On this day, 14 October 1978: 2000AD and Starlord
On this day, 14 October 1978 … What an absolute pleasure it’s been to re-read and select images from this, the merger issue of 2000AD and Starlord. Preparing these blog posts, re-reading the comics and selecting the images to scan, is always enjoyable but I think this has been one of my favourites. There’s very little that I can write that would add much to the work below by Dave Gibbons, Brian Bolland, Massimo Belardinelli and Carlos Ezquerra – all high priests of IPC comic art. In combination with John Wagner and Pat Mills (plus – on the Mills-created Flesh – Geoffrey Miller), they have produced four stories of such enduring appeal that all four series are still appearing in twenty-first century 2000AD. In fact, characters and an organisation from each of the stories in this issue (Judge Dredd, Johnny Alpha, Howard Quartz and the Trans-Time Corporation) have played an important role in various editions of the modern-day prog over the last couple of weeks.
There are stories that say Starlord was a better seller than 2000AD during its short life across the summer of 1978, but the decision was made to fold it into 2000AD rather than the other way round because it was far more expensive to produce (more colour, larger format and a higher grade of paper). I’m sure that’s true about the costs, but I haven’t seen the circulation claim verified. It’s possible, I suppose – harder to imagine now, as 2000AD has reached the status of cultural icon, but it took a while to really establish itself in a much more crowded market in the late 1970s. Either way, it’s difficult to argue that the wrong decision was made in keeping 2000AD as the lead publication. It offered more scope for development than Starlord – its format, with shorter serials, made it more malleable, and I guess having a slightly younger target market meant it could go for more fantastical stories with broader horizons than those afforded to Starlord which had a more ‘serious’ sci-fi remit. 2000AD matured over time but from a younger starting point it was able to grow into the comic it is today.
That said, Starlord played an important part in The Galaxy's Greatest Comic’s development. Half of this merger issue comprised two seminal stories from Starlord which are among 2000AD’s most popular strips of the last forty years: Strontium Dog, the galaxy-spanning adventures of soulful mutant bounty hunter Johnny Alpha, which combined action, imagination, humour and iconic Ezquerra artwork; and Ro-busters, the exploits of disaster rescue droids Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein, which over time (as Ro-busters and later The A.B.C. Warriors) would develop into darker tales about war, chaos and revolution.
Also notable are the first instalment of the second series of Flesh, the visually visceral comic-strip fusion of cowboys, time travel and dinosaurs (who could resist?), drawn here by the inimitable Massimo Belardinelli, and – possibly the most significant story of the quartet – part one of the Judge Cal ‘The Day the Law Died’ arc of Judge Dredd, a saga which not only unfolded many previously unopened pages of Mega City lore but also prophesied the coming to power on American soil of an insane, bigoted, power-hungry, narcissist. The future is now, Earthlets.