DAYS OF FUTURE/PAST

2000ad40 years ago this week, any little boys whose sole highlight of being dragged to the shops by their mother was to scan the shelves in the newsagents and see which comic caught the eye were greeted by a new arrival. Although I enjoyed the ‘funnies’ produced by both DC Thompson and IPC, my preferred choice was usually the superhero weeklies that emanated from Marvel’s UK division – monochrome reprints of the company’s US classics, albeit with strikingly colourful cover illustrations accompanying a mouth-watering range of titles. No home-grown comic could compete with the Marvel Universe when it came to imaginary escapism – until February 1977, that is, when a new IPC publication created its own universe of spectacular heroes and villains, one set in a distant future that wouldn’t be the present for another 23 years.

There had never been a British comic quite like ‘2000AD’. The nearest to date had been ‘Action’, a title that had hit the headlines a year or so previously due to its excessive violence; in a pre-‘Video Nasty’ era, when children’s reading material was regularly held up as the inspiration for delinquency and vandalism, ‘Action’ was met with such widespread adult condemnation that IPC were forced to cancel the comic for several months until resurrecting it in a diluted fashion; it didn’t last long after that.

However, many of the artists and writers who had their fingers burned on ‘Action’ reunited at the beginning of 1977, having come up with the canny ruse of replicating the excitement of ‘Action’ in a futuristic context, figuring no grown-up would notice if the same rhetoric was cloaked in the unreality of a sci-fi landscape. Ironically, appearing on the newsstands just a couple of months after Bill Grundy’s summit meeting with The Sex Pistols, ‘2000AD’ may have been looking far ahead, but it was very much a product of its times.

The front cover of issue No.1 was partially obscured by the obligatory free gift (a futuristic Frisbee taped to it), but concessions to past, present and future were present: one was a new-look Dan Dare, the comic hero of my father’s childhood; another was M.A.C.H. 1, a bionic hero shamelessly ripping off ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’; and hidden behind the free gift was Tharg, the alien editor of the comic. I had no idea this intriguing newcomer was arriving; it seemed to drop from the stars out of nowhere. I managed to persuade my mum to part with the princely sum of 8p and I was transported to another planet.

Along with the two strips already mentioned, there was the gory ‘Flesh’, in which a future food shortage saw time-travel utilised to farm dinosaurs for human consumption; there was ‘Harlem Heroes’, following the fortunes of a team playing a violent sport clearly based on the movie, ‘Rollerball’; and there was also ‘Invasion’, set two years before the date of the comic’s title and dealing with a Soviet-style nation invading the UK; I remember one panel in particular showing an aged Prince Charles (complete with moustache) fleeing the country and addressed as Your Majesty. The writers obviously couldn’t envisage a Queen poised to celebrate her Silver Jubilee would still be on the throne at the end of the twentieth century, let alone into the twenty-first.

The character associated with ‘2000AD’ more than any other didn’t appear until the second issue, and this was when the comic really set itself apart from the competition. Judge Dredd may have taken his name from a comedy British reggae act (albeit spelt differently), but he was unlike any other UK comic hero there’d ever been. He was cop, judge, jury and executioner embodied in a sadistic hybrid of Dirty Harry and Charles Bronson’s character from ‘Death Wish’, fighting crime in the dystopian American metropolis of Mega City One.

With an unseen face permanently shielded by the distinctive helmet that was crucial to the uniform of this militaristic cop, Dredd was a classic anti-hero that was new to British readers. As with the other strips in the comic, the artwork was superb, the nearest Brits had come to the great Marvel artists, manufacturing a nightmarish vision of what was to come that nevertheless reflected contemporary concerns about the western world’s urban jungles.

‘2000AD’ appeared just a few months before ‘Star Wars’ hit UK cinema screens, but even though it capitalised on the sci-fi craze of the late 70s, the content of the comic owed more to the adult sci-fi movies of the early 70s in that it was less concerned with far-off worlds and more focused on the world we already knew, maximising present day fears and turning them up to eleven. By the beginning of the 80s, its influence stretched way beyond these shores, attracting attention across the pond. Marvel and DC, beginning to look a little jaded by comparison, started poaching the talented team of writers and artists working on ‘2000AD’ and hired them to revitalise their own universes.

The likes of Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman received early breaks on ‘2000AD’, but rather than simply succumbing to the easy dollar of the superhero comic, they served to transform the medium by helping create the graphic novel. This new grown-up incarnation of the comic book had its roots in the early pioneering days of ‘2000AD’; in fact, the sprawling 1978 Judge Dredd epic, ‘The Cursed Earth’ (originally spanning 25 issues), laid the foundations for the modern graphic novel in its ambitious narrative scale. British comics would never be the same again.

