2000 AD is a weekly British science fiction-oriented comic. As a comics anthology it serializes a number of separate stories each issue (known as ‘progs’) and was first published by IPC Magazines in 1977. It has changed hands a number of times over the years; in 2000 it was bought by Rebellion Developments.
It is most noted for its Judge Dredd stories, and has been contributed to by a number of artists and writers who became renowned in the field internationally, such as Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Bryan Talbot, Brian Bolland, and Mike McMahon. ‘2000 AD’ has been successful launchpad for UK talent into the larger American comics market, and has also been the source of a number of film licences. Unlike earlier weekly titles, ‘2000 AD’ was based on a 6 page strip format. This gave the writers greater opportunity to develop character and meant that the artists had greater scope in designing the layout.
A long-running joke is that the editor of 2000 AD is Tharg the Mighty, a green extraterrestrial from Betelgeuse who terms his readers ‘Earthlets.’ Tharg uses other unique alien expressions and even appears in his own comic strips. Readers sometimes play along with this: for example, in prog 200 a pair of readers wrote to Tharg claiming that they preferred to be called ‘Terrans’; the resulting controversy ended in Tharg’s accepting a challenge for a duel at a galactic location. Another running joke is Tharg’s supposed use of robots to draw and write the strips — some of which bear a marked resemblance to actual writers and artists. A fictional reason for Tharg to use mechanical assistance was given when the robots ‘went on strike’ (reflecting real-life industrial action that occasionally halted IPC’s comics production during the 1970s and 1980s). Tharg wrote and drew a whole issue himself, but when he ran it through the quality-control ‘Thrill-meter,’ the device melted down on extreme overload. The offending issue had to be taken away, by blindfolded security guards, to a lead-lined vault where there was no danger of anyone seeing it accidentally.
In 1975, Kelvin Gosnell, a sub-editor at IPC Magazines, read an article in the ‘London Evening Standard’ about a wave of forthcoming science fiction films, and suggested that the company might get on the bandwagon by launching a science fiction comic. IPC asked Pat Mills, a freelance writer and editor who had created ‘Battle Picture Weekly’ and ‘Action,’ to develop it. Mills brought fellow freelancer John Wagner on board as script adviser and the pair began to develop characters. The then-futuristic name ‘2000 AD’ was chosen as no-one involved expected the comic to last that long.
Mills’ experiences ‘Action’ taught him that readers responded to his anti-authoritarian attitudes. Wagner, who had written a Dirty Harry-inspired tough cop called One Eyed Jack for Valiant, saw that readers also responded to authority figures, and developed a character that took the concept to its logical extreme, imagining an ultra-violent lawman patrolling a future New York with the power to arrest, sentence, and if required execute criminals on the spot. Meanwhile, Mills had developed a horror strip, inspired by the novels of Dennis Wheatley, about a hanging judge, called Judge Dread (after the reggae and ska artist of the same name). The idea was abandoned as unsuitable for the new comic, but the name, with a little modification, was adopted by Wagner for his ultimate lawman.
The task of visualizing the newly-named Judge Dredd was given to Carlos Ezquerra, a Spanish artist who had worked for Mills before. Wagner gave Ezquerra an advertisement for the film ‘Death Race 2000,’ showing the character Frankenstein clad in black leather, as a suggestion for what the character should look like. Ezquerra elaborated on this greatly, adding body-Armour, zips and chains, which Wagner originally thought over the top. Wagner’s initial script was rewritten by Mills and drawn up by Ezquerra, but when the art came back a rethink was necessary. The hardware and cityscapes Ezquerra had drawn were far more futuristic than the near-future setting originally intended, and Mills decided to run with it and set the strip further into the future. By this stage, however, Wagner had quit.
