Cover art by Greg Staples

2000AD’s sister title, the Judge Dredd Megazine, reaches an incredible milestone this month with the release of issue 424, which celebrates the publication’s 30th anniversary.

It’s incredibly impressive considering how much the British comic book landscape has changed in the years since the first issue hit newsagents in 1990. Back then, there was a pretty healthy and vibrant selection of more mature, original comic material being published by UK-based companies. Of course, even British comics aimed at kids were in a pretty good position, with a wonderful selection to be found everywhere, week in, week out. Not only that, but at the time you could even purchase a healthy and hugely varied range of comics from the ‘Big Two’ US publishers, DC and Marvel, from pretty much any newsagent in the country. Comics were incredibly accessible here and catered for all ages and tastes; it was a fantastic era to experience first hand, especially as the writing and art was truly first rate in most cases – there’s a reason so much British talent ended up being poached by US comic book publishers after all.

Judge Dredd: The Megazine #1

Today’s comic book landscape on the UK high street is pretty depressing stuff, however. Despite the evergreen presence of 2000AD and the Megazine still being available in shops such as WH Smith and Tesco, you won’t generally find them in independently owned newsagents at all. Specials published by Rebellion will – mostly, but not always – show up in WH Smith, but I’ve never seen these in a supermarket or elsewhere, making them even harder to find. The war-focused, smaller sized Commando collections that have four issues available side-by-side each month can usually be found in most WH Smith stores as well, but aside from repackaged collections of US Marvel material by Titan – all of which is already a few years old by the time it reaches these collections of three or four stories per issue – there’s no other adult focused comic book content available on the UK high street. Kids titles are in an even worse state, with The Beano generally being the only consistently available full comic strip-focused title, though the fantastic anthology comic The Phoenix can sometimes be found in Smith’s or supermarkets. However, availability of the Phoenix can vary from area to area. Unless you’re near – or able to travel to – a dedicated comic shop (or subscribe for physical or digital editions of the comics you want), that’s all folks.

So, given the dire state of the UK mainstream comics scene – at least from a non-specialist shop point of view – it’s incredibly impressive to see the Megazine reach such a brilliant milestone and still be available to purchase in actual high street shops.

Megatropolis art by Dave Taylor

It’s in great shape too; issue 424 is packed with some stories that truly showcase the breadth and depth of settings that can be explored in the Megazine; though – usually – not all stories published in the Megazine set in the Dredd-verse, issue 424 sees the start of lots of stories which are set at various points in Dredd’s world, as well as one that has a more ‘Elseworlds’ (DC’s name for their alternate universe stories that have fun reimagining their characters in settings outside of the normal continuity) feel.

Kicking off the issue, we have a standard Dredd story, albeit one that’s dealing with the aftershocks – decades later – of events covered in the Megazine’s most famous story (and still, in my opinion, the best Dredd story ever), America, which led the charge in the very first issue of the Megazine (and, with its focus on the Judges as violent fascists from the point of view of oppressed citizens, was one hell of a ballsy way to kick off the Megazine’s run).

We also have the aforementioned Elsworlds-esque tale, Megatropolis, in which Mega-City One is reimagined in a retro-futuristic art deco style; its inhabitants and tone given a very appealing noir makeover.

Dreadnoughts art by John Higgins

The Dredd-verse prequel world of prose series Judges – book one of which I reviewed myself recently – is given a strip here too, with the near future (the comic here, Dreadnoughts, is set in 2035) rise of the Judges being as uncomfortably, darkly close to our own as the books have been. A stark and potentially prescient warning.

It’s good to see Anderson – the perennially popular Psi-Judge – in an excellent story and The Returners, with its diverse cast of ne’er-do-wells planning a heist in Brit-Cit is a joy to read.

Deliverance art by Nick Percival

The Dark Judges feature in the wonderfully painted, grim Deliverance and rounding out the issue is the fiftieth chapter of superb Dredd-verse space western Lawless, a series that I absolutely adore (which has always featured absolutely stunning, brilliantly detailed black and white art by Phil Winslade). Impressively, the musical-themed Lawless tale has been recorded as a real musical – which you can listen to by jumping over to this link.

What I love about the Megazine is its commitment to providing insightful interviews and articles featuring comic creators and – usually – old British comic history. These are always a great read and the articles in issue 424 – an interview with the editor of 70s/80s British war comic anthology Battle Picture Weekly and a feature looking at Rebellion’s newly published Battle 2020 Special – don’t disappoint.

Usually accompanying the polybagged Megazine each month is a collection of reprinted stories that are one of the major selling points for me; there’s been a lot of lesser known material made available in these supplements that I’ve loved catching up with or refamiliarising myself with. Issue 424, however, comes with the first part of the 2000AD Encyclopedia, which exhaustively catalogues the characters and series featured in the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic. I can already see that this is going to be an essential collection for both casual and more dedicated fans alike.

With such a fantastic selection of stories, along with consistently brilliant writing and art (as well as a huge variety of art styles), the Megazine has arguably never been better. It’s incredible too, if a little depressing, that its political and social commentary is still so relevant, if not more now than ever before.

Happy Birthday to the Judge Dredd Megazine – and here’s to the next three decades!

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