Hello, thrill-seekers! Today on The Longbox of Darkness, we tackle a monumental topic that every site dedicated to science-fiction and horror should feature: an overview of the origins of 2000AD, an introduction to the galaxy’s greatest comic magazine!
If you are not familiar with 2000AD, well then you’ve come to the right place. 2000AD is a weekly British science fiction anthology comic magazine that was launched in 1977 by IPC Magazines. It is also the reason for the birth of the magazine Starlord by the same publisher, which gave us fan-favorite character and bounty hunter Johnny Alpha, aka Strontium Dog, who just so happens to be my favorite science-fiction character.
2000AD was created by editor Pat Mills, who wanted to produce a comic that would appeal to the readers who were influenced by the science fiction films and popular culture of the time, such as Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, A Clockwork Orange, etc. He also wanted to inject some anti-authoritarianism and social commentary into the comic, as a response to the political and economic situation in Britain in the late 1970s.
2000AD is known for its futuristic setting, action-packed stories, dark humor, and diverse range of characters and genres. Some of the most famous and iconic features and characters of 2000AD are Tharg the Mighty, the alien editor of the comic who communicates with the readers through his catchphrases and editorial notes; Judge Dredd, the ruthless lawman who patrols the mega-city of Mega-City One in a post-apocalyptic America; Rogue Trooper, the genetically engineered soldier who seeks revenge for his fallen comrades on the war-torn planet of Nu-Earth; Sláine, the Celtic warrior who travels through time and dimensions with his trusty axe; and many more.
In this blog post, we will explore the history and development of 2000AD from its inception to its present day. I will discuss how 2000AD established its identity and tone with its first issue, how it rose to popularity and acclaim with its flagship character Judge Dredd, how it reached its peak period in the early to mid-1980s with some of the most talented and influential writers and artists in the British comics industry, how it faced challenges and changes in the late 1980s and 1990s with different owners, creators, competitors, and markets, and how it survived and reinvented itself in the 21st century with new stories, characters, formats, media, and milestones.
So buckle up your thrill-suckers, because we are about to embark on a zarjaz journey through the origins of 2000AD, an introduction to the galaxy’s greatest comic magazine! Splundig vur Thrigg!
Launching into the Future: The First Issue
The first issue of 2000AD was published on 26 February 1977 by IPC Magazines. It was a weekly British science fiction anthology comic magazine that serialised stories in each issue, known as “progs”. It was created by editor Pat Mills, who wanted to produce a comic that would appeal to the readers who were influenced by the science fiction films and popular culture of the time, such as Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, A Clockwork Orange, etc. He also wanted to inject some anti-authoritarianism and social commentary into the comic, as a response to the political and economic situation in Britain in the late 1970s.
The first issue of 2000AD contained five stories and one feature. The stories were:
- Harlem Heroes: A futuristic sports story about a team of jetpack-wearing basketball players who face danger and corruption in their league.
- Mach-1: A spy thriller about a secret agent who is enhanced with superhuman strength and speed by a computer implant called the Hyper-Power.
- Dan Dare: A reboot of the classic space hero who fights against the evil Mekon and his army of Treens.
- Flesh: A horror story about time-travelling cowboys who hunt dinosaurs for their meat in the prehistoric era.
- Invasion!: A war story about a resistance fighter named Bill Savage who battles against the Volgan invaders who have occupied Britain.
The first issue of 2000AD established its identity and tone with its futuristic setting, action-packed stories, dark humor, and social commentary. It also introduced some of the influences and inspirations behind the creation of 2000AD, such as science fiction films, popular culture, and anti-authoritarianism. The first issue was well-received by the readers and sold out quickly. However, it was not until prog 2 that 2000AD gave birth to its most popular and iconic character: Judge Dredd.
The Coming of Dredd
Judge Dredd is the most popular and iconic character of 2000AD. He first appeared in prog 2, which was published on 5 March 1977. He was created by writer John Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra, who were inspired by the Dirty Harry films and the British punk subculture. Judge Dredd is a law enforcement and judicial officer in the dystopian future city of Mega-City One, which covers most of the east coast of North America. He is a “street judge”, empowered to summarily arrest, convict, sentence, and execute criminals. He is known for his harsh and uncompromising attitude, his catchphrase “I am the law”, and his distinctive helmet that covers his face.
