Peter Milligan was proving to be a prolific source of new series for 2000 AD. After introducing Bad Company to the title, he added THE DEAD to its list of Thrills from Prog 510. Like D. R. & Quinch, the tiny terror BRADLEY made his first appearance in a one-off story. But this new character caught the eye and was quickly upgraded to having his own series. It was the first of many to be written for the weekly by Alan McKenzie and gave a showcase for the eye-popping artwork of Simon Harrison.
The new wave of British creators was also strongly represented by ZENITH (Prog 535), which was written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Steve Yeowell. For both it was their first on-going series for 2000 AD. Zenith was the weekly's own superhero, but also deconstructed the concept of what a superhero series was expected to be.
Alan McKenzie returned with another new creation, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER, in Prog 537. This was rapidly followed by another Milligan series in Prog 542 called FREAKS. While these new Thrills were fighting for space, the writing team of John Wagner and Alan Grant began their final Dredd mega-epic, called Oz. It revived the very popular character Chopper, sending him to the future Australia to battle for the world skysurfing championship. Dredd pursued the fugitive from justice but as the story approached the climax, Wagner and Grant realised they fundamentally disagreed about it should end. Their long-running partnership on Dredd came to an end...
Artist Steve Dillon had long been a favourite with 2000 AD readers. In 1988 he began writing as well as drawing, creating a new character called HAP HAZZARD in Prog 561. Low on action but big on talk, Hap Hazzard began its life as a Future Shock but returned for further conversations about lager, life and doing the laundry.
TYRANNY REX (Prog 566) was very different proposition, despite also having Steve Dillon as artist. The first series created for the award-winning weekly by writer John Smith, Tyranny was all about a green-skinned alien babe with attitude to spare. Dirty deeds done for loads of cash was her motto. It could hardly have been more different from the next new strip to join the anthology...
THE JOURNAL OF LUKE KIRBY (Prog 571) concerned a ten-year-old boy growing up in rural England during the 1960s. Little did the lad realise he was the latest in a long line of men with magical powers in the Kirby family. The death of his father soon showed Luke he had a terrifying and dangerous destiny ahead of himself.
New strips starting coming thick and fast as 1988 drew to a close. TRIBAL MEMORIES in Prog 585 was a moving tale about how science corrupts humanity, while MOON RUNNERS (Prog 591) was a space-bound saga featuring the artwork of Massimo Belardinelli. CHOPPER finally got his own solo series in Prog 594 after seven years of cameos in the pages of Judge Dredd. Finally, NIGHT ZERO (Prog 607) introduced Tanner, a cabbie in Zero City with a metallic arm and a taste for trouble.
By 1989 a new editorial was settled in at Tharg's Nerve Centre and ringing the changes in the Galaxy's greatest comic. The title acquired its first female writer, Hilary Robinson, who would script most of the new series introduced in this year. The first of these was ZIPPY COURIERS in Prog 610, about the colourful characters at a futuristic courier service.
The leader character from Sooner or Later was revived in SWIFTY'S RETURN from Prog 614. Five issues later space hospital drama MEDIVAC 318 made its debut, another series sprung from the imagination of Hilary Robinson. She also scripted SURVIVOR (Prog 639), a sequel to the Mean Team series reviving the character Henry Moon.
Probably the most original addition to Tharg's Thrills in 1989 was INDIGO PRIME (Prog 642), a complex web of dimension-hopping characters created by John Smith and Chris Weston. The series reached its apogee in 1991 with the acclaimed Killing Time saga. The final new strip of the 1980s was actually an old favourite in disguise. THE DEAD MAN began in Prog 650, with readers little realising that the central character with the horribly scarred face and body was actually Judge Dredd!
The early 1990s brought a wealth of new series and characters to 2000 AD, along with revivals of old favourites by young creators hungry for the chance to put their stamp on classics of the past like Sam Slade, Robo-Hunter. The first strip introduced in the new decade was BIX BARTON (Prog 663), Master of the Rum and Uncanny. He was soon followed into the comic by the all-crushing metallic menace of ARMOURED GIDEON in Prog 671. Just seven days later SHADOWS joined the ever-growing roster of new Thrills.
With this bewildering array of the unfamiliar, readers could depend upon John Wagner to produce the goods in Necropolis. The first Dredd mega-epic for three years, it saw sixty million citizens executed by Dark Judges. Only the return of Dredd from his Long Walk into the Cursed Earth and the efforts of Psi-Judge Anderson enabled the city to escape the Dark Judges' reign of terror and death.
