2000 AD - issue 98

This is a blog post about a comic book from many, many moons ago. There will be spoilers aplenty, but that hardly matters, does it, if the comic book was published forty years ago. The comic in question is 2000 AD, which Wikipedia describes as a weekly British science fiction-orientated comic magazine. It serializes three or four stories in each issue, and was first published in 1977.

This particular issue, number 98, was published a couple of years later, on 3 February 1979. The US president was Jimmy Carter, and people were listening to Le Freak by Chic, which was number one on the disco charts for seven weeks. The song invites the listener to "Come on down to the 54", a reference to the infamous New York club, Studio 54. According to guitarist Nile Rodgers, he and bassist Bernard Edwards were refused entrance to Studio 54, where they had been invited by Grace Jones. He said the lyrics of the refrain were originally "F**k off!" rather than "Freak out!"

2000 AD is best known for its Judge Dredd stories, and there is a great Judge Dredd cover this week. It was created by the titan of comics named Brian Bolland. He is famous for his instantly recognizable covers on a range of titles, leaving an indelible mark on the last forty years of comics history.

Bizarrely, Brian Bolland first entered the comics industry via a stint working alongside Dave Gibbons on a Nigerian comic titled Powerman, before ending up at 2000 AD, where he did covers and interiors on the Judge Dredd strips. Bolland would later be picked up by DC Comics, where he created covers and fill-in stories on titles such as Green Lantern and Justice League of America. Bolland’s success led to more British writers and artist getting a chance in America, including Dave Gibbons, Alan Davis and Kevin O’Neill. Over a forty year career he has lent his talents to covers for nearly every major publisher, including a couple of rare appearances at Marvel Comics.

A Message from the Author

I write sci-fi novels that belong to a series called Dark Galaxy, which starts with Galaxy Dog:

What starts as an ordinary invasion of an alien planet brings to light an ancient archeological site of huge importance. A young man called Knave makes a life-changing discovery there and rises from a lowly position as an infantry trooper to become a player among the powers of the galaxy.

The entire series is available to buy from Amazon.

Bolland is perhaps best known for his interiors on the extremely distasteful Batman story, The Killing Joke. The story is so icky and misogynist that in Batgirl #49, the events are retconned as implanted fake, nightmarish memories slipped into Babs’ brain by a supervillain called the Fugue.

According to Wikipedia, Bolland was the driving force behind the whole The Killing Joke thing. Bolland put together the project, combining Alan Moore, Batman and the Joker. Alan had fallen out with DC and only continued to do Killing Joke as a favor to Bolland. I have never really forgiven Bolland for this, and I was never a huge fan of his work even before, despite his obvious talent.

To me his work is precise and pleasing, which I assume is why he is so enormously popular, but I have always thought it a little static. The difference between his art and that of McMahon, which I prefer, is stark. McMahon is messy and undisciplined, while Bolland is austere and monumental. Relating them to the titans of Romanticism, McMahon is Turner, while Bolland is Constable.

The alien monster hounds in this story, for example, have exactly the same facial expression in every panel, making them seem like a highly detailed inflatable animal. Their alien masters also look a little ridiculous, when drawn by Bolland, but he does draw a pretty good wheeled vehicle with a pointy cab on the front.

The vehicle is beautifully drawn from a dynamic angle and feels heavy and imposing. In the next story we have jet fighters drawn by Pino, and they are much more dynamic than the vehicle drawn by Bolland, but lacking the heft of his work.

Bolland shades every panel, while Pino is content to suggest form with only a few lines of his pen. Pino’s work is more disciplined than that of McMahon, but still no where near as meticulous as the work of Bolland.

After the story with jet fighters, there is a Future Shock where alien visitors to a long-dead Earth mistake a TV for the planet’s previous dominant life form, which is ridiculous.

Then comes a story called Flesh. Flesh features a dizzily high concept where cowboys from the future go back in time to hunt dinosaurs for their meat, so that the future masses may feed on it. There is a great panel of the strip’s antihero, Claw Carver, sticking a pterodactyl in the eye with his claw hand. This kind of bloodthirsty action is typical of Flesh, and is in the tradition of strips like Hook Jaw.

Hook Jaw was a monster shark, and the star of a comic called Action. It was inspired by the success of the film Jaws, and was so bloodthirsty that the public launched a campaign against Action, causing the comic to be briefly withdrawn from the shelves. Hook Jaw is a force of nature that passes no judgment on the morality of mankind’s actions. To him we're nothing more than meat to be ripped apart and eaten.

This comic has a classic run of Judge Dredd and Flesh is on top of its game here, but this is all just a prelude, because in this issue we have the first installment of possibly the greatest story ever to appear in 2000 AD. It’s a story about giant robots, drawn by Dave Gibbons, called the Terra-Meks. This episode introduces the first of the robot gladiators, and we really get to know this robot, so no battling occurs in this issue.

The scenes of this robot in stormy seas are similar to scenes from Pacific Rim. It really is a joy to read, after all these years. All my regular readers know that I love giant robots, but this story has even more to offer.

The giant robot we meet in this first installment of the story works in the docks of North Pool, a grim fictional city, where the industry the city was built around is dying. The robot is called Charlie and the local people love him. The impoverished inhabitants of the city are being moved into high density housing.

The dimensions of the apartment we see in this panel were a joke back in the 1970s, something that could only happen in a dystopian future. But now, in the crazy future we actually live in, the apartment doesn’t look like such an exaggeration, after all.

To make way for these hideous new properties, the old town has to be demolished, and the way the people in charge of the development project decide to do this is by hiring giant robots who love destruction to come stomp the place. The only thing standing in their way is Charlie, the gentle giant robot: a more beautiful set up for a comic book story I can not think of.

To end, just a reminder that the best way to support this blog is to buy one of my books. Simply go over to Amazon, or Kobo and get one.