Judge Dredd quickly became the flagship character of 2000AD, appearing in almost every issue and attracting a loyal fan base. He also starred in his own title, the Judge Dredd Megazine, which was launched in 1990. Judge Dredd has been involved in some of the most epic and memorable sagas in 2000AD’s history, such as The Cursed Earth, The Day the Law Died, The Apocalypse War, Necropolis, America, Origins, etc. These stories have explored various aspects of Judge Dredd’s character, such as his origins, his morality, his relationships, his enemies, his allies, etc. They have also depicted the evolution of Mega-City One and its society, as well as the wider world and its conflicts.
Judge Dredd reflects the themes and issues of 2000AD, such as authoritarianism, violence, justice, satire, etc. He is a complex and ambiguous figure, who can be seen as either a hero or a villain, depending on one’s perspective. He is a product of his environment, a symbol of order in a chaotic world, but also a source of oppression and injustice. He is a critique of the excesses and flaws of both the left and the right wing ideologies. He is also a parody of the American culture and politics, as well as the British attitude towards them. Judge Dredd has been hailed as one of the best satires of American and British culture with an uncanny ability to predict upcoming trends and events such as mass surveillance, the rise of populist leaders, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Judge Dredd has influenced many other comics characters and media franchises, such as RoboCop , Batman , V for Vendetta , The Punisher , etc. He has also been adapted into various films and video games. The first film adaptation was Judge Dredd (1995), starring Sylvester Stallone , which was widely criticized for deviating from the source material and revealing Dredd’s face. The second film adaptation was Dredd (2012), starring Karl Urban , which was praised for being faithful to the comic and capturing its tone and style. Judge Dredd has also been voiced by Toby Longworth in audio dramas by Big Finish Productions.
The Golden Age of 2000AD
The golden age of 2000AD was the period in the early to mid-1980s, when the comic attracted some of the most talented and influential writers and artists in the British comics industry. Some of the creators who worked for 2000AD during this time were Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Grant Morrison, Brian Bolland, Mike McMahon, John Wagner, Alan Grant, Garth Ennis, and many others. They produced some of the classic stories and characters that defined 2000AD’s reputation and legacy.
The most notable among these popular titles were the following:
- Halo Jones: A sci-fi saga by Alan Moore and Ian Gibson, about a young woman who escapes from her boring life in a futuristic city and embarks on a series of adventures across the galaxy. It was one of the first female-led stories in 2000AD and explored themes such as feminism, war, class, and identity.
- Nemesis the Warlock: A Gothic fantasy by Pat Mills and various artists, about a demonic alien who leads a rebellion against the tyrannical human empire of Termight. It was a satire of fascism, racism, and religion, as well as a homage to various horror and sci-fi films and literature.
- Strontium Dog: A space western by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, about a mutant bounty hunter named Johnny Alpha who tracks down criminals in the aftermath of a nuclear war. It was a blend of action, humor, and social commentary, featuring a diverse cast of mutants and aliens. (And if you haven’t realized it by now, SD also happens to be the greatest character ever created. Just saying).
- ABC Warriors: A robot war story by Pat Mills and various artists, about a team of mechanized soldiers who fight in various conflicts across time and space. It was a critique of war and politics, as well as a showcase of different styles and designs of robots.
- Sláine: A Celtic fantasy by Pat Mills and various artists, about a barbarian warrior who travels through time and dimensions with his trusty axe. It was inspired by Irish mythology, history, and culture, as well as other fantasy works such as Conan the Barbarian and Elric of Melniboné.
These stories and characters not only entertained and thrilled the readers, but also challenged and inspired them with their originality, creativity, and intelligence.
These titles also influenced many other comics creators and media franchises, both in Britain and abroad, garnering the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic even further international acclaim.
Challenges and Changes
The challenges and changes that 2000AD faced in the late 1980s and 1990s were mainly due to external factors that affected the comics industry as a whole. Some of these factors were:
- The sale of Fleetway to Robert Maxwell in 1987 and then to Egmont UK in 1991. This resulted in changes in management, editorial policies, budgets, and distribution. Some of these changes were beneficial for 2000AD, such as the introduction of full-colour printing in 1988. Others were detrimental, such as the cancellation of some titles, the reduction of page count, and the loss of creative control.
- The migration of some of its original creators to American comics. Many writers and artists who worked for 2000AD in its golden age were lured by higher pay rates, better working conditions, and wider exposure offered by American publishers such as DC Comics and Marvel Comics. Some of them became famous for their work on titles such as Watchmen , Batman , The Sandman , Hellblazer , Preacher , etc.
