2000 AD Prog Slog

Friday, March 30, 2007

Prog 69

I feel that at this point in The Slog I should tell you what I was doing at around this time. Although I bought Prog 1 when it was first published, I didn't initially stick around for long after. In fact, I managed until about Prog 3 before being distracted by some Marvel UK comic or other. When Prog 20 came out, I swapped a pile of early Mighty World of Marvels with John Flaherty for the first twenty issues of 2000 AD. My plan was to pretend that I had never been away and see if I could get a complete set of the comic, or a good run of it at least.

When I went to put my recently acquired 2000 ADs into my cupboard, the OCD aspect of my personality that, let's face it, all young comic readers have to some degree, took over and I was frustrated that they were a good inch wider than all the Marvel UK titles I owned. After cutting them down in size I realised it wasn't just border that had been trimmed away but strip as well. I declared the operation a failure and threw them away. My disappointment was too great and I didn't buy 2000 AD for at least eighteen months after that.

So, this part of The Slog is proving to be quite good fun for me. Although I read most of these tales a few years later when they were reprinted in colour, most of everything else I'm experiencing for the first time. This includes the hyperactive but fun runs of Dan Dare and Inferno.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Prog 67

Hear the term Death Planet and you might imagine a poisonous atmosphere; molten landscapes; an environment hot enough to melt a car, or cold enough to freeze the blood in your veins in just seconds; dangerous levels of radiation; wading knee deep through rubble and bones; the sky swirling with the spirits of the dead. Instead, what you get is a place no worse than a foreign country during the holiday peak season; poor accommodation, water that is difficult but not impossible to digest and slightly peculiar but not entirely bizarre looking animals. In this prog's episode of Death Planet, a young girl does die in a fire but it was started by a rival group of castaways; you can hardly blame the planet for that.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Prog 64

Three progs ago, we were told via government committee that John Probe, better known as MACH 1, had died. This prog, in a super long eight page finale, it was proven not to be a trick; John Probe IS dead. The committee had been called together to decide weather or not he died… a traitor.

Thirty years ago, when I first encountered MACH 1, it seemed to confirm all of the preconceptions nine year old me had about British comics at the time. To me, the character was a cross between James Bond and The Six Million Dollar Man, except less spectacular. It’s not difficult to imagine someone at Universal TV during the seventies saying, "this Six Million Dollar Man TV show is a good idea but we can save money if we drop the whole bionics thing?" "Compu-punture" would have been seen as the ideal story solution to the man from finance (Compu-punture being the computer form of acupuncture that gave Probe his powers). To me, when TV and film disappointed due to budget and technical restraints, comics should excel, not the other way around.

Sure, MACH 1 might have been able to run at increased speed and had the strength of forty men but you never saw him lift up a building, bend a girder or have a run away car flip up into the air after it hit him like I saw in American comics. But I see now that the point of the strip might have been to function as a more plausible alternative to the exaggerated dynamics provided by Marvel and DC.

I think had I stuck around (I am encountering for the first time the strips from this period of 2000 AD which never got reprinted in the eighties), I would have warmed to MACH 1. By the final story, Probe is defying the orders of his dodgy secret service boss, Dennis Sharpe, by liberating a peaceful but dieing alien from captivity and returning him to his people.

The secret government committee decides that Probe isn't just innocent of treason but is also a hero what with having fought so hard to preserve Earth/Alien relations. Sure, the alien he returned to his people was dieing from the highly contagious common cold but it's the thought that counts, right? The story ends with the file on MACH 1 being closed and the big, paneled words, "The end".

Next prog, the return of MACH Zero, the Hulk like equivalent of MACH 1. I hope that John Probe doesn't return in this story or I am going to look very stupid, aren't I.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Prog 61

There's no rest for the wicked. Not even a fortnight back home and already the Chief Judge is sending Dredd on a special mission to cross the radioactive wasteland between Mega Cities One and Two. This must be his punishment for grinning like a goon at perps when he was off duty for three pages recently.

