DVD review: The Story of 2000AD

Future-ShockImagine it’s March 1977, you have 8p and you want a comic. Let’s assume you want a boy’s comic: it was a sexist world back then. There are lots to choose from. Perhaps you want a funny one like The Beano, The Dandy, The Beezer, The Topper, Whoopee!, Buster or Whizzer and Chips? Or something harder edged? Tiger, Battle or a new science fiction comic with a free “space spinner” on the front?

2000AD emerged from the ashes of Action comic, which was withdrawn due to its violent content in the mid-1970s. Did anyone present at 2000AD’s creation, imagine it would still be going in the then far flung futuristic year of 2000AD? A year by which time most of the children who had bought Prog 1 would be in their thirties, many with children of their own? It seems unlikely. It is now 39 years on from that first issue. Those same readers of Prog 1 would now be in their fifties, at least. None of the comics mentioned above are now going with the exceptions of The Beano which began in 1938. And 2000AD itself.

This documentary tells the story of the galaxy’s greatest comic which despite Action’s fate (or perhaps because of it) has always been pretty violent. After an exciting animated opening sequence in which many of the comic’s monochrome heroes – Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper, Strontium Dog, Nemesis the Warlock, Zenith – move very slightly against a thumping rock soundtrack, it’s perhaps disappointing that most of the film is spent in the company of a group of ageing, sometimes not very articulate men. Some are enthusiastic. Some are quite bitter.

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Pat Mills is the star. Passionate and profane about the early days, angry about the 1990s days of decline, he is still with the comic. Others left during the 1980 s comics “brain drain”. Neil Gaiman seems genuinely emotional about Alan Moore’s failure to complete his brilliant Ballad of Halo Jones a full thirty years later. Some rage at the appalling way some artists’ work was treated. Others praise 2000AD for crediting its writers and artists properly (in a special “credit card” box) something few British comics did up until then. One fan, Ex Machina director and author of The Beach, Alex Garland wrote the screenplay to Dredd, a huge improvement on the disastrous 1990s attempt to film the 22nd century fascistic lawman starring Sylvester Stallone. Other films seem to have liberally stolen from the comic.

None of the writers seem to have liked Tharg the Mighty, the comic’s fictional alien editor very much, presumably because most have presumably endured a stint answering letters on his behalf (including, two from a teenage “C Hallam, Peterborough” in 1993). Tharg also introduced the occasional Twilight Zone-style Futureshock stories, often used as a testing ground for upcoming writers and artists.

A fine tribute anyway to a fine comic. Until next time: Splundig Vur Thrigg Earthlets!

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Thirty years of The Ballad of Halo Jones

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If you were reading the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic, 20000AD, thirty years ago this month, you would doubtless have noticed a new character.

The Ballad of Halo Jones written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Ian Gibson first appeared in July 1984. 2000AD, which had started in 1977, already featured many of its best known science fiction and fantasy strips notably Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper, Strontium Dog, Nemesis the Warlock and Slaine. Ian Gibson had, in fact, drawn many Dredd episodes as well as the more humorous Sam Slade: Robohunter.

Alan Moore is a legend in the world of comics today. This was less true in 1984, but he was hardly unknown then either, having already penned both the futuristic drama V For Vendetta and Marvelman (later known as Miracleman) for Warrior, a title Moore had largely dominated but which was on its way out by 1984. He was also doing Swamp Thing for DC and had produced the extraterrestrial fantasy Skizz and D.R. and Quinch for 2000AD.  He had also written many Tharg’s Futureshocks; the Twilight Zone-style one off stories which many 2000AD staff first get established on. Moore had worked once with Gibson on one of these, “Grawks Bearing Gifts”.

But the first Halo Jones story wasn’t a hit. Lance Parkin in his biography Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore writes: “Now, Halo Jones is regularly cited as a high point of the magazine’s long history. Then, it was a different story. Every week, the magazine polled its readers on their favourite strips, and Halo Jones was notably unpopular during its first run (#376-385, July-September 1984)”. What was the problem?

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Was it because most of the characters were girls? Halo is introduced as a teenager, one of a group of female friends (plus Toby, a robot dog) who live on the Hoop, a large crime-infested artificial population centre constructed off Manhattan Island. It was fairly unusual for 2000AD to have a female lead character at this time but it is probable a few factors conspired against the strip. Readers complained of a lack of “action”. Moore assumed they meant a lack of “violence”. Cynical but perhaps accurate, there is little of either in Volume One (at least, not until the end). The story also features a fair amount of futuristic slang which may have alienated some readers. Although to be fair, the slang “Squeeze! Squeeze with a bare arm!” isn’t that unusual bearing in mind the strip is set in 4949, nearly 3,000 years in the future. Another possible point against it is that there is also little interesting to mark out Halo at this point. She is just another one of the girls.

Volume Two which appeared in 1985, however, was much better.