IPC owned the rights to ‘Dan Dare’ (the British equivalent of Buck Rogers), and Mills decided to revive the character to add immediate public recognition for the title. Paul DeSavery, who owned Dare’s film rights, offered to buy the new comic and give Mills and Wagner more creative control and a greater financial stake. The deal fell through, however, and Wagner walked. Mills was reluctant to lose Judge Dredd and farmed the strip out to a variety of freelance writers, hoping to develop it further. Their scripts were given to a variety of artists as Mills tried to find a strip which would make a good introduction to the character, all of which meant that Dredd would not be ready for the first issue. The story chosen was one written by Peter Harris, extensively rewritten by Mills and including an idea suggested by Kelvin Gosnell, and drawn by newcomer Mike McMahon. The strip debuted in prog 2, but Ezquerra, angry that another artist had drawn the first published strip, quit and returned to work for ‘Battle.’
Mills had created ‘Harlem Heroes,’ about the future sport of aeroball, a futuristic, violent version of basketball with jet-packs. Similar future sport series had been a fixture of ‘Action.’ ‘Dan Dare’ was extensively revamped to make it more futuristic. In the new stories he had been put into suspended animation and revived several centuries in the future. Several artists were tried out before Mills settled on Italian artist Massimo Belardinelli, whose imaginative, hallucinatory work was fantastic at visualising aliens, although perhaps less satisfying on the hero himself. The scripts were endlessly rewritten in an attempt to make the series work, but few ‘Dan Dare’ fans remember this version of the character fondly. Belardinelli and Gibbons later switched strips, with Gibbons drawing ‘Dare’ and Belardinelli drawing the ‘Harlem Heroes’ sequel ‘Inferno.’ When Gibbons took over ‘Dare’ in Prog 28 the strip was refashioned as a ‘Star Trek’ style space opera.
The other opening strips were ‘M.A.C.H. 1,’ a super-powered secret agent inspired by ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’; ‘Invasion!,’ about a ‘Volgan’ (thinly disguised Soviet—in fact originally billed as Soviet, but changed before printing to a ‘neutral’ antagonist) invasion of the United Kingdom opposed by tough London lorry driver turned guerrilla fighter Bill Savage; and ‘Flesh,’ a particularly violent strip about time-travelling cowboys farming dinosaurs for their meat.
After 16 issues, Mills quit as editor and handed the reins to Kelvin Gosnell, whose idea it was in the first place. Gosnell appeared as the fall guy in the Tharg photostrips that were a feature of the comic in its early years. Wagner swallowed his pride and returned to write ‘Judge Dredd,’ starting in prog 9. His ‘Robot Wars’ storyline was drawn by a rotating team of artists, including McMahon, Ezquerra, Turner, and Ian Gibson, and marked the point where Dredd became the most popular character in the comic, a position he has rarely relinquished. Dredd’s city, which now covered most of the east coast of North America, became known as Mega-City One. Dredd had also been unmasked in issue 8 in a story drawn by Massimo Belardinelli, but the face drawn was not anywhere near that which had been hoped. The decision was made to make out that Dredd’s face had been scarred and the panel had a ‘censored’ banner slapped on it. After this Dredd’s face was never attempted to be shown again.
A new story format was introduced in prog 25 – Tharg’s Future Shocks, one-off twist-in-the-tail stories devised by writer Steve Moore. ‘2000 AD’ still uses this format as filler and to try out new talent. One early Future Shock was drawn by 2000 AD’s then art assistant Kevin O’Neill.
Wagner introduced a new character, Robo-Hunter, in 1978. The hero, Sam Slade, was a private detective-type character specializing in robot-related cases. José Ferrer was the original artist, but the editorial team were not happy with his work and quickly replaced him with Ian Gibson, who redrew parts of Ferrer’s episodes before taking over himself. Gibson’s imaginative, cartoony art helped drive the series’ style from hard-boiled detective to surreal comedy. As the series continued Sam was joined by an idiot kit-built robot assistant, Hoagy, and even, after a crack-down on smoking in IPC comics, a Cuban robot cigar, Stogie, designed to help him cut down on nicotine. The hero started out based on Humphrey Bogart, but after a few years he looked more like Ted Danson.
