“Where do I start reading Judge Dredd?”
That’s a question I’ve gotten a lot, and it’s a fair one. There is plenty of “Judge Dredd” out there. Couple that with breaking the news that 2000 AD goes well beyond just “Judge Dredd,” and you’re setting up some heads for a good spin. Fortunately, our transatlantic friends at The Nerve Centre are poised to launch “Best of 2000 AD,” a perfect-bound anthology series of the many sci-fi riches Tharg and his droids have to offer. The first of twelve 100 page, perfect bound issues, “Best of 2000 AD” #1 aims to be the definitive starting point for new 2000 AD readers!
Written by John Wagner, Gordon Rennie, Alan Moore, and Dan Abnett
Illustrated by Colin MacNeil, Simon Coleby, Ian Gibson, and INJ Culbard
Colored by Colin MacNeil, Len O’Grady, Ian Gibson, and INJ Culbard
Lettered by Tom Frame, Simon Bowland, and Steve Potter
The ultimate 2000 AD mix-tape has arrived! Best of 2000 AD is a brand-new full-color US-size monthly designed for new readers, the essential gateway to the “Galaxy’s Greatest Comic.” Collecting the finest stories of the UK publication’s modern era, Best of 2000 AD features a self-contained 48-page Judge Dredd adventure supported by three of the legendary comic’s stand-out series. Boasting work from legends John Wagner, Alan Moore, and Dan Abnett, with a brand new cover by Jamie McKelvie. WARNING: precision-engineered to thrill.
So back to the question of where to start. If I can be honest, it really rubs me the wrong way when people recommend “Origins” as the place to start reading “Judge Dredd.” It is an absolutely fantastic, and important, story, but one that loses most of its gravity if you don’t know anything about the character. “So then where do you start, Mr. Know-It-All?” Well, for me, it wasn’t with the big-chinned future cop himself, but the world around him. Stories like “Lenny Zero,” “Mega City Undercover,” and “The Taxidermist” gave me a window into the hyper-fascinating future city that Dredd calls home. Like a fresh faced tourist, these stories allowed me to step out into what is colloquially referred to as ‘The Big Meg.’ I wandered around a bit, getting to know the local flavor, before having an experience that every citizen of Mega City One is bound to have: a run in with the law.
While “Best of 2000 AD” doesn’t kick off with precisely the same Dredd strips I did, it does start with the same type of narrative. “Terror,” the “Judge Dredd” story presented to us in this issue, establishes a number of crucial, and often overlooked, facts about Judge Dredd. First and foremost: Dredd is in no way a hero, super or otherwise. He is a brutal tool of a facist system of governance. The villain. He and his ilk are always watching, always waiting for you to step out of line. Judge Dredd is, as Sly Stallone so eloquently put it, The Law.
Next point of order is making it clear that Mega City One is not an easy place to live, and its citizens are hard-pressed to find fulfillment. This kind of environment is a hot house for dissent, which often manifests in acts of violence. These acts, however, are not mindless. They are committed by people who simply cannot sit idly by, toiling the days away in fear-induced obedience. Citizens who have lives, motivations, interests, and emotions, things that Dredd and his fellow Judges lack. In a city as massive as Mega City One, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that every person you see has their own story. Everyone has a face, except the Judges.
Finally, there’s dark, DARK, humor under the surface of every “Judge Dredd” story. Not always the kind that makes you actually laugh out loud, though. It stems from the absolute absurdity of it all. The uniforms, the architecture, the manner in which the Judges conduct themselves, it’s all so over the top. A caricature of America, painted with cynicism and disbelief. This is a fundamental ingredient for every “Judge Dredd” story, as it colors everything you see and read.Continued below
“Best of 2000 AD” does an absolutely fantastic job of showing how incredible their creative line-ups are. “Terror” is written by Dredd’s co-creator John Wagner, who’s wit and talent are so perfectly crucial for this type of storytelling. Right alongside him is long time collaborator Colin MacNeil, who’s art on the seminal Dredd story “America” ushered in a new era for the character, as well as the publications in which he appears. It’s no accident that these are the two who kick off this brand new publication.
