2000 AD in Stages

Stage 18 - Split Tales

Progs 614-649: 1989

Special occassions during 1989 are the 12th Birthday (prog 615) and the start of bar codes on the cover (prog 634). Dredd and Slaine take turns on the colour pages, so also take turns being split in two (although sometimes it's Slaine that splits things in two). Scheduling breaks continue to hit multiple strips, with Strontium Dog, Medivac 318, Rogue Trooper, Zenith and Beyond Zero all failing to maintain their momentum.

Specials-wise, it's a rich time to be a Squaxx with a Sci-Fi Special, a Judge Dredd Mega-Special, a 2000 AD Annual, a Judge Dredd Annual and a Winter Special released each year.

If that's not enough thrill-wattage, sister comic Crisis moves into its second phase, switching from two to three key stories, and launching Garth Ennis into the stratosphere of comicdom.

Anderson, Psi-Division
Helios (614-622) sees Anderson and colleague Corey go dancing to relieve the stress of the job, only to be attacked by a man driven to insane psychotic rage by the powerful psychic spirit of a dead doctor that's partially possessing his own daughter and desparate for revenge against a corrupt gang that he used to be a member of. Truth.

Corey gets her own story in the 1989 Sci-Fi Special, but seeing as she's an empath and it's difficult to deal with witnessing first-hand the extinction of whales, she only goes and kills herself in Judge Corey: Leviathan's Farewell.

Triad (635-644) fails to strike a cheery note as Sov agents try to cause psychic mayhem in the Big Meg by paying to have little children beaten up.

The Prophet (645-647) sees Anderson at a fashion shoot where she has to pose next to a wind turbine a lot. (There's also a madman dressed up as a robot.)

Finally, the 1990 Annual has Confessions Of A She-Devil, in which a downtrodden housewife transforms into a Xena-type and decides to murder all the men.

Anderson's adventures continue in prog 657...

Sooner or Later: Swifty's Return
Sooner or Later meets Bill & Ted, as Swifty brings his mate Clinton along for the ride this time.
This is it for the adventures of Swifty Frisko (& Clinton).

Judge Dredd
Crazy Barry, Little Mo (615-618) was the demented tale of corrupt Judge Barry Kurten, who often follows the (violent, enraged) advice of Little Mo - who lives in his head. Under surveillance by the Justice Department, he flees to Ciudad Barranquilla, where we get the incredibly stylish follow up Banana City (623-625). Other important tales from this stage would be In The Bath (626), John Cassavetes is Dead (627), Accidental Death of a Citizen (631) and The Confeshuns of P.J. Maybe (632-634). There follows a somewhat weak phase through progs 635-649.
Important Dredd fare in the next stage...

Night Zero
Amusingly having failed to save the life of the woman he's been paid to protect on multiple occassions (but it's okay: she's got clones), Tanner finally says enough is enough and kicks butt all the way to the finale (and a snog, because that's what happens in detective noir). All those clones, and the city being in a giant bubble suggest that maybe this was partially inspired by the RPG Paranoia, with a hint of Logan's Run.
Returns as Beyond Zero, in this very stage...

Strontium Dog, The Final Solution
After waiting for eight progs we get 7 more episodes, then we wait fourteen progs for 6 more episodes, then there's a gap of three progs and we get 3 more episodes, then it's thirty-four progs till the finale. Tharg of '89: wtf? Momentum, dude! Probably nobody minded at the time because in place of this we got Cinnabar, The Horned God and Phase III of Zenith and everyone was busy drooling in awe at the thrill-power. Anyway, evil Brother Sagan fancies a bit of genocide so he sends muties through a portal that he promises leads to utopia, but instead leads to a hell dimension where a seemingly invulnerable flying demon kills on a whim and yums on their souls. The last episode here sees Alpha get his eyes burned out, which sort of destroys the character.
Returns for the Final Conclusion starting in prog 682...

Tales From the Doghouse
It's puns-a-plenty with the light-hearted adventures of Maeve The Many-Armed (it's five), 'Sting' Ray, Ernest 'Froggy' Natterjack, Jerry 'Ratty' Cagney, Maeve The Many-Armed (again, in Niall Of The Nine Sausages) and Chris 'Moosey' Day. Actually, that last one is pretty dark.
This marks the conclusion of the Tales experiment.

Zippy Couriers
Kind of ahead of its time, with an amusing talking cat, when the Internet was still several years away and I Can Haz Cheezburger in particular almost a decade out. Also: alien donuts. There's not much couriering anymore. It's a bit like sci-fi Friends.

Jim_Campbell says:

I liked Zippy Couriers as a decent change of pace/tone within the prog (and some lovely art, too) which, surely, is the point of an anthology.

Continues in the next stage...

Medivac 318 *NEW THRILL*
It's E.R. crossed with M*A*S*H ... in space! As the terrans battle the insectoid Jenarit, the first half tells of a downed ambulance in the warzone. In the second half Nurse McKinnon trains to be an ambulance pilot and the Jenarit assault the orbiting hospital as the war draws to a close. In the 1989 Winter Special we also get Medivac Dispatches featuring Perry: Chemical Warfare, which ditches the focus on Nurse McKinnon for some more standard Boy's Own action.
A second season starts up in prog 683...

The Daily Dredd: A Guide To Mega-City Law [reprints]
Lots of the key aspects of Mega-City life and Judging whizz by: like Spy-in-the-Sky cams, riot foam, stumm gas and so on.
This is it for the Daily Dredd reprints in the prog.