Other ongoing strips included ‘The Visible Man,’ detailing the misfortunes of Frank Hart, a man whose skin had been made transparent due to exposure to nuclear waste, and ‘Shako,’ (which followed the same formula as ‘Hook Jaw’ from ‘Action’ but with less success) the story of a polar bear pursued by the Army because it had swallowed a secret capsule. ‘M.A.C.H. 1’ was killed off in 1978 but a spin off, ‘M.A.C.H. Zero,’ continued into the 1980s. ‘Flesh’ had a sequel in 1978, set on the prehistoric oceans, and Bill Savage appeared again in a prequel, ‘Disaster 1990,’ in which a nuclear explosion at the north pole had melted the polar ice-cap and flooded Britain.
Pat Mills took over writing Dredd for a six-month ‘epic’ called ‘The Cursed Earth,’ inspired by Roger Zelazny’s ‘Damnation Alley,’ which took the future lawman out of the city on a humanitarian trek across the radioactive wasteland between the Mega-Cities. McMahon drew the bulk of the stories, with occasional episodes drawn by Brian Bolland. The story saw Dredd moved to the color center pages for the first time while ‘Dan Dare’ was given the front page.
IPC had launched a second science fiction comic, ‘Starlord,’ which was cancelled after only 22 issues and merged into ‘2000 AD.’ Two ‘Starlord’ strips strengthened ‘2000 AD’s’ line-up: ‘Strontium Dog,’ about Johnny Alpha, a mutant bounty hunter created by Wagner and Ezquerra, and ‘Ro-Busters,’ a robot disaster squad created by Mills. ‘Ro-Busters’ gave O’Neill the chance to spread his artistic wings and led to the popular spin-off ‘ABC Warriors’ (about a team of war robots designed to withstand Atomic, Bacterial, and Chemical warfare). ‘Dan Dare’ was suspended while ‘The Cursed Earth’ was finished in time for the merger. Wagner returned to Dredd following the merger to write ‘The Day the Law Died,’ another six month epic in which Mega-City One was taken over by the insane Chief Judge Cal, based on the Roman emperor Caligula. Another cancelled title, ‘Tornado,’ was merged with ‘2000 AD’ a few months later, contributing three stories – ‘Blackhawk,’ an historical adventure series about a Nubian slave in the Roman empire which took a science-fictional turn in ‘2000 AD’ with him becoming a gladiator in an alien world; ‘The Mind of Wolfie Smith,’ a coming of age/psychic story of a runaway teenager, and ‘Captain Klep,’ a single-page superhero parody.
‘2000 AD’ featured an adaptation of Harry Harrison’s novel ‘The Stainless Steel Rat,’ written by Gosnell and drawn by Ezquerra. The Stainless Steel Rat is anti-hero James Bolivar diGriz, a futuristic con man, thief and all-round rascal. A master of self-rationalization, the Rat frequently justifies his crimes by arguing that he is providing society with entertainment; and besides which, he only steals from institutions which have insurance coverage. Adaptations of two of Harrison’s sequels, ‘The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World’ and ‘The Stainless Steel Rat for President,’ would follow later. The character was based on James Coburn, evidently a favorite of Ezquerra’s; Coburn was also the inspiration for ‘Major Eazy,’ which Ezquerra drew in ‘Battle,’ as well as Judge Koburn, a Dredd-universe reworking of the ‘Major Eazy’ character, who first appeared in 2003. Gerry Finley-Day contributed ‘The V.C.s,’ a future war story inspired by the Vietnam War, drawn by McMahon, Cam Kennedy, Garry Leach, and John Richardson.
An important feature of the early years of ‘2000 AD’ was the opportunities it gave to young British comic artists – by the time the title celebrated its 100th issue Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons, Ian Gibson, Mike McMahon, and Kevin O’Neil were all established as regulars.
In 1980 Judge Dredd gained a new enemy. Writer John Wagner realized that Dredd’s habit of shooting just about everybody he came up against meant that it was difficult to create a recurring villain. The solution was Judge Death, an undead judge from another dimension where, since all crime was committed by the living, life itself was outlawed. The law had been thoroughly enforced on his own world, and now he had come to Mega-City One to continue his work. Judge Death first appeared in an atmospheric three-parter drawn by Brian Bolland which also introduced Judge Anderson of Psi Division, a squad of judges with psychic powers.