On the heels of “Judge Dredd” comes “Jaegir,” a story that takes the same sort of approach to character introduction. What “Terror” is to the world of Judge Dredd, “Jaegir” is to another of 2000 AD’s most prominent characters: The Rogue Trooper. Written by Gordon Rennie, with shock inducing art from Simon Coleby and Len O’Grady, the titular Kapiten Atalia Jaegir heads up a division of the Nortland military, tasked with cleaning up some of the less savory atrocities that are a by-product of an already atrocious war. Unlike “Terror,” though, this world’s central character, The Rogue Trooper himself, does not make an appearance in this story. The blue skinned soldier is iconic, and his talking gun, helmet, and backpack are an utterly fascinating, if not wholly unexpected, part of the character. “Watchmen” artist Dave Gibbons co-created “Rogue Trooper,” which means that there are heaps of phenomenal art for new readers to feast on. I really hope he’ll make a proper appearance in these pages before too long.
I’m really excited to see “The Ballad of Halo Jones” turn up in these pages. Written by Alan Moore, with art by Ian Gibson, “Halo Jones” is an infamous strip that more than a few folks would argue as being the height of 80s 2000 AD. While originally published in black and white, this excerpt is from the recently released colored version of the strip. While I mostly avoid color updates of work intended to be read in black and white, Barbara Nosenzo’s exquisite paints prove to be exceptional. She treats the work in a way that evokes what the colors would look like if they had been done back in ‘83. Personally, I’d be hard pressed to find an example of Moore’s work that I enjoy more that “Halo Jones,” and I’m a little jealous of the people who get to experience it for the first time.
Rounding things out is a relatively new series. “Brink” is one of a string of works from the team of artist INJ Culbard and writer Dan Abnett, and probably my favorite amongst them. “Brink” takes place in a future where humans now live among the stars in massive, and overcrowded, ‘habitats’ floating through space. Our protagonist, Habitat Security Division investigator Bridget Curtis is tasked with, well, habitat security. This series is an excellent future detective story that takes place in a unique and thoughtful environment. One of the things I most appreciate about Dan Abnett as a sci-fi writer is his ability to see things simply, finding nuance and detail in places where you wouldn’t expect them. For example, living in such densely populated and constrained spaces could, almost certainly, create a bit of emotional and psychological stress. As a remedy, a pharmaceutical company has developed a drug to help people cope with these issues. It’s this sort of thoughtfulness, this attention to detail, that makes Abnett one of the most important writers 2000 AD has on their roster right now. Alongside him is INJ Culbart, an artist who, like Abnett, finds power in being deceptively simple. His bold and minimal line style is incredibly well suited for the type of action found in this series. On top of that, it leaves an openness for his deftly considered color palettes. As a matter of coincidence, there’s a new “Brink” series running right now, so maybe head out and get your hands on it!
And now: the object. As a physical thing, “Best of 2000 AD” is a delight. The cover has a wonderful oak tag sort of texture, a little waxy to the touch, a perfect canvas for Jamie McKelvie’s striking, eerily colored cover. The image features, of course, Judge Dredd, but has him hanging back as his long-time peer Psi Judge Cassandra Anderson takes the pole position. Inside readers are greeted by a stocky paper with just a little tooth to it. A perfect texture that not only makes every one of these fantastically colored stories sing, but also serves to evoke a feeling of the newsprint origins of this long running magazine. This well considered, well executed package springs forth from the mind of book designer Tom Muller.
From start to finish, this book is an absolute gem. I’ve been reading 2000 AD for a minute now (not to brag, but I am one of the co-creators of the long running Multiver-City One column), and I still found a ton of excitement in this, a publication created primarily for new readers. “Best of 2000 AD” #1 can now be preordered through the comic shop of your choice, and will be in your hands just in time for Free Comic Book Day. Go get it.