2000 AD (comics) - History - The 1980s

The 1980s

In 1980 Judge Dredd gained a new enemy. Writer John Wagner realised that Dredd's habit of shooting just about everybody he came up against meant that it was difficult to create a recurring villain. The solution was Judge Death, an undead judge from another dimension where, since all crime was committed by the living, life itself was outlawed. The law had been thoroughly enforced on his own world, and now he had come to Mega-City One to continue his work. Judge Death first appeared in an atmospheric three-parter drawn by Brian Bolland which also introduced Judge Anderson of Psi Division, a squad of judges with psychic powers.

Dredd soon began another epic journey in "The Judge Child". A dying Psi Division Judge had predicted disaster for Mega-City One unless it was ruled by a boy with a birthmark shaped like an eagle, so Dredd set off into the Cursed Earth, to Texas City, and into deep space in search of the boy, Owen Krysler, and his kidnappers, the Angel Gang. The Angels were some of the most memorable villains Wagner had yet devised, but suffered the same mortality problem that had plagued the strip so far. All of them were killed during the course of the story, but one, the Mean Machine, was later resurrected by a convenient bit of magic. "The Judge Child" was drawn by Bolland, Ron Smith and Mike McMahon in rotation, and the later episodes marked the beginning of Wagner's long-running writing partnership with Alan Grant. The pair would go on to write Strontium Dog, Robo-Hunter and many other stories for 2000 AD, as well as for Roy of the Rovers, Battle and the relaunched Eagle in the United Kingdom, and a number of comics in America.

Prog (issue) 178 was something of a relaunch for 2000 AD. All current stories, with the exception of Judge Dredd, were wound up, and a new set of stories was launched simultaneously, consisting of Mean Arena, set around a violent high-tech street football game, Meltdown Man, whose hero was transported to a genetically engineered far future by a nuclear explosion, Strontium Dog, featuring a mutant bounty hunter character inherited from the short-lived Starlord title, and Dash Decent, a thinly disguised spoof of Flash Gordon.

Pat Mills introduced Comic Rock, which was meant to be a format for short stories inspired by popular music. The first story, inspired by The Jam's Going Underground, was drawn by Kevin O'Neill and featured an insane underground travel network on a planet called "Termight", in which a freedom fighter called Nemesis battles the despotic Torquemada, chief of the Tube Police. All that was seen of Nemesis was the outside of his vehicle, the Blitzspear. The story was a reaction to an earlier tube chase sequence Mills and O'Neill had done in Ro-Busters, which management objected to.

The only other Comic Rock story was a follow-up called "Killer Watt", in which Nemesis and Torquemada fought on a teleport system. This led to a series, Nemesis the Warlock, in which it was revealed that Termight was Earth in the far future, Torquemada was a despotic demagogue leading a campaign of genocide against all aliens, and Nemesis was the leader of the alien resistance. Mills and O'Neill were on a roll and produced a stream of bizarre and imaginative ideas, but ultimately O'Neill was unable to continue the level of work he was putting into it on 2000 AD pay. He left to work for DC Comics in America, and was replaced on Nemesis by Bryan Talbot.

2000 AD would occasionally take a gamble on non-science fiction material. For example Fiends of the Eastern Front was a World War II vampire story by Gerry Finley-Day and Carlos Ezquerra which was probably originally intended for Battle. Its hero was a German soldier who discovered that some of his Romanian allies were vampires. Later in the war, when Romania changed sides, he was the only one who knew their secret.

A readers' poll revealed that future war was a popular topic, so Gerry Finley-Day was asked to come up with a new war story. He, editor Steve MacManus and artists Dave Gibbons devised Rogue Trooper, a "Genetic Infantryman" engineered to be immune to chemical warfare hunting down the traitor general who had betrayed his regiment, who debuted in 1981. He was supported by bio-chips of the personalities of three dead comrades, which, slotted into his equipment, could talk to him. Gibbons left the strip early on and was replaced by Colin Wilson, Brett Ewins, and most notably Cam Kennedy. Rogue Trooper replaced Meltdown Man, which had recently ended its run.

Another new strip in 1981, inspired by the brief CB radio craze, was Ace Trucking Co., a comedy about pointy-headed alien space trucker Ace Garp and his crew by Wagner, Grant and Belardinelli.

Wagner and Grant also had big plans for Judge Dredd. Mega-City One had grown too large and unwieldy, and they planned to cut it down to size. "Block Mania", in which wars broke out between rival city-blocks, turned out to be a plot orchestrated by the Russian city East-Meg One, and led directly to "The Apocalypse War", another six-month epic and a hard-hitting satire on the concept of Mutually assured destruction. East-Meg One, protected by a warp-shield, softened up Mega-City One with nuclear warheads before invading. Dredd spearheaded the resistance, leading a small team to East-Meg territory, hijacking their nuclear bunkers and blowing East-Meg One off the face of the earth. "The Apocalypse War" was drawn in its entirety by Carlos Ezquerra, making a return to the character he created.

A new writer, Alan Moore, had started contributing Future Shocks in 1980. He wrote more than fifty one-off strips over the next three years, while also contributing to various Marvel UK titles and the independent magazine Warrior. In 1982 he gained his first series, Skizz, a less sentimental take on the same basic plot used in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, set in Birmingham and influenced by Alan Bleasdale's Boys from the Blackstuff. The series was drawn by Jim Baikie.