Dredd soon began another epic journey in ‘The Judge Child.’ A dying Psi Division Judge had predicted disaster for Mega-City One unless it was ruled by a boy with a birthmark shaped like an eagle, so Dredd set off into the Cursed Earth, to Texas City, and into deep space in search of the boy, Owen Krysler, and his kidnappers, the Angel Gang. The Angels were some of the most memorable villains Wagner had yet devised, but suffered the same mortality problem that had plagued the strip so far. All of them were killed during the course of the story, but one, the Mean Machine, was later resurrected by a convenient bit of magic. ‘The Judge Child’ was drawn by Bolland, Ron Smith, and Mike McMahon in rotation, and the later episodes marked the beginning of Wagner’s long-running writing partnership with Alan Grant. The pair would go on to write ‘Strontium Dog,’ ‘Robo-Hunter,’ and many other stories for ‘2000 AD,’ as well as for ‘Roy of the Rovers,’ ‘Battle,’ and the relaunched ‘Eagle’ in the United Kingdom, and a number of comics in America.
Prog 178 was something of a relaunch for ‘2000 AD.’ All current stories, with the exception of ‘Judge Dredd,’ were wound up, and a new set of stories was launched simultaneously, consisting of ‘Mean Arena,’ set around a violent high-tech street football game, ‘Meltdown Man,’ whose hero was transported to a genetically engineered far future by a nuclear explosion, ‘Strontium Dog,’ featuring a mutant bounty hunter character inherited from the short-lived ‘Starlord’ title, and ‘Dash Decent,’ a thinly disguised spoof of ‘Flash Gordon.’
Pat Mills introduced ‘Comic Rock,’ which was meant to be a format for short stories inspired by popular music. The first story, inspired by The Jam’s ‘Going Underground,’ was drawn by Kevin O’Neill and featured an insane underground travel network on a planet called ‘Termight,’ in which a freedom fighter called Nemesis battles the despotic Torquemada, chief of the Tube Police. All that was seen of Nemesis was the outside of his vehicle, the Blitzspear. The story was a reaction to an earlier tube chase sequence Mills and O’Neill had done in ‘Ro-Busters,’ which management objected to. The only other ‘Comic Rock’ story was a follow-up called ‘Killer Watt,’ in which Nemesis and Torquemada fought on a teleport system. This led to a series, ‘Nemesis the Warlock,’ in which it was revealed that Termight was Earth in the far future, Torquemada was a despotic demagogue leading a campaign of genocide against all aliens, and Nemesis was the leader of the alien resistance. Mills and O’Neill were on a roll and produced a stream of bizarre and imaginative ideas, but ultimately O’Neill was unable to continue the level of work he was putting into it on ‘2000 AD’ pay. He left to work for DC Comics in America, and was replaced on ‘Nemesis’ by Bryan Talbot.
2000 AD would occasionally take a gamble on non-science fiction material. For example ‘Fiends of the Eastern Front’ was a World War II vampire story by Gerry Finley-Day and Carlos Ezquerra which was probably originally intended for ‘Battle.’ Its hero was a German soldier who discovered that some of his Romanian allies were vampires. Later in the war, when Romania changed sides, he was the only one who knew their secret.
A readers’ poll revealed that future war was a popular topic, so Gerry Finley-Day was asked to come up with a new war story. He, editor Steve MacManus and artists Dave Gibbons devised ‘Rogue Trooper,’ a ‘Genetic Infantryman’ engineered to be immune to chemical warfare hunting down the traitor general who had betrayed his regiment, who debuted in 1981. He was supported by bio-chips of the personalities of three dead comrades, which, slotted into his equipment, could talk to him. Gibbons left the strip early on and was replaced by Colin Wilson, Brett Ewins, and most notably Cam Kennedy. ‘Rogue Trooper’ replaced ‘Meltdown Man,’ which had recently ended its run.
