Creators: Various (see below)
Release Date: 22nd February, 2017
It’s easy to forget, amongst all the constant reboots and rebirths, secrets wars and infinite crises, all-new and new-new, that the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic has gone its entire life without retcon, without restart – and without apology. But how do you make a comic – well, countless comic storylines, really, let’s face it – with at once a huge burden of continuity and still remain fresh and accessible to fans new and old?
Certainly, they have a few tricks up their collective sleeves – such as jump-ins like Prog 2015 – and I’ve wrestled in the past with the question as both a reader and a reviewer. But the challenge remains, and it’s these special issues that remind you just how special 2000AD is, not just with its offbeat and quintessentially British take on sci-fi, horror and fantasy (easy to forget how much non-sci-fi there is in 2000AD), but with a cast of characters that are as much part of our culture and collective consciousness as any Bat or Spider.
Cover Art: Carlos Ezquerra
Ezquerra’s bold, unapologetic style has always defined 2000AD, and arguably his two most iconic creations, Judge Dredd and Johnny Alpha, staunchly glare out from the cover under gaze of the mighty Tharg. It seems quite fitting to have its most recognisable character alongside one of its most beloved, and the strong, bright colouring demands your attention from the outset.
Variant Cover: David Aja
The striking variant cover from Aja is a complete contrast, a monochrome Dredd with a flash of Red on the helmet (ruby red is a recurrent motif in the special, naturally) – it’s a strong, brutal, bloody statement, one that really pops and grabs a totally different audience. Worth it.
Writer: TMO; Art: Jock, Rufus Dayglo, Mark Sexton, Patrick Goddard, Bryan Talbot, Mike Collins; Letters: Simon Bowland
A lovely one-page birthday celebration starts us off, with a cracking wee send-off from ol’ stoney-face. As ever, it sets the tone; 2000AD is always irreverent, even though you can rely on Dredd to take things seriously. These celebratory splash pages intersperse the issue as a whole, with as you’d expect a whole host of classic characters putting in an appearance (The Visible Man! Woo!), with Mek-Quake playing with his Nemesis toy (though as Hammerstein notes, “We’re not here to promote, violence, right?”) and a classic callback of Torquemada from Bryan Talbot as particular favourites.
Judge Dredd: Blood
Writer: John Wagner; Art: Carl Critchlow; Letters: Annie Parkhouse
It could only be the man himself to write the judge himself, and it’s rendered in beautiful muted tones by Critchlow, with some subtle, effective lettering from Parkhouse. Wagner gives us a timeless police procedural in the very best fashion, with the subtle conflicts that Dredd contends with played out perfectly. It’s about law, it’s about justice, and you see the debt owed by the likes of Luther and any other contemporary cop you care to name to the work of Wagner and his iconic creation.
Writer: Al Ewing; Art: Simon Flint; Letters: Simon Bowland
With an introduction from the mighty Tharg, alien editor of 2000AD, we get a glimpse of what might have been – a strip from the original proto 2000AD of 1977. It’s a giddy, silly, political romp with a cockney super-zombie tearing through anarchists. Too shocking for an audience of 40 years ago, apparently, but feels perfect for today. I suspect we’ll see more next prog… but wait! A multiverse retcon reset metatextual crisis! Yup, 2000AD’s not afraid of laughing at itself, breaking fourth wall (panel?) and everything in between. Spot on.
Ro-Busters: Seeing Red
Writer: Pat Mills; Art: Clint Langley; Letters: Elle De Ville
Now here’s a funny thing. Despite loving the ABC Warriors, I’ve never really enjoyed its companion/successor/comedy alter-ego Ro-Busters, as Ro-Jaws was never a character that I cared about enough as the focus of a strip. Though Clint Langley’s art is achingingly good in its gritty monochrome stylings, I’m never quite convinced by it.
There’s an edge here, with a flash of red. This is not your usual Ro-Busters story, but rather a homage to the roster of Pat Mills’ legendary robot horde, as is only fitting for such an occasion. And it manages to get a balance between the humour of Ro-Busters and the edginess of ABC, to great effect.
Durham Red: The Judas Strain
Writer: Lauren Burkes & Dale Halvorsen; Art: Carlos Ezquerra; Letters: Simon Bowland
Sometimes, you need a damn fine romp to remind you what 2000 AD does best. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never read Durham Red – she’s a vampiric Bounty Hunter, and that’s really all you need to know – straight away you’re drawn into this. It’s what 2000 AD manages time and time again: quick setup, simple exposition, great action and more than a dash of riotous humour. If you really want to know if 2000AD is for you, head straight for this. It’s like Firefly with mutants, without the knowledge that it’s going to get cancelled.
Slàine: Red Branch
Writer: Pat Mills; Art: Simon Davis; Letters: Elle de Ville
As noted, it’s easy to forget that 2000AD is far from just a sci-fi comic. Mills & Davis’s legendary king of the ancient peoples of the isles is a blood-soaked, brutal, beautiful epic that continues to wind through the years and if anything is more imposing and impressive as a narrative than Dredd. At times it can seem inaccessible, but like all myth you can read any one part of the journey to experience the hero’s history as a whole. As is not uncommon in such issues, here we get a flashback story, another piece out of time, at once getting us to the core of the character. There’s the always unsettling juxtaposition of Davis’s painted style with the visceral action, and Mills as always gives us a mythic hero that draws us in and on.
Nikolai Dante: Devil May Care
Writer: Robbie Morrison; Art: Simon Fraser; Letters: Simon Bowland
Wit. Raconteur. Despoiler of women. Self-styled “Sex-god Swashbuckler”. 27th Century scion of the Romanovs, and continuing the party spirit we get a right royal ruby romp to close the special. It’s a cracking wee caper full of action and fun. A party to end the party, and remind us exactly why we keep coming back.
Rounded out with fact files and choice interviews, the 2000AD 40th special is testament to a true institution. Remember folks, it’s real thrills, reasonably priced.
Overall Rating: Unashamedly, 40/5.