Rogue Trooper: Nu Earth Flashback, Cinnabar
More or less abandoned as a steady thrill with the advent of The Hit storyline (i.e. Rogue Torpor), this flashback tale set during Rogue's time on Nu Earth was a massive breath of fresh chem. John Smith presents a vulnerable Rogue and a monstrous threat. Whilst it could be compared unfavourably to Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, it lacks that movie's desperately soggy cheese and manages to vie for position as the best Rogue Trooper story ever told (although, to be fair, it relies on a lot of prior world-building).

broodblik says:

Cinnabar for me was never a true Rogue Trooper story. The main enemy felt to me like something out of Indigo Prime. I enjoyed the story but for me the stand-out was the awesome art by Dillon/Walker.

The Hit storyline (last seen in prog 603) concludes (like a damp squib) in the second Winter Special...

Slaine: The Horned God, Book I
You may have heard of this one (also see associated fan film): it's Slaine meets Bisley, with fully painted art. As is often the case with a Mills launch, the supports are in place: a gorgeous cover, a back cover map of the the Land of the Young and an intro page "Guide to the Horned God", replete with Ogham Alphabet, and an explanation of key aspects of the saga so far (like the Cauldron of Blood and the triple goddess).

The story is told from the perspective of an aging Ukko (which provides Mills with an avenue to complain about his page rate) and recaps the key points of prior adventures before moving onto Slaine's quest to gather four treasures (the Cauldron, the Spear, the Sword and, erm ... the other one). This involves Slaine's trippy adventures through the Cauldron to shag his goddess in a paganistic reflection of the biblical Eden story and some time spent reminiscing with an aging Slough Feg (the current Horned God). He's obsessed with death and ruminates infamously "Eyes without life... sundered heads... piles of carcasses... these are pleasing words to me...". The Book ends on a cliffhanger, with all the treasures (bar the already owned Cauldron, which was picked up years ago in Diceman) still to be gathered.

Book II of The Horned God begins in the next stage...

Zenith, Phase III
The opening of Phase III tells the other half of the epilogue of Phase II (with both ending at the same point in time): a masterful intertwining of tales. As various alternate earths are included, each with their own pantheon of superheros (some possessed by Lloigor, some fighting against them), we recognize many of them either as homages or simply new renditions of existing characters from other comics. Because many of these were from children's comics, and the themes here are so dark, there's a sense that the Lloigor aren't just murdering fictional characters, but our own childhoods. Despite this utter darkness, there's a glimmer of hope at the end of this section. (The 1990 Annual provides A Zenith Interlude: Shadows & Reflections, which shows us past events where U.S. agents attempt to assassinate Peter St. John.)
Phase III continues in the next stage...

Beyond Zero [after Night Zero] *SEQUEL*
Continuing in the mould of a Paranoia playbook: after an adventure set inside the bubble city, the Troubleshooters (in this case the cyborg taxi driver Tanner, a sexy combat android and a Rambo-clone) are sent on a mission outside the city on some flimsy pretext. This is starting to sound like a re-run of the Garpetbaggers with slightly different window-dressing. Then there's a giant zeppelin, a mushroom forest, a talking big cat (wait, isn't that the next story?), loads of *budda budda* sound effects and a castle populated entirely by sexy women and grapes.
The final two parts are in the next stage after a 15-prog wait...

Survivor [after Mean Team] *SPIN-OFF*
Two years after we saw the entire Mean Team summarily executed this new tale reveals that you weren't looking closely enough: one of them escaped the disintegrato-ray! After some football with Jack Keller's head (true), we get down to the dramatic question: what if a man's brain was transplanted into a panther's body and then he was imprisoned and threatened with a lobotomy if he didn't play nice?
This is it for the Mean Team / Henry Moon saga. I mean, so far. There's still time for another series. Tharg? Hello?!

Moon Runners
The first indication that Moon Runners wasn't just done and dusted was a series of six Star Scans in progs 617-622, which were a bit incongruous as the strip wasn't running at the time. Next, the 1989 Sci-Fi Special ran A Prologue: Out Of The Past, which is all mooshy and melodramatic about the (scantily-clad female) boss being in love with her best pilot. The prog then runs Old Aquaintance (641-644), where Lady Cara's ex turns up as Chet the farting blob from Weird Science before Flynn does a Jaws and shoves an explosive canister in his mouth prior to Cara (from a hospital bed and dressed only in a flimsy neglige) providing the coup de grace. Finally, the 1990 Annual has Pirate, in which a scantily clad woman ... hang on - all the women in this strip are slim, scantily clad and giving it mucho cleavage. Anyway (*mopping brow*), as I was saying, Ace gets lugjacked but manages to fob off the pirates with a cargo of blubberoo. Ten-ten, good buddies!
Returns for a finale in the 1991 Annual...

[Indigo Prime / Tyranny Rex]
In the 1989 Sci-Fi Special Tyranny Rex: Systems Of Romance tells of a past love who sold out Tyranny's race, effectively causing their genocide. She thought she'd killed him, but his brain survived. As she's now a pacifist nun seeking redemption, she visits him inside his mind.

Fervent & Lobe: The Issigri Variations is a baffling (perhaps indulgent) eight-parter that avoids such niceties as a dramatic question in favor of poetry and spectacle.

Tyranny Rex returns in the 1989 Winter Special in a tale that sees her as a mob assassin (which clearly doesn't tie in with her also being a pacifist nun).

Indigo Prime returns in 1990's prog 678. Tyranny (barring text stories) returns in the '94 Yearbook.