a major pairing these two talents are. Bagwell’s realistic noir match’s Smith’s bleak damp tales of woe perfectly. Blackspot acts like a coda for Cradlegrave and reinforces why this creative pairing need kept together.
8) Prog 1774 – 1785: James Mckay Gives Good Dino
Pat Mill’s revival of the Prog 1 hit Flesh has been a clear success and in no small part must that be due to the fantastic dinosaur art of James McKay. Despite cramming in the arrival of strange dino-humanoid ‘reptoids’, the future anti-corporation plot and giant spaceships shaped like Stetsons, as well as a great deal of male and female bodice-ripping, the series started with dinosaur carnage, continued with dinosaur carnage and finished off with a great finale of dinosaur carnage. Its a damm good thing McKay is prodigiously talented when it comes to depicting dinosaur carnage.
7) Prog 1768: Absalom Vs Racists
Gordon Rennie / Tiernan Trevallion’s Absalom second full-length outing for grumpy dying cop Harry Absalom reinforced its position as a new fan–favourite with much the same recipe of ghouls, diseased toffs and corruption as before but with a focus on fascism and racist near-do-wells from England’s past. Harry, naturally, comes down on the right side without need for drama or grandstanding, just witty pointed Rennie dialogue when Absalom visits his ex boss at HMP Wormwood Scrubs. While the series gets much due praise for Trevallion’s distinct style, the character would be useless without the great lines given to him by Rennie. Absalom is as good as any twist on the Detective genre in any medium.
6) Prog 1771 – The Invisible Boner (aka: ‘Everything that is wrong with comics today’).
35th Anniversary Prog contained a slew of nostalgia treats, from Chris Weston’s character montage cover to the ‘what if’ series but none was more welcome than the pairing of Pat Mills and the diseased afterbirth of a 2000AD artist orgy that is the splendid Henry Flint on the long absent The Visible Man series. Prog’s 1771 outing, with glorious faux drama ending, may or may not be the full-time return of the unlucky translucent experimental guinea-pig Frank (since returned for a second one-off in Prog 2013) but fears must exist for Flint’s tenuous grip on sanity if he has to draw this insane level of detail every page on a ten week strip. But sanity be dammed, lets hope these two masters of mania keep showing us with treats like the moment when Frank meets his future boo, the (obviously) Visible Woman. Phowar!
5) Carry On Up The Valleys
John Smith specialises in dank weird unsettling tales of urban horror or alternate realities. Colin MacNeil is one of John Wagner’s go to men for brooding Judge Dredd and all-out action. So quite how this delightful comedy soufflé of suspenders and satanic goat sex came about is not high on the list of ‘Obvious Stories Soon appearing in 2000AD.’ To even begin to describe what is going on in Strange And Darke is too complex to attempt but its mix of cheek, cheeks, rude subconscious voices and Beryl Cook-like picture postcard art was a riot and one of the best strips to appear this year. Benefiting from the slightly more adult nature of the Meg to sustain its (mild and comic) sexuality the good-natured rudeness demands a quick sequel.
4) Prog 1781 – The Zaucer goes Zick
Brendan McCarthy’s return to a long-form 2000AD strip, The Zaucer of Zilk, was every bit as deliciously oddball and colour saturated as his many admirers hoped. With Al Ewing on board to help lyrical flow and Len O’Grady invaluable assistance on vibes the Zaucer oscillated wildly through worlds and dimensions as if not very much could touch him. However Ewing and McCarthy had a bad hand ready to deal to Zaucer’s instagram generation super-fan TuTu as her adoration caused her to turn into something something much much worse.
3) Prog 1804 – Brassed Off Planet
Brass Sun, a new strip from longtime Droid Ian Edginton and I.N.J. Culbard seems destined to replace The Red Seas in the ‘fantasy twist’ strand of the Prog as Jack Dancer’s crew sail to their final confrontation early in 2013. The series took an assured and expansive leap from Game of Thrones fantasy to steampunk mechanics with endless planets possibilities in Prog 1804 as waif protagonist Wren discovers there is much more to her world than fleeing a murderous Theocracy and finding somewhere less in need of central heating. Culbard’s stellar year (with Image’s The New Deadwardians) found his minimal neat style find favour with an audience who often criticised the more fluid work of Yeowell on The Red Seas and brought a distinctly different look to 2000AD. Wren’s adventures seem set to run for many years as Edginton strikes winning formula yet again.
2) Death To Everyone, Will Come.
Icabod Azrael is 2000AD black turned up full whack. Despite delays, losing its iconic primary artist and an unfortunate incidence of art plagiarism the character itself retains the potential to be a 2000AD icon. Book II chronicled the dead killer’s travels through time looking for the embodiment of his love (who, naturally, turns out to have merely been a fiction constructed to trap him and return him to Purgatory). And upon it all unravelling and Icabod and the Ferryman of the river Styx being returned, the series ended pure black in heart and fired by Icabod’s brutish ignorance and love as he, marvellously, declares his intention to kill everyone in Purgatory and what lies beyond. Given his record in the first two series one wouldn’t count against it.
