Most comic book fans will be able to instantly recognise most of the iconic characters created by industry giants DC and Marvel, but they’re unlikely to know what lurks inside the pages of long-running sci-fi anthology series 2000 AD. The cult British comic has been on the shelves for more than 30 years and, although it has never quite managed to gain a considerable Transatlantic following, it’s always been a hugely influential force in the comic book industry. “The galaxy’s greatest comic” was an early proving ground for acclaimed writers like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Mark Millar and Garth Ennis, and it has offered up some of the most inventive – and often plain weird – characters and stories found in the medium.
10. Button Man
Although 2000 AD is generally remembered for its sci-fi storytelling, the comic has strayed into other genres. One of its most memorable sci-fi departures was John Wagner’s crime thriller Button Man. The series follows soldier-for-hire Harry Exton after he agrees to participate in a mysterious modern day gladiatorial game. Given instructions via telephone by the mysterious wealthy investors who are gambling on the proceedings, the players (called ‘Button Men’) are set against each other in a fight to the death. The noir story set the tone for some gritty, hard-hitting action and the high concept series is definitely overdue a cinematic adaptation.
9. Devlin Waugh
Devlin Waugh is completely unlike any of the other ‘tough guys’ 2000 AD is most popularly known for. Set in the not-too distant future, Devlin Waugh was a sadly short-lived series which followed the titular camp, gay priest as he battled supernatural and paranormal forces in the name of God. Built like a superhero and equipped with a sharper tongue than Oscar Wilde, Devlin is the Vatican’s top exorcist and he prefers to kick-ass using big weapons (as well as his own big guns) rather than a bible and an crucifix.
8. Nikolai Dante
Nikolai Dante is a wonderfully inventive sci-fi epic set in a futuristic 27th century where an all-powerful Imperialist Russia rules the planet and the stars. The eponymous hero is a roguish thief who discovers that he is the illegitimate heir to the Romanov dynasty – a powerful family who are the aristocratic rivals to the ruling Makarovs. Problem is, Dante falls in love with the daughter of Tsar Vladimir the Conqueror and it’s not long before a civil war erupts between the two opposing dynasties. Nikolai Dante is an epic adventure series set against the backdrop of revolution which is like a classic swashbuckling tale infused with a futuristic, sci-fi twist.
7. Sinister Dexter
Finny Sinister and Ray Dexter are probably one of the coolest and most badass partnerships in all of comic books. The duo are a pair of legendary gun sharks (aka hitmen) who prowl around the sprawling, futuristic city of Downlode looking for money to be made from killing folks and raising hell. Of course, living in a crime-ridden city which is roughly the size of several European countries has its downsides and so Sinister and Dexter have been targeted by the likes of crooked cops, insane futuristic gangs and rival hitmen – but the notorious duo usually manage to come out on top.
6. Big Dave
Big Dave was a completely insane character created by Mark Millar and Grant Morrison in the early 90s. Lager drinking, shell suit wearing Dave is the self-proclaimed “hardest man in Manchester” and he was England’s last hope when Saddam Hussein launched a dastardly plot to turn everyone in the world into poofs and when Adolf Hitler returned from the grave to try and lead the German national team to victory in the World Cup. The satire was about as subtle as a brick to the head but it’s hard not to enjoy this off-the-wall sendup of lad culture. The controversial series didn’t seem to care who it offended but it wasn’t well-received by readers who seemed genuinely concerned about the future of 2000 AD. Dave’s tenure in the comic was all too brief but his appearances delivered some bawdy, juvenile fun.
Sam Slade is a grizzled, no-nonsense private detective who specialises in hunting down robots. Despite being accompanied by his droid companions Hoagy (an enthusiastic but idiotic robot) and Stogie (a talking robo-cigar), the aging detective is constantly frustrated and antagonised by the craziness of the mechanical world he lives in and he’s bitter that he has to spend his life running after robots. The series was another classic concept from John Wagner who derived plenty of laughs from a protagonist who always seemed down on his luck and in over his head. Best described as a comedy version of ‘Blade Runner’, Robo-Hunter has been an on-off recurring series since it was first introduced in 1978. The concept was recently given a brief reboot in 2007 with a new series which focused on the adventures of Sam’s granddaughter Samantha Slade as she took on the family business.
Sláine is a Celt warrior who is so badass that he could easily give Conan the Barbarian a good run for his money. Early stories from the long-running fantasy series featured the character as an outcast who had been banished from his tribe and wandered Tír na nÓg in the company of his annoying dwarf companion Ukko. Sláine often clashed with human foes and fantastical beasts alike, but few were a match for the fearless warrior and his warp spasm ability (when Sláine fights he sometimes enters into a battle frenzy where he transforms into a monstrous, distorted version of himself with superhuman strength). Admittedly, the mythological-inspired series got a little bit more confusing with its continued fixation with inter-dimensional gods and time travel. Nevertheless, the world of Sláine has always been fascinatingly deep and rich thanks to the tireless work of creator and writer Pat Mills and the series has featured some of the best fantasy artwork found in comic books.
3. Rogue Trooper
Rogue Trooper is a genetically engineered elite infantryman who is locked into a seemingly endless war between the Norts and the Southers on the ravaged planet Nu-Earth. Created by the Southers in a bid to gain the tactical upper hand, the Genetic Infantry are immune to the chemical and nuclear warfare which has poisoned the planet. Rogue is the only survivor when the entire G.I. army is wiped out in a surprise counterattack and the early adventures of the series followed the wandering soldier as he tried to track down the Souther traitor responsible for the massacre of his fellow comrades. The blue-skinned character is probably one of 2000 AD’s most recognisable faces and the comic has had continued success following the lone Rogue Trooper as he constantly struggles with the hell of war.
2. Strontium Dog
2000 AD sure does love coming up with depressing visions of the future, but who can complain when they’re as rich and interesting as the world of Strontium Dog? Set in the late 22nd century, fallout radiation from global nuclear war has turned most of the population into mutants. Persecuted and discriminated by ‘norms’, the only job out there for mutants is bounty hunting throughout the galaxy for the Search/Destroy agency. One of the best SDs (nicknamed Strontium Dogs) is Johnny Alpha – a white-eyed mutant with the power to read minds and see through walls who will stop at nothing catch a bounty. Infused with a spaghetti Western vibe and never afraid to go into full-on nutty sci-fi territory (Johnny’s sidekick is a Viking he brought into the future called Wulf Sternhammer and the two once went back in time – or forward in Wulf’s case – to capture Hitler himself), Strontium Dog was always one of the most colourful series in 2000 AD’s very eclectic line-up.
1. Judge Dredd
Let’s face it, 2000 AD characters don’t come much more iconic than Judge Dredd. Introduced in the second issue (or ‘prog’) of the comic all the way back in 1977 and appearing in almost every issue since, Dredd is a futuristic cop in the vein of Dirty Harry who is judge, jury and executioner all rolled into one. Conceived as a satire of fascist police states and trigger happy justice systems, Dredd is the right-wing, scowling saviour of the hellhole that is Mega City One. Although he is known for solving most problems and crimes with the liberal use of his Lawgiver sidearm, writers have given the character some much needed development over the years – he’s even shown that there is a limit to his unwavering devotion to justice and has hit back at abuses of power. Mega City One has also become an important character in its own right and the apocalyptic city and its many bizarre antagonists have been given such a rich and weird history that it’s hard to find better sci-fi world-building in any other comic book.