No other British comic has impacted on the international imaginary as 2000AD has. Originally conceived as a weekly anthology of science-fictional stories, it aimed to turn the influence of 1970s American science fiction films on the British imagination into a readership base. First published in 1977 by IPC (International Publishing Corporation), and acquired by the video game company Rebellion Development at the start of its continuation into the 21st Century, 2000AD has become Britain’s longest running science fiction comic.
Its characters and storylines, initially created by comic writers and editors Pat Mills and John Wagner, as well as the American setting for some of the series such as “Judge Dredd,” symbolized not only the cultural shift in the need for comics to reflect the lived realities and absurdities of 1970s and 80s British society. 2000AD also dramatised the everyday background of the Cold War and the prospect of nuclear annihilation. Criticism of society through science fiction allowed more subversive satire and parody of social trends such as consumerism, mass media, celebrity culture, and growing social inequalities. With “Judge Dredd” a futuristic post-apocalytpic United States enabled biting commentary on Americanism as well as the fascistic end state of rightwing and conservative demands for law and order. In “Nemesis the Warlock,” racism and religious zealotry were restaged through gothic imagery of demonic aliens and overt visual references to the Spanish Inquistion. Character-based series titles such as “Strontium Dog,” “Rogue Trooper,” and “Meltdown Man” not only traded on their post-apocalyptic settings, but their everydayness emphasized 2000AD’s ethos of dramatizing working-class characters over superheroes. Nowhere was 2000AD’s commitment to portraying everyday characters more apparent than with Alan Moore and Ian Gibson’s “The Ballard of Halo Jones” (1984). A corrective to erotocized images of women in 2000AD, it also created a female protagonist, whose unremarkableness embodied the marginalized existence of the socially forgotten only to become an heroic agent in the grand sweep of galactic history. With British theater productions of “The Ballard of Halo Jones” performed in England in 2012 continuing the tradition of theatrical adaptations of the “Halo Jones” narrative from the 1980s, they demonstrate the decades-long popularity of Moore and Gibson’s creation.
2000AD was also one of the first visual mediums to popularize the international “Dinosaur Renaissance” of the mid-1970s that was enthralling the public with scientific breakthroughs in dinosaur research. “Flesh,” which began with the first issue of 2000AD, involved time travelling hunters of dinosaur meat for human mass consumption. While artists used Hollywood actors for character designs and the science-fiction western Westworld (1973) for the look of its future setting, the real “stars” of the series, ravenous human-devouring dinosaurs, were inspired by sources such as picture books and accounts in popular scientific magazines depicting dinosaurs as dynamic, mobile animals.
If 2000AD’s development of a spectrum of British comic writing and artistic talent, such as Neil Gaimon, Grant Morrison, Brian Bolland, and Mike McMahon, enabled 2000AD’s “British invasion” of the US comic industry, IPC’s employment conditions of one-off page fees and no prospect of royalties or monies from licensed merchandise were retrograde to what US comic artists and writers were enjoying. This resulted in 2000AD’s original and early artists and writers departing for the US comic industry.
With the media promotion of the films Judge Dredd (1995) and Dredd (2012) popularising 2000AD for a public unfamiliar with Judge Dredd’s British comic origins, such public awareness has been part of the ongoing legitimation or mainstreaming of comic culture. With the big budget production, Hollywood A-List movie star driven Judge Dredd (1995), 2000AD featured among other established comic properties adapted into film in the 1990s by the US and UK studio systems such as Dick Tracy (1990), Batman Returns (1992), The Mask (1994), Batman Forever (1995), Tank Girl (1995) and Casper (1995). With the second adaptation of the Judge Dredd franchise in 2012 both the institutional status of 2000AD as a nostalgic mainstay spanning almost four decades and the widespread acclaim for the film as truer to the comic were celebrated. But released the same year as the Marvel-Disney blockbuster Avengers (2012), Dredd’s box-office failure and zero prospect of a sequel reiterated the marginal status of 2000AD as a competitive film property against the global entertainment industry complex shaping the Marvel franchise.
But 2000AD’s cultural impact on the cinematic “imagineering” of the future is more apparent when the Judge Dredd films are bookended with Hardware (1990), the first film to be based on 2000AD material (an out of court settlement resulted between 2000AD’s publisher and Hardware’s producers), and Judge Minty (2013), a fan-made adaptation. With Hardware’s recycling of science fiction cinema influences associated with the cyberpunk movement, 2000AD deserves to be recognised as a trans-Atlantic precursor to cyberpunk. Likewise, the widespread availability of digital film technologies coupled with fan-based dedication to high quality productions exemplified by Judge Minty point to possibilities for expanding the universe of 2000AD with the non-profit, unlicensed film adaptation endorsed by both the original creators of the characters and Rebellion Development. The historical shift in the economics of film making from the UK-US studio production of Judge Dredd to Johannesburg and Capetown in South Africa for the locations used in Dredd, 2000AD is now linked to the geographical expansion of the growing global cinematic imaginary of dystopic futures such as District 9 (2009), Elysium (2013) and CHAPPiE (2015).
Outside of film, musical influences also reflect the impact 2000AD. Ranging from song titles to name-checking in lyrics to electronic compositions as imaginary film scores, international fans of British and American produced music have been exposed to obvious and not so obvious referencing of the comic. 1980s British groups such Transvision Vamp, The Fink Brothers, Shriekback, and The Cure have referred to characters such as Halo Jones, Nemesis and Judge Dredd, while Dredd’s iconic catchphrase “I Am the Law” has been used as song titles for groups as musically contrasting as Human League (1981) and Anthrax (1987).
In 2012, the British Royal Mail included Judge Dredd and 2000AD as part of a stamp collection as official recognition of British comics.
— Jason Davis