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For one thing, the intriguing prologue features a lecture, set even further in the future which not only updates us but hints for the first time that Halo might be destined to become a figure of genuine historical import. Halo also develops more as a character, working as a stewardess on a space cruise liner the Clara Pandy during a year long voyage and leaving her less ambitious or unlucky friends back on the Hoop.

The ship turns out to be a perfect vehicle for all sorts of great stories, many working as stand alone strips. Toby, Halo’s companion reveals a ferocious dark side while a particularly strong story concerns The Glyph, a soulless sad character rendered invisible after countless sex changes have robbed him of his true identity.

Volume Three, is by Alan Moore’s own admission, the best of all.

Although it appeared only a year later, in 1986, ten long years have passed for Halo and she has become a more cynical, harder and more interesting figure. Washed up, she bumps into her old friend Toy Molto (a giantess) and the two decide to join the Army.

Predictably, this ends badly with the two becoming involved in the encroaching war in the Tarantula Nebula, a Vietnam-style conflict, periodically alluded to in the strip since Book One. Funny, ingenious and at times, moving, (one episode sees Halo talking for some time to a wounded colleague before realising with total horror that they have been dead for some time), Halo experiences the full indignity of combat. The war on the planet Moab, particularly leads to a memorable battle in which the strong gravity of the large planet leads time to be distorted leading the conflict to literally be appearing to pass either in slow motion or sometimes even accelerated speed. Halo also becomes embroiled in an unwise love affair with the monstrous General Luiz Cannibal and loses her innocence in more ways than one.

Adverts for the Titan anthologies of the story at the time hinted at ten volumes of Halo even suggesting she became a pirate queen. But, in fact, Volume Three would be the end. Moore fell out with 2000AD and went onto The Watchmen and phenomenal comic success. Only Neil Gaiman has come close to his status amongst contemporary British comic writers.

The Ballad of Halo Jones remains his overlooked masterpiece. I urge you to seek it out.

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Top ten 2000AD stories which should be made into films

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Chances are, if you like any comic at all, the last few years will have seen one of your favourites be made into some sort of film, with adaptations ranging from both the biggest to even the most obscure comics and graphic novels. Some, such as 2000AD’s most famous story, Judge Dredd, have been filmed more than once.

But which other stories from the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic are ripe for a big screen outing?

Sam Slade: Robohunter

The pitch: Like Blade Runner. Except funny.

Like Blade Runner, John “Judge Dredd” Wagner’s Robohunter took its inspiration from Philip K. Dick’s novella Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It was always much more fun than Ridley Scott’s film though (which it predates). Sam’s colleagues included Kidd, an obnoxious man trapped in a baby’s body and the idiotic android, Hoagy. His first mission saw him trying (and failing) to bring order to the colony Verdus where a full-blown robot revolution had occurred.

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Rogue Trooper

The pitch: Blue movie.

Thanks to Avatar, The Watchmen and The Smurfs, cinema’s latest “blue” period may have peaked a few years ago. But the blue genetically engineered warrior Rogue, trapped in an eternal war on the desolate Nu Earth is the only 2000AD character other than Dredd to have ever got his own annual and could work well on screen.

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Button Man

The pitch: The Hunger Games for grown-ups.

Not to be confused with Children’s ITV’s Button Moon (note: nobody has ever done this), this was a rare non-sci-fi outing for the comic. The premise – hired killers are paid by rich clients or “Voices” to hunt each other and fight to the death for sport – is so cinematic that it’s surprising it hasn’t been filmed already. In fact, Dreamworks bought the rights some years ago. But, as yet, there is no film.

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The Ballad of Halo Jones

The pitch: The girl from tomorrow.

Before he became the beardy comics legend behind The Watchman and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Alan Moore wrote a lot for 2000AD, notably this unusual female-centric strip which saw its heroine progress from life in the claustrophobic 40th century metropolis The Hoop, to a job on a luxury space cruise liner to ultimately fighting a future war on the time-distorting planet Moab.

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Nemesis the Warlock

The pitch: Alien insurrection.

Nemesis is the alien leader of Credo, a resistance movement fighting the neo-fascist forces of the malevolent, futuristic masked megalomaniac Torquemada. With catchphrases like “Be pure, be vigilant, behave!” the villainous Torq is the real star of the strip. It’s a nice twist having humanity as the villain, although in general, Pat Mills’ story is probably a bit too weird to make into a film.

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Slaine

The pitch: The Celtic Conan.

Pat Mills’ Slaine, the musclebound warrior of the Land of the Young, Tir Nan Og, may be steeped in Celtic mythology, but it did start around the same time as the first Conan films. Despite unique twists (the whole thing is related by Slaine’s morally questionable dwarf sidekick Ukko and Slaine himself is also prone to warp spasms – don’t ask), a Slaine film might struggle to escape from such unfair comparisons.

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Chopper

The pitch: Surfs up!

A spin-off from Judge Dredd, Chopper – real name: Marlon Shakespeare -first appeared as a teenage graffiti artist not unlike a Mega City One version of Banksy, in the early Eighties before transforming into a world champion in the illegal sport of sky surfing. This could actually be brilliant, although risks comparison with the Silver Surfer (already brought to screen in the terrible Fantastic Four sequel). And as any Eric Bana fan will tell you: there is already a film called Chopper.

