It was my first love, my first introduction to “adult”comics and the first comic I ever collected seriously (before that I used to just read and bin them, sacrilegious I know).
They say you never forget your first love and it’s true.
When I was 8, I borrowed a copy of 2000AD from a friend, or my brother I can’t quite remember. What I do remember is being instantly hooked on this crazy, violent thing I held in my hands. Up until that point the only comics I had read were things like WHIZZER AND CHIPS. These were simple little comic strips, where the main characters were cheeky kids and their adventures usually involved them trying to wag school.
2000AD was a revelation. Here was a comic filled with ultra violence and sex and SWEARING!! Granted they swore with made up future words, but I could tell swear words when I saw them. From then on Whizzer and Chips was out the window and every Saturday, when I got my pocket money ($1, a kings ransom in 1985), I would run down to the shops to get the latest issue.
At first I thought I had to hide 2000AD. Surely if my parents knew what I was reading, they would confiscate it. As a result 2000AD was strictly read and destroy. Later, I would come to realise that my parents (and non-comics readers) could stare blankly at the pages and not register what was happening, so it was safe but at the time my 8 year old brain thought 2000AD was terribly naughty.
And what naughtiness! Most stories in 2000AD involve some kind of future or fantasy scenario and usually end with people being killed violently. It’s an anthology and has between 3-5 strips that usually run for about 8 pages each. 8 pages isn’t a lot of time to tell a story so each strip is super compressed and has as much action as possible.
From SLAINE the sadistic high king of mythical Ireland, to the mutant bounty hunters of STRONTIUM DOG, scouring a post apocalyptic England in search of evil doers to bring to justice. These were manly, testosterone fueled stories full of violence and mayhem and were my first introduction to anti heroes. And the biggest anti-hero of them all was JUDGE DREDD.
Introduced in issue (or Prog) 2 of 2000AD, Judge Dredd quickly rose in popularity to become 2000AD’s most iconic character and has appeared in the comic ever since. A “Lawman of the Future”, Dredd is part of a police force called Judges, that have the power to dispense instant justice, i.e. they can and do sentence lawbreakers on the spot. In essence they are cop, judge and executioner rolled into one. More than this the Judges are a fascist dictatorship and rule their future metropolis, MEGA-CITY ONE, with and iron fist.
Judge Dredd, the top Judge, is not a nice man. Although he does heroic things service of his city (see THE DAY THE LAW DIED, NECROPOLIS, INFERNO) he is also cold hearted, a bully and a thug capable of extreme cruelty (see AMERICA). This is the appeal of the character. Through him, his creator JOHN WAGNER is able to tell stories that comment on society. He can be the hero or the villian depending on the needs of the story.
Having a main character that is such an asshole is difficult. So Wagner and other writers have built up an extensive supporting cast over the years. Often Dredd is no more than a force of nature, with the other characters reacting to his presence. There is also a rich vein of black humour running through the stories, usually with the humourless Dredd playing the ultimate straight man.
His look is very tough and punk with lots of leather and chains (he was designed in the late 70’s after all) and fits the nature of his stories well. Although the size of his shoulder pads is a bit OTT in my opinion. He also rides the biggest, craziest looking motorbike ever, The LAWMASTER. This bike is insane looking and with it’s giant wheels, must have been the inspiration behind The Dark Knight’s BATPOD.
There have been some truly great Dredd stories over the years and he is by far my favorite character, so much so that I have a tattoo of his badge on my arm.
Dredd’s popularity even reached a point where Hollywood came calling. The result was the disappointing film starring Sylvester Stallone. I remember being heartbroken by that film’s awfulness but I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Judge Dredd is at heart a very British comic and in many ways, a parody of America. How was that ever going to translate into an American made action film?
While Dredd is the most popular character appearing in 2000AD there have been many other great ones written by some of the top writers in comics. As the comic grew and changed many more mature stories began appearing, featuring more than just violence and death. There are too many to mention here but check them out here
Many writers and artists got their start in 2000AD like the great ALAN MOORE (WATCHMEN, LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN), who wrote my favourite 2000AD story HALO JONES (who will be the subject of my next column).
There were many other writers who started out in 2000AD, like GRANT MORRISON, (ALL STAR SUPERMAN, BATMAN) and MARK MILLAR (WANTED) and more artists than I can mention (see this list).
I read and collected 2000AD all through the 1990’s and only stopped collecting it in the early 2000’s when the price got beyond what I was willing to pay for a weekly book (I believe it was 50c when I started buying it and about $7.50 when I stopped).
That was the excuse I gave myself but the truth was, I think part of me had grown beyond 2000AD. We had grown apart and I’d moved on to other books. While I’ll still pick up the occasional issue and flip through it, I no longer have the connection to it that I used to.
But it’s still my first love. I grew up with 2000AD and it will always have a special place in my collection (I have an almost unbroken run of books from 1989-2001). I’ll still pull out the odd issue and reminisce. 2000AD gave me my love of comics and for that I’ll always be grateful.
By the way I would like to take this opportunity to point out how lovely Hilleke is. Last Christmas she bought me an original copy of 2000AD Issue no 2. It’s the one with Judge Dredd’s first appearance and has to one of the neatest presents I’ve ever received. Here’s a photo of it.