For long-time fans of the ‘the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic’ the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special was an essential part of any summer. After an 18 year hiatus it has returned with a mix of classic characters and new writers and artists, but can this combination cut it in the new millennium?
Publisher: Rebellion Publishing
Writer: Emma Beeby, Alec Worley, Jody LeHeup, Robert Murphy, Arthur Wyatt, Guy Adams
Artist: Eoin Coveney, Mark Simmons, Jefte Palo, Duane Redhead, Jake Lynch, Darren Douglas
Price: £2.49 from the 2000 AD Online Store or the 2000 AD Newsstand app
From 1978 to 1996, the 2000AD Sci-Fi Special was as much a part of summer as the six-week school holiday, bad weather and the England cricket team losing to Australia or the West Indies. But then it was dropped, not to return until 2014, with the magazine’s first Sci-Fi Special in 18 years. The concept has been put to good use too, with fresh, largely-untested talent being given their chance to shine. But if many of the writers and artists are new, the story roster is strictly old school, with a hatful of returning classic characters and long-time stables filling its 52 pages.
As well as the inevitable Judge Dredd and Future Shocks tales, there’s Sam Slade in his first Robo-Hunter story since 1995, lady vampire Durham Red, who first appeared in Strontium Dog in 1987, and a prequel tale featuring Dredd adversary Orlok the Assassin who lasted from way back in 1981 until he was killed off in 2003 – not a bad innings for a support character. Rounding things off is Rogue Trooper, another character that first appeared in 1981, with spin-off stories set in the same universe continuing to this day.
To no one’s great surprise, the 2014 Sci-Fi Special kicks off with a Judge Dredd tale, penned by Emma Beeby (the first woman to write Dredd) and art by Eoin Coveney. It’s a mixed bag. The tongue-in-cheek script works pretty well, but 2000AD veterans might notice its similarity to the 1987 Strontium Dog story ‘A Sorry Case’, with the jinxed prisoner being replaced by a cursed artefact, causing all sorts of bad-luck mishaps as the tale’s eponymous protagonists take them from A to B. To be fair, with the comic now in its 37th year, repeated themes are bound to happen (if only by chance), but an ending that’s lifted straight from the first Indiana Jones film leaves the reader less inclined to give the benefit of the doubt. The artwork is good overall, especially when depicting action sequences, but the artist hasn’t quite mastered faces. As a result, characters never quite look like they belong in the scenes in which they’re depicted. Dredd retains the same expression in almost every panel, which makes you wonder whether he’s been on the botox. But at its best, its clean lines and undoubted dynamism win through. I hope we see more of Coveney in the magazine.
Alec Worley (writer) and Mark Simmons (art) team up for a new Robo-Hunter tale. Worley has previously impressed with Dandridge and Age of the Wolf, but he doesn’t really shine here. The script does a good job of capturing the downbeat humour the strip is known for, but does little with it. The storyline, a satire of a certain Scandinavian furniture store, never really gets going and the foreign accents used for much of the dialogue soon grates. The black-and-white artwork takes a welcome new look at Sam Slade and his robot associates, though, retaining the feel of the classic strip without appearing retro or stale.
Things step up a notch with the inevitable Future Shocks tale. Jody Leheup has come up with a genuinely engaging tale that really draws you in, and is perfectly complemented by Jefte Palo’s minimalistic art, which almost invites the reader to fill in the gaps and add his own details as he reads. It ends a little suddenly – and perhaps a little obviously too – but overall, it’s an impressive story.
The Durham Red tale also shows how a well put together team can prove more than the sum of its parts. Robert Murphy’s script is brilliantly brought to life by Duane Redhead’s art and Kirsty Swan’s colouring. It’s a straightforward, self-contained tale that draws on the main character’s strengths without going over the top in its efforts to thrill, as did the Robo-Hunter yarn. It reads like it was written to reintroduce us to 2000AD’s vampiric vixen too – perhaps we’ll see more from Durham Red in the near future.
Orlok the Assassin seems an odd choice of character to reintroduce. Essentially East Meg One’s answer to Dredd, the real-life collapse of the Soviet Union left him with nowhere to go, which probably contributed to the decision to kill him off over a decade ago. But he’s back, in a prequel tale set in Brit Cit, during Dredd’s term as a marshall on the moon and before the Apocalypse War, in which Orlok was to play a key role. Scriptwriter Arthur Wyatt has written numerous shorts for 2000 AD before, so it’s no surprise he proves adept at self-contained one-parters such as this. It’s a riveting tale of blackmail and betrayal, and does an excellent job of dovetailing with existing canon. New artist Jake Lynch proves equally capable, with a gritty style that’s perfectly suited to the story, and full of interesting details that really bring the world to life.
Another character that many readers might consider has had his day is Rogue Trooper, but here he is again in an old-school war tale brought to life by Guy Adams (script) and Darren Douglas (art). It’s the comic equivalent of hamburgers – easily digestible, but nonetheless satisfying. A fun read, even if it adds nothing to the Rogue Trooper canon. A kind word for Douglas’ art wouldn’t go amiss here. His excellent use of perspectives really draws you into the strip and gives you a feel for the action. I hope we see more of him in the regular magazine.
“The returning 2000AD Sci-Fi Special is an interesting experiment, and is mostly successful. Allowing new talent to cut its teeth on established characters was bound to produce a few teething problems, but overall, the new droids acquitted themselves well. And it’s good to see credible self-contained stories, and not the self indulgent send-ups and previews that do little more than advertise forthcoming strips which the end-of-year Christmas and New Year issues are known for. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait 18 years before the next Sci-Fi Special”