2000 AD in Stages

Stage 24 - Don't Believe the Hype...

Progs 780-799: 1992

In early 1992 (as prog 780 launched the much-hyped Megablast jump-on) the Megazine re-launched as the fortnightly Volume 2 and a few weeks later we got the first direct crossover-thrill in the form of the Judge Dredd mega-epic Judgement Day (featuring special guest star Dennis the Menace). That sort of sums up this era: on the one hand we get amazing new content (Button Man, Devlin Waugh, Dredd teaming up with Alpha) and on the other there's a sort of childlike spattering of colorful paint across the walls of the living room while nobody's looking (in the form of Return to Verdus and a zombie-apocalypse-musical that leaves a bewildered Dredd looking on and trying to look taciturn).

Judge Dredd
The major event here is the mega-epic Judgement Day, running concurrently in the prog and the meg (the latter for each third episode), and so floating in at twenty episodes, four artists and 150 pages of pressure to purchase both publications. Ennis ladles it on by making it a globe-trotting, multi-Meg, multi-Judge-force adventure to save the planet from an unstoppable zombie horde consisting of everyone who's ever died. Mix in a pontificating stage villain (Sabbat the Necrophagus) who keeps Dennis the Menace as a pet and likes to put on musical stage shows for his captives, and you end up with an odd blend of deadly threat and camp spectacle.

Clearly in need of some grit, Johnny Alpha is teleported in from the future (inspired by 1990's Top Dogs story in the 1991 Judge Dredd Annual) as Dredd buys some time by nuking three of the world's Mega-Cities, at the loss of two billion lives. The climax is Carry on Dirty Dozen before Dredd and Alpha swagger off into the (apocalyptic, highly radioactive) sunset for all the world like Rooster Cogburn and Jesse Custer.

The prog and meg disentangle themselves, with the next crossover waiting until 1994...

Kola Kommandos *NEW THRILL*
Hector Doldrum, a suit who works for the ethically moribund Okay Kola Kompany, investigates the mysterious other-dimensional eighth floor of his office to find evil experiments agogo, and then is sacked. He falls in with the Kola Kommandos, a militant group who are attacking the OKK. And then an obese guy in a cape (Captain Cholesterol) is sent after him (even though they just kicked him out) and also an invincible moon-man. And there are sentient teddy bears in a weird dream dimension. It's like someone read Third World War in Crisis, then took the RPGs Paranoia, Toon & Traveller before rolling on a bunch of random encounter tables.
Tis a one and done.

JayzusB.Christ says:

I must be the only person ever who quite enjoyed Kola Kommandos. I loved the golf course / advertising thing on the moon, and the poetically introspective CT Hall (I hadn't seen Blade Runner back then). Shame about the big barrier to Hector's new love life but it was a nicely imperfect 2000ad ending.

The A.B.C. Warriors: Khronicles Of Khaos, Book II
This second half of the saga begins with a makeover prologue (missing from the Mandarin reprint) in which the copious damage the warriors suffered at the end of the previous section gets repaired, with the unfortunate side effect of mending Hammerstein's half-dreadlocked metal fatigue helmet (first introduced in Book IV of Nemesis back in 1984). Carrying on from where they left off last time, the warriors continue on their beautifully-painted quest for the remaining three heads they need for their sacrifice to Hekate, the planet of khaos. The moral seems to be: do as thou wilt, as long as that doesn't involve running other people's lives for them.
The warriors spread more of their word in 1994's Hellbringer, although Blackblood gets his own outing in the 1992 Winter Special...

Rogue Trooper [Fr1day]: Apocalypse Dreadnought
Fleisher does some rinse and repeat, starting this new series off by having Friday ditch his sidekick before traveling to a new continent (like in The Saharan Ice-Belt War) and immediately leading the locals into a deadly maze of corridors (like in The Golden Fox Rebellion). At a local fishing village, he goes diving and finds a magic spaceship with a psychic alien manta ray pilot and together they fly through space to Nova-Corp (the baddies) HQ and blow their planet up. Friday is left floating in a bubble in space.

In John Smith and Chris Weston's Enfleshlings (1993 Yearbook) it's Friday meets Killing Time, as a demonic entity (in a classicly styled haunted house) threatens to consume any lone soldiers that happen along asking for a cup of sugar.

Friday gets sporadic for a while, next cropping up in the 1993 Sci-Fi Special...

Button Man *NEW THRILL*
In this taut thriller, Harry Exton takes a job as a modern-day gladiator: illegally battling to the death (or, sometimes, the loss of a finger) for the benefit and glory of his rich employers: the "voices". It's only when he tries to leave the game that he realizes that there's only one way he'll be allowed to retire. Of the much-hyped Megablast line-up, this is the one that surprised and delighted the most (with the Khronicles, after all, being something of a known quantity, however beautifully wrought).
We get a very welcome second series in 1994...