Meanwhile the new Thrills kept on coming - the politically correct CHRONOS CARNIVAL in Prog 676 and the undistinguished DRY RUN (Prog 688). But the best of the bunch for 1990 was proudly presented for the first time in Prog 700. HEWLIGAN'S HAIRCUT combined the talents of writer Peter Milligan with Tank Girl's creator Jamie Hewlett on artwork. This insane series about the nature of reality was a surreal treat.
Another defector from alternative title Deadline featured in the same issue, with Wired World writer/artist Philip Bond drawing TIME FLIES, the first strip created for 2000 AD by rising star Garth Ennis. Yet another writer made his debut when Mark Millar scripted SILO, starting in Prog 706. Veteran American writer Mike Fleisher added to the mix with his first 2000 AD creation, JUNKER, beginning in Prog 708.
Readers could forgiven for failing to keep up with the blizzard of new faces in the Galaxy's greatest comic during the early 1990s. The first half of that decade introduced only two less new series than made their debut in all of the 1980s - a startling statistic.
First up for 1991 was undead anarchist BRIGAND DOOM in Prog 717, followed just seven days later by the short-lived DANZIG'S INFERNO. The soap opera TAO DE MOTO was mooted as a Halo Jones for the 90's, but its debut in Prog 723 and subsequent episodes failed to have the impact of its predecessor.
After more than a decade of being killed, resurrected and constantly threatened with a lobotomy, MEAN MACHINE got his own strip in Prog 730. This hilarious story by John Wagner had the homicidal head-butter travelling back in time and teaming up with himself - but not before one Mean had butted the other right through the comic page! Richard Dolan's lavishly illustrated artwork made this all-too-short strip one of the highlights of 1991.
Still the new Thrills kept coming. DEAD MEAT in Prog 742 starred a walking, talking goat called Inspector Raam investigating crimes against the animal kingdom in a strictly vegetarian, partially flooded London of the future. REVERE made its debut in Prog 744, but readers still argue today about what this strip was meant to be.
STRONTIUM DOGS (Prog 750) picked up plot threads from the old STRONTIUM DOG strip, following on from the death of Johnny Alpha. TRASH (Prog 760) was the first and last series ever written for 2000 AD by American comics veteran Paul Kupperberg, while DURHAM RED got her first solo series in Prog 762.
After frantic pace of new arrivals in the previous two years, 1992 was comparatively quiet. FINN made his 2000 AD debut in Prog 770, but had originally appeared in the long-running series Third World War in CRISIS, which had recently been cancelled. The contemporary setting, pagan lifestyle and eco-warrior ethos of the series made it immensely popular with readers who appreciated its anti-corporate world view.
THE CLOWN made his debut in Prog 774, seeking bloody revenge after his pony was murdered by robbers. Like many series in the early 1990s, it featured fully painted artwork by illustrators heavily influenced by the bombastic style on Simon Bisley on the acclaimed Sláine saga The Horned God. 2000 AD had gone full colour from Prog 750 to cope with the influx of painters, but the style proved to be something of a cul de sac for the comic. The paper it was printed on hardly did the artwork justice and fully painted strip took much longer to complete compared to the old style of line art being coloured up.
Prog 780 brought two new Thrills. KOLA KOMMANDOES was a sweeping satire wrapped up in an all action story which never really found its ideal audience. Far more popular was BUTTON MAN (© John Wagner and Arthur Ranson), the first creator-owned strip published in 2000 AD. Although hardly science fiction, the gritty tale of mercenary Harry Exton gripped readers with its tense narrative and cinematic artwork.
By this point Garth Ennis had succeeded John Wagner as resident writer on Judge Dredd and 1992 brought his first mega-epic, Judgement Day. Billions died as zombies stalked the Earth under the command of Sabbat the Necromagus. It had the added attraction of teaming Dredd with Strontium Dog Johnny Alpha, who had travelled back in time to help fight Sabbat. (He got the contract to go backwards in time before his own, untimely death.) Meanwhile, WIRE HEADS made its first appearance in Prog 803.
1993 was the year Tharg went mad, giving 11 series their debut in the pages of the Galaxy's greatest comic. Old 1960s character KELLY'S EYE got a 2000 AD-style revamp from Prog 821, while the intriguing FIREKIND first appeared in Prog 828. The Dredd spin-off series PURGATORY began in Prog 834, setting story elements in place for what was to come...