Wagner and Grant also had big plans for ‘Judge Dredd.’ Mega-City One had grown too large and unwieldy, and they planned to cut it down to size. ‘Block Mania,’ in which wars broke out between rival city-blocks, turned out to be a plot orchestrated by the Russian city East-Meg One, and led directly to ‘The Apocalypse War,’ another six-month epic and a hard-hitting satire on the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction. East-Meg One, protected by a warp-shield, softened up Mega-City One with nuclear warheads before invading. Dredd spearheaded the resistance, leading a small team to East-Meg territory, hijacking their nuclear bunkers and blowing East-Meg One off the face of the earth. ‘The Apocalypse War’ was drawn in its entirety by Carlos Ezquerra, making a return to the character he created.
A new writer, Alan Moore, had started contributing Future Shocks in 1980. He wrote more than fifty one-off strips over the next three years, while also contributing to various Marvel UK titles and the independent magazine ‘Warrior.’ In 1982 he got his first series, ‘Skizz,’ a less sentimental take on the same basic plot used in ‘E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,’ set in Birmingham and influenced by Alan Bleasdale’s ‘Boys from the Blackstuff.’ Moore wrote ‘Skizz’ without having seen ‘E.T.’ The series was drawn by Jim Baikie.
Moore wrote another series, ‘D.R. and Quinch,’ spun off from a one-off ‘Time Twister.’ Drawn by Alan Davis, the strip featured a pair of alien juvenile delinquents with a penchant for mindless thermonuclear destruction. He went on to create ‘The Ballad of Halo Jones’ with artist Ian Gibson, the first strip in ‘2000 AD’ to be based on a female protagonist. Halo was an everywoman in the far future, born into mass unemployment on a floating housing estate, who escaped the earth and got involved in a terrible galactic war. Three books were published, and more were planned, but Moore’s demands for creator’s rights and his increasing commitments to American publishers meant they never materialized.
A new character, ‘Sláine,’ debuted in 1983, but had been in development since 1981. Created by Pat Mills and his then wife Angela Kincaid, Sláine was a barbarian fantasy strip based on Celtic mythology. Kincaid was a children’s book illustrator who had never worked in comics before, and her opening episode was drawn and redrawn several times before the editors were satisfied. Other stories were written for artists Massimo Belardinelli and Mike McMahon, but these could not see print until Kincaid’s episode was ready.
In 1985, after appearing as a supporting character in Judge Dredd, Judge Anderson finally got her own series, written by Wagner and Grant and initially drawn by Brett Ewins. New artist Glenn Fabry debuted on ‘Sláine,’ but due to his notorious slowness was rotated with David Pugh. In the ‘Judge Dredd’ story ‘Letter from a Democrat,’ Wagner and Grant introduced a pro-democracy movement in Mega-City One, which is after all a police state. This would provide plotlines for years to come.
In 1986 the comic reached its 500th issue. A new ‘Sláine’ story, ‘Sláine the King,’ began, entirely drawn by Fabry. Peter Milligan, a writer who had been contributing Future Shocks, began two series, the bleak future war story ‘Bad Company,’ (based partly upon John Wagner’s ‘Darkie’s Mob’ strip in ‘Battle’) and a strange, psychedelic series called ‘The Dead.’ In 1987 IPC’s comics division was hived off and sold to publishing magnate Robert Maxwell as Fleetway. ‘2000 AD’ was revamped, with a larger page size and full process color on the covers and center pages. Richard Burton became editor. Kevin O’Neill returned for a short ‘Nemesis’ series called ‘Torquemada the God.’ Not long after came the debut of ‘Zenith,’ ‘2000 AD’s’ first superhero strip, by new writer Grant Morrison and artist Steve Yeowell. The title character was a shallow pop singer with superhuman powers, caught up in the intrigues of a 1960s generation of superhumans and the machinations of some Lovecraftian elder gods.
