2000 AD - issue 141

This is a strange looking issue of the classic British comic book, 2000 AD, with one of those covers that looks more like an advert. The composition looks very cramped and ugly, but the drawing of the stainless steel rat in the foreground, with the splash of yellow across his cheek is very striking.

 I write a lot about 2000 AD, reading it was a very formative experience for me, and I still read it today. I have a 2000 AD page where I link to all the issues I have talked about on this site.

Judge Dredd is the first strip and, as so often, it is drawn by Ron Smith, and I am sometimes disparaging about Ron Smith’s art, but the first splash page showing a town surrounded by soldiers is beautifully drawn.

The next story is the V.C.s, drawn by Gary Leach. This can be a very problematic strip, with it's casual use of terns like half cast, but I’m always willing to give it a try, mostly because of the art, but also because it is the kind of gritty military sci-fi I have a soft spot for. My resolve to give this strip a chance didn’t last long, however. In just the second word bubble, on the very first page, one of the characters is telling another to shut his “slanted mouth”. The character the racist language is being directed toward is called Hen Sho, and it is just nasty to have to read this kind of stuff. Once again, I find myself bailing on this story, and I can’t help noticing that after this gung-ho story about being a good, racist soldier in a future war comes an advert for Action Man toys.

I would love to claim that I wasn’t interested in such toys when I was nine, but it’s not true. I wanted the toy in the upper left box so bad. That’s the biggest, and to my young mind, coolest one, the tank. In my defense I liked toys of civilian construction machinery, like bulldozers with caterpillar tracks, every bit as much as these machines of war.

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.

 The next strip (after a single-page chunk of idiocy called Captain Klep that should never have been put in the comic) comes The Stainless Steel Rat, the story featured on the cover of the comic book. It is a strip about a future criminal where the hero is drawn to look like James Coburn. It’s an interesting choice, probably because he is heroic but on the wrong side of the law.

In the strip, crime is a thing of the past, which makes the anachronistic characters who become criminals quite special people, hunted by experts. As this strip begins, our hero is fleeing the special police unit that deal with criminals like him, and which he deeply fears.

They capture him and he ends up talking to the boss of this squad, who offers him a cigar, and they smoke it, inside the building. It’s an interesting scene. Harry Harrison was writing in the 60s, probably, when smoking cigars indoors, in hospitals, in restaurants was not unusual or remarkable. But I grew up watching sci-fi shows where people very rarely smoked, and I sort of assumed, in my mind, that in the future we would progress to the point where nobody is addicted to nicotine, but I realize this is just a prejudice of mine, based on watching a lot of TV. In real life, smoking never seems to go away. Smoking may be banned indoors these days in most places, but when you are sitting in an open air restaurant, there always seems to be somebody smoking nearby, and whatever building I live in, there is always a smoker on a lower floor sending carcinogenic fumes up through my windows. There is nothing to say that smoking will lessen in popularity as we go into the future. Nicotine is a very addictive drug and a lot of people are making a lot of money from pushing it. Maybe things will even move in the other direction, and this vision of the future with people smoking cigars in offices will not be too wide of the mark.

After a swift cigar, the two of them hop into one of the beautiful, huge, raft-like vehicle that Ezquerra is so adept at drawing. Again, the size of cars is a trend that could go either way in the future. Right now we have Hummers and Smart Cars warring for the future. Will cars end up being huge barges or tiny pods. It’s obvious which side of that bet Ezquerra is placing his money, but who knows if that is based in futurology or just him liking to draw honking, great road beasts.

Ezquerra also draws a mean, organic-looking spaceship. With no racism, and a more irreverent vibe, this strip is a lot more enjoyable than the V.C.s so far, though this is very early in the run of both.

There are a couple more strips in this issue - The Mind of Wolfie Smith and Black Hawk) but they have both been so consistently disappointing that I don’t even read them anymore. I don’t feel bad about that though because this is one of the issues I didn’t read when it first came out back in the December of 1979, mostly because of substandard strips like these two. I would soon return to reading 2000 AD on the regular, but this one was from one of the periods where I had stepped out for a while and was reading HULK instead.

The comic still has a treasure though, a beautiful half-page advert for Darth Vader's TIE fighter. I can only assume that Star Wars mania was gradually fading in the wider popular culture of the UK by the end of 1979, but not for the type of kid reading a sci-fi comic book every week. For them, Star Wars was very much still part of their lives.

There is also some wonderful alien art by Mike McMahon at the very end, in a kind of cut out and collect guide to the galaxy. The detail and dynamism in McMahon's art is always just a pleasure to behold. 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.