Over 45 years, 2000 AD has achieved cult status in the world of comics. While it has passionate fans, there are just as many who have heard of it but have no idea where to begin. Luckily, it’s never been easier to sample what the legendary science fiction anthology has to offer. Neext week sees the release of Best of 2000 AD Volume 1 – the first of six collections highlighting classic series and entry points.
Is this a good entry point for new readers? Comic book critic Rasmus Skov Lykke, who has had limited experience with 2000 AD, joins me to find out. Read on as we discuss the Best of 2000 AD Volume 1 in detail.
Trevor: Hey Rasmus, welcome to How To Love Comics! Before we dive into the meat of this collection, what’s your experience with 2000 AD?
Before reading this collection, I’d only read a handful of Future Shocks by Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, the America storyline of Judge Dredd and a few of Moore’s D.R. and Quinch stories.
It was more something I knew of, than something I actually knew. I know the important role the magazine has played in (British) comics history, the number of influential creators that have come up through it, the names of some of the characters/stories and some of the general tone of the mag. But without having actually read the vast majority of it. So this is a collection for people just like me – who are curious but don’t know where to start – and I was excited to dig into it!
Trevor: You’re in for a treat with this collection. Let’s jump into it.
Judge Dredd: Mutie Block
Written by John Wagner. Art by Kev Walker. Coloured by Chris Blythe. Lettered by Annie Parkhouse.
Trevor: As is 2000 AD custom, the collection opens with a Judge Dredd strip. The challenge of curating Judge Dredd stories is that there are 45 years worth of material to choose from. For me, Mutie Block is an interesting choice as it’s a self-contained tale that’s a piece of a much larger meta-story.
I’ve read pieces of that story, so I was familiar with the themes and where it’s taken. However, I think new readers could pick it up with little context, especially if they’re politically aware.
Rasmus: I didn’t really pay much mind to it being part of a larger meta-story. There’s some mention in the beginning of the mutants being granted the opportunity to move into Mega City One, which is a new thing and something that the citizens within aren’t exactly happy about.
When I read it, I actually just took it as backstory. Something that had happened off screen, prior to the story’s beginning. I didn’t feel like I’d missed out on any part of the story, because everything was introduced pretty organically to me, as a reader.
And as a story, I think it works very well as an introduction to Dredd’s world. For the first long stretch, he isn’t even in it. We’re just introduced to the world of Mega City One, with all the horrible – yet all too relatable – facets of the world. Because, honestly, it doesn’t take much for this to be a story about 2022 Britain (or any other Western country, really) and its relationship with refugees, instead of the dystopian future of Mega City One and the mutants.
It’s a great story to show that much of 2000 AD will show a heightened version of our reality. It’s satire, with a very clearly defined message. Or at least that’s how I’ve understood the mag, from the outside. This first story seems to confirm my ideas, at least for now.
Trevor: I agree, it’s a great example of the dark satire that the strip does so well.
Mutie Block is a good example of how action-packed the strip can be. Here, Dredd is a one-man army, which makes for an exciting read as he takes out a colourful collection of bigots. It’s the style of action that’s not too dissimilar to the 2012 Dredd movie.
Overall, it’s a great selection that ticks many of the boxes for an introduction to Judge Dredd.
Written by Dan Abnett. Art by INJ Cullbard. Lettered by Simon Bowland.
Trevor: Compared to the other strips in this collection, Brink is relatively new, starting in 2016 and still going. However, it definitely deserves to be part of the Best of 2000 AD collection due to its blending of genres and excellent art.
For readers unfamiliar with Brink, it has a great premise. In the late 21st century, Earth has become unlivable, with mankind living on space stations that orbit it. It’s not an ideal way to live, resulting in many dangerous cults and sects springing up. The series follows investigators who try to unravel the latest cult before it can do any harm.
What did you think of this one?
Rasmus: Didn’t like it as much as Mutie Block.
