The 77 is a UK anthology comic that has been running for a year and a half now, with six issues under their belt and a legion of fans. This year they’ve taken the step to produce a hardcover annual (also available in softcover) that is very similar to the Comiscene annual from this time last year, which itself was reminiscent of the old 2000AD annuals so many of us remember fondly. There’s a lot in it, so I thought I’d hit the highlights (and some of the lowlights).

The opening story features the main creators in The 77 as comic versions of themselves, much like 2000AD used to do from time to time. “Try Hard” is a quite amusing spoof of the Best Christmas Film Ever, featuring a certain alien editor that shows a healthy disregard for Rebellion IP.

“CHI77ER”s are The 77’s version of Terror Tales/Future Shocks/Twilight Zone and all the rest. I can’t help but see it as “CHIZZERS” every time, but that might just be me. The first one here, “The Recruit”, is bit of a non story, mainly an excuse to publicize the comic you’re sitting reading instead of telling a story.

“Division 77” is a regular in the main comic, and here features in a prologue so as not to interfere with the main story. Whilst the art by Ade Hughes is striking, it’s incredibly light on actual story content. Basically, Division 77 go to a planet and beat the locals at fighting. Go them, next story please.

“The Cell”, another regular strip, sees artist Andrew Sawyers more restrained than when he started it in the main comic, and it’s an improvement for me, at times reminding me of Cam Kennedy. There’s no real story, it just builds a little on the dystopian society featured in the strip. It’s certainly a miserable bloody place, that’s for sure, and this will please fans of the main story I’m sure.

Scattered throughout are the variant covers produced for the main comic, and other oddities like a Make Your Own Shard (Division 77 soldier) and a colour-in-yourself spread from Lew Stringer. Add to this a throw the dice and move along game plus reader art, and it does cement the feel of an old school annual, though the mature content elsewhere does mean these little additions will no doubt be enjoyed by nostalgic adults rather than small children.

“House Wins” is the second CHI77ER, and it’s nice to see Glenn Fabry illustrating Paul Neal’s script, concerning a casino where you play with your life rather than money. It’s the first strip to really hit home, and scores higher than most similar tales in 2000AD with a decent payoff I didn’t see coming.

A SkateWorm take on The Night Before Christmas amuses, especially the colourful cartoony art of Morgan Gleave, after which things get dark again for “The Monster In You”, a CHI77ER that doesn’t, for some reason, have the label (maybe it will return at some point). It’s okay, very downbeat, and reads like something that would have worked as a longer multi part story.

With all this downbeat stuff it’s a relief to have Lew Stringer’s “Sgt Shouty” strip, which gives readers the origin of the evil Doctor Plank, and is as agreeably silly as you’d expect.

A regular in the comic, Steve Bull’s “V” is enlivened by Adrian Stopforth’s delicious art, with a script that does a nice job of filling in some backstory. The story is okay, but it’s worth it for the art alone, which is magnificent.

“Penny Pentagram” is a strip that’s been a little hit and miss, and here’s hoping it’s getting a new lease of life with Andrew Richmond teaming up for the first time with writer David Thomas. It’s a nice, self contained story that requires no prior knowledge of the character, and Richmond’s clear art works well.

“The Filth & The Furry” (a good title) see aliens invade London, with a bunch of punks determined to give them what for. Whilst Peter Western’s art is lively enough, it’s another story where nothing really happens from Dave Heeley (Division 77), featuring more potential copyright infringement as well. Ho hum, it’s all fun and games in the indie comics world (hopefully).

St Nicholas’ nasty mate Krampus is the subject of Jo Heeley’s “Krampusnacht”, and we’re very much back to the dark side of things. Marc Marrens’s art is quite suited to the tale, although the ending has a twist it’s better not to think about it too much and just enjoy it.

“The Devil Wasn’t Always Red” is an oddity, a straightforward (as far as I can see) war story that seems to be taken from the middle of a longer story. Not much more to say, really, as it’s very run of the mill with very average art.

It’s comics superstar time again, as Paul Neal replaces Glen Fabry with the legend that is Steve Pugh for “The Devil Men”. Whilst it’s easily the best looking strip in the annual, the story meanders around and doesn’t hit the heights of “House Wins”, content to just tell you stuff about invisible monsters that muck up humanity and not much else, with a very “Twilight Zone” vibe. Seriously, though, Steve Pugh’s black and white art is stunning as ever.

A nice surprise is a Technofreak story, by John Charles and Antonio Concalves. The issues they’ve done so far are fun sci fi stuff, and the nine page standalone story here is very welcome indeed, though the time travel plot still doesn’t make sense to me after a few re-reads.

“The Walker” is a new character who I can see returning in another publication, with nice art by Toyin Ajetunmob. Mamode Ogbewele’s script about a woman who goes into people’s mind to help them fight nightmares is pretty good, shored up nicely by the art.

What surprised me about this annual is the high number of dark or outright horror themed stories. Certainly not a book suitable for small children in any way, it’s a mature publication with a spot the difference page and a colouring section. You know, for big kids. Whilst the quality of the art throughout is generally of a high standard, the scripts are often lacking much punch, with good ideas wandering about for a few pages then sort of ending. That said, there’s a lot of content and your enjoyment will be your own, even if it’s just from the lush production values and having a professional style annual to sit next to last years ComicScene one on your shelf, not to mention all the 2000AD ones gathering synthi-dust.

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