This prog has a classic, if not, the classic cover. Big booted Dredd, tearing out of Mega City One riding his giant bike and firing his law giver into the air, with an all terrain vehicle on his left and a punk rocker on his right.

My favourite comic artists from my childhood have an exotic, back of the brain quality to them I found. The first time I saw work by Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko it seemed weird but alluring. The same applies to the first time I saw this image.

However, I didn’t get to see this cover until five years after it was first published what with not having encountered this prog at the time. I later owned a T-shirt with a reproduction of it on which I wore quite often in my youth. Unbelievably, I wasn’t very successful romantically with girls. I put this down to Mike McMahon’s drawing temporarily sending their brains askew when I wore the T-shirt. That would explain their laughter when I asked them out.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Prog 59

Judge Dredd's return to Mega City One after six months seconded to Moon Base Alpha, I mean, Luna 1 is commemorated with a return to the traditional cover splash for 2000 AD and the demotion of Dan Dare to within the comic. McMahon draws Dredd on the front towering over the city he calls home pointing down with authority at some muggers. This strip's golden age is already underway. Bolland is now regularly associated as an artist while Ian Gibson and Mike McMahon, who have been drawing it since the early days, now draw in their own styles rather than being seemingly under pressure to replicate the character's co creator, Carlos Ezquerra.

John Wagner's getting to write the Judge Dredd we all know more often now. Last prog, Dredd's fascistic side is portrayed at its most overt for one of the first times. He catches a suicide leaper with his hover bike that he then charges with attempted littering. When a passerby objects, saying that the leaper needs psychiatric help, he charges her with interfering with the course of justice.

However, this prog, Dredd's return to MC1 sees him strolling through the streets, smiling, blissfully ignoring all the crimes that are happening around him. Once Dredd has been sworn in by another Judge, the smile disappears and he's away dispensing instant justice on those criminals he grinned at earlier.

I thought the law was a vocation to Dredd but seeing him behave like this the first time he is off duty suggests otherwise. Having read a lot of Judge Dredd stories set after this over the years, it's as jarring, I imagine, as seeing Mother Teresa going on a slot machine spree in a Las Vegas casino after being given a week off by God.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Prog 57

In an extra big but not extra long editorial, Tharg the Mighty reprimands previous winners of the £2 and £10 readers art prizes who ripped their designs off from other comics. No names are mentioned but someone difficult in the publishing biz seems to know who he is talking about.

This is 1978. Half the country is on strike, we're in the midst of a recession (or just coming out of one or just going into another, I can't remember), unemployment is on the rise and isn't there something about a three day working week happening? I remember that there were lots of power cuts and my school canteen trying to pass massed suede off as mashed potato. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that money was tight. Is anyone really surprised by a small child, or even an adult for that matter, trying to pass stolen space ship designs off as their own for a cash prize?

Think about it, £10 was probably a lot of money in those days. 2000 AD in 2007 costs £1.75, but this prog in 1978 cost 9p. Dividing £1.75 by 9p equals 19.44, the amount I've decided to multiply the £10 prize money by to determine it's current value. Ten pounds times 19.44 equals £194.40. That's a lot of money for ten minutes sitting down at a table with a piece of paper, some pens and an old Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds book.

Anyone challenging my maths by saying that the production quality of 2000 AD is better in 2007 and so, is therefore, in real terms, more expensive, should consider this; Prog 57 contains four pages drawn by Dave Gibbons and eight by Brian Bolland. Which prog do you think cost the most to make?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Prog 56

You would have thought that if there were such a thing as a robot car with an ethics circuit that there would be a back up to it in case of failure or access to it would be limited to an administrator account that only the manufacturer would have the password to. In the Judge Dredd story that finishes this issue, all Dave Paton has to do to cause this critical function to fail resulting in his car, Elvis, to go on a four prog long killing spree is to pop under the bonnet and accidentally drop a spanner onto the circuit. (Incidentally, I used to work with a Dave Paton during the late eighties/early nineties. Eerily, the character in the strip looks exactly as he did the last time I saw him). All it seems to have taken my down stair's neighbour to bypass his ethics circuit is to reverse his car into mine and then claim that the damage he caused to it occurred after he hit me! Over £700 it's going to cost me to have it repaired if his insurers don't accept liability!

After running over several people inside a shopping mall (I imagine that this isn't an uncommon occurrence in America), Elvis, using his robotic arms, removes the ethical circuits of a bunch of other cars so that he has some companionship on his murder spree. It's the sort of car manufacturer negligence that puts the recent dodgy-fuel-placing-hundreds-of-vehicles-off-the-road incident into perspective. Well, it would if Elvis had really happened.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Prog 54

When it came to reprinting 2000 AD strips for the American market (still a few years away), the publishers began by running those drawn by Brian Bolland first, who was a superstar comic artist at the time. I used to think that they over emphasised Bolland's input to the UK weekly and once they ran out of his work to repackage all of the American readers would disappear. So, it's interesting to me that, to my knowledge, they never reprinted the Walter the Wobot single paged strips, many of which he drew.

At this time, Walter the Wobot appeared frequently in the Judge Dredd strip as light relief to the straight main character. Walter was a drinks vending machine robot whose principle comic gimmicks included an unquestioning adoration of Judge Dredd and pwonouncing his r's was w's. This speech impediment-for-comic-effect (which you wouldn't get nowadays except for here in this blog) predates Michael Palin's Pontius Pilate in Life of Brian by at least two years and Jonathon Ross's The Last Resort by ten.

I always got the impression that writer John Wagner never really liked Walter the Wobot, his annoyance in the character being expressed through Judge Dredd's own lack of patience for him. After a couple of years, he faded away from Judge Dredd only to reappear every decade or so for long term readers to be updated on the torments Wagner has decided he has been exposed to since we saw him last.

Depending on which artist is drawing him, Walter the Wobot often gives me the cweeps. Some artists, as Bolland did, draw Walter as being between waist and chest height, which I am okay with. Others draw him as a similar height to Dredd. This along with his cutesy rhythm of speech and sickly devotion, remind me of those nappy wearing, man-babies they write articles about in Sunday magazines every now and then.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Prog 52

In American comics, exposure to radiation usually results in bizarre, sometimes exciting, but usually concealable powers. In 2000 AD, the results are baldness and invisible skin and muscles. Writer Pat Mills must have thought he had come up with a cool twist on the Invisible Man idea when he came up with The Visible Man, a character through whom you can see their internal organs, but once the premise was established, where else was there to go?

Essentially, The Visible Man had to run around naked to maintain any real visual impact and after a couple of pages that stopped making sense. Fortunately, artist Carlos Trigo, didn't draw Frank Hart standing in front of plants and strategically placed tea cups to conceal his modesty. Instead, he just didn't draw his penis or, if he did, the printing was so bad that it ended up being hidden by an inky smudge.

The thrust of the story has Frank on the run from elderly scientists who want to see the effect that spinning him around really fast has on his internal organs. This is interspersed with fun gross out scenes like an angry mob witnessing him eat a cake and being able to see it slide down inside his neck and into his stomach. In the end, he is caught by the authorities and fired into space so that they can see how zero gravity affects his insides. Frank fiddles with the controls, altering the rocket's trajectory, and leaves the human race behind forever.

Unlike American comics, death in 2000 AD is often cruel and nearly always permanent. The Visible Man remains one of the most memorable characters from this period despite having only ever appeared in six episodes. Unlike poor old Peter Silk who must have appeared in around forty episodes of Invasion as a loyal support to the lead character, Bill Savage, and who remembers him?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Annual 1978

There's a weird quality to the strips in the first Annual. One of the obvious design features that separated the weekly from other British comics at the time was the hand lettering. Here, they decide to use the traditional typeset making the captions in lower case difficult to read. Although the Dan Dare strip appears to be drawn by Massimo Belardinelli, the majority of everything else is illustrated by artists unfamiliar to me. It all serves to make separating the new material from the reprints very difficult. It makes me wonder if IPC in those days outsourced the work on their annuals out to a different editorial division to that which produced the weekly.

The stories also seem to have a manic, nightmarish quality to them. Even Dan Dare, which you would imagine to be the most accessible of all the strips given its linage, reads like a mash up of an entire season of the original Star Trek. In the Future Shock styled End of Voyage (which I have no way of telling if was commissioned specifically for the book), a millionaire’s yacht drifts into a nuclear bomb-testing zone. Exposure to the explosion sends him bald (which, one panel later, a doctor has the unenviable task of having to inform him that he will never recover from) that, in turn, sends him a little mad. Nonetheless, it doesn't stop the guy from entering an around the world yacht race. After panels alone at sea with his neurotic thoughts, his worst fears seem proven true when, as he approaches New York, it appears deserted. And then a nuclear bomb goes off destroying everything.

What a weird rambling strip that was, almost summing up the general feel of the annual and featuring every element of the reoccurring nightmares that I had at the time: premature baldness and nuclear war.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Summer Special 1977

All of the strips that you would associate with very early 2000 AD are represented in the Summer Special of 1977 (MACH 1, Flesh, Dan Dare, Harlem Heroes, Invasion and Judge Dredd) except they have been produced by creative teams slightly inferior to those that worked on the weekly versions. The only exception is the Judge Dredd strip which is drawn by Kevin O'Neill. It looks wonderful. O'Neill also paints the cover, which seems to be keeping in the spirit of the 'Super Cover' series from not so long ago that I originally enjoyed but was glad to see the back of by the end.

There's a good percentage of originated material for a Summer Special and the typical goofy article you would expect from science fiction paper of this period. Apparently, if I manage to live for another 50, 000 years I should fit into society more effectively as everyone will almost certainly be bald according to What Will We Look Like in 52, 000 AD. The organisation for which I work must employ super evolved staff as, I would say, that eighty percent of the men there fit this description of what our descendants are going to look like.

It's the summer of 1977 in the United Kingdom. Everyone over the age of twenty is terrified of punk rockers and everyone under thirteen is waiting for Star Wars to be released. It wouldn't be a summer special without two pages about Star Wars. Interestingly, 2000 AD started because the publishers at IPC wanted to cash in on the science fiction craze that they anticipated in the wake of the movie. The comic began publication during February 1977 but the film wasn't released in the UK until late that same year. Given the length of time that preparing a new weekly comic in advance of the first edition must require, we would have been exposed to the Star Wars pre-publicity for around a year before it actually appeared in our cinemas. All I'm trying to say is that Lucasfilm is very lucky that file sharing wasn't around then.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Prog 49

Poor old Peter Silk. After nearly a year of unwavering loyalty to Bill Savage in Invasion, he gets pulled down from a ship's mast by a dirty Russian, I mean, Volgan double agent and dies a sack of broken bones and organs on the deck of a ship. I feel sorry for the guy. I'm sure that the character was only created in the first place so that Savage had someone to talk to other than his shot gun which, let's face it, would have made him slightly too mad and unsympathetic to the readers. In fact, when the last surviving member of the royal family told Silk that the shot gun was Savage's SECOND best friend after him, well, his death two pages later was inevitable.

I see the relationship between Silk and Savage as symbolic of my relationship with the large organisation that I work for, Silk being me and Savage being the organisation. I fully expect to end up lying on the deck of a ship, smashed to death, under appreciated and soon to be forgotten by the employer I love. (Except, I'm not actually that loyal to anything let alone my place of work as, at the first sign of trouble, I'm away faster than a boy racer at a roundabout. And, I don't even like the company that I work for let alone love it. Apart from that, and not having a blonde mustache, my analogy stands.)

A prerequisite for a good 2000 AD story is not just the avoidance of sentimentality but almost a celebration of its absolute opposite. Poor old Peter Silk doesn't have a hero's funeral with members of the resistance quietly dabbing handkerchiefs to their eyes standing in silhouette under trees on the horizon. Instead, the dirty Volg takes one end of the body, Savage takes the other, and Silk receives a "burial at sea" by being tossed overboard.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Loyal Readers, Continue Here

More long-term readers of this blog – who I like to refer to as Squaxx dek Paulo – will remember that during the Christmas period I announced that I would be taking a break from the 2000 AD Prog Slog as I had receieved a large amount of books as gifts from relatives. As you should know, new publications arriving at the Nerve Centre (my flat in Milton Keynes) take priotiy over this project.

About three Christmases ago, I decided to buy my own gifts for myself then distribute them amongst my family members for them to pay me for and then to return on Christmas morning. It’s a practice that I’m finding to be quite successful. In 2005, I managed to persuade most of my brothers and sisters to chip in for the Complete Calvin And Hobbs slipcase. Last year I got a huge booty (see my entry from January 1st for a complete list of items) that resulted in my having to put the Slog on hold.

Delaying my return for even longer, were new comics published during this period (new comics take priority over new books even; those are the rules). Therefore, since I posted here regularly last, I read the first issue of Peep Show in five years and the spoiled but still sad death of Captain America amongst others.

But this morning, I cleared away the very last of these priorities and am now happy to announce my return to this project effective immediately. Please ensure that you return here soon for your semi regular 2000 AD Prog Slog Blog updates.

Monday, March 12, 2007

New Readers, Start Here!

One day in 1977, a nine-year-old boy with some hair and wearing national health glasses wandered into his favourite shop (the local newsagent) and bought the first issue of 2000 AD. Thirty years later, he bought the same comic again (this time minus the original free space spinner sticky-back-plasticed to the cover) along with most of the following 1, 180 issues in an eBay auction.

That nine-year-old boy was me and the man who won the auction a couple of months ago was also me. Basically, the boy, the man and me are the same person. I bought Prog 1 of 2000 AD in 1977, the first 1, 180 (missing only a handful of issues) at the end of last year and then wrote about it here in this blog today.

Of course, after buying so many comics, I am now under obligation to read them all, which is a daunting task that at the time of learning of my eBay auction win made me feel a bit sick and kept me awake for the entire night. I think that the film Supersize Me must have been on telly recently because it occurred to me that chronicling my reading of so many comics over a contracted period of time might be an interesting and fun thing to do. Hence, the 2000 AD Prog Slog Blog.

As you might have noticed, I have already read a year’s worth and made entries here relating to many of those progs. But there is a still many years of 2000 AD’s for me yet to read and, if you include all the Annuals, Specials and related publications (such as Star Lord) that I am seeking out relating to this project, then the task is much bigger than just the 1, 180 comics won in the original auction.

Will this experiment result in, as Tharg the Mighty has warned of many times in his editorials over the years, thrill power overload or will I, like Morgan Spurlock in the documentary Supersize Me, end up being sick a lot and twenty five pounds heavier? Only this blog will tell.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Happy Birthday!

Although I’m still reading through all of my Christmas presents and their spin offs (I expect to return to updating this blog regularly in a week or two, Prog Slog fans), I couldn’t let this week end without wishing 2000 AD a happy thirtieth birthday.

I was looking forward to writing about the anniversary issue here but this intention has been scuppered by this week’s prog being sent to newsagents shrink-wrapped. Although I am happy to stand in WH Smith's reading their magazines without buying them, I draw the line at splitting open a shrink-wrapped publication. This is why months can pass by without me getting to flick through an issue of SFX. Historically, in Milton Keynes, there has been a mystery person with less shame than me willing to break these magazines open, so it was always worth me checking out the shelves every time I was visiting the City Centre. But he seems to be long gone now as I haven’t seen a cracked open SFX for months.

Anyway, although the cover by Philip Bond is very nice, it doesn’t really commemorate the rich range of characters that have appeared in the comic over the last thirty years. The 2000 AD website lists the strips inside the anniversary issue and, apart from a new Flesh strip, they look a little under whelming to me. I mean, even the Judge Dredd strip isn’t written by John Wagner, for God’s sake. Over all, based upon my limited access to it, a very disappointing experience.