By Luke Williams
As a writing team and working solely, John Wagner & Alan Grant were incredibly prolific in the 80s, supplying “new” Eagle and 2000AD with a significant amount of material for long stretches at a time while maintaining a high quality.
In as much as Wagner and Grant fulfilled the function of being the “core” of 2000AD for a chunk of the eighties, Dan Abnett has fulfilled that role for the past 20 years. This is about praise, where praise is (over) due, on the Abnett droids House of Tharg output and the impact he has had on the Prog’.
Following many other Marvel UKers such as Alan McKenzie, John Tomlinson and Lee Sullivan over to the Galaxy’s Greatest during the early nineties creative vacuum, Dan Abnett has made a huge contribution to the Prog’, most notably during the “Second Golden Age” with a range of strips with trademark witty dialogue, strong characters and dark humour. This article is not meant to be a complete and detailed overview of Mr. Abnett’s output. That would be difficult. Abnett is a writing machine, and there is no way yours truly has the time to cover everything he has written. All the while he is working on the Prog’ he was still beavering away on his DC and Marvel work such as Resurrection Man, Titans, Aquaman etc, plus innumerable books set in the Warhammer universe and his off- beat independent work such as the Lords of Misrule and Wild’s End.
This is a brief overview of his work on the Galaxy’s Greatest, occasionally veering into hagiography. So, in no particular order:
His first big hit in the Prog’ was Sinister Dexter debuting in the 1995 2000AD Sci Fi Special. For better or for worse, has been a regular feature in the ever since. For the first few years of its run it was an almost omnipresent presence as much as Strontium Dog was in the 1980s. It’s the tale of two “gun sharks”, hit men with a skewed moral code in the future European city of Downlode. Heavily indebted to Pulp Fiction, the strips back to basics approach of snappy dialogue, catchphrases, clever wordplay and extreme violence often in short bursts of single episode or 2-4 episode strips, made it a hit. Since then it has developed into a sprawling science fiction epic, with forks in the road like Downlode Tales, reboots and as many false endings as the Lords of the Rings : The Return of the King.
One of the few Abnett strips that failed to gain traction was Sancho Panzer a future war strip starring the titular mercenary roaming the planet if Vainglory Five in a huge sentient tank called Mojo, drawn by art god Henry Flint. Developed as an ongoing strip, only one series was published and mysteriously hasn’t been collected. It seems a no brainer for at least a floppy with the Meg’.
Aside from his artistic partners, Abnett has worked with a slew of co writers on other projects within the Prog’. Notably, Abnett teamed with Steve White on “Rogue Troopers” attempting to merge and make sense of the disparate Rogue Trooper continuities of Friday / original RT (also covered here) alongside their respective supporting casts. Making sense of that little lot was no mean feat, whether he, White and his artist compadres (including Edmund Perryman and Steve Tappin) succeeded is debatable, being kind, perhaps the best thing to say is that they made the best of a bad job. Abnett also wrote a short series of the Rogue Trooper spin off Venus Bluegenes.
Also with co writer White, but this time with Gary Erskine the same team from Dark Horse’s fighter jet thriller Hypersonic on art Abnett wrote the perfectly respectable, possibly almost forgotten / ret conned out of existence, Pat Mills baiting Flesh : Chronocide which saw the return of Trans Time Employee Earl Regan to the Prog’ in the 1990s.
The White / Abnett team also created the short lived Black Light with John M Burns. A cross between the BBC series “Spooks” and the “X Files”, riffing on the fad for conspiracy theories and black ops just as they were becoming the plot device du jour. Black Light were a team charged by the US President to track down and eliminate rogue government agencies. It lasted three series. Fun while it lasted.
With a couple of short lived series behind him, Abnett was given Durham Red to bring back from banality. Eschewing her bounty hunter background, he and artist partner Mark, thrust her into the far future in a hard sci fi reboot. Abnett & Harrison cast her as a mutant messiah caught in an apocalyptic war between the mutant and human races. After completion of the series, he returned to the character in the alternate universe “Scarlet Apocrypha”, setting the characters in some unfamiliar settings and a team of stellar artists, such as Carlos Ezquerra, John Burns and Enric Romero.
Perhaps his most prolific partnership is with Richard Elson. The first Abnett / Elson teaming was the sentient killer car short story Roadkill. The duo followed that with the epic sci fi “last human in a galactic conflict” story, the 3 book Atavar. They followed that with the incredibly popular Kingdom, another hard sci fi post apocalyptic series; a mash up of “Mad Max” / “Island of Dr Moreau and Starship Troopers mash up.
Genetically modified dogs defend a hibernating humanity from an alien insectoid race. The series has the hallmarks of Abnett: clever wordplay, humour and action with a hard sci fi edge. Gene the Hackman is one of a breed monosyllabic human dog / hybrids created to protect a hibernating humanity from the invasion of “them” a race of insectoid aliens, now overrunning the Earth. With Kingdom currently on hiatus, Abnett and Elson have moved onto the fantasy stylings of Feral and Foe. The story of a wizard and mercenary who had a fought a war on the wrong side side and were now paying the price, taking the crummiest jobs to appease whatever warlord they’ve upset most recently.
Wardog, a short lived licensed strip in the Meg’, notable for some early work by the underappreciated Patrick Goddard, inked by Dylan Teague and coloured by soon to be regular contributor Richard Elson. An action series tie-in to never released game from 2000ADs owners Rebellion, starring a soldier whose mind has been wiped and had a bomb in his head which gives him a short period of time to complete missions.