Prog 842 launched the much-hyped Summer Offensive, where the comic was given over to a handful of creators to fill with their fresh ideas. The product of this brave experiment ranged from the politically incorrect "irony" of BIG DAVE to the slam-bang action of MANIAC 5; from the delirious delights of REALLY & TRULY to the dinosaur racing deathrace of SLAUGHTERBOWL. Add to all of this was a Dredd mini-epic, Inferno, was the city attacked by convict ex-Judges back for revenge.
Even when the Summer Offensive was over, the new Thrills kept coming. TIMEHOUSE in Prog 860 was a lightweight piece of whimsey, while CANON FODDER (Prog 861) opted for a more stomach-churning blood and thunder approach to keeping the readers entertained. Two more newcomers slipped in the year drew to a close, with eco-fable MOTHER EARTH and the mind-altering madness of SOUL GUN WARRIOR both breaking out in Prog 867.
There has long been a tradition of recycling in 2000 AD. When like-minded titles were cancelled, the best of their strips were shifted over to the Galaxy's greatest comic. The same happened with titles that never got beyond dummy stage. In the early 1990s plans were mooted for a younger counterpart to 2000 AD but it was never launched.
From that aborted project came DINOSTY, a bloodthirsty soap opera about royal dinosaurs that made its public debut in Prog 873. Five weeks later it was joined in the comic by THE GRUDGEFATHER, a bleak series "Based on an original grudge by Jim McCarthy". Prog 883 brought BABE RACE 2000, which did exactly what it said in the title - a big race between babes in the future. Not the weekly's most subtle offering...
MAMBO (Prog 889) required a little more thought, with its gradually unfolding tale of a New York detective who can mutate her body at will. The same issue brought back John Wagner as resident writer on the Dredd strip in 2000 AD, after several years away. He was soon hatching a fresh mega-epic called Wilderlands, which crossed back and forth between the weekly and its fortnightly spin-off, the Judge Dredd Megazine.
The Megazine did a character swap with its parent title as 1994 drew to a close. 2000 AD acquired the services of Russian law enforcer RED RAZORS (Prog 908) while Psi-Judge Cassandra Anderson shifted over to the Megazine. You be the judge of which title got the better part of that deal! Last new Thrill of the year was another Dredd-world tale, THE CORPS (Prog 918), this time about Judges in Space.
1995 was dominated by the Judge Dredd film starring Sylvester Stallone, but the Galaxy's greatest comic still had time to innovate with six new Thrills and a fresh approached to Dredd mega-epics. TRACER began a very short stay in Prog 948. Like Dinosty the previous year, it was a leftover from the planned Young 2000 AD title which never got launched.
URBAN STRIKE (Prog 950) was a tie-in with a popular computer game, included in the comic because market research suggested it might attract new readers to the title. Instead it just inspired a fierce backlash from the existing readership. By comparison, the introduction of VECTOR 13 in Prog 951 was much better received.
V13 acted as a replacement for Tharg's Future Shocks. It created a fresh new approach to creating one-off stories for the weekly, focussing on strange phenomena and creepy conspiracies as The X Files TV series was doing very successfully at the time. Each story was introduced by the Men In Black, shadowy figures from the covert Government agency known only as Vector 13.
They were soon joined in the comic by JANUS, PSI (Prog 953). She had first appeared during the Dredd mini-epic Inferno, now she started getting her own solo series. PARASITES began in Prog 964, followed by the short-lived KID CYBORG in Prog 972. But the highlight of the year's closing weeks was the beginning of The Pit, a new kind of mega-epic for future lawman Judge Dredd.
Instead of having a body count in the millions and all of Mega-City One being at stake like most mega-epics, this story kept events small scale. The Pit saw Dredd posted to a Sector House riddled with corruption and incompetence in an isolated part of the Big Meg. Originally only expected to run for eight to twelve episodes, this slow burning saga ran to 30 episodes and was acclaimed as one of Dredd's finest stories of recent years.
The new year began with a new editorial team being introduced to the weekly and a selection of new Thrills left over from the previous teams. DARKNESS VISIBLE was first, emerging in the pages of Prog 975. Just seven days later VENUS BLUE GENES was given her old solo series after years of playing a supporting role in Rogue Trooper stories.
21st Century hitmen SINISTER DEXTER joined the anthology with Prog 981. Initially only commissioned for ten episodes, the deadly duo had their initial run extended by five weeks because anther series was delayed getting into print. By the time Sinister Dexter's first selection of stories was finished, readers were started to notice them. The characters were brought back for another series and within 16 months of its debut Sinister Dexter was made a semi-permanent part of the title. It was the first strip to be accorded this honour in the 1990s.
