2000AD comic, Prog #204 (21st March 1981)

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the launch of 2000AD, the weekly British science fiction anthology comic. For the last four decades 2000AD has been a mainstay of the British science fiction scene, and is responsible for introducing hundreds of characters to British comic book readers — including Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog, ABC Warriors, Rogue Trooper — as well as launching the careers of some of the comic book industry’s biggest creative talents. To help celebrate this landmark anniversary, Taint the Meat will spend the next few weeks showcasing ‘The Galaxy’s Greatest Comic’, beginning with a closer look at this classic issue, Prog #204.

2000AD Prog #204 was cover dated 21st of March 1981, and priced at 15p. The cover featured a classic illustration by Mick McMahon of a giant Judge Dredd sitting on top of Mega-City One, the rightful ‘King of the Streets’. This is vintage McMahon Dredd: austere, grim and, frankly, hard as nails. McMahon, along with Carlos Ezquerra, Brian Bolland and Ron Smith, was one of the original quartet of artists who defined Dredd in his formative years and this cover showcases McMahon’s talents perfectly: it’s richly detailed, there’s wonderful use of shadows and deep blacks, and it’s got bags of attitude — it’s just a terrific piece of work altogether.

The rest of the Prog also lived up to its classic status, and there are some truly great strips in this issue. First off there was part five of the Strontium Dog story ‘Portrait of a Mutant’ which chronicled the early years of SD agent Johnny Alpha, and dealt with prejudice and intolerance set in post-apocalyptic Britain; the series was written by Alan Grant with art by Dread co-creator Ezquerra. The next strip was Alan Hebden and Massimo Belardinelli’s Meltdown Man, their take on The Planet of the Apes. Next was another instalment of Return to Armageddon by Malcolm Shaw and Jesus Redondo. Following on was Tharg’s Future-Shocks by Kelvin Gosnell and Mike Dorey, an amusing tale of an arrogant terraforming robot, the opening panel of which featured an obvious swipe from sci-fi illustrator Chris Foss.

Left: the first page of Tharg’s Future-Shocks. Right: Chris Foss’ cover to ‘Norman Conquest 2066’.
Alien Watch from Prog #204

Finishing off the issue was the Judge Dredd story The Alien Way!, written by T.B. Grover (John Wagner and Grant) and illustrated by Ian Gibson, where the future lawman matches wits with an pint-sized alien who has his own unique ideas on dispensing justice. Also included in this Prog was part five of Tharg’s Futureworlds, a full page glossary on mutants that featured Johnny Alpha, the Visible Man and Rico, Dredd’s brother. Filling out the rest of the issue were regulars Alien Watch, where readers could send in drawings of their own alien creations, and Nerve Centre, 2000AD‘s ever-popular letters page. And 1980’s nostalgia fans will no doubt thrill to the back cover, which featured an anti-smoking advert starring Superman and Nick O’Teen.

All told Prog #204 was a terrific issue of 2000AD, and a satisfying read; I re-read the issue recently and it took me a good 45 minutes to finish — about three times as long as it takes me to read the average Marvel or DC comic. Thrill Power Overload indeed!

NEXT: We’re going to continue in the Mick McMahon vain when we take a closer look at a Judge Dredd statue based on the artist’s work.