July 1989. Best of 2000 AD Monthly #46. That’s when I was properly hooked. Barely a teen, I’d until then read UK humour comics, bits of DC and Marvel, and licensed fare like Transformers. I’d been given a couple of ancient 2000 AD annuals, but they were full of hokey content and hadn’t aged well.

But that ‘Best of’ was something else. Judge Dredd with his stompy boots on the cover. Within, a veritable feast of classics. The Exo-Men. Block War. The Aggro Dome. Black and white art by Brian Bolland, Ron Smith, Mike McMahon and Colin Wilson. It was a window into an amazing world that instantly made Marvel fare I’d read look stale.

The months passed. More Dredd. The mind-boggling Nemesis The Warlock. Strontium Dog gut-puncher Slavers of Drule, with the late, great Carlos Ezquerra on art duties. That was the issue that convinced me to start buying the weekly ‘Prog’. #651 was my first, long after the comic’s first ‘golden age’. No matter – I plugged gaps over the years by way of comic stores, car boot sales, and a huge collection very kindly donated by a member of a famous band.

Despite being well north of 40, I’m still collecting. I now have over 2300 issues of 2000 AD, and look forward to the Prog arriving every week. Current editor Matt Smith has during his tenure (now by far the longest on the comic) managed to keep 2000 AD fresh, decades into its run. As classic strips fade, new quality ably replaces them: Brink; Proteus Vex; The Out; Jaegir; Thistlebone.

The one downside is that 2000 AD, despite being 45 years old, remains largely unknown beyond the UK. Even within the UK, it’s often referred to as a historical artefact, as if it’s no longer a going concern. In the US, it’s on the periphery, with most collectors having heard of (but not read) Dredd, and owning a set of Zenith hardcovers, because Grant Morrison. But then, that shouldn’t be a surprise when potential new readers are faced with 45 years of history and ask: Where do you start?

In short, with Best of 2000 AD. No, not the comic I bought in the 1980s, but publisher Rebellion’s revamped, modernised take. Originally conceived as a newsstand monthly, COVID necessitated its rebirth into a series of six chunky volumes. Under the slogan of the “ultimate 2000 AD mix-tape”, each book aims to give new and lapsed readers a taste of 2000 AD’s history across 200+ pages.

Issue 1 sets the stage with a superb Jamie McKelvie (The Wicked & The Divine) cover, and gorgeous design work by Tom Muller (X-Men). A complete John Wagner Dredd tale kicks things off, before we dig into the first volume of Dan Abnett and INJ Culbard’s claustrophobic space station police procedural Brink – a modern-day 2000 AD classic.

Alan Moore’s first major hit, Halo Jones, is next. Telling the tale of an ordinary woman living in a dystopian hellscape who has to go… shopping. You’ll never look at Tesco in quite the same way again. After a quick Strontium Dog (which might baffle newbies – a smidgeon of context about the strip might have helped), there’s a critical essay of Judge Anderson high point Shamballa, by Adam Karenina Sherifm, followed by the heartbreaking story itself. A lurid Dredd short and single-pager D.R. & Quinch wrap things up.

There’s no obvious theme, but there’s a broad commonality of tone that threads throughout 2000 AD. It revels in exploring bleak realities and lacks the overt heroism evident in many US comics. Lights in the darkness come by way of explorations of humanity and hope in all its various forms, and splashes of jet-black humour that frequently punctuate even the grimmest of Judge Dredd sagas.

2000 AD also differentiates itself through pace. The Prog has long offered strips in bursts of five or six pages. Every week, something has to happen within that space – stories have to move on. Arcs are therefore swift. Imagine each issue of 2000 AD being like five US comics compressed and distilled to their essence until no fat remains. That’s why in this 200-page volume, you effectively get two complete graphic novels, most of another (Brink ends on a cliffhanger – there’s more in vol. 2), along with a bunch of extras.

It remains to be seen whether Best of 2000 AD moves the needle and finally gets the publication the greater notoriety it’s long deserved. (Be mindful how many major creators have gone through 2000 AD’s ranks!) But it must have a shot. Regardless, if you, as comics reader, have ever wondered what all the fuss is about, buy a copy. The first volume is a cracking read and bodes well for the rest of the six-book run.

Best of 2000 AD vol. 1 is available to order now, priced £14.99/$22.99.