I came back to 2000AD in the Summer of this year, 20 years since I last picked up a copy. What attracted me was a cover;
it just got under my skin. 2000AD is a very British comic regardless of where the strips are set (space, future earth etc). The fact that they were embracing this Britishness by setting a story on a sink estate really got me interested. And Cradlegrave (the cover story that got its hooks in me) lived up to its promise.
For the first 2 issues you would not see anything fantastical or horrific, other than the horror that can be other peoples lives, as Cradlegrave is set in the Ravenglade Estate (nicknamed “Cradlegrave” after the ‘ravenglade’ sign loses a few of the letters and an enterprising soul renames the estate).
It is set somewhere in Lancashire. It follows the story of teenage Shane Holt, who has recently been released from Thorn Hill young offenders institution. What you get is a well paced drama of a young man coming to terms with life outside of the offenders institution and trying to stay on the right side of the law, avoiding falling into old habits, and negotiating that while keeping on the good side of best mate Callum. The detail that goes into all this is superb (and the devil is in the details) – like Shanes mom, whose idea of a celebration of his homecoming consists of a few ‘tins’ of lager and a night in front of the television.
As the series progressed at a slow burn, the intensity was suffocating, and John Smith (the writer) kept enough back while giving enough away to keep me hooked. Although it was over fairly quickly (12 issues – progs 1633 to 1644) it was quality, with superb detail provided by the brilliant art of Edmund Bagwell.
Elsewhere, the thrills were abundant;
Pat Mills’ Zombie Hunter ‘Defoe‘ in his third outing in the dank and diseased Queen of the Zombies (progs 1640-1649)
Shakara (progs 1650 to 1661). A mind bending tale of revenge with fantastical aliens – set in space!
Kingdom in “Call of the Wild” (prog 1650 to 1661) tells the thrilling and darkly humorous future Earth adventures of genitically engineered Dog Soldier Gene the Hackman. Words cannot do it justice, as the writing and art are sublime. A real treat.
Strontium Dog ‘The Mork Whisperer’ – Wagner & Ezquerra & Johnny Alpha & lots of other Strontium Dogs (but minus Wulf). There is not a lot more to say than the combination of Wagner & Ezquerra is the fundamental key to this series success. While they are producing the tales of Johnny Alpha, success is guaranteed.
Finally, Judge Dredd in one of his customary ‘epics’. ‘Tour of Duty’ (prog 1650 onwards), while still ongoing, is already one of the all-time greatest epics. This follows on from “Backlash” in which senior, hard line judges wage a campaign to elect a new chief judge who will repeal the new (& controversial) pro-mutant laws. Their chosen candidate is Judge Dan Francisco, who in “Backlash” survives an assassination attempt by mutants. Despite the fact that Dredd discovers that the assassination was engineered by anti-mutant activists in order to increase support for their own agenda, Francisco goes on to defeat the Chief Judge, Hershey, by a landslide.
Following on from “Backlash”, “Under New Management” shows Francisco’s first day in office as the new chief judge. He quickly marks his mark, as he replaces the entire Council of Five, prohibits all mutant immigration, and instigates a policy of deporting all mutants already in Mega City One to 4 new build townships in the Cursed Earth. Deputy Chief Judge Sinfield assigns Dredd to oversee this operation, with Beeny as his assistant. It is this story that acts as a lead in to “Tour of Duty,” which started in the next issue.
The first episodes seem like a homage to the original ‘Cursed Earth’ epic, with Dredd and a small posse of Judges riding out into the irradiated Badlands, encountering hostility and dispensing Mega City One instant Justice. As the story has unfolded though, it becomes much more than a tale of a journey into the Cursed Earth – it is more like a series of HBO’s The Wire sent forward into time. There are numerous storylines (the tensions between the individual Judges, the task of resttlement of Mutants, the politics of Mega City One, an insight into the power the Chief Judge holds, and procedural drama such as Rico and his assessment of a rookie Judge) and they weave around each other effortlessly. This story – “Tour of Duty” – above all other stories this year in 2000AD, has been the most satisfying and the one I look forward to the most. It could be the greatest Dredd story…..time will tell. It, like Strontium Dog, is produced by the powerful Wagner / Ezquerra creative team, and in my opinion, Ezquerra is becoming the definitive Dredd artist with every prog. Top quality thrills.
I have returned to 2000AD and it is in rude health. There is quality in abundance, so much so that you can forgive the odd clunky or boring strip, as there is so much in each issue to absorb you. I am glad to have it on my pull list.