Wagner and Grant began a new Dredd Epic, ‘Oz,’ featuring Chopper, a popular supporting character. Chopper was a skysurfer who had been imprisoned for competing in an illegal surfing competition a few years previously. A legal ‘Supersurf’ race was being held in Oz, the future Australia, and Chopper escaped to compete. Dredd also went to Oz, partly to deal with Chopper, but mostly to investigate the Judda, a clone army created by Mega-City One’s former chief genetic engineer. The Judda were defeated, and Chopper narrowly lost the race to Jug McKenzie. Dredd was waiting at the finish line, but McKenzie distracted him and allowed Chopper to escape into the outback. This ending was apparently the cause of some dispute between Wagner and Grant, and was a contributing factor in ending their regular writing partnership. Wagner kept Dredd, while Grant continued ‘Strontium Dog’ and ‘Judge Anderson.’ However the pair would still come together for occasional collaborations. The ‘Oz’ storyline had some lasting implications. Kraken, a Judda cloned from the same genetic material as Dredd, was captured by Justice Department, who had plans for him. ‘Chopper’ also spun off into his own series, written by Wagner and drawn by Colin MacNeil.
The ‘ABC Warriors’ finally got their own series again in 1987 as a spin-off from ‘Nemesis.’ This was written, as ever, by Pat Mills, and drawn by two artists in rotation, newcomer Simon Bisley and science fiction artist S.M.S. In 1988, Grant and artist Simon Harrison began a new ‘Strontium Dog’ story, ‘The Final Solution.’ It took nearly two years to complete, and ended with the death of Johnny Alpha, who sacrificed his life to save mutants from extermination. Original artist Carlos Ezquerra did not agree with the decision to kill the character off, and refused to draw it. In 1989, the color pages were increased again, allowing for three color stories and two black and white in every issue. One of the color series was ‘Rogue Trooper: the War Machine,’ written by Dave Gibbons and painted by Will Simpson. The original ‘Rogue Trooper’ series had run out of steam after the Traitor General had been dealt with, so Gibbons revamped the concept, creating a different genetic infantryman, Friday, in a different war.
One of the black and white stories, ‘The Dead Man,’ was a low-key beginning for a major event. In the Cursed Earth, villagers come across a man, burnt from head to toe, with no memory of who he is or what happened to him. As he tries to piece his memories back together, he is being hunted by the evil beings who left him in that state. A creepy, atmospheric horror-western, it was drawn by John Ridgway and written by ‘Keef Ripley,’ a pseudonym for John Wagner. By the end of the series the Dead Man had discovered his identity. He was Judge Dredd. ‘Tale of the Dead Man,’ explained how Dredd had ended up in that position. Dredd was getting older and the democratic movement was causing him to doubt his role, so Justice Department had groomed Kraken, the former Judda cloned from his bloodline, to replace him. Kraken was now ready for his final assessment, and Dredd himself was chosen to assess him. Although Kraken performed faultlessly, Dredd thought he perceived a hint of his former allegiance to the Judda in him, and failed him. He then resigned as a judge and took the ‘Long Walk’ into the Cursed Earth. There he met the Sisters of Death, and only barely survived the encounter. This could mean only one thing: Judge Death was back.
This set up the latest six month epic, ‘Necropolis.’ After Dredd had left, Justice Department had put Kraken through one final test, and given him Dredd’s badge. But the Sisters of Death, spirit beings from Judge Death’s dimension, were able to use Kraken’s inner conflict to take control of him and use him to bring Judge Death and the other Dark Judges back from the limbo dimension Dredd had exiled them to. The Sisters possessed all the city’s judges and began to enforce Death’s twisted law. Out in the Cursed Earth, Dredd had recovered his memory and returned to defeat the Dark Judges. He then tried to lance the democratic boil by holding a referendum on whether the Judges should continue to govern the city. The judges won, by a small margin on a desultory turnout, and Dredd was satisfied.
