Despite all of the hurdles and challenges faced in 2020 – not least some restrictive lockdown procedures that many of us endured for several months of the year – Rebellion admirably continued to get their excellent output of comics into the hands of readers on a regular basis. Not only was it incredibly impressive to see 2000AD continue its weekly schedule uninterrupted throughout the year (though subscribers such as myself occasionally felt the impact of the postal service delays, with issues occasionally arriving late), but the Judge Dredd Megazine continued to bring us our monthly fix of comic book goodness (constantly demonstrating that it’s one of the best value comics around, with a bagged supplemental comics collection included in each issue) and even celebrated its 30th anniversary, the 424th issue marking the occasion wonderfully. The 2000AD Regened issues, aimed at readers of all ages (in contrast to the usual, definitely-not-for-kids stories that the title usually focuses on), continued to impress – and, thankfully, plans are afoot for more Regened throughout 2021.
Rebellion also published eleven Specials, many of which were updates or reboots of classic material, with some superb articles covering the history of each character and/or series also included along the way. Many of these Specials focused on characters, titles or series that I was less than familiar with – or perhaps wouldn’t have usually checked out, but in a challenging year such as 2020, I was starved of entertainment and had an awful lot of free time on my hands that I wouldn’t normally have had – so I resolved to read and review every one of them. I’m glad I did; some of my favourite Specials were ones that I probably wouldn’t normally have bought. Let’s take a look at them, shall we?
First up in March was the Action Special, though I only just managed to get the review in before the end of 2020. Based on a deliberately provocative, controversially violent and anarchic comic book from the 70s, the Action Special featured some great stories, though of course – true to the source material – it must be said that the violence and gore was pretty gratuitous and graphic throughout. Nonetheless, it kept to the spirit of its predecessor and even managed to include some thought-provoking political commentary, which is an oft-overlooked facet of British comics. It was great to see Jaws knockoff Hook-Jaw return and take on Shako – the ‘only bear on the CIA Death List’ – even if their meeting was all too brief and ended far too abruptly. Hell Machine, with its nightmarishly surreal dystopian contraption, was another highlight – and the brief, blood-soaked secret agent mission Dredger was pretty good too. Opening the issue was Kids Rule OK, which was a massive source of the original comic’s controversy back in the 70s, but here tells a more optimistic – yet still gorily vicious – tale. Excellent stuff all round.
Next up, we had the Cor!! Buster Easter Special – with daft, Dad-joke laden panels that had a much more humourous take on the anarchic British comics sensibility. Featuring a huge range of classic 70s and 80s British comic characters along with a few new faces – it was a nice palate cleanser after the grim strips featured in Action. For those of us who grew up reading the antics of characters such as Sweeny Toddler, another Jaws knockoff in the form of Gums and cuddly, misunderstood monster Frankie Stein, it was a nicely nostalgic trip back to our childhoods – though the material included really is aimed at kids, there’s still fun to be had within the pages of the Special; it’s also a great way to introduce a new generation to the impressively varied cast of characters that made up the pages of Cor!!, Buster and numerous other long-forgotten British kids comics.
The Smash! Special was next and – though in smaller, more American-sized format than the majority of the other Specials – was packed with stories that, like the Cor!! Buster Special, featured a raft of characters that readers may have long given up hope of seeing again. Some, however, have already returned – albeit briefly – in the very meta Vigilant stories that Rebellion have published in the last few years, but their presence in the Smash! Special is still very much welcome.
There’s a lot of stories here that have a really off-kilter quirkiness to their premises – and there’s even a nice bit of geopolitical commentary from the unlikeliest of places: a story about a giant robot gorilla: Mytek the Mighty. The characters each get an excellent synopsis to introduce them to new readers – or for older readers to refamiliarise themselves with the kooky goings-on in each strip, which I must admit I needed to do for several of the stories – and there’s some amazing talent on board, both in terms of the writers involved and the artists. Each character is truly elevated from the pulpy, sometimes throwaway source material and treated with care and respect, with even Charlie Higson’s daft treatment of the equally silly Steel Claw being a loving tribute to the character’s premise. It’s another really strong Special from Rebellion, which shows that their current ownership of such vast swathes of classic British comic characters and titles is in incredibly safe hands.
The leftfield, bizarre characters and stories may not be to everyone’s taste, but I had an absolute blast reading the Smash! Special.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for me for the entire year’s worth of Specials was just how much I enjoyed the Roy of the Rovers Summer Special, which was packed with strips and articles on the perennially popular football player protagonist Roy Race, who’s undergoing a bit of a renaissance with a relaunch of comics and prose novels featuring both him and his colourful cast of supporting characters. Being someone who’s never had much – if any – interest in sports of any kind, I was never particularly interested in Roy of the Rovers as a kid, but these stories – including a prose tale, along wirh some football-based humour strip reprints – and the articles covering the history of the title really were incredibly entertaining and made for great summer reading. I was also impressed with the references to lockdown, given that it was published in June; it gave the Special an incredibly contemporary, very relevant feel. Despite my aversion to sports and football in general, in my opinion the Roy of the Rovers Summer Special ended up being one of the best Specials Rebellion released in 2020 – and made me want to check out more of the rebooted Roy Race’s stories, of which there are now quite a few available.
Also in June, we had the 2000AD Sci-Fi Special 2020, which marked another anniversary for the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic – in this instance, it celebrated 20 years of Rebellion being the custodians of the comic and its characters. Cleverly, the Special had a neat gimmick: taking characters who first appeared in the pre-Rebellion days and mashing them up with post-Y2K characters. It works really well for the most part, though some of the pre-2000 characters are a little on the obscure side (long-term fans of 2000AD are sure to get a kick out of seeing these older characters return, however). Though I’m not the biggest fan of Zombo, his crossover with Dredd in this Special is superb – and has a fantastic ending.
Not only are these new crossovers included, there’s also some reprinted stories that showcase some of the more popular 2000AD characters in recent years, with introductions that explain the inclusion of each story. It’s another great collection from Rebellion, though this one may mean the most to fans of 2000AD who were around to read the comic both pre- and post-millennium.
So there you have it; the first half of 2020’s Rebellion Specials covered. Join me again tomorrow when I cast my eye over the second half of the year’s comic book Specials!
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