Sci-fi horror comedy Zombo crosses over with future sport classic Harlem Heroes in the new 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special

Art from Harlem Zombos
(Image credit: Rebellion)

After taking a year off in 2023, the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special is back. This time around, however, alien editor Tharg the Mighty is trying something a little bit different. The 48-page anthology comic features strips mashing up popular characters from 2000 AD's past and present. Rather than featuring a regular Judge Dredd story, for instance, the special includes Judge Alpha - a cross between stern lawman Joe Dredd and bounty hunter Jonny Alpha. Rogue/Dog blends future war series Rogue Trooper - soon to be an animated film - with Strontium Dog, and so on. 

The final strip in the issue is one of the most striking. Harlem Zombos is a cross between Al Ewing and Henry Flint's much-loved horror comedy Zombo and the classic future sport saga Harlem Heroes - one of the very first strips published in the venerable anthology. We spoke with Ewing and artist Boo Cook about putting a fresh spin on two classic comics - and what the future holds for Zombo.

Boo Cook's art for The Harlem Zombos

(Image credit: Rebellion)

Newsarama: Al, you're back at 2000 AD for the first time in a few years with a story that blends Zombo with the Harlem Heroes. What makes those two strips work well together?

Al Ewing: Originally, putting these together was 2000 AD editor Matt Smith's idea, and once I'd sat down and re-read the original Harlem Heroes strips, I could see how they'd mash up – on a plot level, the Harlem Heroes are a classic "back from the grave" story. It has an aeroball team mostly killed in a deadly road crash – that reduces one of their number to being a brain in a jar – but then recovering from that to fight against both the rival teams standing in the way of the championship and more corrupt elements in the sport. 

So with just a slight tweak – having that road-crash half-kill the team in a different way – we can turn the Harlem Heroes into a squad of Zombos. Aside from that, there's a playful absurdity in the "future sport" genre that benefits from having the dials turned up a little in true Zombo fashion.

Boo, how was it handling the art duties for this strip?

Boo Cook: When I was asked to do the strip I was over the moon to say the least – but once that settled the terror of having to follow in the mighty footsteps of Dave Gibbons and Henry Flint set in. But there comes a point where you just have to suck it up and dive in. I considered doing some form of pastiche of the original Harlem Heroes strip artwork but quickly realised that was well out of my skill zone and would also have to factor in Henry's style, which is pretty far removed from Dave's.

In the end I opted to just try and do what I do to the very best of my abilities. I don't know if it was the reverence for the characters, the writer or the previous artists, but these are probably the tightest pencils I've done to date and I've enjoyed myself probably as much as it's possible to drawing comics. I've really tried to push myself hard on this one!

Boo Cook's art for The Harlem Zombos

(Image credit: Rebellion)

Do you both have strong memories of the original Harlem Heroes?

Ewing: I wasn't even born when the original Harlem Heroes made their debut, and to this day I haven't managed to track down copies of those first 50 issues of 2000 AD. In fact, there are some worrying gaps in my collection following a recent house move, so I may go out on the prowl for progs [2000 AD slang for issues - ed.] soon. My complete Star Lord run is still intact, thank goodness.

So the original strip had this kind of semi-mythic quality for me, though I didn't read it all the way through until very recently – it was one of the strips that started the comic off, and it was the one with the classic Dave Gibbons art. Later, of course, the late, great Massimo Belardinelli took over while Gibbons moved to Dan Dare – I know Boo has turned his hand to Belardinelli's characters before, so I'm certain it'll look both true to the original and fantastic in its own right.

Cook: My first memory of the original Harlem Heroes was one Christmas as a kid when I got the 1982 2000 AD annual – inside was an exposé of all the future sport strips currently running in the prog and I instantly recognised the Harlems as being so damn cool. 

I was living in a tiny village in Devon and this was drawing on influences way outside of my experience range at the time so I quickly whizzed up to my pal Tom's house and dived into his massive pile of progs for the backstory. I sort of missed the boat a bit, being late to the game, so it wasn't quite top of my thrill list – but it definitely ticked the Rollerball box of the zeitgeist at the time. As for Zombo, I've always considered him to be at the peak of what 2000 AD can produce, absolutely A1 comics.

Boo Cook's art for The Harlem Zombos

(Image credit: Rebellion)

Did you consider any other character mash-ups or was it always going to be Harlem Zombos?

Ewing: I wasn't about to question a command from Tharg – better droids than me have been melted down for less. But this is old home week of a kind for Zombo – he's already been mashed with M.A.C.H. 1 for the 40th birthday prog, and he visited Mega-City for long enough to annoy Judge Dredd, so this is just the latest in a series of classic 2000 AD thrills that are getting the treatment.

How does it feel returning to 2000 AD after a while? 

Ewing: I always like writing for 2000AD – I'm a bit of a lapsed droid these days, but it's where I got my start, and without Matt and Rebellion taking a chance on me early on, I wouldn't be where I am now, so I've always got time for the prog.

This is a currently one-off strip, but is there potential for more Zombo? Or more Harlem Zombos for that matter? 

Ewing: Yes to both – though that is somewhat dependent on me getting off my bum and writing that Last Zombo Story I've been turning over and over in my mind for years.

Boo Cook's art for The Harlem Zombos

(Image credit: Rebellion)

What other projects are you both working on now that you can talk about? 

Ewing: "That I can talk about" is the tricky bit – I'm in that zone right now of having just finished a bunch of projects, and having a bunch more in the soon-to-be-announced stage. Immortal Thor is ongoing and is about to enter some new and more myth-based phases, and Venom is coming up to Venom War, our slam-bang no-holds-barred Big Ending to a bunch of the threads we've been playing with for the length of the run. 

Also, my first work for DC in quite a while will be dropping for Pride Month in this year's DC Pride Special, a one-off tale of the Blue Starman. Aside from that – I'm not short of work, but sadly it's all under a veil of darkness until the time is right.

Cook: At the point this script arrived I was midway through art duties on Death Cap 2: Frontier Justice with Thistlebone's Tom Eglington. Set in the Dredd-verse, it's post apocalyptic psychedelic horror at its most effed up – and it's safe to say we're having a (puff)ball on this one. Now our protagonist Anita Goya has gone full blown shroom beast there are rampages aplenty as she winds her way across the Cursed Earth in search of a cure, meeting tons of crazed denizens as she goes, in a way which harks back to the relentless gatling gun of ideas and tropes in the original Cursed Earth Dredd saga – but with a LOT more fungus. Catch it in the Judge Dredd Megazine this autumn...

The 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special is published by Rebellion on July 3.

Eager to get started reading the fearsome future lawman? Here are the best Judge Dredd stories of all time.

Will Salmon
Comics Editor

Will Salmon is the Comics Editor for GamesRadar/Newsarama. He has been writing about comics, film, TV, and music for more than 15 years, which is quite a long time if you stop and think about it. At Future he has previously launched scary movie magazine Horrorville, relaunched Comic Heroes, and has written for every issue of SFX magazine for over a decade. He sometimes feels very old, like Guy Pearce in Prometheus. His music writing has appeared in The Quietus, MOJO, Electronic Sound, Clash, and loads of other places and he runs the micro-label Modern Aviation, which puts out experimental music on cassette tape.