2000 AD in Stages

Stage 12 - Rage

Progs 468-499: 1986

Covering a large chunk of 1986, this stage is most renowned for its relentless response to Wulf's death at the end of The Ragnarok Job. For Strontium Dog, which had spent much of its time hopping from one bounty job to another, this powerful sequence altered the make up of the strip and ran for over a year with just a single gap.

Whilst established thrills hold court or pop up briefly (Dredd, Ace, Anderson, Nemesis, Rogue & Slaine), there are also experimental new properties such as Sooner or Later, Metalzoic and Bad City Blue. The final three Dicemans (Dicemen?) are published during this stage.

Sooner or Later *NEW THRILL*
This acid-laced, Ken Loach-ish Time Machine ran for 32 progs as single-page back covers (except for the 6-page opener). Micky Swift gets whisked off into the future and in a surreal, post-modern commentary on eighties Britain, must somehow find his way home. "You know it mock's sense."
We get Swifty's Return in progs 614-617, but that's three years away in 1989.

Anderson, Psi-Division: The Possessed
Anderson's second solo series sees her team up with the Exorcists (a new Psi-Div sub-div) to tackle a case of demonic possession [see title]. A fairly pedestrian adventure that re-uses Brett Ewins' amazing designs for twisty-ghost-people from The Haunting of Sector House 9 (progs 359-358).

Supernatural sexual harassment trivia: the cover of prog 475 has ghostly corridor-hands groping Anderson, with her responding "I said 'Hands UP'!" Twenty-four years later, in 2010's Megazine 303 (The House of Vyle), another corridor of hands gets fresh, with Anderson asking "Don't you know it's an offence to grope a Judge, creep?"

The next series for Anderson starts in prog 520...

Judge Dredd
A mixed period of shorter thrills, with a spate of considerably weaker stories. Standing out above the rest in terms of quality are 468's It Pays to be Mental, the artistically vibrant Riders on the Storm (472-473), the meta critique of a corporate US comics industry presented as The Art of Kenny Who? (477-479) and the representation of Brit-Cit Judges in Atlantis (485-488).
Dredd continues quite a long-running period of highs and lows in the next stage...

Ace Trucking Co.
The interminable Doppelgarp draws to its 21-prog close but is quickly followed by the 23-prog Garpetbaggers, which stretches terribly thinly the idea that they're adventuring in Movieland. When a strip entirely abandons the central premise (space-trucking), it's a sign that barrel bottoms are being scraped.
Garp crops up briefly next in the 1989 2000 AD Annual, but ultimately it's done as a long-running series.

Bad City Blue *NEW THRILL*
Whilst this shares thematic elements with A Clockwork Orange (brain-washing violent criminals), Logan's Run (the idea of Button Men / Sandmen), Silent Running (domes in space) and Escape From New York (Blue is a tough guy against all the odds in the mould of Snake Plissken) it's also very much its own beast. Blue, programmed to enforce the law, discovers that not is all it seems in the asteroid-set Bader City, and sets out to uncover its fate.
Very much a one and done.

Strontium Dog
In the 21-prog Rage, Johnny Alpha seeks revenge against Max Bubba and his gang for the torture and murder of his long-time partner Wulf. With the murder of Wulf, and the positioning of Alpha as entirely driven by vengeance, there is the question of where the story goes now.

Rage is immediately followed by Incident on Mayger Minor (Alpha, acting solo but otherwise emulating the storyline of The Magnificent Seven) and War Zone (where Johnny teams up with Middenface McNulty). Certainly, Rage is a hard act to follow, but both of these tails manage to hold their own in terms of continuing the strip.

Alpha returns next stage in Bitch (starting in prog 505).

Tharg's Future Shocks
Grant Morrison continues to provide the main portion, writing five of the thirteen new Shocks, but there are some new kids on the block in the shape of John Smith (writing three, starting with prog 473's Time Enough to Tell) and Neil Gaiman (writing two, starting with prog 488's You're Never Alone With a Phone).
More in the next stage...

Tharg the Mighty
Tharg sends 2000 AD into the past in "2000 BC".
More in the next stage...

We get Danger: Genius at Work, Blood Sport and the memorably spooky Candy and the Catchman (which would be a Terror Tale if those existed yet).
More one-offs in the next stage...

Nemesis the Warlock, Book VI.I: Torquemurder
Nemesis, the ABC Warriors, Purity Brown and Torquemada travel to Earth's end-times, where the Termites (humans) have been mining humanity's ultimate evolutionary form for fuel and shipping it back to their own time. Unfortunately the by-product of the mining is the Monad (a murderous collective spirit), and this first half of the Book leaves everyone under threat from its harmful psychic projections. (If all that sounds weird, it's because it is.)
Returns for the second part in prog 500...

Metalzoic *NEW THRILL*
Actually a reprint of a DC Comics graphic novel (and here missing the original's full colour presentation), this is an original piece set on a future Earth where machines have evolved into sentience and are reminsicent of extinct mammalian life. The story is complex but revolves around a conflict between two tribes: the wheeldebeasts led by Amok and the Mekaka led by Armageddon.
It's one and done.

IndigoPrime says:

I actually preferred the B/W version – the art looked sharper than in the colour version I have (a 1986 Titan reprint). I really wish a new version hadn’t fallen through. I’d happily buy this as a lush hardback with a bunch of extras (or just printing the B/W and the colour versions, one after another!)

Slaine: The Spoils of Annwn
This seven-parter serves as the opener to what might be considered the third epoch of the Slaine saga. The first few stories introduced us to Slaine and told his back story: effectively he was a warrior in search of a tribe, and we followed his wanderings from The Time-Monster to Dragonheist.

The second epoch introduced the Cythrons, and Slaine's battles against the dark gods took us through Time Killer and the Tomb of Terror (with a marked difference in the design aesthetic as the axe was replaced with a leyser sword and gun).

The Spoils of Annwn take us back to the fantasy aspects of a mythical Albion as Slaine searches for knowledge in the Temple of the Stars, armed with an axe again.

Foreshadowed is the idea of Slaine becoming king, which occurs in the next stage...

Rogue Trooper: [The Hit Man]
Forty-five progs after Rogue teamed up with a gang of Norts and Southers to combat some mysterious aliens who want to propogate the war, we get this follow-up. Rogue abandons his gang and gets teleported to the alien base where they reveal that they're actually trying to enact galactic peace: but, they need an assassin to do it (and had to murder a bunch of people first rather than just ask nicely). Rogue is thus employed.
Returns in prog 520...