2000 AD in Stages

Stage 17 - Unstable Growth

Progs 589-613: 1988-1989

In 1983 the 25-prog run 308-332 features nine different thrills. Here, as we cross over from 1988 to 1989, we have a 25-prog run featuring twenty-two separate thrills (including some reprint material). Partly, this is due to the extra four pages, but that doesn't quite explain it: the prog has a problem with scheduling.

Back in '83, Skizz ran for twenty-three episodes and The Slaying of Slade for nineteen: each with a single artist, published with no prog breaks. The list of broken up thrills in this stage is a long one: Nemesis (Deathbringer), Rogue Trooper, Moon Runners, Tyranny Rex's Soft Bodies and Strontium Dog all suffer from what seem like scheduling problems.

Still, the prog feels exciting as it launches 589 with shiny cover paper, a second Phase of Zenith, an extra four colour pages (making eight in total, including the covers) and a thicker, thirty-six page comic. Those extra pages stay with us for a decade, and felt really exciting at the time. Unfortunately, due to the way the colour pages are printed, the strip that is honoured by them (usually Dredd) gets split over another strip, which lasts until prog 650.

Another key marker of this phase is specials content that ties into the narrative of the progs' thrills in a way that seems less peripheral and more core (to an extent that it perhaps hasn't in the past).

As if all of this growth wasn't enough, 2000 AD also launches sister comic Crisis - a thirty-two page fortnightly running just two stories and attempting to appeal more to a US format, and to a more mature audience.

Zenith: Phase II
Zenith goes up against an evil Richard Branson surrogate while the story delves into the past and continues to masterfully foreshadow the future. It's full of wonderful touches: like when Zenith first tries to use telepathy and nearly mentally deafens Peter St. John. The second Phase introduces the idea of alternate universes, and that the war with the Lloigor is happening across the multiverse (with superheroes in the know part of a resistance movement battling the dark gods). The first Winter Special expands on this idea and also recaps the series to date with Interlude 3: Maximan.
Phase III begins in prog 626...

Nemesis the Warlock, Book IX: Deathbringer
Nemesis in 80's Britain sees Torquemada (and his nose-comfy) become a sort of new age Oswald Mosley as Nemesis continues to toy with humanity, to the increasing dissatisfaction of Purity Brown.
The next we hear from Nemesis is in 1990's prog 700...

Judge Dredd
The memorable Twister (progs 588-591) mashes up Dredd and The Wizard of Oz as a way of introducing the increased number of colour pages in the prog. We also get some more murderous sociopathic dyslexia action with What I Did During the Summer Holidays by P.J. Maybe (clearly riffing off Adrian Mole) and The Further Advenshers of P.J. Maybe age 14. The homages continue with Eldster Ninja Mud-Wrestling Vigilantes (601), we get poignant with Curse of the Spider Woman (603-604) and finally Our Man in Hondo introduces Hondo City, adding to the idea that each country has their own Judge force with a uniform to match. The list now includes the US Mega-Cities, the East-Megs, Brit-Cit, Oz and Hondo City.
Next stage beware: Crazy Barry is on the loose...

Slaine the King
The 1989 Annual has the Drune's invoke a dark god named Hu, who promptly starts eating his worshippers in The Arrow of God. The three-part Slaine the King in the prog sees Slaine lead the Sessair to victory in battle over the Fomorian sea demons, but in many ways this tale is simply introducing concepts for the next saga. The idea of the triple-aspect earth goddess is reintroduced (if you didn't already catch it in Diceman), and the desire to seek out and utilize arcane treasures (the Spear, Sword, Stone and Cauldron) are declared as a way to unite the tribes and win the war.
It's just a short thirty-four prog wait for the first book of The Horned God...

Rogue Trooper
The one-off Through the Eyes of a Gun seems like it's another Hit, but turns out to be more Do Biochips Dream of Electric Sheep? We do then get the five-prog Hit Four: The New Moral Army, with more Thwack-Ye-Mole plotting as Rogue runs headlong into another room full of Stormtroopers and manages to come up smelling of roses.
We are promised "Coming Soon: Hit 5 - The Queen is Dead", but that never materializes and, instead, we get an odd conclusion to the storyline of the Hit in the second Winter Special close to the end of '89. Before that, we get a different Rogue story (and a very well-regarded one) in the next stage...

The Daily Dredd [reprints]
Some reprint material from the Dredd stories printed originally in the Daily Star: here we get the collected The Mean Machine and Bride Of Death.
More in the next stage...

Tharg's Time Twisters
The Twisters last appeared in 1984's prog 374, and return briefly here for the appropriately named Time and Time Again.
The next time it is deemed useful to use the Twisters super-title is in the 1995 Yearbook (published, of course, in 1994)...

