This week’s 2000AD, Prog 2170, is a follow-up to last year’s Regened Prog, an all-ages issue, and the first of four planned for 2020. Peter Duncan offers his take…
The readership of 2000AD is ageing. For the title to have a future it needs to bring in younger readers, and with comic sales, in general, under pressure, the cultivation of a new audience is likely to become urgent sooner rather than later.
Unfortunately, 2000AD have some particular problems with gaining and holding on to new readers. 43 years of strips with continuity a core part of their appeal to fans, can make the title impenetrable for someone new to the weekly title.
This is complicated further when many of the strips, including the acclaimed “Scarlet Traces”, “Brass Sun” and “Blink”, are paced to be read in collections, rather than in weekly parts – and can be all but incomprehensible to anyone starting in the middle of a run. With these considerations, it is easy to see why younger comics fans are not rushing to read the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic every week.
The aims of the Regened issues are, we presume, to attract new, younger, readers with self-contained stories, designed for an all-ages audience and perhaps, to gauge the practicality of aiming a sister title at that younger audience.
As such, this issue needs to be judged on two separate criteria. First, is it any good, as a comic, as an issue of 2000AD, and secondly, how well will it succeed in its aims of attracting new readers?
Things start pretty well. The “Cadet Dredd” story, by Rory McConville and Ilias Kyriazis, is fast moving and entertaining. The artwork, while more “cartoony” than many regular 2000AD readers may like, is striking and dramatic and a great example of how to lay out action scenes.
If I had a quibble, it would be to note that there is little to distinguish Dredd from any of the other cadets in the story and almost nothing of the trademark “attitude” that has made him the most popular character in British comics.
Next comes the return of “Finder & Keeper” in “Dead Signal“, centring on two teenage ghost hunters, reintroduced from last years Regened Prog. The idea, of school friends who have come into the possession of a pair of goggles that let them the dead and a strange device that captures and holds Ghosts, has a lot of potential. Haunted house stories are, and always have been, hugely popular with kids. There is a reason why Scooby Doo movies and shows are still being produced more than 50 years after their debut.
There is a little too much exposition in this story, which deals with a graveyard guardian, disturbed by modern technology. Much of the background is read from a book that one of the characters happens to have with them, but there is a long tradition of books explaining the plot in stories of the supernatural so it can, perhaps be forgiven in this case.
Were this to become and ongoing strip, there is a danger that the gimmick of the two devices, might become dull and repetitive, but that isn’t true here and the resolution does not depend on them as a deus ex machina. Overall, this is a nice idea, skilfully put together by Leah Moore and John Reppion and more than ably illustrated by David Tinto. As a one-off story, it ticks all the necessary boxes and has legs as an ongoing series – but maybe not for the core 2000AD fan.
Karl Stock’s “Future Shock”, is a jolly little tale of karma and advanced bio-technology. It could have seen print in any early issue of 2000AD and Luke Horsman’s art has a hint of Ian Gibson about it.
I did wonder if this might have been intended as a Judge Dredd story, or at least a tale of the Mega-City. The cops that appear at one stage do have the look of Judges with spikes added to their helmets and the plot would fit in well with other Mega-City One stories.
There is nothing here we’ve not seen before, but it’s well put together, entertaining and again, a good wee story for a new reader.
“The Gronk: The Trouble with Gronkses” strip is first contact tale involving the Gronks on their home planet, where the main city is named, Dobbyn – a nice tribute to the artist and writer, the late Nigel Dobbyn.
Lightweight, but fun, this is another well-crafted story, written by David Baillie. The introduction of the Gronks is done early on. It’s seamless and is carried out in a way that advances the storyline and tells us all we need to know about the timid little creatures, without being obtrusive. There is nothing spectacularly new here, but the story moves quickly, has room for visual gags and a satisfying ending. Overall, a very successful tale.
A quick word on the colouring, which, lacking any other credit, I presume was part of artist Rob Davis’ remit. Some of the decisions on colours have managed to really lift pages. A simple choice, to use an almost monotone background in the city of Dobbyn, give an alien air to the scenes and is particularly effective on one page, covering the meeting of the ‘Elderes of Dobbyn’.
This story is likely to divide fans, but for me, it was possibly the highlight of the issue.