‘2000AD’ marked a turning point in this country, whereby comics ceased to be aimed solely at a prepubescent readership and began to be appreciated as an art-form appealing to all ages. However, one could argue a major casualty of this change has been the prepubescent readership itself; just compare the dazzling variety of graphic novels on sale in bookshops to the paucity of children’s comics available at your local newsagent. The graphic novel is where the money’s at for aspiring comic artists and writers; the rich British tradition of the essential, not to say affordable, weekly is essentially over. Perhaps ‘2000AD’ was its last hurrah, both rejuvenating and killing it. In some respects, the publication’s now rather anachronistic title seemed to predict an end rather than a beginning.

© The Editor

https://www.epubli.co.uk/shop/buch/48495#beschreibung

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19 thoughts on “DAYS OF FUTURE/PAST

  1. ‘With an unseen face permanently shielded by the distinctive helmet that was crucial to the uniform of this militaristic cop, Dredd was a classic anti-hero that was new to British readers’

    This picture may actually be Crass, but if it is, what helmet?

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      1. It was a question of not wanting to spell his name incorrectly when making a quick comment, that’s all. I remember it well, and it was appalling, especially the way in which the Met tried to blacken his character in the immediate fallout of the incident to justify their unforgivable actions.

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    1. I presume this is the new head of the Met whose unfortunate surname happens to be Dick? I haven’t clicked on anything, but is that the Brazilian chap on the tube a few years back? If so, I’m guessing she had something to do with it. As for deleting it, I’ll wait and see how it goes down with other commentators.

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      1. “I remember it well, and it was appalling, especially the way in which the Met tried to blacken his character in the immediate fallout of the incident to justify their unforgivable actions.”

        Indeed. Another case where the cover-up, fortunately an unsuccessful one in this case, is morally probably worse than the crime itself. Without defending the shooting, it was understandable that the police were jittery as it occured a day or two after the 2005 bombings.

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  2. There was a predictability that Cressida Dick would become Met Commissioner, she’s been groomed for it over many years and had even served a token period out of Plod to validate her return, refreshed and better experienced by her sojourn, enabling the occasional ‘historical error’ to be overlooked.
    Whether she was the best person available for the job, I am not qualified to judge, but it seems like those appointing her may have apportioned more weight to her possession of ovaries than the confidence her known record will imbue in those she is commissioned to serve.
    Of the three women in this appointment chain, May, Rudd and Dick, at least two of them seem somewhat over-promoted.

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  3. Quoth Tharg: ‘Enjoy your Space Spinner earthlets’. I used to have the first hundred-odd issues of 2000AD, but later chucked them out when we moved house. As a child I could hardly have foreseen the future investment value of them, but then nor did all the other kids who must have done likewise. I do remember that Judge Dredd didn’t appear until the second issue. I also remember Bill Savage leading the British resistance against the Volgans and King Charles fleeing to Canada.

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    1. Nice to actually get back to the post subject! I still have the first 13 issues of 2000AD (albeit in my mum’s loft), and numerous others thereafter; but they seem to be quite plentiful in eBay-Land, so it’s probably best keeping them stashed away for the time being. I remember Bill Savage returning in a story called ‘Disaster 1990’, which dealt with a tsunami-like flood swamping Britain that, needless to say, never happened when we got to 1990. Candy Flipp were a poor substitute!

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      1. I guess that I haven’t really been looking but I thought that any copy of 2000AD from the first few years of publication was very rare; and it is precisely because few kids or their parents would have even thought that they could have become collectors’ items in years to come. I was never into Marvel comics, but I loved 2000AD.

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      2. I’ve checked a few times when I’ve been especially skint, though comic dealers are so fastidious when it comes to staples and the like that they don’t seem to appreciate nine-year-old boys naturally left their marks on issues bought back in the day.

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  4. There was something else that I think was in 2000AD and it may have been a little ‘sub-plot’ in one of the main strips. It was a couples’ game show – a kind of futuristic Mr & Mrs – in which the couple either won a prize consisting of a life of luxury, or they were abandoned to die on a freezing cold planet. I thought, what a great idea.

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    1. I don’t recall that one, though I do remember a story in the short-lived 2000AD spin-off, ‘Starlord’, in which a man had a bunch of household appliances that automatically attended to his needs on a morning, something I recalled when there was talk of the kettles and toasters that ‘spoke’ to their owners last year.

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      1. Or, if you want the ‘Ultimate ‘Talking Toaster’ Experience’

        Maybe this was where Trump got his notions of ‘False Data’? Alternative title might be ‘Insanity, going as far back as 1974.’ LOL

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  5. ‘Ah, yeah, I remember that film, though must be well over 20 years ago when I saw it’

    Ha! I can double that! But it was unforgettable. Way ahead of its time.

    That probably also explains why Judge Dredd seems to have passed me by too…. -^.^- -^.^-

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