2000 AD in Stages

Stage 13 - Bad Company

Progs 500-519: 1986-1987

Celebrations for landmark prog numbers had been hit and miss through the years: prog 100 went with a four part Dredd poster in the centre, and the relaunch of Dan Dare. Prog 200 had Tharg presenting his six-part Future Worlds poster. Prog 300 went with a Dredd badge and a multi-part collectible prog 1 replica. Prog 400, well, they just kind of ignored that.

Clearly feeling guilty, Tharg went all out with the special prog 500: it had a glossy cover featuring a pantheon of characters and art droids, an extra four pages and the spiky, censored, owner-baiting sign of droid malaise that is Tharg's Head Revisited.

Back-stage, it's not just that some creators are heading onto pastures new, but the Tharg that's been driving the bus since the Starlord merger in 1978 is passing the keys over to a new incarnation. Change is on the horizon...

Slaine the King
Hit by a scheduling glitch, this twelve-parter suffers an eight-prog hiccup as it tells the story of Slaine returning to the tribe from which he was banished and becoming the Sun King of the Sessair. Something of a poisoned chalice, the job comes with a seven-year time limit and a retirement gift of ritualized execution.

Prog 506 provides an excellent run-down of the story so far, as Slaine reunites with Niamh (his one-time lover, who had been the former King's wife) and their young son Kai. She is none to pleased with him, because when he left the tribe she had to give birth alone, and she knows that whilst she struggled as a single mother he's been larking about doing his barbarian thang. So, she exits stage left to take Kai to a druid school while Slaine goes to rescue his tribe from the Sea Demons.

Find out what Slaine does with his Kingship next in prog 582...

Bad Company *NEW THRILL*
Starship Troopers meets Apocalypse Now starring Robert Smith from The Cure and directed by George A. Romero. This very-fish-out-of-water tale sees the ingenue squaddie Danny Franks recruited into the titular Bad Company, a squad of psycopathic veterans battling the alien Krool on the planet Ararat.

As Apocalypse Now is less the story of Benjamin Willard as it is that of Colonel Kurtz (layered with the madness of war, an examination of what one might consider sane or insane and the passing of the torch from one generation to another), Bad Company is very much embroiled not just in the journey of Danny Franks but also in understanding the motivation of Kano (the seemingly morally bankrupt leader of the Company).

Bad Company, with its roster of crazies and amazing art design was a tour de force that shook the foundations of the comic and provided this stage with a stable all-out classic when most other stories were to some extent treading water or suffering from scheduling glitches.

The story ends well enough here but a second series starts in prog 548...

Judge Dredd
A relatively uninspiring sequence of shorter Dredd tales with the clearly superlative exception of The Taxidermist (Mega-City One meets The Godfather) running in progs 507-510.
Dredd continues to be a mixed bag in the next stage...

Nemesis the Warlock, Book VI.II: Torquemurder
The second half of Torquemurder (after a 12-prog gap) is basically a big fight with the aim of disentangling the huge cast of characters that have been chasing Thoth. The ABC Warriors are sent off on a mission (minus Hitaki, plus Mek-Quake) to fix time, Torquemada is left to die but quickly usurps expectations and is left back in charge of Termite, Thoth is busy hunting through time for incarnations of Torquemada to murder and Nemesis is trying to track him.
The ABC Warriors finally head off for their own series in 1988's Black Hole starting in prog 555. Prior to that, we get Torqemada the God in the next stage.

Tharg's Head Revisited
The first time that creators were asked to get a bit meta and write about how they felt ... was then heavily censored. The details of that are covered elswhere (see Thrill-Power Overload) but the key themes were the talent drain to the US, and the issue of plagiarism.
This sort of introspection perhaps stung and stories featuring Tharg become sparse, cropping up in specials (Judge Dredd Annual 1988 and 1990's Winter Special) a couple of times before prog 719's Galactic Greetings in 1991.

Tharg's Future Shocks
A mixed bag, as usual: standing out, formerly for all the wrong reasons and latterly because it's beautiful (and both scripted by Grant Morrison) are prog 507's Maniac for Hire (starring Ulysses Sweet, who segues immediately into his own mini-series, below) and 515's The Invisible Etchings of Salvador Dali, with startling art from John Hicklenton.
More in the next stage...

The Ark, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World and the legal-department-baiting Star Traks.
We don't see another spate of un-framed one-offs until 1989...

Ulysses Sweet *NEW THRILL*
Ulysses Sweet has a business card: Maniac for Hire, Have Riot - Will Travel. He proceeds to utilize nuclear-level solutions to corporate conflicts. The first Future Shock has him deal with lazy caricatures of Japanese business folk (somewhat excused, perhaps, by the fact that it was 1987 and others were doing it too). This is followed by the two-part Fruitcake and Veg, which picks on vegetarians. Some of the internal monologue makes it clear that this is attempting to channel D.R. & Quinch, but there was something about their friendship and sometimes innocent-seeming chaos-mongering that let you forgive them. Conversely, Ulysses just seems like a bit of a Scunthorpe.
A completely one-dimensional idea that entirely exhausts its central premise and therefore, unsurprisingly, never returns. Entirely predictably returns for two full series, twenty-seven years later, starting in 2013's festive Prog 2014.

Strontium Dog
Johnny Alpha teams up with Durham Red (who has the mutation of being a make-up-the-rules-as-you-go-along style vampire, which sits oddly in the narrative) and they spend a lot of time tracking down a time-kidnapped President Ronald Reagan. Re-playing the idea of famous people from history being kidnapped (as in The Schicklgruber Grab from 1980) but also introducing the new potential side-kick in Red, the story itself is quite sparse, but somehow gets extended out to twenty-five episodes.
With Tharg clearly on vacation from editing duties, this continues in the next stage...

Humanity has evolved to a point of immortality, but a lack of death has lead to demonic entities taking over limbo and invading the world of the living. Our hero, Fludd, is murdered in order that he might find a solution. A really odd tale of existential angst that suggests that while your existence might suck, it's probably better than non-existence. Chin up!
It's one and done.


The Mega-City Primer was an insanely amibitious A to Z of Dredd-world characters on a twelve-part collectible strip poster by Ron Smith. Here's a not-quite-large-enough version of it:

The classic covers were repos (four to a page) of some of the best covers from the first ten years of the comic.