In many ways, it felt like it was trying too hard, I think. A lot of effort was being made to show the reader facts about the world, in small info boxes. They were distracting to me. Now, I know that part of that is simply that this is a collection, which means if I’d been reading it weekly, it would’ve been a nice reminder instead.
It also, strangely enough, took longer for me to get into the world. I didn’t quite get what was going on, both with the world and the plot, for longer than Mutie Block. Part of that might’ve been down to being more familiar with Dredd’s world, than Brink’s, which was wholly new to me. Even more than Mutie Block, it felt like I was coming in in the middle of a story, with the world and the characters not being properly explained to me.
Trevor: A lot of it comes down to how it’s serialised. Being released in 5-page increments means you can’t dedicate too much real estate to explaining things. At the same time, Brink takes its time to unpack the various elements. However, when it does, it hits a really nice groove.
INJ Culbard’s art is fantastic in this. His style is clean, with a colour palette that straddles the line between science fiction brightness and the griminess of some of the locales. I also appreciate how he kept pages interesting during the talky moments by varying the angles and panel compositions.
My previous reservations aside, I did find it very interesting at the end. I want to read more and hope there’s more in the next volume. I’m invested in the characters, the plot and even a bit in the world. It just took longer to get there.
Trevor: It was a good cliffhanger to end on – and it wasn’t even the end of the first arc! The entire arc is 75 pages long, too much for the nature of this collection, but they give readers enough of a taste to check out the trade paperbacks. The marketer in me was happy to see a page dedicated to promoting them straight after the story.
Rasmus: I’m glad you brought those up, because I very much agree!
Having never read these stories before, it’s very nice to have a nice clear and easy path to follow going forward. It was there with Mutie Block, with Brink, will be there with Halo Jones and the rest of the strips. With the second Dredd strip, they’ll even feature a second type of Dredd collections, giving us the option of following the character in story arc centric collections or going with more complete, chronological collections.
It’s appreciated and it’s a smart move by 2000 AD.
The Ballad of Halo Jones
Written by Alan Moore. Art by Ian Gibson. Lettered by Steve Potter. Coloured by Barabara Nosenzo.
Trevor: The Ballad of Halo Jones was 2000 AD’s first female-lead strip during a time when British comics were very much segregated by “boys’ comics” and “girls’ comics”. You could even say it’s the two coming together. It combines a female lead caught in a perilous situation that they need to rise above – a common element of girls’ comics – and the science fiction adventure of boys’ comics.
Moore and Gibson have crafted a science fiction equivalent of the housing estate. It’s a hostile environment, with plenty of struggles, and populated with weird aliens. Best of 2000 AD Volume 1 collects the first story arc, which introduces readers to the title character, her struggles, and her drive to escape from it all for something better.
How does this compare to the other Alan Moore work you’ve read?
Rasmus: Hmm, that’s a tough question.
It’s clearly earlier than most of the other comics, with a less clear mission for the work. It’s also impacted by being created to work in smaller episodes. So it’s smaller chunks of story, every chapter, than I’m used to from the American comics market. That being said, he does manage to make each episode work as its own small story, with a beginning, middle and end, even if they’re all also part of a larger story.
That story is only hinted at in this first book, though. From what I knew of Halo Jones prior to reading it, I know it’s a science fiction story, with space travel and adventure and all that. There’s not much of that here. Instead we’re following Jones, her friend and their dog, as they go about their daily life on a futuristic and mostly dystopian Earth. It’s more worldbuilding and creating background for what’s to come. Which creates an interesting disconnect between what you’re reading and what you might know is to come, because it might be hard to get properly invested in the world beyond Halo Jones, when you know they’re going to be left behind.
Though all of that is of course me bringing an experience to the work that’s not intended or there on its own. Which is why it’s good that the comic is so good. It’s very engaging and you do end up caring about the characters and the interesting world they inhabit.
Trevor: It’s definitely a launching pad for future stories.
