2000 AD - issue 110

I have a 2000 AD page where I link to all the issues I have talked about on this site. For this post, I’m reading 2000 AD again, but not a current issue of the venerable British, sci-fi comic book, I’m reading an ancient back issue from April 1979. Usually 2000 ADs of this era were produced on newsprint, but this one is different. This issue was printed on smoother, more colorful paper. As Paul Rainey, the original Prog Slogger says: The ink would often come off on your fingers when you read it. This issue sees a significant improvement in reproduction quality. This change, which arrives incidentally with no forewarning let alone fanfare, means a full color cover that looks amazing despite being bordered and not bled off the page. Although the size is slightly smaller, the reproduction of the interior artwork is dramatically improved so that the strips drawn by Brian Bolland, Ian Gibson and Dave Gibbons look even more fantastic. All this and without any apparent price rise too.

I very clearly remember having this issue of the comic book in my hand, and marveling at the quality of the printing. It even made me more predisposed to like Dan Dare, which is the story featured on the cover. Dan Dare being reproduced so crisply helped me to see his adventures in a new light. I had been less interested in Dare up to this point, but now I started to warm to him.

The first story in the comic is not Dan Dare, though, it is the publication’s most popular character, Judge Dredd. The strip this week is drawn by Brian Bolland and it is full of Punks. In 1979, punk was going mainstream. The Clash was poised to break worldwide the following year with London Calling, and The Sex Pistols released the soundtrack to The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle, just a couple of weeks after Sid Vicious killed himself.

Bolland’s punks are absolutely beautifully drawn, and it is art like this that has cemented his reputation at the very top of the British comic book art tree. His drawing of Dredd on the other hand has some quirks. In a few images, Dredd would have to have the top of his head sawed off to fit into his helmet, the way it’s drawn.

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.

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The idea that punks, of all subcultures, would be able to take control of a city block also seems quaint now, though it no doubt felt all too real back in the late 1970s. Dredd single-handedly takes out the entire gang of punks and sentences them to exile from the city. As they stumble through the city walls and out into the Cursed Earth, he turns his back on them and we see what he is thinking: Let every man know that citizenship is a privilege – not a right.

The writer on this episode is John Wagner, writing as John Howard, and this is an explicitly political message, smuggled to the readers within a silly story about beating up punks. Wagner talked to the BBC about the politics of Judge Dredd, and he said: This was back in the days of Dirty Harry, and with [Margaret] Thatcher on the rise there was a right-wing current in British politics which helped inspire Judge Dredd. He seemed to capture the mood of the age - he was a hero and a villain. Occasionally we'd get letters from children who seemed to be agreeing with his hard-right stance, so we made the strip more political to bring out the fact that we didn't agree with Dredd. We introduced a democratic movement in Mega-City One as a counterpoint. So in a way the readers helped the character develop.

The Judge Dredd strip this week is a real document of the time it was created. It is hard to imagine anyone putting punks in the future in quite this pure, 70s form any more. Dredd the authoritarian still has a lot to say to us, however. I was very much impressed by his chilling words when I first read them as young kid. They disturbed me deeply, and they still do.

The next story up is Robo-Hunter, which isn’t one of my favorites. It is a feature of anthology style comic books such as 2000 AD that not every story is going to appeal to every reader. But there is also, hopefully, always the chance that the next story will be more to the reader’s taste. In this case, that next story is Strontium Dog, and it is great. Where Judge Dredd this week is exploring political themes, Strontium Dog might be delving even deeper than that, to existential questions about life and death. Or it might just be some pulpy fun, with space cowboys who have been sent to Hell. It’s hard to know sometimes.

In this episode, as Johnny Alpha pulls himself from the flames of a river of fire, I’m inclined to give the comic book the benefit of the doubt and see what it has to say about the psychology of the characters, trapped in a dimension where they can be tortured but can not die. They simply call it Hell. Whatever it is, it is great storytelling.

Dan Dare comes next, and the story is non-stop action. Dan and a band of desperate swamp aliens are busting into a city full of militaristic, shoot first, ask questions later, type of aliens. It isn’t a great story but it is exciting enough. Next week comes the Cosmic Claw and that is going to shake up this sleepy comic strip. We’ll have to wait for that though.

My favorite strip from this period, Ro-Buters, comes last, but it is not drawn by either of the two artists that really make the strip come alive. With art by either Kevin O’Neil or Mike McMahon, this episode would have a lot more going for it. As is, with art by M. Dorey, it is a lull in the journey. But by the end of the episode Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein, the robot stars of Ro-Busters, have entered Greasey Gracie’s bar, and something special is on the way. There is an advert for next week’s fun drawn by O’Neil, to tease the upcoming, drunken robot shenanigans of next issue’s Ro-Busters.

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