Moore wrote another series, D.R. and Quinch, spun off from a one-off Time Twister. Drawn by Alan Davis, the strip featured a pair of alien juvenile delinquents with a penchant for mindless thermonuclear destruction. He went on to create The Ballad of Halo Jones with artist Ian Gibson. Halo was an everywoman in the far future, born into mass unemployment on a floating housing estate, who escaped the earth and became involved in a terrible galactic war. Three books were published, and more were planned, but Moore's demands for creator's rights and his increasing commitments to American publishers meant they never materialised.

A new character, Sláine, debuted in 1983, but had been in development since 1981. Created by Pat Mills and his then wife Angela Kincaid, Sláine was a barbarian fantasy strip based on Celtic mythology. Kincaid was a children's book illustrator who had never worked in comics before, and her opening episode was drawn and redrawn several times before the editors were satisfied. Other stories were written for artists Massimo Belardinelli and Mike McMahon, but these could not see print until Kincaid's episode was ready.

In 1985, after appearing as a supporting character in Judge Dredd, Judge Anderson finally appeared in her own series, written by Wagner and Grant and initially drawn by Brett Ewins. New artist Glenn Fabry debuted on Sláine, but due to his notorious slowness was rotated with David Pugh. In the Judge Dredd story "Letter from a Democrat", Wagner and Grant introduced a pro-democracy movement in Mega-City One, which is after all a police state. This would provide plotlines for years to come.

In 1986 the comic reached its 500th issue. A new Sláine story, Sláine the King, began, entirely drawn by Fabry. Peter Milligan, a writer who had been contributing Future Shocks, began two series, the bleak future war story Bad Company, (based partly upon John Wagner's Darkie's Mob strip in Battle) and a strange, psychedelic series called The Dead. In 1986, 2000AD was selling a very healthy 150,000 copies a week.

In 1987 IPC's comics division was hived off and sold to publishing magnate Robert Maxwell as Fleetway. 2000 AD was revamped, with a larger page size and full process colour on the covers and centre pages. Richard Burton became editor. Kevin O'Neill returned for a short Nemesis series called "Torquemada the God". Not long after came the debut of Zenith, 2000 AD's first superhero strip, by new writer Grant Morrison and artist Steve Yeowell. The title character was a shallow pop singer with superhuman powers, caught up in the intrigues of a 1960s generation of superhumans and the machinations of some Lovecraftian elder gods.

Wagner and Grant began a new Dredd Epic, "Oz", featuring Chopper, a popular supporting character. Chopper was a skysurfer who had been imprisoned for competing in an illegal surfing competition a few years previously. A legal "Supersurf" race was being held in Oz, the future Australia, and Chopper escaped to compete. Dredd also went to Oz, partly to deal with Chopper, but mostly to investigate the Judda, a clone army created by Mega-City One's former chief genetic engineer. The Judda were defeated, and Chopper narrowly lost the race to Jug McKenzie. Dredd was waiting at the finish line, but McKenzie distracted him and allowed Chopper to escape into the outback. This ending was apparently the cause of some dispute between Wagner and Grant, and was a contributing factor (it was The Last American, a mini series for Epic Comics which would mark the end) in ending their regular writing partnership. Wagner kept Dredd, while Grant continued Strontium Dog and Judge Anderson. However the pair would still come together for occasional collaborations.

The "Oz" storyline had some lasting implications. Kraken, a Judda cloned from the same genetic material as Dredd, was captured by Justice Department, who had plans for him. Chopper also spun off into his own series, written by Wagner and drawn by Colin MacNeil.

The ABC Warriors finally had their own series again in 1987 as a spin-off from Nemesis. This was written, as ever, by Pat Mills, and drawn by two artists in rotation, newcomer Simon Bisley and science fiction artist S.M.S..

In 1988 Grant and artist Simon Harrison began a new Strontium Dog story, "The Final Solution". It took nearly two years to complete, and ended with the death of Johnny Alpha, who sacrificed his life to save mutants from extermination. Original artist Carlos Ezquerra did not agree with the decision to kill the character off, and refused to draw it.

The number of colour pages was increased, allowing for one complete strip per issue to be painted. Initially the colour pages were reserved for Judge Dredd, but were later given over to a new Sláine story, "The Horned God", fully painted by Simon Bisley. The series was collected as a series of three graphic novels, then as a single volume, and has remained in print ever since.

In 1989 the colour pages were increased again, allowing for three colour stories and two black and white in every issue. One of the colour series was Rogue Trooper: the War Machine, written by Dave Gibbons and painted by Will Simpson. The original Rogue Trooper series had run out of steam after the Traitor General had been dealt with, so Gibbons revamped the concept, creating a different genetic infantryman, Friday, in a different war.

One of the black and white stories, "The Dead Man", was a low-key beginning for a major event. In the Cursed Earth, villagers come across a man, burnt from head to toe, with no memory of who he is or what happened to him. As he tries to piece his memories back together, he is being hunted by the evil beings who left him in that state. A creepy, atmospheric horror-western, it was drawn by John Ridgway and written by "Keef Ripley", a pseudonym for John Wagner. By the end of the series the Dead Man had discovered his identity. He was Judge Dredd.

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