R.A.M. RAIDERS burst into print with Prog 985, but lacked Sinister Dexter's staying power. The next debutante was OUTLAW in the landmark Prog 1000. This simple but engaging yarn caught the eye of younger readers and had been optioned for making into a movie for American television. The following week brought the arrival of espionage thriller BLACK LIGHT, which has also excited interest from TV producers.
The final new Thrill of 1996 was the creator-owned epic fantasy MAZEWORLD (© Alan Grant and Arthur Ranson). This series proved immensely popular with readers and has since returned for two further books set in the fantastic realm where everybody's lives are ruled by mazes and labyrinths...
2000 AD's 20th anniversary year brought eight new Thrills - several would become firm favourites with readers while others would be reviled despite (or perhaps because of) generating enormous interest from the news media. The birthday issue (Prog 1033) featured the first debut of 1997 - MERCY HEIGHTS, a murder mystery set on a space hospital.
Just seven days elapsed before it was joined by another newcomer, the creator-owned comedy AL'S BABY (© John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra). Like Red Razors before it, Al's Baby had transferred across from the pages of the Judge Dredd Megazine to a new home in the Galaxy's greatest comic.
Perhaps the most significant debutante of 1997 was NIKOLAI DANTE, a Russian rogue from the year 2666. This sci-fi swashbuckler has grown into a favourite of many readers and his saga continues to develop with major events in Dante's world planned for publication in 2000 AD during the year 2000.
Prog 1050 brought two new series - the fantasy of WITCH WORLD and the crazy, creator-owned oddity called I WAS A TEENAGE TAX CONSULTANT (© John Wagner and Ian Gibson). The second of these struggled to find an audience in the Galaxy's greatest comic, but that was as nothing compared to the vitriol directed at the SPACE GIRLS, who made their first appearance in prog 1062. A simultaneous spoof of the Spice Girls and silly superhero series, the strip was torn apart by readers who hated everything about it.
That bomb was followed seven days later by A LIFE LESS ORDINARY, an eight-part adaptation of a film by the makers of Trainspotting. Their pedigree was good but their new film would never be more than a cult hit. Next up was political satire in the form of B.L.A.I.R. 1, updating the old M.A.C.H. 1 concept with British Prime Minister Tony Blair given the bionic treatment. This series got an incredible coverage from the news media but missed with the most important audience - the people who read 2000 AD every week...
By 1998, the Galaxy's greatest comic had gradually built up a strong core of characters old and new which could sustain itself without having to constantly add new arrivals to give the illusion of progress. The weekly was concentrating on well told stories, trying to make readers care about the characters, wanting to know what would happen next. With this philosophy in place, the number of new Thrills has dropped dramatically.
Only three series made their 2000 AD debut in 1998. The first was MISSIONARY MAN in Prog 1091, another refugee from the Judge Dredd Megazine searching for a home. Prog 1096 introduced PULP SCI-FI, a new concept for one-off stories which harked back to the glory days of Tharg's Future Shocks when they were still fresh and original.
The final addition of the year was SANCHO PANZER in Prog 1112. Rather than the usual grim and gritty future war scenario seen in the weekly, this story about two mercenaries and their sentient tank went for a more comedic approach. The lively artwork of Henry Flint helped secure Sancho a cult following.
With the 20th Century rapidly drawing to a close, mega-epics were the order of the day for 2000 AD. This left little room for new Thrills, with only three squeezing into the comic. DOWNLODE TALES first appeared in Prog 1126, telling stories from Sinister Dexter's city without having to show the deadly duo in action. Following the shocking events of Sinister Dexter mega-epic Eurocrash, Downlode Tales took on a far greater significance.
The BALLS BROTHERS (Prog 1128) was a knockabout comedy with no pretensions to deconstructing the text of modern comics. But with creators John Wagner and Kevin Walker on the job, such lofty goals were not necessary. It was all about having a laugh.
The final newcomer of the century was DEVLIN WAUGH in Prog 1150. Another series first seen in the Judge Dredd Megazine, Devlin transferred to 2000 AD for a six-month-long mega-epic to help set the mood for the countdown to the new millennium. The freelance exorcist and camp vampire was an unlikely hero but that had always been the way with the Galaxy's greatest comic - why stop now?