Much of this top 12 could have been taken from the last flourish of Nikolai Dante which graced the Prog in three passages in its final year. Simon Fraser’s magnificent spread-pages, John Burn’s final cover, the various deaths, the victory, the final page, the reference right back to the first page fifteen years ago… But to pick one moment of the many to sum up the joy of the series Futureshockd plumps for the departure of the gentle faithful believer in Dante, his mute half-brother Viktor who, having lost his wife in the penultimate battle, finally breaks his silence, embraces Dante and then departs civilization for good. In a page Viktor breaks the Russian Rogue’s heart in ways few women managed through the odyssey. Morrison, Fraser and Burns constructed something truly magnificent over the years and could well have taken the strip into another decade or more but sacrificed the comfort of a guaranteed fan-base to bow out on a finale which, if open-ended, took out the support characters with swaggering aplomb. Dante, now available complete in 11 trades, deserves a place at the high table of not just UK comics but the whole of the genre. It simply is that good. Goodbye Nikolai.
Picking 12 moments naturally leaves out a lot of other great strips and fantastic artists: Yeowell, Jock, Goddard, Holden, Cook, Harrison, Willsher and more. So the following is a role call of other tales which appeared in 2000AD in 2012 listed in order of appearance. If they catch your eye their start issue is listed in the Barney link contained in their title and they are available to purchase on the iphone app or by direct download from the 2000ADonline shop.
Strontium Dog – The Life and Death of Johnny Alpha pt 2: The Project : Script: John Wagner, Art: Carlos Ezquerra
Grey Area – Script: Dan Abnett, Art: Karl Richardson & Lee Grabett
Dandridge – A Christmas Ghost Story: Script: Alec Worley, Art: Jon Davis Hunt
Sinister Dexter- Now And Again: Script: Dan Abnett, Art: Anthony Williams
Age of the Wolf – She Is Legend: Script: Alec Worley, Art: Jon Davis-Hunt
Cadet Anderson – Algol: Script: Alan Grant, Art: Steve Yeowell
Durham Red- The ‘Nobody Wants This Job’ Job: Script: Alan Grant, Art: Carlos Ezquerra
3Hrillers – 1947: Script: Kek-W, Art: Michael Dowling
The Rea Seas – Beautiful Freak: Script: Ian Edginton Art: Steve Yeowell
Lenny Zero – Zero’s 7: Script: Andy Diggle, Art: Ben Willsher
3Hrillers – 15: Script: Tom Taylor, Art :Jon Hunt Davis
Bob Byrne’s Twisted Tales: Script & Art: Bob Byrne
The Judge Dredd Megazine
Armitage: The Underground: Script: Dave Stone, Art: Patrick Goddard
Snapshot: Script: Andy Diggle Art: Jock
Samizdat Squad – Grey Zone: Script; Arthur Wyatt, Art: PJ Holden
Hondo City Justice – Project Behemoth: Script: Robbie Morrison, Art: Mike Collins and Cliff Robinson
Judge Anderson PSI - Stone Voices: Script: Alan Grant, Art: Boo Cook
That was the Prog and Meg in 2012 – as strong a year as there has been and one showing no signs of weakening as Prog 1813 launches into the new year with Dredd, The Red Seas, Ampney Crucis, Strontium Dog and Savage forming the opening salvo.
The rest of the year promises the return of firm favourites such as Mills and Gallagher’s Defoe, Edginton and D’Israeli’s Stickleback, Abnett and MacNeil’s Insurrection as well as Edmund Bagwell taking over art duties on Aliens-as-Gods-as-Superheroes-Gone-Bad apocalypse strip The 10-Seconders….
And much-in-demand cover artist Greg Staples returning to strip work with the highly anticipated Dark Judges by John Wagner:
Physical Subscriptions are available from the 2000AD online shop and from the i0S app for apple users. Apple users can also fill the void between weekly prog’s by playing the free Judge Dredd shoot-em-up game which received a movie-related tarting up at the end of the year as well as appearing in an android verison.
In addition tons of additional reading hours can be wasted enjoyably on the 2000AD readers forums, the excellent Everything Comes Back To 2000AD news / podcast /reviews site and the stunning cover-art tips, treats and insights blog Covers Uncovered – which has just revealed the results of the readers ‘Cover of the Year’ vote. From there its just a short link the the scary Cellar of Dredd, Dread Reckoning, HipsterDad’s Bookshelf… Hell, by the time you’ve done with all those, spare 5 minutes to come back to Futureshockd as we return next week with our quest to document every short tale to have appeared in The Galaxy’s Greatest Comic…