While 2000 AD has been wildly successful in the UK and Ireland for many decades, its status outside its homeland has been more of a cult following. However, this has begun to shift in the last 18 months with the Best of 2000 AD collections. The 200-page trade paperbacks offer a greatest hits from the past 45 years, giving readers a good taste of the legendary anthology.
For the first and second volumes, I brought in readers unfamiliar with 2000 AD to see how good these collections were as an introduction. Joining me for the third outing is writer and editor C.M. Crockford, who, like the others, had not read 2000 AD before.
Is Best of 2000 AD Volume 3 a good way to discover 2000 AD? Read our discussion to find out.
Trevor: Hi C.M., welcome to How To Love Comics! Before we dive into this collection, what’s your experience with 2000 AD?
C.M.: So prior to this, much like plenty of other American comics readers who didn’t have the collections, my experience had really been reading about 2000 AD and how significant it was to genre comics. I’d seen some great panels and read encyclopedia entries but nothing else. However, I know of the ill-fated Stallone Judge Dredd movie and I do own the 2012 Dredd, which I really love and think is a pretty terrific Raid rip-off.
Trevor: I’ll be curious about what you think now that you’ve read some. Let’s jump into it.
Judge Dredd: Ghosts
Written by Michael Carroll. Art by Mark Sexton. Coloured by Len O’Grady. Lettered by Annie Parkhouse.
Trevor: Kicking off this collection is the first of two Judge Dredd stories. What did you think of the tale based on what you knew about the character and his world?
C.M.: This felt like the beginning to a bigger epic, like a six-part series about the Sector Zero judges and their operations, the difference between a totalitarian dystopia and fascism, and terrorism. I was mostly pleasantly surprised when it was a brisk, what, twenty page story? I co-hosted a podcast on The Shield and I imagine the original Dredd comics could’ve been an influence on that show – there’s similar tight, minimal plotting and a nice twist that really does pull the rug out from under the reader.
Trevor: That steady pace is very much built into Judge Dredd’s DNA as the comics in 2000 AD are serialised in ~6-page increments and published weekly. The real estate provided really boils down the stories to the essentials and means that they get down to business pretty quickly. I looked it up, Ghosts was 36 pages long and told over six chapters, but it packs a heck of a lot in for what’s essentially less than two standard US comics.
You’re also right that it felt like the beginning of something bigger. There’s a lot of potential to bring Sector Zero back for more stories. However, I think this is their only appearance so far. Perhaps Michael Carroll will bring them back in a future story but at the same time it could be that they served their purpose for the kind of story the author wanted to tell.
C.M.: Ah, interesting, I can feel how tight the storytelling is, sometimes to an exhaustive extent. The framing of the Mega-City One city state inherently brings in those questions about the approach of Dredd’s gnarly, violent methods to the law versus this cabal. Dredd will do horrible shit to people, but he can also hear someone out and give a lesser sentence. (Of course the comic also implies the widow’s sob story may have been a lie – another touch close to The Shield is self-interest as a key human motivator.) The Sector Zero group are outright fascists who see the citizens as sheep to be protected, but maybe any authoritarianism inevitably leads to this kind of mentality.
Trevor: The interesting thing about Dredd’s mentality has always been that he doesn’t recognise any of his methods as being questionable. It’s all within the law, even if it’s unjust from the reader’s perspective. With Ghosts, he’s confronted by a more extreme form of what he does but he’s so programmed into his own way of working that he doesn’t know how to change his own methods so they don’t escalate it.
C.M.: Great point, and that can be seen also in the B&W comics. Dredd does sometimes wonder about how the crime never actually ends, but he also obviously dismisses these thoughts very quickly and never follows the rabbit hole down “law and order enforce crime.” I’d be interested in a storyline with that premise, but maybe that’d really be the end for Dredd.
The one downside is I don’t always love the art here but then I’m not big on that kind of gritty, fleshy, all too realistic style you see in superhero comics as well. Otherwise the action and detail are great and after this I’m probably gonna find a Dredd best-of. This is the kind of pulp I love, hard right wing societies as written by probable lefties and fringe types.
Trevor: It’s not the kind of art that I gravitate towards but I think that Sexton’s art and O’Grady’s colours are a good combination for this kind of story. There’s a strong sense of action and their depiction of Mega-City One makes it feel like an unpleasant place to live in. It’s not a style that works with every mode of Judge Dredd storytelling but it works here.
