One of alien editor Tharg's strangest decisions of late has been to celebrate the venerable 2000 AD's 35th anniversary without the by-now customary launch issue, with the start of several new stories. Instead, with February's issue 1771, we join four stories in progress, a recently-launched, ongoing series begins a new storyline, and two classics from the past get new looks in the form of "what if" adventures, which seem like they're just asking for the publisher, Rebellion, to receive a strongly-worded letter from Marvel Comics about trademark infringement. Nevertheless, even if this isn't the most new-reader-friendly edition, it is still great fun.
But if that terrific cover by Chris Weston isn't the draw for new or lapsed readers, then the two "what if"s might be. The first is a Rogue Trooper one-off by Andy Diggle and one of the classic series' original artists from its 1980s run, Colin Wilson. These two had collaborated on several memorable episodes of The Losers for Vertigo about five or six years back. This story looks at what might have happened had Rogue died early on in his adventures and one of his fellow clone troopers survive instead. It's a very good and very mean tale of backstabbing and double-crossing, gorgeously illustrated by an artist of whom we never see enough work.
While Diggle and Wilson only contribute to 2000 AD very sporadically these days - Diggle, happily, is said to have two series scheduled for the publisher later this year - Pat Mills and Henry Flint are creators that we see fairly regularly. They last collaborated together about six years ago, but have been seen many times with many other stories since. Their one-shot is a completely unexpected return for the gleefully mean-spirited and faintly ridiculous Visible Man, who appeared in a single six-part serial back in 1978. Mills decided to sort of subvert the intent of the "what if" remit, and just asks, basically, "what if the Visible Man returned," and provides a "pilot" for a potential new series. As if the Guv'nor didn't have enough to write already.
The regular lineup includes Judge Dredd apparently about halfway through a major epic about germ warfare in his city, Absalom wrapping up his third story and saving London from a magical threat, Strontium Dog Johnny Alpha hitting the conclusion of the second in a three-story series about the character's resurrection, Nikolai Dante saving his lady love for one of the very last times as this epic series draws closer to its grand finale, and the new Grey Area starting a new story about an alien that's either microscopic or disembodied but who is certainly very, very weird. This is a heck of a strong lineup, without a joker in the deck.
A note about Weston's cover: it's a terrific piece of artwork, updating and celebrating a classic piece that Brian Bolland had contributed for an American reprint in the 1980s, but focusing exclusively on characters who have appeared in the past five or six years. That's as it should be, as 2000 AD is certainly in the midst of a second golden age right now, and should not need to rely on the visuals of oldies-but-goodies such as Nemesis the Warlock, Rogue Trooper or D.R. and Quinch. If, looking at that cover, you don't recognize modern classics like Inspector Absalom, Spartacus Dandridge, Dirty Frank, Stickleback and Zombo, then you, my friend, are definitely missing out.
I think that the only complaint that I have - well, apart from hiding Indigo Prime's Max Winwood and Ishmael Cord up in the top corner where the logo obscures them on the finished piece - is that it's a little too male-heavy, with just Aimee Nixon and Vegas Carter representing the comic's still-too-small female contingent. It's a shame that Weston couldn't have included Maggie Roth, Rowan Morrigan, Mariah Kiss, or Birdy from Grey Area, each of whom are doing something to combat the not-entirely-unfair perception that the comic's a bit of a "sausage-fest." Still, gender politics aside, that's some damn fine art, Mr. Weston. You've got a good droid there, Tharg. I hope he gets to draw Winwood and Cord a lot more often.
Recommended? Of course it is. Why the heck are you reading this fool review when you should be clicking the link and buying the comic?