Marking 2000 AD‘s 45th birthday, 2022’s summer special has a musical theme as the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic continues to celebrate 45 Revolutions Per Minute with Comic Rock!

Leading off the Sci-Fi Special in explosive style, we have a very special Judge Dredd tale by Mike Carroll and Stewart K Moore, Ascension – inspired by Alphaville’s Ascension Day.

Luke Preece bringing out the band on the cover

This years’ 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special, is a very special celebration of 45 years of 2000 AD with the 45 Revolutions Per Minute theme bringing back Comic Rock – first seen in Prog 167 with Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill’s Terror Tube, inspired by The Jam’s Going Underground and featuring the first appearance of Nemesis the Warlock.

For Comic Rock 2022, we get six tales all inspired by their writers’ favourite pieces of music, including Judge Dredd, Sinister Dexter, Fiends of West Berlin, Psi-Judge Anderson, Judge Death, and Middenface McNulty – it’s 2000 AD thrills to the speed of 45RPM!

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Opening the show with a heartstopping thrill ride, it’s Judge Dredd in Ascension by Mike Carroll and Stewart K Moore, inspired by Alphaville’s Ascension Day.

Hi there Mike. I suppose first of all we should find out why you chose the song you did and how you’ve worked it into the tale you’re telling?

MICHAEL CARROLL: The song I chose is “Ascension Day” by Alphaville, from their 1994 album Prostitute. I often find that on listening to a new album for the first time there’s at least one track that immediately makes me go, “Hold on, what’s this?” and in the case of Prostitute — the band’s fourth album, released *five years* after The Breathtaking Blue — “Ascension Day” grabbed me from the start.

Lyrically it’s a very dark song, and in many ways it’s less subtle than most of Alphaville’s lyrics, and less optimistic, but it’s still very open to interpretation. The band’s lead singer and chief lyricist Marian Gold has a penchant for lyrics that are not about what they seem to be. Their biggest hit, “Big in Japan”, is a perfect example of that. The name comes from the old cliche of western bands who aren’t as successful as they’d like to be at home, but they assure the interviewers that, actually, the band is really big in Japan. At its core, the song is about wishing for a better life.

Likewise, “Ascension Day” is, at least for me, about someone who realises that the world is falling apart and the only way to survive is not to rail against the darkness but to embrace it. (Of course, other interpretations may differ…!)

That wasn’t the only reason I chose the song for a Judge Dredd tale: its fast beat and heavy bassline lend themselves well to an action-based strip. My favourite Alphaville track is “Beyond the Laughing Sky” from their most recent album Strange Attractor (2017), but that one would have been tricky to reinterpret as a Dredd adventure!

MC: With “Ascension Day” I made a few attempts to directly use specific elements from the song, and in fact my first go at the script was a very literal interpretation – the line “Send in the parasite clowns on their horses” was used as a caption for a panel depicting Judges speeding through Mega-City One on their Lawmasters – but that just wasn’t working: the song doesn’t have the structure I needed to tell the story, so I opted to use the atmosphere instead, which was how the original Comic Rock strips in 2000 AD were done.

Mike, knowing what a huge fan you are, it was hardly the world’s greatest secret to hear that you’ve chosen an Alphaville track to riff off for this Dredd story. But what is it about this one band that truly obsesses you?

MC: That’s hard to pin down! I was eighteen when I discovered Alphaville, and they arrived at the right time in my life. I was in a job I didn’t like, I was socially very shy and awkward – I still am – and my dreams of a career doing something creative seemed absolutely unattainable. Science fiction and comics were my escape, but I’d rarely heard any music that really spoke to me until Alphaville’s first album Forever Young. 

When their second album – Afternoons in Utopia – was released in 1986 I was even more impressed! I started an Alphaville fanzine and pretty soon had penpals from all over the world. Seventy-five of them, in fact. People have occasionally asked me where I learned to write… well, that’s where: Writing four or five letters every day to like-minded Alphaville fans, most of whom didn’t have English as their first language!

Obviously part of the homework for me here was reading the comic and then listening to the track and working out the whys and wherefores of it all. First of all it’s a damn fine song and has actually made me want to listen to a lot more Alphaville, so if that’s what you were looking for, you’ve at least succeeded with me!

MC: Hooray – my work here is done! It’s funny, though… being a fan of something that’s flown under most people’s radar is very different to liking a popular thing. One of my other favourite bands is Pink Floyd. No matter where you go on this planet, you can find another Floyd fan. But it’s much rarer to bump into an Alphaville fan… so on a couple of occasions when I’ve heard someone mention them my initial reaction has been, “Uh, no, you can’t talk about them. They’re mine.” 

Yes, I think a lot of people have that one band, maybe a couple, that they love beyond reason and feel connected to – I’m going to say That Petrol Emotion for me, I’m sure many readers have their own beloved bands.

In Ascension, my interpretation of it is that you’ve gone with a thematic read of the song – the idea of a dark world and the nightmarish reality of living in it, plus the notion of one man thinking he can rise above it all and change what he sees as the wrongs of the world. You’d think the man in question would be the hero… but not here, not in Dredd’s world.

But can you take us deeper into the ideas you took from the song and how it inspired the Dredd storyline?

MC: I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but I will say that it was the song’s sense of looming, inevitable destruction that sparked the tale.

The reader follows the protagonist as he realises — or, rather, concludes — that one sure way to survive the storm is to *become* the storm. Of course, it was paramount to me that the story worked even if the readers are unaware that it’s based on a song, so that was how I ultimately approached it. 

Listening to Ascension Day while reading Ascension, I can see how you’ve paced the story to match the tempo of the song – an incredibly fast-paced opening as Dredd finds himself between two rival gangs, followed by a brief lull in the proceedings before ramping it all up again for the finale. Or is that me reading far too much into it all?

MC: No, you’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head there… but then most comic strips follow that arc anyway! You’ve gotta have the quiet moments in order to appreciate the thunder!

How much fun was it do something like this, something a little different from the usual Dredd outing?

MC: The chief difference is that usually the theme of a story is formed from its events and impact on the characters (and on the readers too, hopefully), but in this case the theme came first and I constructed the story to fit it.

Mike – given that you’ve shown us your favourite Alphaville song, what else would you suggest? Where would you point someone like me who only really knew them through Forever Young and Big In Japan?

MC: The band’s website is a good place to start, and their official YouTube channel has links to most of their releases, including a whole album’s worth of new and remixed tracks that were released free during the early days of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Alternatively, you could buy their albums in the order they were released and experience them as us long-term fans did… and you won’t even have to wait years and years between each one!

We’d be remiss not to mention that, although Mike’s far too humble to bring it up, he happens to run Cosmic Meadows, an exhaustive labour of love of all things Alphaville!

A massive thank you for Mike for going above and beyond. And many apologies to Mike’s better half for dragging him away from a holiday to answer these questions for us! Like I say, if you think you know Alphaville from just a couple of songs… you could well be pleasantly surprised by what else they’ve done – I know I was.Judge Dredd: Ascension is the opening track in this years’ 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special 2022 – it’s out on 13 July 2022 and available from wherever Thrill Power is sold, including the 2000 AD web shop.

And you can listen to the whole Sci-Fi Special playlist here on Spotify.

We’ve shown you the first Comic Rock tale, Terror Tube, but there was one more Comic Rock that led into a full-length Nemesis the Warlock series, in Prog 178 & 179 – Killer Watt. Here’s the first part from Prog 178…