King & Country! (Sláine: Volume Three)

2000 AD: The Ultimate Collection #31. Originally serialised in 2000 AD Progs 447-461, 493-508, 517-519, 582 & 589-591.

It’s December 1985. “Wet your blades!” When we last left the Celtic Warrior back in Volume Two, the series had taken a hard turn into a science-fiction / mystical hybrid story that seemed to leave behind a lot of the old Sláine. This third collection largely gets things back on track with the story of Sláine and his tribe, while carrying forward a lot of the Celtic-infused mythology that writer Pat Mills brought to the forefront in the second collection. The end result is a very transitional group of stories that positions Sláine where he needs to be for the next big phase of the series. Yet it doesn’t feel just like pure plot shuffling – the things that make Sláine such a fun read are all still here, and it’s nice to feel the series moving forward, rather than sideways.

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Hammer Down! (Strontium Dog: Volume Four)

2000 AD: The Ultimate Collection #7. Originally serialised in 2000 AD Progs 425-434, 445-467 & 469-480.

It’s July 1985. “He’s a dark one, that Johnny Alpha!” Three volumes down with Strontium Dog, and I thought I’d nailed this series. Vaguely-Western sci-fi with lots of outlets for writers John Wagner and Alan Grant to run the gamut from melodramatic adventure to outright comedy. We’d seen short throwaway episodes, and mega-epics that shed new light on Johnny Alpha and his background. The series is fun and exciting, but the basic structure, tone and limits of the series are established and clear. Right?

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Surf or Die! (Chopper)

Judge Dredd: The Mega Collection #29. Originally serialised in 2000 AD Progs 424-429, 594-597, 654-665 & 1387-1394.

It’s June 1985. Chopper’s enduring appeal is worth an analysis all by itself. He’s still largely the same character that we saw in “Unamerican Graffiti (1981)”, but he’s also moved way beyond his origins as a scrawler and minor thorn in Dredd’s side. Matt Smith’s intro and Michael Molcher’s essay both point to the fact that Chopper continually wins against Dredd without weapons – not just beating Dredd individually but defeating the lawman’s entire ethos of uncompromising brute force. The four stories here cover a wide range of Chopper’s life, as well as publication time, and demonstrate an interesting ambivalence to the character. One of the darkest parts of Wagner’s vision for Dredd as a series (built on by others as well), is that no-one’s clean. The bare requirements for survival and sanity will require some unpleasant deeds, and while Chopper probably has the least amount of darkness of any recurring character in Dredd’s world, he’s also got plenty of issues.

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Cops or Criminals? (Undercover Brothers)

Judge Dredd: The Mega Collection #18. Originally serialised in 2000 AD Progs 390-392, 1193-1196, 1271 & 1792-1799 & Judge Dredd Megazine 1.16-1.20, 4.01-4.02 & 4.14-4.15.

It’s November 1984. We’d already seen a significant expansion to the Justice Department organisation with Psi-Division, and more specifically with Judge Anderson. Looking at undercover Judges was an obvious next move. In hindsight it’s actually a bit surprising that it took until 1984 for us to get an introduction to the Wally Squad, and that we’ve really only had Low Life as a dedicated spin-off series focusing on them. Strange, as undercover Judges in Mega-City One is such an obvious and fertile opportunity for storytelling.

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Rule Britannia! (Nemesis the Warlock: Volume Two)

2000 AD: The Ultimate Collection #20. Originally serialised in 2000 AD Progs 194-197, 200-206, 210-221, 224-233 & 335-345.

It’s October 1984. It’s been quite a while since Volume One, but Nemesis is back with a collection of the next three books in the series. Nemesis the Warlock is an immersive and extreme world, and it’s a testament to writer Pat Mills that he was able to keep adding new layers of inventiveness and story in Books One-Three. Does the magic continue here?

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Aces High! (Ace Trucking Co.: Volume Two)

2000AD: The Ultimate Collection #18. Originally serialised in 2000 AD Progs 279-285, 288-293, 378-390, 392-400 & 428-433.

It’s August 1982. “Don’t gnaw the claw, good buddy!” This is our last voyage with the Speedo Ghost and her crew, and it’s a bit of a rollercoaster of a collection. Matt Smith is unusually brutal in his assessment that the smattering of Ace Trucking Co. stories that appeared after the last story in the Volume here, “The Croakside Trip (1985)”, aren’t very good. Although I’d love to check out the further adventures of Ace, G.B.H. and Feek at some point down the track, the two Volumes here do feel like a complete collection. Volume Two builds on the characters set up in Volume One to tell stories that focus on testing their relationships, while maintaining its status as one of the very few light-hearted series running in 2000 AD at the time.

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The Wild Wild West! (Cursed Earth Carnage)

Judge Dredd: The Mega Collection #68. Originally serialised in 2000 AD Progs 387-415 & Judge Dredd Megazine 2.19-2.26 and 279-283.

It’s October 1984. The Cursed Earth has always been a diverse place for storytelling in Judge Dredd. It’s been a symbol of human endurance, a reminder of the stupidity of war, a place for the extremes of humanity and a riff on Western tropes. Cursed Earth Carnage‘s trio of stories largely fit within the Western mold, but are all extremely different from each other within that.

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