Partnering with Henry Flint again, he revived the much loved Gerry Finley Day creations The V.Cs. One of the Prog’s earliest future war strips, it’s a tale of small groups of Starship Troopers patrolling the solar system in search of the aggressive and murderous “Geeks” and alien race intent on the extermination of the human race. Reviving the series, Abnett and Flint, later replaced by Anthony Williams, create an almost completely new cast but maintain continuity by carrying over original VC Steve Smith. Its told as one long story but broken up into shorter stand alone episodes that Abnett would use again in Grey Area, which doesn’t sound particularly revolutionary, but consider that most series in 2000AD are now written as 10-12 parts to collect. The series is surprisingly affecting, more sophisticated, with a harder edge than the, original reflecting the older readership.
Initially, Abnett wasn’t a regular visitor to the Dreddverse. This changed with “The Black Atlantic” a strip set in the toxic waters between Brit Cit and the Big Meg and starring a bunch of Mutant pirates. In this short lived series Steve Roberts had great fun designing the various mutations.However, it was Abnett’s next Dreddverse project, this time partnering with Colin MacNeil that really hit the spot. “Insurrection”, was the beautifully drawn and compelling third and by far the most successful attempt at a space judges story. With no assistance from Mega City One, a coalition of uplifts (genetically enhanced apes) self determining robots the Judges of colony word of K Alpha 61have stopped and invasion by the Zhind an aggressive alien race. Declaring independence from the Big Meg, the various factions of the planet reunite to resist an attempt to re-impose authority by MC1 Justice Department.
On completion of “Insurrection” Abnett and Phil Winslade took a supporting character from the series and created arguably the most successful of the Dreddverse westerns . A mysterious Judge arrives on the colony world of Bedrock to take over as Marshall, but all is not what it seems. Whip smart dialogue, beautiful art and an extended storyline and a strong supporting cast has led this to become a favourite of Meg’ readers, even spawning a “Lawless” musical.
In Brink Abnett and artist Ian Culbard bring a slow burn, downbeat, unsettling strip light years away from Sinister Dexter’s goofy violence. Bridget Kurtis is a police officer working one of the many space stations that carry the flotsam and jetsam of humanity, refugees from the Earth’s environmental collapse, but the colonies An unexpected hit for the Prog’, Brink is a distinct change of pace from his other work. A hard sci fi detective gothic body horror mystery in space, tinged with gothic body horror.
Grey Area, the intergalactic equivalent of UK Border Force, but for all of Earthco created by Karl Richardson has developed from a series of short episodic strips to a sprawling long term police procedural building to a sprawling soap opera style anti racist rant for the as this. The titular Grey Areas the first point of entry and holding zone for extra terrestrial migrants to Earth, policed by the E.T.C – Exo Transfer Control Squads. Like many strips in 2000AD it has strong anti racist themes and preaches tolerance, without being too on the nose, it has seen a series of artists a series of artists, including Mark Harrison, Patrick Goddard and Lee Carter.
On its debut The Out, was suspected as a spin off or thematic sequel to The Ballad Of Halo Jones. Book one was a deep space road movie. Our heroine, journalist Cyd, travelling through the “Out” : deep space, like an intergalactic hobo, recording what she sees and reporting back to an unresponsive office on distant Earth. After a series of one offs and character building book 2 sets up the long game, seeding plot points and developing a larger overarching narrative.
Where many 2000AD strips run to 10 -12 episodes for subsequent collection, The Out, Grey Area and The V.C.s are made up of shorter arcs that can read well separately, but fit into the larger narrative, ideal for new readers who are soon drawn into the ongoing storyline without feeling completely lost.Abnett is at home on the slow burn moody pieces as well as the high concept action fests orientated.
He really brings his “A” game to the Prog. He has quietly become an invaluable asset to the Prog’, and with a string of hit series to his name, he’s the spine. By dint of output and quality, for the Prog’ he is the 21st century Wagner and Grant.
Where can you get some of this stuff :
Check out the webshop for trade paperback collections and digital editions, but also
Black Light in Meg’ floppies 336 & 337, alongside Roadkill
Brink is being collected in s series of trades, but a significant chunk of it in 2000AD Ultimate collection 107& 108
Durham Red : 3 trades (mainly out of print) , plus 2000AD Ultimate collection 59, but no sign of teh “Scarlet Apocrypha” sadly.
Surprisingly Flesh : Chronocide was reprinted, in Meg’ floppy 312
Grey Area has been collected in a series of trade paperbacks & 2000AD Ultimate Collection 109 & 110
Insurrection in Judge Dredd Mega Collection 54 and two trade collections
Kingdom trades and 2000AD Ultimate Collection 60 & 61
Some of Lawless can be found in Judge Dredd Mega Collection 90 but there also a series of trades.
The OutBook One has been collected in a trade. Book Two has just finished in the Prog, so that will follow
Sinister Dexter. Seemingly endless, it’s been reprinted in a series of trades, 2000 AD Ultimate Collection 67, 68, 69, 137and Meg’ floppies 374, 375, 376, 377, 378, 379, plus spin off Downlode Tales in floppies 330, 334, 335
The VCs was reprinted in 2000AD Ultimate Collection 105 & 106
Venus Bluegenes can be found in meg floppy 318
Wardog was released as a trade, but is out of print. However, it’s a free download on the website.
Black Atlantic, Sancho Panzer & Atavar, haven’t been reprinted. Strange, considering some of the other stuff reprinted in the floppies. Feral & Foe is also missing a collection, but it’s a recent strip and perhaps too new to reprint in the Meg’ floppy.