It’s also worth noting that this is probably the best example of Alan Moore writing female characters. He hasn’t always had the best reputation, often criticised for putting them in bad situations that come at their own expense. However, The Ballad of Halo Jones bucks this trend. While the comic’s world is hostile towards women, it’s written in a way that inspires the Halo rise above it instead of giving into it. It makes her a stronger character instead of another victim.
Strontium Dog: The Sad Case
Written by John Wagner. Art by Carlos Ezquerra. Lettered by Tom Frame.
Trevor: The Sad Case is short, sweet, and approachable. It doesn’t require prior knowledge of the bounty hunter series, sprinkling in some of the odd humour Strontium Dog is known for.
Rasmus: I have to say, this was the one story in the collection that didn’t work for me. It felt trite, predictable and juvenile.
I think it comes down to the odd humour just not working for me. The story doesn’t really have a point or anything it seems to want to say. Which can be fine, not every story needs to have some grand theme, some can just be entertainment. But when the things that are meant to entertain me just leave me cold, it felt very pointless.
It’s not a bad story, by any means. Wagner and Ezquerra are far too competent for that. Things are told well enough, the characters are (mostly) well defined and there’s a certain logical progression to the events. I just didn’t really care.
Did it work better for you, Trevor?
Trevor: I can see what you mean. I’ve read a bit of Strontium Dog, and I wouldn’t say The Sad Case is one of the top-tier stories. I thought it was mildly entertaining, but I could give or take it.
I can only assume this one was chosen for a few reasons. 1. you’ve got to include Strontium Dog if you’re doing the Best of 2000 AD. 2. This one is short and stands on its own. 3. The original run of the series is in black and white.
It might not be the best story, but it’s probably enough for new readers to know Strontium Dog exists. From there, they might check out the classic material.
Anderson, Psi Division: Shamballa
Written by Alan Grant. Art by Arthur Ranson. Lettered by Steve Potter.
Trevor: We’ve got another long story with Shamballa. While it’s in the back half, you could consider it the tentpole of the collection. It has an introduction by Adam Karenina Sherif and takes up a significant chunk of the book. And with good reason – it’s so good! This Judge Anderson story deserves its place in the top tier of Judge Dredd spin-offs.
Rasmus: While the introductory essay by Sherif was good, I’d have preferred it to be after the story. For an anthology like this, it’s meant to draw in new readers, who haven’t read the story before. So having an essay go into details of the story, before actually experiencing it on its own, seems like a mishap to me.
Trevor: I didn’t mind the placement of the essay. I don’t think it went into enough detail to go into spoiler territory, but I can understand if readers want to go into a story blind.
Rasmus: I am a stickler for spoilers, so I might just be overly sensitive towards these things.
The story itself was great. It showed a very different, but still recognisable, view of Dredd’s world. Anderson is a very different protagonist and her story is very different. It has some of the same satirical undertones, but in a more serious mode than Dredd. It holds up a darker mirror to the world it was created in.
Trevor: Dredd and Anderson operate in different modes. Judge Anderson’s stories are more introspective and character-driven. Thematically, they can go in different directions. For Shamballa, this means exploring ideas such as spiritualism, esoterism, folklore, and legend. She’s a scalpel, whereas Dredd is a sledgehammer.
Changing the subject, Arthur Ranson is phenomenal. He’s been mentioned a few times on the site this year, but I can’t get enough of him. His style occupies this unique space between photorealism and the surreal in a way that’s perfect for Judge Anderson.
The photorealistic elements capture emotion really well, whether it be the subtle expressions in the introspective moments or the smile she can’t contain during her time with Mikhael. These are captured with fine and tight lines and complemented by heavy drop shadows where necessary. It gives depth to the character and the story, making you more invested in them.
However, his art shifts gears in the surreal moments. Photorealism is incorporated into less conventional page layouts. Without going into too much detail, the best example is the encounter with the monk. There’s a great use of empty space and panels completely change shape, but it all works so well.
Rasmus: Arthur Ranson was someone I wasn’t familiar with prior to this and that needs to change.