If you enjoyed this then I definitely recommend checking out Michael Carroll’s other Judge Dredd stories. They operate between hard-hitting action that we saw in Ghosts and crime-thriller, digging deeper into the underworld of Mega-City One.
Written by Gordon Rennie. Art by Frazer Irving. Lettered by Elle De Ville.
Trevor: Next up we have Storming Heaven, a psychedelic series that pits superpowered hippies against an analogue of the Manson Family. What did you think of this one?
C.M.: This was my favorite by far but I am a sucker for counterculture or really any 20th century history getting framed through science fiction or fantasy. Frazer Irving’s use of pinks and purples for the new Laar in contrast with a black and blood red Manson as a Moloch-esque demon entity? Absolutely love it. This felt something out of Alan Moore or Michael Moorcock, where superheroes and genre ideas are taken to really surprising or revelatory places. The names for characters alone were superb like The Chemical Crusader or Mellow Yellow. I almost wanted more time in the story, much like the previous Dredd comic.
Trevor: For me, Storming Heaven is in the Grant Morrison school of thinking when it comes to recontextualising superhero storytelling. It’s the kind of idea that you could’ve seen them do as a Vertigo series at a similar time this was published (2001-2002). The series also features a rapid-fire of ideas, with the introduction of various characters – such as the Acid Enlightenment League, my favourite of the names – put out into the world but not really explored. Instead, they add to the core concepts rich tapestry.
I’m totally with you with Frazer Irving’s work. It’s evocative of Bernie Wrightson, but he’s accommodated it for a more of a psychedelic edge through the colours he uses and page layout. Speaking of layouts, I was very surprised to see a two-page spread in this – something incredibly rare in 2000 AD due to the page limitations.
You mentioned that you almost wanted more time in the story. Is that because of the pacing and length?
C.M.: No question. I lived in San Francisco for a few years during college too, but a Ken Kesey superhero evocation of ‘67 Haight-Ashbury is something you could certainly spend hours and hours with, coming up with different characters and takes on, say, the famous Merry Band of Pranksters. Nevertheless this was such a blast to read.
Trevor: I agree. It was a fun read, even if it was brief.
Written by Ian Edginton. Art by D’Israeli. Lettered by Tom Frame.
Trevor: Next up is Leviathan. Like Judge Anderson: Shamballa, and Nemesis the Warlock in previous volumes, this was the headline story of the collection. I really enjoyed it, what did you think?
C.M.: By far my least favorite, even if I like the early 20th century black and white style of the art. The first half is pretty solid and the horrific premise is just neat as hell – I kept thinking of Snowpiercer with the subcultures inside this smaller monolith. But the second chunk really fell apart. Not only did the major twist not work for me, as it felt really abrupt and the detective seemed absurdly willing to go along, but the last few pages were so predictable. It’s a shame but maybe an instance where this needed to be a far longer story to work for me.
Trevor: Snowpiercer is a good comparison to make. At its root, Leviathan is an exploration of class and privilege of wealth. It’s something that permeates throughout the story and drives the murder investigation element. Tiffany Babb discusses this far better than I could ever in the introduction.
I didn’t mind the twist, but that could be because I was aware that there were horror elements before I started reading it. D’Israeli’s art really complements this tone, with the detailed black and white art. At times it’s incredibly detailed and busy, but still clear. Some of this is the way that he chooses to portray the darker tones. It has depth to it, never blending into itself or becoming flat. There are also a few sequences white lineart, a creative risk that I’m a sucker for when done right. D’Israeli is definitely one of those underrated artists – something that Twitter agrees with – that’s waiting to be discovered in the US market.
C.M.: Yeah, this was a good contrast to the first Dredd story, whereas D’Israeli is absolutely the highlight. I love the character designs here, especially the detective and how he captures the magnate’s casual arrogance with the look and postures alone. The kind of strong, distinctive artwork you often find in good independent comics.
Judge Dredd: The Graveyard Shift
Written by John Wagner. Art by Ron Smith. Lettered by Steve Potter.
Trevor: This is the other Judge Dredd story in the collection, this time going much deeper into the archives with this 1983 tale. What did you think of this one?
C.M.: Trying to sum it all up as “exhaustive, constant worldbuilding and ownage packed like a sardine can into 30-something pages.” I wonder if I’d have loved this even more when I was 18 or 19 though. It’s incredibly engaging and packed with little details and designs I love, and Ron Smith’s artwork is perfect for Wagner’s tone as well. But I also could see myself rapidly losing interest if the comics are just Dredd on patrol and a level of misery so extreme the Mega-City One population shouldn’t even be alive at this point.