Zenith: Phase IV
The final phase of Zenith is presented in full colour and has a taut structure: immediately we are told that the Lloigor have taken over Earth, and that seemingly only Peyne remains as their plaything. As he is magically made younger, we go back in time to find out how this point was reached. Eventually the narratives meet, although throughout, things seem darkly devoid of hope.
Continues unbroken into the next stage...

Tharg's Dragon Tales *NEW THRILL*
Tharg's Dragon Shocks, more like.
This is it. I guess these could return at some point, right? Tharg?

Robo-Hunter(*) [*REBOOT]
John Smith and Chris Weston have a go at new Robo-Hunter in the 1992 Sci-Fi Special with Something for the Weekend, Sir?, in which Psuedo-Sam laments the cancellation of his three prostitutes (true) and refers to his barber as a dago (still true) before everything descends into Sweeney Todd with robots.

Return to Verdus sees Psuedo-Sam kidnapped by Jessica Cutie, there to be tortured and executed for his mass genocide of the planet back in his first adventure (Verdus, 1979). It's not abundantly clear how they've resurrected themselves, but here they all are. Psuedo-Sam is busted out by some alien Robo-Hunters and then there's lots of shooting and yelling, forests made of decomposing body parts and another theme park.

The 1993 Yearbook dishes out The Succubus, which is an extended combat sequence between a murderous giant Butler droid and Psuedo-Sam, set in a flooded Manhatten. The script openly derides the time when Robo-Hunter had "cute little robots with a song for every occasion", but fails to offer up a better formula with this repetetive Generic Tough Guy Defeats Big Enemy schtick that Millar rolls out time and again.

Return to Verdus continues into the next stage...

Bradley: [Bradley's Bedtime Stories #1]
Bradley was locked away in 1990 in the Institute for Wayward Individuals, but The Great Escape sees him abscond (using parkour when it was still rad) and track down his parents, thus giving us a chance to listen to his Bedtime Stories in the form of The Little Were-Maid, The Ice Queen, The Nightingale and The King's Birthday Suit.
More bedtime stories in the next stage...

Special Mentions:

Strontium Dog (& Feral)
The 1992 Sci-Fi Special has "An Untold Tale of Johnny Alpha" by Peter Hogan, which the contents page sub-titles as The Walking Lady. Set prior to the events of The Ragnarok Job, this sees Johnny and Wulf stalking a wanted man and seeking the help of a mystical blind woman. Meanwhile, Dead Man's Hand (in the 1993 Yearbook) really should be super-titled as Strontium Dogs (plural), as it's a Feral tale. In a narrow-band game of high stakes poker, Feral reveals himself as an on-the-run card shark with no morals, willing to be the first to violence just to get along. He's not even a real S/D agent: he just has Alpha's old badge.
We have a long wait for Alpha's next story: The Kreeler Conspiracy in 2000 AD (the year, that is). Feral returns next stage in the woefully out of tune Return of the Gronk...

Brigand Doom
The 1992 Sci-Fi Special gives us Death's Door, in which Investigator Nine realizes she's been having nightmares about Doom since she was a child, and that she's addicted to his vials of magic drug-stuff. He's a bit like a zombie stalker now, asking her to be his undead girlfriend. The 1993 Yearbook follows up with Portrait of the Artist in which Doom (accompanied by his little cloud of flies) decides to execute vassals of the state such as, erm, art gallery security guards, an artist and a random politician. Blimey: even Finn was a bit more choosy than that. The detectives ignore the papier-mâché'd murder victim in his y-fronts (true) as the tale of Brigand Doom unwittingly strays into Bix Barton territory.
Next stage starts up a new mini-series in the prog...

Armoured Gideon: Making Movies (1992 Sci-Fi Special)
This serves as the third stepping stone between the first and second series as Armoured Gideon gets his big break in the film business going up against a demon-possessed mechasaur.
We get a proper second series for this starting in 1993...

Rogue Trooper: House of Pain (1992 Sci-Fi Special)
An actual Rogue Trooper story, as opposed to the new Friday dude that's hogging the prog. Because The Hit had the random die roll ending of Rogue just wandering off like a disgruntled hippy, this is by necessity set before that happened, so he's still on Nu Earth. Unfortunately, it's an early Millar so doesn't make much sense. Plot: Rogue is captured by egg-headed mutant hillbillies who stick him with forks until he gets irritated and retaliates.
Rogue (not Friday) turns up again in the 1994 Yearbook...

Durham Red: Ring My Bell (1993 Yearbook)
A thin tale about Durham tracking down a bounty at the Blackpool amusements. Then she drinks his blood. Because she's a vampire. Sort of. It's never really explained.
We get a new mini-series for Red in 1994...

Bix Barton: The Mouth Thief (1993 Yearbook)
The Marmite is spread thickly with this very literal tale of someone who steals people's mouths and grafts them onto his face. It's gross, it's bizarre: it's Bix Barton.
Bix, temporarily relegated to the subsidiary publications, next returns in the 1993 Sci-Fi Special...