With a Rogue Trooper movie still on the cards, a Trooper story was an almost inevitable closer to this special edition. It’s a suitable bookended to “Cadet Dredd” and I have the same reservations about it as I have with the Dredd story.
It’s a good entertaining strip. The story is skilfully told by Cavan Scott and Nick Roche has done a good job with the artwork. But it does not feel like a Rogue Trooper story, lacking the unrelenting grimness we’ve come to expect from the series. The lighter tone of the artwork adds to that effect. Why does there seem to be an assumption that all-ages equals cartoony art?
The plot would fit perfectly as a one-off story with any series of “Rogue Trooper” from the past, but that cartoony art and in particular some facial expressions, set it apart and ultimately, I found it unconvincing. “Rogue Trooper lite, I feel.
I said at the beginning of this review that, 2000AD Regened should be judged on two criteria. Firstly, is it a good comic? And yes, I think it is. In fact, I think it’s a very good comic.
The discipline of putting together five stories, complete in one issue and designed to appeal to new readers has been a challenge the writers and artists have risen to. All of the stories are enjoyable all of the art attractive.
But is it a good issue of 2000AD? That might be a different question.
Regular readers and subscribers will complain that this isn’t the 2000AD they are expecting, that this is something related to their comic but different enough to be disconcerting and irritating. The fact that three of the ongoing weekly series have been interrupted for this special will certainly be a bone of contention.
2000AD fans are particularly attached to their comic. The loyal, core audience have been what has allowed it to hold out as the last reminder of the British Boys’ comics industry. But that readership is aging and in most cases understands that for the comic to survive into the future new readers are essential.
Which brings me to my second criteria. Does this show the way to bring new readers to 2000AD and if it does how many of the current readership will stay with it?
I don’t know, is, I’m afraid, the answer.
I can’t help thinking that this may be an example of a bunch of older men trying to guess what the kids want and coming up with a watered-down version of what we already have. An ‘All-Ages’ comic is one which your Mum might have bought you and might even (shudder) have approved of.
How many comic readers first had their imaginations fired by “age-appropriate” comics their parents would have been happy with them reading? The real excitement, for me, came from reading things they would been appalled I even knew about. In my case, it was Warren and Marvel horror magazines at the age of 10. For others, it was the grim and depressing stories of World War One in “Charley’s War”, in Battle Picture Weekly, or, the anti-establishment, anarchic strips in Action or 2000AD.
2000AD’s problem with gathering new readers may not be that it is too adult, but that it’s years of back-story make it inaccessible to new readers and the fact that most of it harks back to the concerns and interests of a previous generation that younger readers just don’t identify with.
But given free access to my collection, the same kids started the Fall of Deadworld books, attracted by the superb art, but found themselves totally lost in the backstory and references to Dredd. They were not interested in starting on Judge Dredd, or Strontium Dog, because there was “too much to catch up on”.
Judge Dredd, Johnny Alpha, Rogue Trooper. “Flesh”, “ABC Warriors” and “Savage”. Older readers of 2000AD have a real affection for these strips, they feel like the characters belong to them. If a new generation of readers is going to be found they don’t need a new Halo Jones story, they need their own Halo Jones!
2000AD 2170 tackles what might be the biggest problem for new readers by providing a comic that anyone can pick up and enjoy without needing to know years of continuity, but perhaps something more is needed. Only time will tell.
• 2000AD Prog 2170 is available now from all good UK comic shops and newsagents, and digital platforms
ON SALE IN AUGUST…
Your old 2000AD favourites break out with an all-new all-ages bumper adventure package! 2000AD Regened is a one-off, bumper, all ages instalment of the Galaxies Greatest Comic! Join Cadet Dredd in three astonishing adventures (one of which is brand new for this collection), discover how Johnny Alpha became a Strontium Dog in ‘Trial Run’ and meet the teenage intergalactic bounty hunter and her family in ‘Full Tilt Boogie’, plus many other new takes on old favourites!
Dear reader, a review is an opinion. Other opinions are available
Peter Duncan is editor of Sector 13, Belfast’s 2000AD fanzine and Splank! – an anthology of strips inspired by the Odhams titles, Wham!, Smash! and Pow! He’s also writer of Cthulhu Kids. Full details of his comics activities can be found at www.boxofrainmag.co.uk