2000 AD occupies a curious space in the comic book landscape, at least here in the United States. It is undoubtedly a juggernaut, host to popular characters like the iconic Judge Dredd, and a place where star creators from Alan Moore to Al Ewing have honed their craft while producing stories that have stood the test of time. Yet, its weekly anthology format and 45 years of history can make it difficult to know where to begin, especially for those of us reared in our reading habits by the North American direct market. To commemorate the magazine's 45th anniversary, publisher Rebellion is releasing a line of Best of 2000 AD collections. If the first volume is anything to go by, this series could offer a Rosetta Stone to help prospective readers crack the 2000 AD code and open up a whole new world of incredible comic book stories.
Before readers even open the volume, Best of 2000 AD, Vol. 1 makes an impression. Rebellion tapped Jamie McKelvie to provide brand new cover art depicting two of 2000 AD's most recognizable characters, Judges Dredd and Anderson, in McKelvie's distinct style, sure to catch the attention of fans of his other work. Combined with the bold production design of Tom Muller, who recently left a mark on Marvel's X-Men line, Best of 2000 AD presents itself as a thoroughly modern and inviting volume.
Rebellion describes Best of 2000 AD as a "mixtape" of new and old stories. It begins with a new Judge Dredd story from John Wagner, who co-created the character with Carlos Ezquerra, and artist Kev Walker, offering a sample of what modern Dredd stories look like, infused with the strip's signature sense of sci-fi satire.
The volume's second story is a portion of Brink: Book One by Dan Abnett and INJ Culbard, a recent hit for 2000 AD that reads like the Joe Miller portions of The Expanse crossed with cosmic horror. It's an expertly crafted story that's smoother and less loud than Dredd, providing a nice contrast, and Rebellion will continue serializing it in future Best of 2000 AD volumes.
From here, the volume throws open 2000 AD's vault, offering the entire first book of Alan Moore and Ian Gibson's classic The Ballad of Halo Jones in color. If we're going with the mixtape metaphor, the first two stories were modern rock hits, while Halo Jones feels like a meandering piece of prog rock from a bygone era. There's a second dose of old-school 2000 AD in the form of a one-shot Strontium Dog story—that's Wagner and Ezquerra's other iconic 2000 AD creation—that provides a fun adventure with a wry sense of humor.
At this point, an essay from critic Adam Karenina Sherif breaks things up to introduce Anderson, Psi Division: Shamballa by the recently late, great Alan Grant and artist Arthur Ranson. Reading Sherif's piece ahead of Shamballa was like reading the essay included with the Criterion Collection release of a film, providing context and insight while, despite being published by Rebellion, not letting the story off the hook for certain dated tropes. It helps make Shamballa the standout piece of the whole volume, partly because it's excellent, playing out like a classic Cold War thriller, but also because of how that tone and Ranson's artwork stand apart from the rest of the collection, showcasing 2000 AD's range.
Speaking of distinct art styles, a Judge Dredd story by Grant, Brendan McCarthy, and Jamie Hewlett plays like a punk rock outro to this mixtape, and the Jamie Delano & Alan Davis D.R. & Quinch one-pager acts as a quick coda tagged onto the end. Both showcase 2000 AD's more playful side.
It's hard to find anything negative to say about Best of 2000 AD, Vol. 1. It is, after all, a collection of some of the best stories to come out of a magazine that has produced 45 years of quality comics. It would be easy to guess by the credits page alone that this is a collection of stellar work, and that's true.
It's also successful as an introduction to 2000 AD. One might question the wisdom of including three stories set in the Judge Dredd universe (four if you count Strontium Dog, which takes place in its far future) or having two stories each from Wagner and Grant. However, It's hard to feel too critical about the former, given how different each Dredd story is. As for the latter, with Wagner and Grant being among 2000 AD's best-known and most prolific writers, not featuring their work prominently would almost seem disingenuous.
Readers may also find themselves wishing for a little more context at times. The volume practically cries out for an introduction, and Sherif's essay so wonderfully sets the stage for Shamballa that it seems a shame the other stories didn't get the same contextualization, even if in much briefer form. But this, admittedly, might be unfair as it is essentially asking the volume to pull double duty as a History of in addition to a Best of when it in no way claims to be the former. In truth, it's just wanting more of a good thing.
Best of 2000 AD, Vol. 1 is a sharply designed and cleverly curated collection of comics. Readers would be hard pressed to find an anthology collection that matches it for quality, featuring seven stories—either complete or generous portions of grander works—by industry greats. Like the mixtapes and label compilation CDs it emulates, Best of 2000 AD provides a varied sampling of what the publication has to offer, from its back catalog to the pages of its most recent issues. If you're a comic book fan who has been interested in 2000 AD—and you should be—it's hard to imagine a better entry point into that world than Best of 2000 AD.0comments
Published by Rebellion
On September 7, 2022
Written by John Wagner, Dan Abnett, Alan Moore, Alan Grant, Jamie Delano, and Alan Davis
Art by Kev Walker, INJ Culbard, Ian Gibson, Carlos Ezquerra, Arthur Ranson, Brendan McCarthy, Jamie Hewlett, and Alan Davis
Inks by Mark Farmer
Colors by Chris Blythe, Barbara Nosenzo, and Mark Farmer
Letters by Annie Parkhouse, Simon Bowland, Steve Potter, and Tom Frame
Cover by Jamie McKelvie