Moon Runners *NEW THRILL*
Triangle ... in space! It's sort of Ace Trucking Co. minus the fun. It's way more Babylon 5 than Farscape. (Switch out Babylon 5 for Andromeda if you're piqued.) It's like Star Trek: The Motion Picture as opposed to The Wrath of Khan. It's like The Postman rather than Waterworld (rather than Mad Max 2). On a scale of gently snoozing to amphetamine-driven altertness, it's been in a coma for twenty years. Like Blue Thunder instead of Airwolf (but in space). Like blatbugs instead of ughbugs. If all the references are a bit dated, then that matches the sexual politics: where women are allowed to own the space trucks spirit ships but not actually board them. And then all their clothes fall off.

TordelBack says:

Moon Runners just pisses me off so much. Great premise, weird little ideas and the *perfect* artist for multi-species space pirate dynasties with an hallucinogenic means of FTL and it all just spirals into nothing.

There was more in the drawer, which gets published in the next stage...

Chopper: Soul on Fire *SPIN-OFF*
Chopper, now a mopey swagman living rough in the Oz radback, is still salty from losing Supersurf 10, to the extent that he times himself through the course trying to prove something (the big galah).
Returns for Song of the Surfer in prog 654...

Tyranny Rex: Soft Bodies
A notoriously impenetrable enigma of a tale. Earlier stories made it clear that Tyranny was not someone to be messed with, but here she violently beats a hospitalized man to death in a fit of pique. But then the entire story (sans any explanation of what's actually going on) turns out to be a fictional version of events anyway, so did she really?
The next tale is in the 1989 Sci-Fi Special...

Strontium Dog
The 1988 Winter Special gives us Incident at the Birth of the Universe, where Alpha sends his enemy (who's about to destroy the nascent universe with his anti-matter eyes at the moment of the Big Bang) a few seconds into the past, where the universe didn't exist yet, and thus winks him out of existence. Three problems here: there's nowhere to stand, nothing to breath and (this one's the doozy) you cannot send someone into the past before the Big Bang because time itself didn't exist. Woah!

The opening seven episodes of The Final Solution follow on from The No-Go Job and have Brother Sagan take over New Britain and torment Alpha with the help of Lyran sorcery (and the corpse of old friend Wulf). If this was a soap, it would say "Introducing Special Guest Star: Feral". (Best not to mention that twenty-two years from now he'll be fattened up and ritually sacrificed by a bitter co-creator.)

Winning the award as the most disjointed thrill ever to grace the prog, this twenty-nine part epic is spread thinly, like Marmite, over eighty-seven progs and five segments, beginning in 1988 and ending in 1990. The next bite-sized morsel appears in prog 615...

Bad Company
The 1989 Annual has the full-colour Young Men Marching, a prequel of how Danny Franks got drawn into the war. Prog 601 had Ararat (aka Simply), another flashback tale but created as part of a charity event.
Another series starts in prog 828, way off in 1993...

Tales of Mega-City One
The one-page My Favourite Laundrette riffs on a celebrated advert of the era (from 1985).
No more Tales in the prog, but there is Mega-City Stories: Bazooka Bowl in Megazine 2.41...

Bradley and the Toboggan Race
An homage to the story-telling format of Rupert Bear where Bradley, Milton and Annabella go sledding. There's a Sainsbury's, so perhaps this is where it drops the idea of being set on an alien planet.
Next up is the sequence Bradley's Thesaurus of Modern Music, starting in prog 660. It was promised in "the new year", but I guess they didn't say which one...

Anderson, Psi-Division
The 1988 Winter Special has Colin Wilson Block, an alien possession investigation. The prog then has Contact, with more alien visitations and Beyond the Void (which reminds us that Judge Death is only a dimensional slip-up away).
Continues immediately in the next stage...

Night Zero *NEW THRILL*
Taxi Driver meets cyberpunk in the hard-boiled Zero City: where finger-pistoled mercenary cabbie Tanner gets immediately embroiled in a case involving a (who'da thunk it?) woman in distress.
Continues in the next stage...

Hap Hazzard
A couple of guys chat about life and lie to women ... in space!
Returns in ten years for a last hurrah in prog 1164...

Zippy Couriers *NEW THRILL*
Shauna McCullough is a zippy courier [see title], but it's difficult to make that career interesting, however you dress it up. Transporting thing A to thing B can be viscerally exciting, though. Take notes.

Tiplodocus says:

I thought the link would be to FUTURAMA.

There are more of these in the next stage...

Tales From the Doghouse
Freddy 'Chameleon' Finegan breaks the mould set in earlier episodes by not just making jokes at the expense of each bounty hunter's specific disability mutation but then we revert to type with the tale of Edward 'Spud' O'Riley, who (wait for it) gets his chips.
More Tales in the next stage...


Special Mentions:

Ace Trucking Co.
A final coda for this once-plentiful thrill comes in the shape of The Homecoming from the 1989 Annual, where Ace returns to his original universe to look up his old lugbuddies.
Next shows up in a cameo in another series in 1994...

Summer Magic
Dropping the original title, the 1988 Winter Special gives us A Winter's Tale: A Luke Kirby Adventure, in which Luke discovers that another patriarchal figure in the family is a magic-user.
The next tale isn't until 1990's Sci-Fi Special...