Deep into celebrating its 45th-anniversary last year, the 2000 AD comics anthology released the first of six best-of collections. Dubbed Best of 2000 AD Volume 1, it offered a number of different reprinted stories that highlighted some of what the long-running British institution had to offer. It was a huge success, and we really enjoyed it over at How To Love Comics.
A second volume has now been released, featuring more classic reprints that cover a range of styles of science fiction mixed with other genres.
Is Best of 2000 AD Volume 2 a good way to discover what 2000 AD has to offer? I invited critic and author Corrina Lawson to join me in finding out.
Trevor: Hi Corrina, welcome to How To Love Comics! Before we dive into this collection, what’s your experience with 2000 AD?
Corrina: I had only heard of it by reputation, including how its influence spread over the decades. I knew who Judge Dredd is, of course, but I’d never read one of his stories.
Trevor: You’re in for a treat! Let’s jump into it.
Judge Dredd: Magic Bullets
Written by Al Ewing. Art by Colin Wilson. Coloured by Chris Blythe. Lettered by Annie Parkhouse.
Trevor: The volume opens up with the first of two Judge Dredd strips. This one from 2009 packs a lot in 20 pages, but I think it’s paced well. It’s got commentary on police searches and drones, all wrapped up in a farcical package.
What did you think of it as your first exposure to Judge Dredd?
Corrina: I thought it was well-written, the artwork absolutely created and established the chaotic mood of the tale, and that it was so pitch-dark in its cynicism that it made me wince. I worried that once I read this, I was going to have mostly negative things to say about the collection. (Whew, that proved not the case, as we’ll see later!)
Dredd was basically as I’d thought it might be, cynical, testosterone-fueled, and a little too sympathetic to its’ anti-hero to be fully satire. It’s hard to read the apartment-by-apartment search from the police point-of-view given current events, especially what happened to Breonna Taylor, and not be frustrated that the story wants us to be worried more for the Judges than for the people in the apartments. Instead, the only person hurt who is sympathetic is another Judge, so it’s hard to read it as commentary on police searches.
Also, the only woman with lines is a sex doll/servant. I mean, at least one of the drone murderers could have been a woman, for variety. But this is just so aggressively macho that even if it’s satire, it would make me interested in reading more. I felt kinda slimy when this was finished.
Trevor: I can see why this story was included. Al Ewing has made a big name for himself over at Marvel and 2000 AD wants to capitalise on it if they can with this collection. A big chunk of the smaller stories were already collected last year, leaving this one of the few to pick from.
While it has some interesting ideas, primarily the killer drone elements of the story, I agree that it doesn’t stick the landing with the satirical elements. Some of it’s the farce getting in the way, where the more outrageous parts dull the commentary.
As you’ve mentioned already, this hurts the police search part of the story, where it doesn’t have enough to say. It’s a missed opportunity. Stories such as America or others from a citizen’s perspective do this kind of commentary more successfully.
The police search part and the drone plot elements could have easily been two separate stories. Perhaps in that context, this might have given the former more to say instead of being a slither within a larger tale.
Corrina: Perhaps? As I said, I cannot fault any of the technical aspects of the work and, as an introduction to the world of Dredd, it is excellent at showing the concepts that carry the storyworld. But while Dredd is slightly better morally than the drone-killers, it’s only slightly because he has basically the same contempt for the human race. So, in the end, I think perhaps this is simply not the series for me.
Brink: Book One (Part Two)
Written by Dan Abnett. Art by INJ Culbard. Lettered by Simon Bowland.
Trevor: Next up is Brink. This is a continuation of the first volume, where the ~75-page story has been split in half. Coming into this blind, did you find this a hindrance or were you able to follow it without too much issue?
Corrina: OHO! This is where I got hooked. So hooked. This is a complicated story, there are a ton of moving parts, plot-wise and character-wise, but I didn’t find coming in blind a hindrance at all. Why not? Because the story is so focused on her search for answers that I could see the world through her eyes.