- The competition from other comics. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was an influx of new comics from different genres and markets that challenged 2000AD’s dominance in British comics. Some of these comics were imported from America (such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles , The Simpsons , Spawn , etc.), Japan (such as Akira , Dragon Ball , Ghost in the Shell , etc.), or Europe (such as Asterix , Tintin , Lucky Luke , etc.). Others were produced locally (such as Deadline , Toxic! , Revolver , etc.).
- The changes in tastes and markets. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was a shift in the demographics and preferences of comics readers. Some of them grew older and became more interested in mature and sophisticated comics. Others became younger and more attracted to mainstream and commercial comics. There was also a decline in the number of newsagents that sold comics, as well as an increase in the price of comics.
The above factors posed difficulties and threats for 2000AD’s survival and relevance. However, 2000AD also adapted and innovated with new stories and characters that kept it alive and interesting. Some examples are:
- Zenith: A superhero satire by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell, about a self-absorbed pop star who is also one of the few superhumans left on Earth. It was one of the first British superhero comics that deconstructed the genre with humor, cynicism, and subversion.
- Rogue Trooper Redux: A reboot of the classic sci-fi war story by Dave Gibbons and Will Simpson, about a genetically engineered soldier who seeks revenge for his fallen comrades on the war-torn planet of Nu-Earth. It was a darker and grittier version of the original, with updated art and story.
- Nikolai Dante: A swashbuckling sci-fi adventure by Robbie Morrison and Simon Fraser, about a rogue and thief who discovers he is the son of a powerful Russian warlord in the 27th century. It was a mix of action, comedy, romance, and politics, with a charismatic and charming protagonist.
- Sinister Dexter: A crime comedy by Dan Abnett and various artists, about a pair of hitmen who work in the futuristic city of Downlode. It was a spoof of various crime and action films and TV shows, with witty dialogue, colourful characters, and absurd situations.
2000AD: Present and Future
The present and future of 2000AD in the 21st century are marked by the comic’s resilience and innovation in the face of changing times and challenges. Some of the factors that have contributed to 2000AD’s success and relevance in the modern era are:
- The acquisition of 2000AD by Rebellion Developments in 2000. This was a turning point for the comic, as it gave it a new owner who was passionate and supportive of its vision and legacy. Rebellion also acquired the rights to many other classic British comics, such as Battle, Action, Starlord, Tornado, etc., and integrated them into 2000AD’s universe. Rebellion also invested in improving the quality and distribution of 2000AD, as well as expanding its online presence and digital editions.
- The celebration of 2000AD’s milestones and achievements. 2000AD has reached several impressive landmarks in its history, such as its 1000th issue in 1995, its 2000th issue in 2016, its 40th anniversary in 2017, and its 2200th issue in 2018. These occasions have been celebrated with special issues, events, merchandise, and tributes from fans and creators alike. 2000AD has also won several awards and accolades, such as the Eagle Awards, the Eisner Awards, the Hugo Awards, etc.
- The continuation and creation of quality stories and characters. 2000AD has not rested on its laurels, but has continued to produce thrilling and thought-provoking stories and characters that appeal to both old and new readers. Some of the recent examples are Zombo, a zombie comedy by Al Ewing and Henry Flint; Brass Sun, a steampunk fantasy by Ian Edginton and INJ Culbard; Kingdom, a sci-fi horror by Dan Abnett and Richard Elson; Jaegir, a spin-off of Rogue Trooper by Gordon Rennie and Simon Coleby; etc.
And that’s it for our exploration of the history and development of 2000AD from its inception to its present day. We discussed how 2000AD established its identity and tone with its first issue, how it rose to popularity and acclaim with its flagship character Judge Dredd, how it reached its peak period in the early to mid-1980s with some of the most talented and influential writers and artists in the British comics industry, how it faced challenges and changes in the late 1980s and 1990s with different owners, creators, competitors, and markets, and how it survived and reinvented itself in the 21st century with new stories, characters, formats, media, and milestones. If you would like to know more, I heartily recommend you check out the tome Thrill-Power Overload: A History of the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic, or the documentary Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD.
Please feel free to share your comments and feedback on this blog post. I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on 2000AD. What are your favorite stories and characters? What are your memories and experiences of reading 2000AD? What are your hopes and expectations for the future of 2000AD?
Thanks for reading, Zarjaz Ones, and thank you for being a part of the thrill-power community. Now get out there and track down some progs of the galaxy’s greatest comic! Splundig vur Thrigg!