One of the high points of any year's release calendar is 2000 AD's hundred-page end-of-the-year celebration. It's a terrific jumping-on point, with the first episodes - usually double-length - of the ongoing series that will continue on into the following year, and additional, one-off episodes of some of the other recurring favorites.
This time out, the annual edition, with a painted cover by Greg Staples showing Judge Dredd and the comic's alien editor Tharg the Mighty standing back-to-back, has the launch of Grey Area, a new science fiction thriller by Dan Abnett and Karl Richardson, along with the opening installments of both the final Nikolai Dante story by Robbie Morrison and Simon Fraser, and the latest Strontium Dog tale by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, about which, more in a couple of weeks.
These ongoing stories are backed up by the now-expected Sinister Dexter installment by Abnett and Anthony Williams, Dandridge by Alec Worley and Jon Davis-Hunt, Absalom by Gordon Rennie and Tiernan Trevallion, the "pilot" for the forthcoming Aquila by Rennie and Leigh Gallagher, and an incredibly clever and fun one-off Judge Dredd adventure by Al Ewing and John Higgins. Only eight stories this time out - the tendency to double-up has again crowded out some of the one-shots that fans might prefer to see - but every one is a winner.
The Dredd adventure is a genuinely intelligent surprise of a tale. It appears to be a "Choose Your Own Adventure" game, with instructions to move from panel to panel based on decisions, but there is a whole lot more to it than that. Readers have been raving about what a nuanced story it is, one that works on so many more levels to it than meets the eye. Grey Area, which feels thematically similar to that film District 9 from a couple of years ago, is off to a good start, and the lengthy, scene-setting teaser for Aquila, sort of a fresh take on the classic series Black Hawk, about an unkillable and soulless man in Roman times, left me wanting more. The series proper is thought to be debuting sometime this summer. Sin Dex is, as ever, the weakest point. The once-crucial series has been tired and coughing up blood for years, but this installment does at least have the feel of closure to at least one of the series' kajillion subplots. I'm optimistic that it's being retired for the present. Abnett's Grey Area is much, much more promising than more of this, anyway.
Everything here does what it should: the strips satisfy readers while also leaving them wanting more. In the case of Absalom, a series about an aging, very cranky detective inspector on London's occult beat, more was only a few weeks away. It began a new storyline a few issues after this one-off. Hopefully, the ghostly dandy Dandridge will be close behind. One of 2000 AD's only real problems, in my mind, is that there are just so many recurring series in the present lineup that only featuring five episodes a week leaves an awfully long gap between new stories. This is the final adventure for Nikolai Dante, whose 15-year epic saga is finally concluding, so that will free up a little room, but we've said that before when other series ended, and Tharg seems to keep launching three or four new stories for every one that wraps up.
Well, another real problem is that there wasn't an Indigo Prime one-off episode. If ever there was a series that cried out for regular one-offs, to spotlight various members of its gigantic cast, surely that's the one. But complaining what isn't in an issue is just Monday morning quarterbacking. What is in this issue is solid, entertaining as hell and, naturally, loudly recommended.