She’s confused, she’s traumatized, but she’s the classic “I don’t care what anyone says, I need to find the truth for myself character” for reasons even she doesn’t understand. While Dredd is an anti-hero, she’s not. She’s morally gray but there’s compassion and understanding for those in her orbit.
This is a dystopian apocalypse story where everyone is so messed up by the situation. But it made me *feel* for everyone involved, even the supposed villains poisoning the water supply. Everyone’s in a mess. Some cope better than others. Some clearly don’t cope at all.
I have a personal preference for artwork with cleaner lines and sharper focus. While the art on the Dredd story is deliberately exaggerated and sometimes unfocused, Brink has art that is a little more realistic and the faces do a better job of conveying their complicated emotions to me.
I need to read more of this.
Trevor: That’s fantastic to hear. It looks like the collection has already reached one of its goals of creating a new 2000 AD reader. As I mentioned in the discussion for the first volume, it’s great to see that the collection includes an ad for the trade paperback collections.
For me, this half of the first arc is where it really hits its groove. The world-building has settled in and the mystery starts to expose itself. We get some answers, but plenty of new questions for subsequent arcs to answer.
One thing that I’ve always enjoyed about Brink is the blend of genres. It has a procedural crime element, with a science fiction backdrop, and this looming cosmic horror that builds with every arc. You won’t find another comic out there like it. To top it all off, it’s done so well.
I really enjoy I.N.J Culbard’s work too. The page layouts do a great job of feeling claustrophobic, with many small panels. While it’s not uncommon for a 2000 AD strip to have a dense layout due to being serialised in five-page increments, it adds another layer to Brink by reflecting the cramped world it’s set in.
Corrina: Yes. Claustrophobic is the perfect description for the layout. You can almost feel the ceilings above their heads and feel the desperation of simply spinning in space in the way the layouts are drawn. I also loved the coloring emphasis on blue as she falls into the underworld, so to speak, where then it all turns red for a page or two.
I happen to be a sucker for multi-genre work, as mashing up so many keeps my brain occupied in ways that doesn’t happen with just one. That’s why, perhaps, this works so well for me. It’s SF social commentary, mystery, and horror all in one.
Nemesis, The Warlock: Book One
Written by Pat Mills. Art by Kevin O’Neill. Lettered by Steve Potter and Tony Jacob.
Trevor: At almost 100 pages, Nemesis, The Warlock is definitely the main event of this collection. There’s a lot to say about this one, where do you want to begin?
Corrina: This series is insane but in so many fascinating ways. One, it’s really more about concepts than characters, at least at first. That’s okay, because I’m like “what the what is all this?” in a good way. The introduction story, with the lost couple on vacation, did make me laugh. There’s dark humor in here. What’s going on? Aliens? Good guys? Bad guys? Neither?
I just love the evolution of Nemesis from an unknown figure to a freedom fighter. By the time the final confrontation began, in the caves, on the cliffs, and over the pit of fire, I realized how invested I was in the ending of the story.
Thematically, it is another pitch-black view of humanity. We’re evil, possibly incompetent, nearly always driven by greed or self-interest, and only on rare occasions do we recognize our wrongs. Given the current political climate, I can’t say a Torquemada may not arise (or maybe already has). I do love that it’s the alien who fights for freedom. I love his design, I love that he looks so not-human.
While that fight in the underground is going to haunt me through my days, it’s the short story of Nemesis basically haunting a small town for their sins against him that packed the most emotional punch for me.
Trevor: Nemesis, The Warlock is a fascinating series. As Tom Shapira mentioned in his introduction, it started off as something else entirely. It just so happened to have this kernel of an idea and grow from there. As apparent from the short stories that start, it looks like Mills and O’Neill are making things up as they go along until they have a bit more bedrock underneath them to tell a much longer story. Once they had that foundation, they told an epic tale in which you could really be invested.
The worldview of this series is pitch-black. Being published in the early 1980s, stories like Nemesis, among many others in 2000 AD, were heavily influenced by the Thatcher era of British politics and reacted to it in many ways.
