The most daunting thing about comics these days, it seems, is the continuity: Where’s the starting point for a comic that has been running since 1947? Marvel and DC have both made efforts in this direction in the past few years, with DC’s New 52 and Marvel’s Marvel Now touted as jumping-on points.
The UK comic 2000AD has been around since 1977, and it wasn’t easy to find in the U.S. until just a few years ago, but it presents a bit less of a challenge than superheroes. The flagship story, Judge Dredd, runs in fairly short episodes that can be read independently, and the other features come and go.
Still, it’s unusual for everything to sync up the way they did with Prog 1824 (note to newbies: issues are called “progs,” and no, I don’t know why), in which all four stories are starting fresh. First up is a Judge Dredd story, “Cypher.” In case you missed the movie, here’s all you need to know to read Judge Dredd: The title character is a law enforcer (police, judge, and executioner all in one) in a massive, post-apocalyptic future city, Mega-City One, which is surrounded by a vast radioactive wasteland, the Cursed Earth. Dredd and his fellow judges ride around on enormous, badass motorcycles dispensing justice, which is very macho, but this comic also includes plenty of strong, interesting female characters, including a number of female judges. The first page of “Cypher” is heavy on backstory, but after that it plunges straight into robot-versus-judge action. Good times.
“Dandridge: The Copper Conspiracy” is the sort of thing that Americans regard as “British humor.” It is set in an alternate version of the 1980s in which the Victorian Spiritualists turned out to be right after all, and ghosts are everywhere—but mostly used as sources of power. The title character, Doctor Spartacus Dandridge, was a 19th-century ghost-hunter who is now a ghost himself. Back in action thanks to a special suit that gives him form, he is supposed to be hunting down a stolen faerie dagger, but he is too busy living the good life. Dandridge is one of those preposterously charming characters who bends everyone to his will, but by the end of the first chapter his powers of “savoir fu” may have met their match in the form of a trio of ghost-powered flying robots. Warren Pleece’s smooth art is perfect for this story.
The third story, “Survival Geeks,” is the first chapter of a three-part stand-alone story about a girl who goes home with a geeky guy and wakes up in another dimension. It’s light-hearted, with a quartet of engaging characters and a lot of geek-insider humor. The story is co-written by longtime 2000AD contributor Gordon Rennie and newcomer Emma Beeby, who is the first woman ever to write a Judge Dredd story (in Prog 1826).
Finally, “Stickleback,” written by Ian Edginton and illustrated by D’Israeli, is a strange story set in late 19th-century London and illustrated in a beautifully liquid white-on-black style that is totally unlike anything else in comics—the cover image of Prog 1824 is the title character. Stickleback, a master criminal with an exposed spine, emerges from some sort of suspended animation in this episode, while robbers break into a factory, an event whose significance will emerge in the next episode.
Sound tempting? There are two ways to read 2000AD digitally: Via their iOS Newsstand app or as a direct download from their site. The issues are priced at $2.99 each in the app, and there are several subscription plans that make a lot of sense if you decide to get into the 2000AD habit. The digital price on the site is £1.99, which your credit card company will translate into your local currency; what’s nice about buying the comics this way is that they are direct downloads in PDF or CBZ format, so they are platform-independent and DRM-free.
Since it’s an import, the digital edition of 2000AD is a much better deal than print—it’s both cheaper and a lot faster, as the comics tend not to show up in U.S. shops until after their cover date. And because it’s a weekly, digital solves the problem of clutter as well.
This issue is filled with imaginative storytelling and superb art, and after reading it I was hooked. I highly recommend this issue if you’re looking for something fresh, funny, and original—and you don’t want to spend a month figuring out the backstory.