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The ABC Warriors

The pitch: They, Robot.

Robotic fighting unit and sometime allies of Nemesis the Warlock (see above), the two most famous Atomic Bacterial Chemical Warriors – the wittily named Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein – first appeared in Ro-Busters, a sort of robot version of Thunderbirds, which appeared in 2000AD’s sister paper Star Lord, before merging into 2000AD in 1978. Oddly, Hammerstein has already been in a film, cropping up randomly in the first Judge Dredd movie.

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Strontium Dog

The pitch: Alpha male.

In the future, a nuclear conflagration has left a sizeable minority of mutants, all forced – for some reason – to work as Search and Destroy agents (or “Strontium Dogs” basically bounty hunters) by the unsympathetic “norm” majority. The coolest of these is Johnny Alpha, accompanied by his Viking sidekick Wulf Sternhammer (“A skull to crack with the happy stick und Vulf is fine!”). Alpha’s mutation gives him white eyes but it also enables him to read minds and do all manner of cool stuff, so who’s complaining?

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Anderson PSI

The pitch: She’s always in your mind.

Another Dredd spin-off but let’s face it, the psychic female Judge was the best thing about the recent Dredd film. She could also be pitched against Mega City One’s ultimate super-villain, Judge Death. Altogether now: the crime is life, the sentence is death!

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Dredd: A film review and poem.

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Who’s that man with the helmet on his head?

It’s 2000AD’s top lawman, Judge Dredd!

Britain’s own Pete Travis directs,

(Perhaps too keen on slow-motion effects).

How good’s this one? Out of 5, say 3,

Much better than the Stallone monstrosity,

Thank Grud this time Dredd keeps his helmet on,

Inside is New Zealand’s Karl Urban.

Mostly in one building, something you’ve seen,

If you watched, Assault on Precinct 13.

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Here’s Judge Anderson: resident psychic,

She boosts the film as Dredd’s female sidekick.

Brit Lena Headley is Dredd’s nemesis,

If you don’t like violence, give it a miss.

Dredd speaks like Robocop: “Twenty seconds to comply!”

But really, I’d think hard before you buy.

For Dredd fans will enjoy: he is the Law,

But others may find this a bit of a bore.

Is Judge Dredd gay?

ImageSo Judge Dredd is gay. Or rather, he probably isn’t.

The latest Dredd story Closet which featured in the long running comic 2000AD, appeared to show the 22nd century Mega City One lawman entwined with another man in a gay club. The caption read: “I guess, somehow, I’d always known I was gay. I was just too scared to admit it.”

Judge Dredd, lest we forget, is an ultra-macho big chinned lawman of the future has been appearing in the British comic 2000AD since 1977. Inspired loosely by the characters Clint Eastwood played (particularly the Dirty Harry films) but transferred to a futuristic setting, Dredd dispenses instant justice to the masses of Mega City One, a chaotic post-apocalyptic metropolis built on the ruins of New York. Dredd is just the foremost of many “Judges” who are effectively imbued with the powers of police and judiciary and can sentence “perps” on the spot.

So is Dredd gay? Certainly, I never remember much about him having any sort of love life when I read the comic. But it seems not. Apparently the character in the strip is not Dredd at all but someone in fancy dress as the judge, at a gay club. As Dredd never removes his helmet and all judges look pretty much the same with their helmets on, this would actually be a fairly easy disguise to perfect, assuming you had the requisite chin. Presumably the story was a ruse to boost sales just as the second film version of Dredd comes out on Blu-ray/DVD.

The news is a bit disappointing in a number of ways. Firstly, the current author of the strip, Rob Williams has said Dredd “may well be gay, straight or bi” but that was secondary to his passion for the law.

“Although, can you imagine what would happen if that repression ever fell away, just for an instant? Sure, Dredd could be gay,” Williams said.

So why not make him gay then? Dredd is often referred to as a “fascistic” anti-hero but only in the sense that civil liberties and democracy are ignored in his world. Sexuality rarely comes up in 2000AD. And making Dredd gay could have been a major coup for the comic. It is a missed opportunity.

Worse still, is the reported reaction of some fans to the news of Dredd’s possible sexual orientation. Some have apparently threatened to burn their 2000ADs.

I’ve always liked to think sci-fi fans are an open minded, liberal bunch. Unfortunately a fair bit of evidence suggests that at least some of them are anything but. Witness the absurd reaction to the news that Star Trek Voyager was to feature its first woman captain in the 1990s.

Similarly, some seem to have missed the satire of a story set in a fascistic future by reacting to the news of Judge Dredd’s rumoured gayness by responding in a decidedly fascistic way themselves.

It is odd that science fiction fans so accustomed to stories set in the 22nd, 23rd and 24th centuries, so often still seem to have attitudes rooted in those of the 19th.