Shiny Shelf


2000AD Prog 1700

By Mark Clapham on 04 September 2010

Comics love arbitrary numbering milestones, and if there’s one advantage of a weekly publication schedule it’s that those big numbers roll around four times as fast as they do for US monthlies.

So, while ‘Action Comics’ (launched in the late 1930s) staggers towards #900, ‘2000AD’ ( born in the late 1970s) clocks up issue (‘Prog’, in the comic’s own private language) 1700.

As an anthology title ‘2000AD’ tends to use these big numbers for ‘jumping-on’ issues where each strip is the beginning of a new story (as with #1500, which I reviewed¬† a few years back). So, with ‘CLiNT’ debuting this week in a flurry of wild claims about reviving the British comics market, it’s worth looking again at what Tharg considers a ‘new-reader-friendly’ issue. Is it likely to make any new converts?

In terms of first impressions, this is a very nice looking issue. The tweaked logo and new contents page are clean and crisp, with an eye-friendly white background that’s a lot less ’90s videogames magazine’ than the old, cluttered layout. An anniversary issue means alien editor Tharg on the cover rather than a showcase for a particular strip, but Jon Davis-Hunt takes a potentially restrictive brief and delivers a striking cover that’s the sharpest art I’ve seen from him yet. With a very strong line-up of artists within, this is certainly a good looking issue.

Lead strip is, of course, ‘Judge Dredd’ in the first part of ‘The Skinning Room’. Dredd’s creator/lead writer John Wagner scripts, and there’s a bit of business involving ongoing story threads to take account of in the first couple of pages, but Wagner skillfully restates Dredd’s character and his current position within the Mega-City One hierarchy in the process. The villain introduced is suitably macabre, and while there’s no great surprises here it’s a promising enough set-up for a straightforward Dredd story. Ben Willsher’s art has the right balance of garish futurism and dystopian gloom, and are well served by Chris Blythe’s vivid colours.

Next up is ‘Defoe’ with ‘A Murder of Angels’, the most immediately appealing strip here. While it’s a very talky first installment, this series about zombie hunters in an alternative 17th century Britain is writer Pat Mills finest creation of recent years, an outrageous combination of mock-historical dialogue, body horror and action with a great central character in . Leigh Gallagher’s black and white art is atmospheric, horrific and insanely detailed, although that detail and a penchant for dynamic angles can make the action a little hard to follow at times. While this episode restates the series premise well enough, I highly recommend ‘1666‘, the first collected volume of the series.

‘Age of the Wolf’ is the only entirely new series in this issue, and is scripted by Alec Worley with art by cover artist Davis-Hunt. The premise is instantly intriguing: a few years in the future, the Full Moon persists for nights on end, creating a growing apocalyptic panic. I can’t recall seeing werewolves used as the vehicle for an apocalyptic scenario before – zombies or vampires, yes, but not werewolves – so colour me intrigued. The first installment is mainly set-up, but throws in plenty of interesting clues.

‘Low Life’ is set in the same world as ‘Judge Dredd’, but concentrates on undercover Judges. Over the last few years writer Rob Williams has taken a fairly straightforward premise (all the usual ‘Donnie Brasco’ cops undercover stuff: ‘Am I a cop pretending to be a criminal or a criminal pretending to be a cop’, angst angst etc) and twisted it into something pleasingly barking, with insane Judge/tramp Dirty Frank and an overarching story with biblical overtones. This first episode of ‘Hostile Takeover’ jumps around in locations and time periods, setting up the scope of the story rather than easing the reader in. Baffling, but promising big things. Mono art by D’Israeli, who remains one of British comics most distinct stylists. Good stuff.

Finally, ‘Nikolai Dante’ in ‘City of the Damned’. This may sound like Stockholm Syndrome, but I’ve become more favourable towards ‘Dante’ in the last few years. I think it’s that, perversely, as the strip has become bleaker, abandoning the joyless attempts at swashbuckling cheekiness in favour of epic melodrama, I’ve enjoyed it more. It remains, however, the least accessible series running in ‘2000AD’, with a vast cast of characters whose relationships are rarely explained. The latest twist involves the resurrection of a character I’m fairly sure I’ve never seen before, and I’ve been reading this series for years. This episode is all prologue, but at least the overwhelmingly dour mood reassured me there’s no return to sub-’Flashman’ larks any day soon. Phew.

I’m unsure about how well Prog 1700 works as a jumping-on point for new readers. It’s about as accessible as ‘2000AD’ gets, but with the caveat that it’s a long-running comic with a dedicated audience and a number of storylines that have been going for years: it doesn’t really do accessibility.

To be honest, I’m not sure whether it should. It’s very possible that a harder relaunch – more entirely new stories, less ongoing plot threads carried over in the continuing strips, and introductory episodes that steadily explained the set-up of each strip – would be more of a jumping-off point than new-reader magnet, alienating more loyalists than attracting newcomers.

As it stands, if you’re the kind of person who would consider reading ‘2000AD’ then chances are you know what an archetypal ‘2000AD’ story is like¬† – dark SF or fantasy, with a lot of violence and a mildly subversive, humorous edge – and just want to know whether the current strips fit that template well.

The answer to that is a very big ‘yes’. Within its own very specific niche ‘2000AD’ has been thriving for a while, and this is another very strong line-up: Wagner is on fine form writing ‘Dredd’, ‘Defoe’ is great, ‘Low Life’ is well worth getting into and ‘Age of the Wolf’ looks promising.

While it’s unlikely to lure huge numbers of new readers out of the ether (and, frankly, what print publication can do that these days?), Prog 1700 will keep regular readers happy, and should hold the attention of irregular or lapsed readers who give this issue a spin.

Former and casual squaxx, along with the genuinely thrill-curious, should give it a try.


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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named markclapham.com.




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