‘2000 AD’ gained an influx of talent from other comics. Garth Ennis and John Smith had come to prominence writing for ‘Crisis,’ a ‘2000 AD’ spin-off for older readers, while artists Jamie Hewlett and Philip Bond were the stars of ‘Deadline,’ an independent comics and popular culture magazine founded by Steve Dillon and Brett Ewins. Smith created Indigo Prime, a multi-dimensional organization that polices reality, whose most memorable story was ‘Killing Time,’ a time travel story featuring Jack the Ripper. Garth Ennis and Philip Bond contributed ‘Time Flies,’ a time-travel comedy, and Hewlett was paired with writer Peter Milligan for the surreal ‘Hewligan’s Haircut.’ Writer John Tomlinson and artist Simon Jacob created ‘Armoured Gideon,’ an action-comedy series about a giant killer robot charged with keeping demons from invading earth.
‘The Judge Dredd Megazine,’ a monthly title set in the world of Dredd, was launched in 1990. With John Wagner focusing his attentions there, Garth Ennis became the regular writer of Dredd in the weekly. American writer Michael Fleisher, who had written ‘The Spectre’ and ‘Jonah Hex’ in the 1970s, was recruited to write the continuing adventures of the new ‘Rogue Trooper,’ along with several other strips, none of which went down very well. Another new writer who failed to set ‘2000 AD’ on fire was Mark Millar, whose revival of ‘Robo-Hunter’ was particularly unpopular. Millar has since gone on to become a successful writer of American superhero comics such as ‘The Authority’ and ‘The Ultimates.’ ‘2000 AD’ went all-color about this time (prog 723), in response to a short-lived new color weekly, ‘Toxic!,’ launched by Pat Mills and many of the core ‘2000 AD’ team of creators. ‘Toxic!’ only lasted 31 issues but many of the creators who had worked on the comic eventually found their way to work for ‘2000 AD.’ ‘Button Man,’ a contemporary thriller by John Wagner and Arthur Ranson, was originally intended for ‘Toxic!’ but ended up in ‘2000 AD.’
A new ‘ABC Warriors’ series, written by Mills and Tony Skinner and painted by Kev Walker, began in 1991, in which Deadlock took over the warriors with his ‘Khaos’ philosophy. The series is beautifully painted and often very funny, but some readers disliked the new direction and the regular humiliation of Hammerstein. Robert Maxwell died in late 1991, and Fleetway was merged with London Editions, a Danish-owned company which owned rights to Disney characters, to become Fleetway Editions.
In 1992, ‘2000 AD’ and the ‘Judge Dredd Megazine’ ran their first crossover story, ‘Judgement Day,’ in which zombies overran Mega-City One. Written by Garth Ennis and drawn by Carlos Ezquerra, Peter Doherty, Dean Ormston and Chris Halls, the story teamed Judge Dredd with Johnny Alpha through the medium of time travel. John Smith and artist Paul Marshall created ‘Firekind,’ a slow-paced story about dragons and alien societies, which was accidentally published with its episodes in the wrong order.
The ‘Strontium Dog’ world was eventually spun out to encompass a wider field, gaining the name ‘Strontium Dogs’ – characters such as female vampire Durham Red, the albino Feral Jackson, and former Johnny Alpha sidekick The Gronk – the latter, normally a timid creature with weak ‘heartses,’ became a gung-ho action character upon learning of Alpha’s death. However, in the 12-parter ‘The Darkest Star,’ it transpires that the one to actually kill him was the Gronk himself; changed into a form designed by a cadre of Lyran necromancers to bring him endless agony, Alpha asked his friend to end his torment.
The ‘Summer Offensive’ was an eight-week experiment in 1993, when new editor Alan McKenzie gave free rein to writers Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, and John Smith, to a mixed reception. Morrison wrote a Dredd story, ‘Inferno,’ and a drug-influenced comedy adventure, ‘Really & Truly.’ Smith contributed ‘Slaughterbowl,’ in which convicted criminals on dinosaurs are pitted against each other in a deadly sport, with the survivor being granted his freedom. Millar wrote ‘Maniac 5,’ an action-packed series about a remote controlled war-robot. By far the most controversial story of this run, though, was ‘Big Dave,’ a satire of British tabloid attitudes starring ‘Manchester’s hardest man.’ In Big Dave’s world, the German national football team really are Nazis, single mothers really do get a fortune in state handouts, Diana, Princess of Wales and Sarah, Duchess of York are portrayed as gold-digging tarts making fools of the Royal family, and Saddam Hussein, who rides an ostrich, is in league with aliens who want to turn earthlings into ‘poofs.’ Written by Morrison and Millar and drawn by Steve Parkhouse, Big Dave divided readers like nothing else the comic had ever published.