When I saw the first few pages, I was hesitant. He has a very photorealistic style, that looks almost like traced photographs. This sort of art often leaves me cold, because it’s stiff, lifeless and unimaginative, because the artists using it often struggle drawing anything that can’t be traced.. But that’s very much not the case here. Ranson does marvellous work, capturing both emotion, imaginative layouts and a rich and believable world.
In an all around great story, his art was the highlight.
Judge Dredd: Spok’s Mock Chocs
Written by Alan Grant. Art by Brendan McCarthy and Jamie Hewlett. Letters by Tom Frame.
Trevor: We’ve got another Judge Dredd story. Although, this one is tonally different from the one that opened the collection. It has a wild energy thanks to Brendan McCarthy and Jamie Hewlett’s vivid colours and animated linework.
Rasmus: These are some wild six pages.
The art is doing a lot of the work here, but the story is also very over the top. It’s more the kind of story I, prior to actually reading any Dredd stories, expected from the character. It’s taking an event that could happen now and turning it up to 11.
A chocolate bar manufacturer – the titular Spok’s Chocs – rushes a product out, despite testing showing that there might be some side effects. This part could happen now. The part where those eating the bar turn into insane bite crazy lunatics, that bite anyone around them in a wild frenzy, before dropping dead… That part’s pure Dredd. As is the resolution to the story.
Dredd – with the help of the Judges department – quickly finds out what’s happening and goes after the owner of Spok’s Chocs, Spok. But the joke’s on Dredd, because Spok is deadly ill and won’t live for more than a few days, thus cheating the Justice Department of him serving his sentence. But Dredd’s having none of it. Instead of imprisoning Spok in a jail cell, he puts him in suspended animation, until a cure for his illness can be found and he can serve out his sentence.
It’s a wonderfully extreme end to the story. It’s a short story that resonates with our own life, where the rich put ordinary people at risk and escape the consequences. Not so here. It’s a great piece of dumb, fun satire.
Trevor: The ending is excellent. While many stories have similar twist endings, often shown to show Dredd’s black-and-white interpretation of the law, this one, in particular, is a lot of fun because it captures the wild energy of the rest of the story.
D.R & Quinch’s Agony Page
Written by Jamie Delano and Alan Davis. Art by Alan Davis. Inks and colours by Mark Farmer. Letters by Steve Potter.
Trevor: This one-pager is a bit of fun. Not as good as Alan Moore/Alan Davis’ longer stories but captures some of the chaotic energy that the series is known for.
Rasmus: Not much to add here, really. It’s a fun one-pager, with some typically amazing art by Alan Davis. The joke’s funny and over the top, which fits much of this collection. A fitting page to go end with.
Odds and Ends
Rasmus: I appreciate that in just this one collection, we get almost all the characters and creators classically most associated with the mag. There’s Alan Grant, John Wagner, Alan Moore, and Carlos Ezquerra working on characters like Judge Dredd, Halo Jones, Judge Anderson, Strontium Dog, and D.R. & Quinch. It’s an impressive line-up and it makes me curious how they’re going to keep it up for volume two of this anthology series.
Trevor: Best of 2000 AD is not simply a one-off. There will be six collections in total, which will be released quarterly. Volume 2 is due in January and will feature an Al Ewing Judge Dredd story, ABC Warriors, Nemesis The Warlock, and more.
Additionally, for those who are not aware, 2000 AD is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year. How To Love Comics has been celebrating all year with 45 Years of Thrills. Check it out if you want even more 2000 AD reading recommendations.
Trevor: Overall, this is an excellent introduction to 2000 AD for those new to the anthology. It gives you a couple of the classics, or in some cases, accessible examples of some series, and is a great launching pad for people to search out more material.
Rasmus: I very much agree. I went in, not knowing much of the material or many of the characters beyond their name, and I got a collection where the vast majority of stories worked for me. And not alone did they work, they made me eager for the next collection and made it much more likely that I’ll seek out other 2000AD collections in the future. A job well done, Tharg and crew!