We’re in the 40th year of 2000 AD, and Thrill-Power Overload, Dave Bishop’s history of the comic has been updated from the 2007 to take into account everything 2000 AD related that’s happened in the last decade, including the release of the film, Dredd. It’s safe to say Bishop is a controversial figure in the world of comics and mentioning his name in the company of Pat Mills is not recommended, but this is a concise, if somewhat flawed a history of 2000 AD which is at times a great read, but having a book like this needs a more objective eye than Bishop’s. That said, there’s much to praise in the book but there’s a tantalising lack of context at times as major figures involved in the story of 2000 AD come and go, often without any context as to why they’re no longer involved in the narrative.
Thrill-Power Overload starts in those pre-Star Wars days in 1976 when science fiction was a mainly despised, mainly niche, genre and in the world of British boy’s adventure comics dominated by footballing heroes like Roy Race or endless heroic commandos fighting Nazis, the idea of a boy’s comic focused on SF was a hard sell, but thanks to the perseverance of Pat Mills and a small team around him pushed 2000 AD through a troubled gestation period to publication in 1977 where it instantly hit newsagents at the right time as the SF bubble erupted across the UK at the same time Punk did. That mix of SF and an anti-establishment, Punk attitude was lapped up by kids who loved what Mills and his team had come up with.
Bishop details the story of the comic from the often turbulent first 100 progs (2000 AD don’t have issues) through to the Golden Age of 2000 AD from the late 70’s to the mid 80’s, then onwards to the Robert Maxwell era when the comic yet again came under threat, and then onto the pre-Rebellion era where a run of poor strips and bad editorial decisions (some of which can be firmly placed at the feet of Bishop himself) again put 2000 AD at risk. What is interesting is the additional material added to this edition from the original 2007 version which details how current publishers, Rebellion, have stabilised 2000AD after a long period of being hurt by poor sales, poor quality strips and a constant threat of cancellation. These new chapters detail the development of the most recent Judge Dredd film, and even the ‘’Is Judge Dredd gay?’’ headlines of a few years ago.
Packed with plenty of archive material, some of it unseen or rare, Thrill-Power Overload is a good addition to any comic historian’s book shelf, but it isn’t up to works like Sean Howe’s excellent Marvel Comics: The Untold Story or Jules Feiffer’s seminal work The Great Comic Book Heroes. Thrill-Power Overload is far too flawed, with Bishop being an unreliable witness which makes some of the book feel less like telling a history than punting editorial lines, even decades old arguments, but there’s isn’t a history of 2000 AD to match this. This makes the book an interesting, but not an essential read.