2000 AD - issue 33

 I write a lot about 2000 AD, my favorite classic comic book, and I have a 2000 AD page where I link to all the issues I have talked about on this site. This one is an issue form the late 1970s and it is marred yet again by another of the stupid, ugly 'supercover' front pages this issue, and I'm hopping about in fury. I know, this comic was printed decades ago so it doesn’t really make sense to get worked up about editorial decisions they made way back when, but it is still frustrating. How can they still be doing this after 15 issues? This cover even looks like it relates to a story inside the comic book, but it doesn't.

I open the comic up swiftly, or actually clicked to turn the page of the scans, to avoid being confronted by the ugly thing any longer, and the first story this issue is Invasion. The stories presented in early issues of 2000 AD can be strange and violent (that was the trend in British comic books in the late 1970s) but this story needs to be seen to be believed.

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 hero of the strip, Bill Savage, was threatened with torture in last week's cliff hanger and instead of managing to avoid this fate at the start of this episode, as I had expected, he simply gets tortured for a few panels at the start of this week’s episode and appears to go nuts. He starts shouting Nessie (the nickname of the Loch Ness Monster), over and over again. Then, in a development that seemed contrived to me, but somehow still works, Savage's captors (the evil Russia-like invaders of the UK, called the Volgans) take him to Loch Ness to film his breakdown and use it for propaganda purposes.

Then, in a moment of magical realism, a force of resistance fighters emerge from the freezing waters of the loch and do battle with the Volgans. So far, just a typical day in the disjointedly bananas, brutal, and jingoistic world of Invasion. What comes next is the real piperoo.

The British resistance fighters murder all the Volgans, apart from their female commanding officer and the camera crew who were going to shoot the propaganda film of Bill Savage being broken. Instead, Savage decides to shoot a propaganda film of his own, one where the Volgan commander is beaten up. The comic book explains that Bill would never hit a woman, and so the only woman in this band of fighters is chosen to hand out the beating instead.

Then follows a wrestling bout between the Russian female officer and the local female hero, just like between Zoya the Destroyer and Liberty Belle in Glow. The two women trade barbs as they fight and, because of this traditional wrestling bravado happening between two female characters, this strip... amazingly... passes the Bechdel test.

Of course the soviet woman cheats, and tries to deploy a poison ring but, in the midst of the wrestling melee, Bill Savage shoots her finger off. That's right. He takes aim at two women wrestling in the mud of the banks of Loch Ness and shoots off one finger of his target. I urge anyone reading this to go to the British Comic Book archive, download scans of this issue and give this story a read. It is jaw dropping and worth it.

The next page is a competition where readers must spot Walter the Robot, who as been inserted, Where's-Wally-style, across the pages of the comic book. It's a funny idea, but it is quite jarring to see Judge Dredd's robot servant turn up in outer space in the Dan Dare strip, for example.

A relatively minor Judge Dredd comes next, with art that is an early example of Gibson before he is in full command of his skills. Walter, Dredd's robot, is the star of this one, and he is moonlighting as a taxi driver to earn money to buy presents for his beloved master. The robot gets the job because it lisps and so does the owner of the taxi firm. It doesn't make any sense, and the whole lisp angle is pretty annoying and offensive.

Then comes Shako and it is its usual bloodthirsty self. In this episode, the leader of the CIA team hunting Shako, a polar bear who swallowed a secret capsule, uses the bear to murder an underling that he sees as a rival. He forces the unlucky schmuck to hide inside a walrus carcass, like Luke was inserted into a Tauntaun in Empire Strikes Back, to ambush the polar bear if it returns to its kill.

Shako does return but the man's gun has frozen and he becomes Shako's latest kill. It shows how much worse humans are, in comparison to the purer bloodthirsty playfulness of the man-eating polar bear. It is a very strange story, and it would never have been written without the success of Jaws and Hook Jaw to act as templates, but it is compelling.

Next comes Dan Dare and, compared to the sketchy, gritty, grim experience of reading Invasion and Shako, it feels distinctly old fashioned. The technology of Dan Dare's future is shiny, the dialogue verbose, and the art is static and polished. It is not a bad story, exactly, but it does suffer in relation to more gonzo offerings around it.

Some of that art is beautiful though. It is by Gibson, and he is very good at creating images of battling robots and the armored warriors of the future. The battle between Dan Dare and the laser-sword-wielding pirate captain is particularly nice.

Next comes the editorial page, and hidden away in a corner is the short story that is illustrated on the cover. It's about 500 words long, and most of that is world building and exposition. The whole idea of these cover and short story combinations is so bad. I can only guess that they are trying to make 2000 AD look like Strange Tales, or some other conventional sci-fi magazine, but with such perfunctory and bad stories providing inspiration for the art - or more likely the other way around - it just doesn't work.

The editorial page also has a voting coupon for readers to write in and say who is their favorite character. Hopefully Dredd is by this point in history starting to regularly top that readers poll and will soon be moved to first story, or given the color center spread, and regularly feature on more covers.

Mach 1 comes next, and it is continuing to chronicle a minor alien invasion, with UFOs, heat rays, body snatching, and basically the whole shebang. I love it. There is complete mayhem before the UFOs suck up a nearby lake and dump it on the town to hide evidence of their mini-invasion. Of course, the government know what really happened to the town but it is covered up to avoid panic. I guess there's always time for one more trope, and I'm glad about it.

Mach 1 is the only survivor of the flood, and is taken to Washington for debriefing. He is told that the government knows all about the aliens and their plans but his security clearance isn't high enough for them to share the information with him. I would be quite happy for the Mach 1 story to ditch the super-spy angle it started with and concentrate more on this new thread of UFO investigation because this arc of an abortive dry-run of alien invasion over three or four episodes was great.

Then comes the second part of a two-parter about thrill-seeking time travelers. They go to a Witch Trial this week and, you will never guess, manage to get themselves burnt as witches. Who'd a thunk it? Even with the non-twist it was an okay story, just not good enough to be the basis of a regular strip.

The comic rounds out with a real treasure on the back cover, some sci-fi money to cut out, with notes designed by Kevin O'Neil. O'Neil has an eye for detail that makes his art perfect for this subject. It's always nice to see something by O'Neil.

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.