2000AD : The Ultimate Collection

 2000AD : The Ultimate Collection

The (just about) Halfway Point

By Luke Williams 

Exploiting your back catalogue by republishing it is a good way to make money. For record companies this would mean the 20th anniversary editions of a famous or landmark album, and then when the time comes,  5th anniversary edition, and so on and so forth.  For comic publishers it means new editions of old works with new or different covers, or in a different format.

The history of 2000ADs strips being repackaged begins in the 1980s with the Titan reprints. These were high quality albums, with crisp reproduction, but with binding that had a notoriously short life. Eagle Comics and then Quality Comics reprinted strips for the American market in the “conventional”  American comic book size. In so doing, pages of classic Carlos, McMahon and other classic droids of that era’s artwork was resized, stretched and washed with muddy colouring onto poor quality paper.

Before 2000AD began collecting its own stories into the “graphic novel” or trade paperback collection they republished older material in the Best of 2000AD Monthly and Judge Dredd: The Law In Order. These were replaced by Classic 2000AD and Classic Judge Dredd in time for the launch of the 1995 Judge Dredd movie. Then, after these ended, they were  was followed by the 31 issue 2000AD Extreme Editions, the odd Best of 2000AD Special Edition and reprints in the Judge Dredd Megazine eventually transforming  into a free ”graphic novel” which now accompanies every issue of the Meg.

2000AD’s publishers, Maxwell Communications, Mandarin Publications, then Fleetway Egmont and now Rebellion, all saw the benefit of higher quality book reprints and collections of strips. Very often 2000AD strips are written for the trade being usually between 10 and 12 episodes long, optimised for collections. The 2000AD Ultimate Collection and its predecessor the Judge Dredd Mega Collection fit somewhere in between.

Broader in scope that the Judge Dredd Mega Collection this is essentially a hardback reboot of Best of 2000AD Monthly, except instead of charging 65p per issue (which is admittedly probably a couple of quid these days when adjusted for inflation) entry cost is £10. On the upside it has more editorial and features, far more strip content, better quality paper and in a hardback.

It seems odd to for Rebellion to create competition for its own strip collection / graphic novel line. But the Ultimate Collection and the Mega Collection appeal to the collector side of Squaxx Dek Thargo (or perhaps this one) . A definitive collection showcasing the best of 2000AD on high quality paper, with one long spine image that would look fabulous on a very long bookshelf is surely an easy sell? And here we are;  over halfway through, with an extension to the run announced late last year, the whole series will be a whopping 140 issues.

Examining the content to date, the inclusion of Judge Dredd strips seems to be an obvious choice if it wasn’t for the aforementioned Judge Dredd Mega Collection. The volumes collecting “The Fall of Deadworld / Dark Justice”, the “Art of Kenny Who?” and “Return of The King” (featuring Dredd work by Carlos Ezquerra) are all worthy of collections and indeed have been collected elsewhere, but would have made more sense in the Mega Collection, perhaps replacing some of the filler material that was used to pad out that series.

There are strips that are no brainers for inclusion (“Halo Jones”, “Slaine : The Horned God”) but equally there are some that to some may be more questionable, although that may be down to personal taste (“The Red Seas”, “Aquila”).  Not all the strips have been cherry picked. Some strips have been reprinted verbatim regardless of quality. Classic strips that have outstayed their welcome are reprinted completely,  Gerry Finley Day’s post Traitor General “Rogue Trooper” is a prime example of a sequence that could have been skipped and gone straight to John Smith, Steve Dillon & Kev Walker’s masterful “Cinnibar”, although we should be grateful we didn’t get a volume of “The Hit”.  Perhaps more curios like “Armoured Gideon” could have been included instead of the filler or fulfilling the desire to be complete. Equally, reprints of some of the more recent successful runs, such as “Stickleback”, “Shakara” and “Zombo” were cut off before the climax. This could be due to the strips not yet being completed in time for publication but others seem a little inexcusable, particularly as their runs are complete”. Perhaps this is because they aren’t neatly divisible, 1.5 issues for example instead of a neat 2.

On the upside, there is a balance between the classic 2000AD strips  such as “Nemesis the Warlock”, early “ABC Warriors” and  “Meltdown Man” through to the  “troubled” period of the nineties with “Firekind” (well overdue) , “Sinister Dexter” and the new “golden age” featuring “Brink” & “Kingdom”, and strips that straddle every era  like “Strontium Dog”.

The “In Detail” articles at the back of each volume are interesting. They are either a general interview with one or two of the creators and or editorial staff or an analysis of the character or specific storyline.

Quality control on production has occasionally been a bit iffy, misprinted spine images, inner covers that don’t match the strip in the volume, and even blank end papers. Speaking from personal experience for the most part Hachette have rectified errors, but there have also been reports of slow shipping and missed issues.

As much as the hardback volumes are attractive, the pages have been reduced in size. Maintaining the original page size would have been preferable as the Titan volumes had, though without the lack of durability.  The Hachette covers aren’t all new. The images are mainly old covers of Progs’, special editions, pin ups or covers from other collections. Toward the end of its run, the Best of 2000AD Monthly bore some wonderful new art and it’s a shame that the budget didn’t stretch to something similar.

The recent announcement of the extension and the preview image that accompanied it makes one fear of barrels being scraped. Some of the material that is considered would be better suited in the Judge Dredd Megazine freebie floppies, if they haven’t already been there.

 Do we really need a collection of “Blackhawk”? The post Ennis ponderous and meandering “Strontium Dogs”, unsuccessful relaunches such as the Samantha Slade “Robo Hunter”, or the ultimately confusing  Friday incarnation of “Rogue Trooper”?  There are some welcome additions early 2000AD era “Ro-busters”, Edgington and D’Israeli’s “Leviathan”, “Brass Sun” (again, unfinished at the time of writing) etc.  settle the nerves and subscriptions are left un-cancelled and you’d hope that there will be a few other nice surprises, more along the lines of  “Harry Twenty on the High Rock” rather than a complete reprint of “Trash”.

It’s definitely a more satisfying read than the Mega Collection but long term Squaxx, will have many of these strips already if they will own that Titan album collection of the older strips, but it’s that demographic that is drawn in. Those of a certain age, returning to the Prog’ or just will collect anything Prog’ related (ahem).  The Ultimate Collection is aimed at the more established fan. If Rebellion wanted to attract newcomers it would be an opportunity to present a lower cost reprint title, lower quality paper, nice eye catching covers, not serialising as the postponed title would have been, complete stories where possible. A bit like The Best of 2000AD Monthly really.

All being well, this will be “the ultimate collection” for a short period, but for all its short comings, it’s been worthwhile.

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