On this day, 20 September 1980: 2000AD (Prog 178)
On this day, 20 September 1980 … Next week sees publication of 2000AD’s 2000th weekly issue, yet it really doesn’t seem very long ago at all that Prog 178 hit the shops (or, in my case, was inserted inside a rolled up copy of my dad’s The Times – I think I’d just started taking the comic on a regular order from our local thrill-merchant). It has been 1822 issues, to be precise. A lot of power has coursed through our thrill-circuits in that time but, notwithstanding that 2000AD has grown up with its core readership, this is still recognisably the same comic.
To my mind, Prog 178 saw the birth of a sensibility that still characterises the publication today: a swagger, a polish, a confident self-awareness that it is indeed The Galaxy’s Greatest Comic and wherever it takes its readers from this point on is going to be utterly scrotnig. There's also a delicious seam of dark humour running through the pages, which over four decades has become a core ingredient in the 2000AD mix. But the overriding flavour of this issue is a cocksure 'kneel before this comic and be thrilled' grandstanding. Pages one to three set the tone. Here are the heroes of the future. On the front cover, Judge Dredd stands proud in his enormous boots beneath the comic’s sparkling new logo. On page two, the Mighty Tharg steps forward regally from the stars, and on page three Johnny Alpha strikes a provocative pose to open a brand new story for the comic’s second-greatest serial, Strontium Dog.
Prog 178 was what is now commonly known as a jumping-on issue, featuring a nearly full raft of new stories to make the comic especially appealing to new readers. Judge Dredd, now on part 23 of his The Judge Child quest, is the only story that continues from the previous week. Strontium Dog returns to the comic to launch the Death’s Head storyline, and there is a second Comic Rock story (see Prog 167) which foreshadows the start of the first full-blown Nemesis the Warlock serial in Prog 222. This two-part serial is apparently inspired by the album Killer Watts. I know nothing about this album, and I wonder how many of 2000AD’s young readership of the time did, but I’ve looked it up and it appears to have been a compilation of ‘sh*t hot guitarists that cut their teeth during the early seventies’; tracks include catchy melodies from the likes of Judas Priest, Aerosmith, Blue Öyster Cult, REO Speedwagon and Ted "Kill It 'n' Grill It" Nugent. The album cover features a dark and moody electricity pylonagainst the backdrop of a stormy sky, which seems suitable inspiration for the surface of Termight which opens this short tale (that ‘Gooney Bird’ living Concorde is one of early 2000AD’s most enduring and iconic images). I love the thought of Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill – or Brother Mills and Brother O’Neill, as they would come to be known on Nemesis the Warlock credit cards – head-banging themselves into a frenzy in some cloistered editorial cell as they brought this stunningly imaginative new world to existence.
Completely new to 2000AD in this prog are: Mean Arena, a deathly American Football-style future sport played in derelict areas of British towns and cities – John Richardson, who drew a number of lovely stories for Misty, Tammy and Jinty, opens on art droid duties for this one, although the series only really came to life for me when Steve Dillon took over; Meltdown Man, the first episode of a year-long saga set in an alternative dimension of genetically-enhanced animals – this is one of my all-time favourite 2000AD stories and boasts some truly magnificent Massimo Belardinelli artwork (less so in this first episode, but it really does become absolutely gorgeous); and Dash Decent, a hugely underrated comedy series from the inimitable gothic pen of Brother O’Neill – it was a parody of the adventures of Flash Gordon, the glam camp movie of which was about to hit cinemas in the United Kingdom, and who was also familiar to young British audiences at this time thanks to the atmospheric re-runs on BBC2 teatime telly of the 1930s serial starring Buster Crabbe.