While the story is great. The real MVP of this strip has got to be Kevin O’Neill. Not only is it incredibly detailed, but it also buzzes with an energy that gives it forward momentum. It also sets the tone, giving its science fiction feel but mashed in with a razor-sharp gothic aesthetic. Did you expect to see something like this coming into this collection?
Corrina: The epicness of this is what surprised me. I expected a darker tone for all the stories, and I expected things going wrong for nearly everyone. What I didn’t expect is this galaxy-spanning epic of good versus evil. (And Torquemada is clearly just EVIL.) And that final sequence on the bridge over fire, with the enemy looming over as a monster recalled, to me, Gandalf versus the Balrog. I sure didn’t expect to recognize a little bit of Tolkien in this. That sequence is where the art shines–but it also does in the quiet panels, as the static panel of Nemesis hanging over the town.
It did grow and become different from the start. Perhaps that added to the epicness?
Trevor: I hadn’t thought of the Lord of the Rings comparison but I can see it now that you mentioned it.
I think it does add to the epicness. Once there was a more established world the series started to go all out.
ABC Warriors: Red Planet Blues
Written by Alan Moore. Art by Steve Dillon and John Higgins. Lettered by Steve Potter.
Trevor: It’s now time for ABC Warriors, what did you think of this one?
Corrina: In the Moore stories I’ve read, sometimes he’s full of righteous anger but sometimes, he’s simply sad and melancholy in his view of humanity. This one fits into the latter category. The robot is looking at humanity from afar, judging it, and finding it wanting. As much as we talk about this being a Moore story, it also belongs to Dillon and Higgins. The art manages to convey not just this bleak landscape and the horror of the alien attackers but also emotions from the robot which, given the expressions never change, is quite a feat.
I love the final panel, with the robot walking away from the graves. It’s a quiet story, not a major work, but it resonates.
Trevor: ABC Warriors is usually a loud series. Thumbing through a trade paperback of the early tales, there are lots of action, big monsters, and artists like Kevin O’Neill, Simon Bisley, and Carlos Ezquerra – whose sensibilities cater for that kind of thing. This makes a quiet story like Red Planet Blues stand out.
Steve Dillion does a great job of showing the emotional beats through body language and the composition of the panels. The opening page is a great example of this, first showing the robot’s back to the reader and then revealing him sitting over a grave. It kind of reminds me of that famous panel of Dr Manhattan from Watchmen. While they’re used in different contexts, I wonder if Moore was inspired by Red Planet Blues (which was published roughly two years before Watchmen) and decided to use it again.
John Higgins’ colours are also fantastic. I love the purples, blues, and greens that he uses throughout. They’re just as much a storytelling device and add to the emotional beats.
Judge Dredd: The Vampire Effect
Written by Alan Grant. Art by Mick McMahon. Art by Tom Frame.
Corrina: This is more of a SF story than a cop-story, isn’t it? It’s a much different tone than the Ewing dread story. You could even remove Dredd from it, replace him with someone else, and it might work just as well. It’s not a story that seeps into the brain (as Ewing’s story did, much as it wasn’t for me) and the art is what carries it for me, especially the big ball of energy just stealing from everything. “Stop feeding it and being counterproductive” could be a battle cry for solving a number of humanity’s current problems.
Trevor: Sometimes Dredd stories are dark satire, reflecting on some facet of society, and other times they can be a vehicle for cool stuff. The Vampire Effect is the latter, being more of a showcase for Mick McMahon’s art.
Looking into this story more, it was part of the 1982 2000 AD Annual. At the time, 2000 AD was completely black and white, so the Annuals offered a rare opportunity for colour. Mick McMahon didn’t waste the chance to make his art truly shine. What would be busy pages in black and white have more depth with the washes of colour.
McMahon is one of the greats. I’m baffled that he didn’t get poached by US publishers the same way many of his peers did.
D.R & Quinch’s Agony Page
Written by Jamie Delano and Alan Davis. Art by Alan Davis. Inked and coloured by Mark Farmer. Lettered by Steve Potter.