Trevor: Yeah, “exhaustive” is a good world to describe it. There’s a lot going on in this one, something that could easily have been multiple smaller stories, but that’s also the point of it. It’s a “day in the life” story that shows how chaotic Mega-City One is and how bleak life is there. The city is just as much a character here as Dredd is.
Ron Smith is a powerhouse in this one. His depiction of the city is so detailed and his inks are so crisp.
C.M.: Exactly, I love how fine and precise the city’s look is thanks to Smith, from the crumbling apartment buildings to the upper middle class surroundings (which really reminded me of Star Trek’s designs). I think it also subtly emphasizes how much of a police city-state Mega-City One is – everything is so carefully drawn out and it just emphasizes the Judges’ power.
Trevor: Oh yeah, he definitely has. Framing and perspective play a huge part in that. One image that stood out to me is the panel towards the end of part 1. It’s framed low, as if the reader is sitting on the floor, with a judge’s legs in the foreground. You then see all the dead bodies of the criminals that they had just shot. It’s a powerful image of authority and intimidation. There’s also a lot of shots of Dredd where the angle accentuates his power, whether it’s the reader looking up at him or Dredd looking down, looming, at wrong-doers (sometimes legitimate and others by the cruel laws of Mega-City One) from a high vantage point.
From your perspective, how do you compare the two Dredd stories?
C.M.: Great call on the art further emphasizing the supercop feeling of the story. This was almost certainly an influence on Robocop as well, right?
The difference is probably how small the Graveyard Shift comics feel, more episodic and ping-ponging between characters and situations, which creates this very chaotic, fun storytelling style I find is common especially in ‘70s British comics and science fiction. The later comic is more straightforward and tells one story with focus and climactic resolution. Here’s the premise, here’s the conflict, here’s the ending for the outlaw Judges. Both have a real brevity and clarity I admire, however – the Shift stories get in and get out. One of my favorite shows, The Shield, has a similar ruthless approach to storytelling and I wish more writers would take that approach.
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.
Trevor: Finally, we’ve got a D.R. & Quinch one-pager. This one was a bit of fun, with some anarchic energy.
C.M.: Heh, nice! Love this kind of Mad Magazine smartassery. The Stallone and Reagan nods at the end are a real great final punchline too.
Odds and Ends
Trevor: Best of 2000 AD will be dropping in September and will include The Order, Hewligan’s Haircut, and two more Judge Dredd tales.
Oh, I noticed on the 2000 AD webshop that Best of 2000 AD has been upgraded from a six-volume series up to nine volumes. That’s a great indicator that these collections are hitting the mark with readers.
C.M.: I’ll definitely be looking for my own editions soon enough. Had such a good time reading these even when I was nitpicking the details.
One thing I noticed is how different the original Dredd is from the 1990s American adaptation, especially Stallone keeping his mug in front of the audience the whole time. He certainly could play an authoritarian on screen, but the secret of Rocky is the character’s sensitivity, not his ability to land a punch. The more recent film meanwhile – possibly ghost-directed by scripter Alex Garland, though Pete Travis is still credited – stars a stoic, helmeted Karl Urban. It’s probably closer to this comic’s grungy, absurdist storytelling, and I’d recommend it purely for the “Slo Mo” drug hallucination sequences, which are fun as hell.
Trevor: Overall, it’s another solid volume of Best of 2000 AD. Again, it highlights how varied 2000 AD’s strips can be in their storytelling and genre-fusions. For me, the highlights were Leviathan and Judge Dredd: The Graveyard Shift. How was your first exposure to it?
C.M.: So happy to be invited into this discussion not only because it’s fun, but because I was introduced to some great comics I’d only heard about! Gotta appreciate an anthology series that’s clearly got a distinct format and style too. This was obviously an influence on a lot of science fiction and cyberpunk based on the artwork alone. It’s just a shame the American cultural interest in Judge Dredd is largely nil, but I can see how this has largely cult appeal. It’s weird, fun, and aggressive material, but a good example of how some British imports only grab small, devoted fans Stateside.
Trevor: That’s awesome to hear. Sounds like we have another convert!
Speaking of the Stateside appeal, it seems like Best of 2000 AD has been making some waves, with a report back in February stating that the first volume had sold (ever-so-slightly) more copies in the US than the UK.
Thanks for joining me, C.M. It was a blast!
C.M.: Glad to hear that, and thank you, Trevor!