Review by Luke Williams
2000AD’s “Sci Fi Special” has a long and starred history. Its origins lie in the summer tradition of publishers producing bumper sized comics, more often than not including games and puzzles, a mix of original material and some reprint, all to occupy the wee ones on their families interminable journey to the holiday destination of choice.
After a layoff of the best part of 20 years, the Sci Fi Special was resurrected in 2014. While it broadly followed the same template of its ancestor, it has “matured” with the readership of the comic. The specials have included some great one off strips of classic characters from creative teams they are not usually associated with, which has allowed for some interesting interpretations, though equally there have been some reboots that have completely misfired.
Tharg likes a theme for the Sci Fi Special, and it’s led to some great packages. To celebrate the 20th Anniversary in 2020 of Rebellion purchasing the Prog and accoutrements Tharg mashed up classic and current strips to great effect. 2019’s edition was a tribute to the late, great, Carlos Ezquerra. However last year’s mini crossover set in the “Dreddverse” was a misfire, laboured, overly compressed, contrived and members of the cast acting out of character.
This year’s theme is music. It’s the 45th anniversary of the Prog, so behind a lovely Luke Preece cover, Tharg tenuously ties this into pop and rock via 45 being the speed in rotations per minute 7” singles, beloved of music nerds, play at. It also harks back to Prog 167s “Comic Rock”, created by Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill; an anarchic, freewheeling strip inspired by ”The Jam’s “Going Underground” that would develop into “Nemesis The Warlock”.
Similarly, each story in this year’s special has been inspired by a specific track. Without naming songs and avoiding spoilers some of them take inspiration from a specific line in a song, or more broadly from its theme, subject matter or spirit.
Stand out is Judge Dredd strip “Ascension”, told from the perspective of a yet another rogue judge as he wreaks havoc but it’s cleverly done. Arguably there is a little continuity gaffe for those of us who care about that sort of thing, and the payoff is a little farfetched, but it’s definitely the star of the show. Michael Carroll again proves he can write good Dredd and Stewart K Moore’s acid soaked visuals are a treat.
“Sinister Dexter” are more entertaining here than they have any right to be or than they have been in the Prog for years. Dan Abnett and “Diaboliks” artisit Antonio Fuso, choose a song for inspiration that is a little on the nose but the story that it has spawned has echoes of the classic “Bullet Time”, and is just as effective. John Charles takes Fusio’s sparse style and enriches it with a strong palette.
“Fiends of West Berlin”, is a spin on the classic “Fiends of The Eastern Front”. A traditional vampire tale transplanted to Cold War East Germany written by Karl Stock and drawn by Warren Pleece. The resurrection of “Fiends” has been welcome, but whereas the on the whole the new strips have developed the concept, this one, entertaining as it is, doesn’t.
Paul Cornell, Emma Vieceli and Barbara Nosenzo contribute with an “Anderson : Psi Division”” strip. The trouble with Anderson is that Alan Grant developed the strip as far as it could go in the 90s, and everything since that period where he turned the strip upside down feels redundant, it’s become a millstone to progression. “Half of A Heaven” revisits the popular theme of escaping from the hell that is MC1 and is one of the few strips presented that evokes the atmosphere of the song that inspired it.
David Bailie and VV Glass’ riotous and light hearted “Middenface McNulty :Opening Night at the Mega Bowl” seems a little at odds with its inspiration. Bright, breezy colours, great character work and dynamic story telling from Glass; while Bailie plays up Middenface as the drunken bum to great comic effect.
Finally “Judge Death : Common Enemy”, stretches credibility (as much as a story about an undead interdimensional superfiend can be credible) and provides an unnecessary ret con, while the tie in to the chosen song is cringey. It’s disappointing, considering the pedigree writer Kek W has with the character. Austin is of the Cliff Robinson /Brian Bolland school of fine linework and Jim Boswell supplies sympathetic colours. Great art.
Rounding off the package is a short feature on musician fans of 2000AD, some wearing their influences on their sleeve, short and sweet and doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Not a classic, but a good package.