John Tomlinson became editor in 1994, and a second crossover between ‘2000 AD’ and the ‘Megazine,’ ‘Wilderlands,’ began. Written by Wagner and drawn by Ezquerra, Mick Austin, and Trevor Hairsine, it followed on from ‘Mechanismo,’ a series of stories in the ‘Megazine’ in which Justice Department, opposed by Dredd, tried to introduce robot judges. With Wagner writing, ‘Judge Dredd’ was again the flagship strip. A long-running storyline, ‘The Pit,’ was an ensemble-based police procedural which had Dredd take a desk job as chief of a particularly crime-ridden sector of the city. But ‘2000 AD’s’ quality had dropped throughout the early 1990s, with a corresponding drop in readership. The long awaited ‘Judge Dredd’ movie was released in 1995, but was poorly received and failed to provide any boost to circulation.
Former ‘Megazine’ editor David Bishop became editor of the weekly in 1996 but sales continued to decline. Unsuccessful series were dropped, and a number of new series were tried out, some more successful than others. Writer Dan Abnett introduced ‘Sinister Dexter’ in 1996, a strip about two hitmen influenced by the film ‘Pulp Fiction,’ which became a regular feature. In 1997, writer Robbie Morrison and artist Simon Fraser, who had worked with Bishop on the ‘Megazine,’ created Nikolai Dante, a swashbuckling series set in future Russia starring a thief and ladies’ man who discovers he’s the illegitimate scion of an aristocratic dynasty. There were also gimmicks, like the ‘sex issue,’ sold in a clear plastic wrapper, ‘The Spacegirls,’ a series attempting to cash in on the popularity of the Spice Girls, ‘B.L.A.I.R. 1,’ a parody of Tony Blair based on ‘M.A.C.H. 1,’ and an adaptation of the Danny Boyle film ‘A Life Less Ordinary.’
A new Dredd epic, ‘Doomsday,’ appeared in 1999 and again ran in both ‘2000 AD’ and the ‘Megazine.’ Wagner had been laying the foundations for this story for several years, introducing the main villain, semi-robotic gang lord Nero Narcos, and supporting characters like Judge Edgar of the Public Surveillance Unit, and Galen DeMarco, a former judge who had quit after falling in love with Dredd and become a private eye. 1999 also saw the return of another character, Nemesis the Warlock. After a break of ten years, writer Pat Mills decided to bring the story to an end with ‘The Final Conflict.’ The series was drawn by Henry Flint in a style that recalled Kevin O’Neill’s early work on the series, as well as Simon Bisley’s ‘ABC Warriors’ work.
The decade ended with a special 100-page issue called ‘Prog 2000.’ Behind a cover by Brian Bolland, ‘Nemesis’ wrapped up for good in a final episode drawn by Kevin O’Neill. War broke out in ‘Nikolai Dante,’ and writer Gordon Rennie and artist Mark Harrison introduced future war story ‘Glimmer Rats.’ Another old favorite, ‘Strontium Dog,’ was revived by Wagner and Ezquerra, telling new stories of Johnny Alpha set before his death, with the conceit that previous stories had been ‘folklore’ and the new stories were ‘what really happened,’ allowing Wagner to revise continuity. The story was in fact an adaptation of a treatment Wagner had written for a TV pilot that was never made.
In the year of its title and beyond, ‘2000 AD’ bounced back under the ownership of Rebellion, with editors Andy Diggle and Matt Smith at the helm. Rebellion continues to develop stories (and computer games) based on classic characters such as Rogue Trooper and Judge Dredd, and has also introduced a roster of new series including ‘Shakara,’ The Red Seas,’ and ‘Caballistics, Inc.’ It has also published a tie-in to the film ‘Shaun of the Dead’ in a story written by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright.