2000 AD - issue 4
At last, after the first three issues with their covers marred by including space for free gifts, we have a cover that doesn’t have to waste any space. It is interesting to see that the comic book is trying to sell its characters as hyper heroes, in response to the superheroes of the giant American publishers they have to compete with. As far as I remember, that idea never really caught on.
The character chosen for this first full cover, Dan Dare, is interesting, too. He was already popular and beloved in the UK comic book market from an earlier incarnation, from 1950 to 1967, as the pilot of the future, which gives the character a name recognition factor second to none in British comic books. But the concept of the pilot of the future must have been seen as old fashioned, because the editorial team have taken Dan much further in the direction of a superhero than any other of the characters, even including a logo on the chest of his outfit.
As usual, the first story presented in the comic book is Invasion, a war story with a thin veneer of sci-fi spread over it in the fact that the invasion is happening to the UK, in the future. The story gets a little more sci-fi this issue as it introduces a secret underground base below an East Anglia farmhouse. The base is full of harrier jump jets, Saracen armored cars, and huge missiles. The existence of such a base is an extremely unlikely turn of events, but fun for a comic book, and if the writers allow themselves to continue such flights of fancy it might just elevate this brutal and simplistic strip to something more than it has yet revealed itself to be.
Savage is also given a new weapon that will strike fear into the heart of his enemies this week. Instead of his double-barrel shotgun, he is upgraded to a pump action shotgun. I wondered if these were a new idea back in 1977, but I checked Wikipedia and the first slide action patent was issued to Alexander Bain of Britain way back in 1854.
Next comes Flesh, and the first page of the story this issue is a splash page featuring a one-eyed tyrannosaurus. I doubt the anatomy would get the seal of approval from the experts at Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs but it is a beautiful image. Giant ribbons of drool waterfall from the creature’s mouth and it is picturesquely described as a hag monster with a kitten-size brain. I’m going to try and avoid reading too much into the choice of the word hag, other than to be amazed once again at how comically macho and bloodthirsty “boy’s” comic books were back in 1977.
This can often be hilarious, like when the gang of tough dinosaur herders reach a domed city and see a giant sign saying “Good Times” alongside a provocatively posed cowpoke who wouldn’t be out of place in the Village People. The city has a plastic dome over it to keep out dinosaurs and there are robots there that look like the cowboys from the original Westworld movie. They have circuits and lights instead of faces and they are wearing the cowboy outfits. This is entertainingly bonkers science fiction, and I love it. The town is run by an ex-trail boss called Claw Carver who we are destined to be seeing a lot of as Flesh continues. The dinosaur herders immediately run into him, in a saloon, and a fight soon ensues. The robot sheriff fires his laser to end the fight, but his aim is thrown off and the shot cuts the plastic dome keeping the dinosaurs out. Now who would be outside right then but old one eye herself. She breaks in and we get a great drawing of the old tyrannosaurus menacing the rangers.
Next comes Harlem Heroes where there is a game of aeroball being played that started last issue. Aeroball is a mix of basketball, jet packs, kung fu, and wrestling. Soon one of the players puts another in a half nelson, which made me smile. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an arm lock described as a half nelson in writing or on TV, and I wonder why the term has fallen from use. The match makes its way to half time as this episode ends. I have to admit that I sometimes love the art of Dave Gibbons, such as the few times he worked on Ro-Busters, and I sometimes hate it, like his work on Dan Dare and especially on the Watchmen, but it is great here on this Harlem Heroes strip. His disciplined work means you can follow the complex action of two teams wearing spandex and jet packs as they clash in the air above a crowded arena. It is a virtuoso display of drawing skill, and I can’t think of many other artists who would have the endurance to pull it off the way Gibbons does here.
Next comes Dan Dare, drawn by Belardinelli, and I’m enjoying the science of their investigation of Jupiter. It’s not hard sci-fi by any means but there are nuggets of factual information mixed in with the monsters and seat-of-the-pants flying. For example, we see on the surface of Jupiter an island of crystal titanium floating on a sea of boiling metal.
Back on their mother ship, the doctor is leaving a note to herself in a voice recorder, and this has me wondering if, technically, this means that this issue of 2000 AD is one of the very few that passes the Bechdel test. The doctor is a woman, talking to herself, a woman, and the conversation lasts more than three lines, and is not about a man. I’m going to count it.
Next comes MACH 1 and our super-powered spy is off to the Middle East in this issue. His mission is to assassinate the tyrant running “Irania” before he invades his neighbors, causing thousands of deaths. Mach 1 is successful in his mission, of course, allowing liberal forces to take over the country and stop the invasion. This weird story line made me curious about the real situation in Iran, back in March of 1977. According to nonviolent-conflict.org
Through mass arms transfers from the United States, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi built one of the most powerful armed forces ever seen in the Middle East. His American-trained secret police, the SAVAK, had been thought to have successfully terrorized the population into submission during the next two decades through widespread killings, torture and mass detentions. By the mid-1970s, most of the leftist, liberal, nationalist, and other secular opposition leadership had been successfully repressed through murder, imprisonment or exile, and most of their organizations banned. It was impossible to suppress the Islamist opposition as thoroughly, however, so it was out of mosques and among the mullahs that much of the organized leadership of the movement against the Shah’s dictatorship emerged. Open resistance began in 1977.
It seems the West was hell bent on keeping the tyrant in power, rather than getting rid of him. I have to admit, I suspected as much.
Judge Dredd comes next, and he is dealing with a cult of robed mutants that have broken into the city. He deals with them by finding inventive ways to murder them all, one by one. Things get more complicated when he has to chase the mutants out of the city, into The Cursed Earth. They have kidnapped the Mayor’s son and Dredd has to get him back. It’s a great little story, atmospheric and all done in one shot.
Flesh returns on the back cover in a fake advert for dinosaur meat. It is beautifully drawn in a style not much different to later O’Neil. In fact he is still drawing in a broadly similar style today. I guess, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Start Reading the Dark Galaxy Trilogy
Galaxy Dog is an epic space opera. What starts as an ordinary invasion of an alien planet, brings to light an ancient archaeological 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. This is the story of his rise, and the story of the fierce and independent woman and the feisty robot who help him.