Corrina: I love the alien designs here. (Davis never disappoints) but it’s a pretty slight story, isn’t it? There’s some parody of philosophy and then destruction. I imagine it was needed to fill up an issue? It’s not bad, it’s simply not that memorable.
Trevor: I agree. As a one-pager there’s not a whole lot to it. Alan Davis’ art is great in this and he does capture much of the anarchic energy of the longer-form stories he did with Alan Moore.
Odds and Ends
Corrina: I have to note that I don’t see many female credits in this volume. This is not unique to 2000 AD – it’s not like there would be many more on Marvel and DC properties published at the same time – but the emphasis on concepts over character tends to be a male one (to my jaundiced eye) and I can see it a bit in this collection.
Trevor: 2000 AD definitely comes from the tradition of “boys comics”, sewing it very male-centric. It’s something that has slowly gotten better over time, with more strips with female leads and there have been far more female creators contributing to the anthology over the past decade in various creative roles.
Best of 2000 AD Volume 1 did a better job at highlighting female leads, with the first half of Brink, the first book of The Ballad of Halo Jones, and Judge Anderson: Shamballa.
Corrina: Dredd always struck me as a property that was a commentary about the brutality of police officers but ended up being seen as a strip about Dredd’s struggles. In other words, it’s sort of like Fight Club or Watchmen: the original point is lost somewhere along the way. I suspect the depth of the commentary varies from story to story but, as someone reading it in 2023, I’m not sure it would resonate as much to today’s readers. I won’t read more of Dredd (so much stuff to read, so little time) but it’s good to get a flavor of the series.
Trevor: I disagree to some extent. While some of the older stories comment on themes that are very much of their time, there are some that still resonate today. Magic Bullets is probably not the best example of the kind of Judge Dredd commentary in action, with it not quite hitting the mark of other tales. Stories such as America, Letter to a Democrat, Mechanismo: Machine Law, and countless others do a much better job at it. Although, at the same time, I acknowledge that Judge Dredd isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
Corrina: Do you think 2000 AD is a very much product of its time and would be different if published today? It’s clear there’s a lot that an American might not pick up on as much, such as the death of Empire and the evil of Empire. (Americans tend to not think of themselves as an Empire….for whatever that’s worth.)
On the other hand, Brink is a timeless story. As was the Moore tale. So I expect the entire collection is a mix just like this one.
Trevor: The stories that were produced in the 1980s, which was a golden period for the anthology, are somewhat a reflection of their time. They’re very much a reaction to the Thatcher era, where many young creators could rebel and comment on what was happening in the news through thrilling stories. Coming from more of a UK perspective, I guess there would be things that an American reader might not pick up on.
The past two decades have certainly been a second golden age for 2000 AD, which has seen a lot of creative ideas. There’s a lot of genre-blending, which has resulted in modern classics such as Brink, Zombo, Brass Sun, The Out, Thistlebone, and many others.
Judge Dredd is still a mainstay of the anthology too. With the rotating set of writers, the character has been able to switch modes (kind of like what happens with Batman) to tell a range of different stories. The dark satire is still there, often exploring 21st-century themes in a range of different contexts.
Overall, how was your first taste of 2000 AD? Does it make you curious to check out other stories from the back catalogue?
Corrina: It definitely makes me eager to buy the Brink collection and it makes me appreciate the creativity and the ideas generated by 2000 AD that obviously made it into my reading in the 1980s and 1990s.
I’m likely to check out the modern issues rather than the back issues however, for the same reason I tend to like modern SF/Fantasy in general over many of the ‘classics.’ I have to overlook elements from classics that bother me in order to enjoy the story, such as lack of representation of women and those traditionally marginalized in stories. Again, this isn’t a knock on the classic 2000 AD. It’s just that the world changed and I’d rather not risk wincing when I read something as part of the enjoyment process. I wrote about this concerning Julian May’s work, for instance.
I thank you for the window into 2000 AD. I’m pleased to have read it and now I’m scouring eBay for Brink collections. 🙂