2000 AD - issue 104
This time we are looking at issue 104 of 2000 AD, which came out way back on 17 Mar 1979. It has a great cover, of two men fighting on top of a speeding train, by Carlos Ezquerra. A fight on top of a train is an iconic image, and fairly screams action. Some would even say a train-top battle is a trope. The futuristic clothes and skillful posing of the figures is thrown into sharp relief by the simple, organic lines of the train. Ezquerra is a skillful artists who, I always felt, loved the characters in Strontium Dog.
The first story in this issue is Judge Dredd, drawn by a talented artist called Ron Smith, though his style is not to my taste. I prefer the work of the other artists who have been doing Dredd in recent issues, such as Mike McMahon and Brain Bolland. Smith’s Dredd is a less exaggerated take, with a more practical and realistic uniform. His shoulder armor is just a thick pad of material, like in a motorcycle jacket, rather than the huge slabs McMahon gives him. And the visor in the helmet looks like something you could actually see out of.
Robo-Hunter has an ugly racial stereotype in it, and the writer and artist share equal blame here, obviously enjoying the hilarious humor of their xenophobia and antisemitism. This comic was printed back in the late 70s, and it certainly didn’t always avoid representing the prejudices and small mindedness of its time. People certainly knew better than to perpetuate these ugly stereotypes back then, but it was also much easier to get away with openly saying nasty things. After Robo-Hunter there is an advert for Tornado, yet another comic book launched by the publishers of 2000 AD, and another one that didn’t survive very long.
Then it’s time for Strontium Dog, with sine beautiful landspeeder-esque car designs, as big as barges. They are drawn in a free style and have a slightly organic look to them, like a lot of Ezquerra’s art, but they are definitely muscle cars, driven by macho men. Strontium Dog, with its mix of wild west action and futuristic technology is like a slightly more space-opera take on Mad Max. It’s a great strip and this is the start of an ongoing story that is an absolute classic.
Next comes Dan Dare with art by Dave Gibbons that is just lively. It is heroic in a traditional, space hero, kind of way, and it sees Dan Dare blasting monsters in an alien swamp. What could be more fun than that?
In the embarrassment of riches that is the art of this issue, we now come to part two of the epic Rise and Fall of Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein story in Ro-Busters. The first page is powerful, with a list of the companies owned by Howard Quartz, emphasizing how rich this particular cyborg is. Then comes a very strange panel showing Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein marrying, why? Just because. It also introduces us to a mad doctor robot that is truly frightening. There is so much creativity in this one strip that it’s amazing.
There are missteps, mainly because the story seems to be based on the history of the slave railway. This in itself wouldn’t be a bad thing, but I suspect that Kevin O’Neil, a normally very talented artist, seems to be not-so subtly coding some of the robots as black. So that makes two racial stereotypes in one issue, oh dear.
But there is also a lot to love about this story. Quartz’s plan to kill his robots and claim the insurance was a common tactic for slave owners and is captured in Turner’s the slave ship, and is the sort of fiendish thing a comic book villain should be doing. It’s also great to see issues like this being reflected in a kids comic book, no matter how hamfistedly at times.
I love this old comic book, warts and all, but in the name of full disclosure I should warn anyone thinking of seeking it out that the only fully human character who appears on a recurring basis in Ro-Busters is a scantily-clad, bubble-brained secretary called Ms Marilyn, who is an appalling artifact of 1970s sexism. The politics reflected in this comic are distasteful at times, but at least seeing it all displayed so brazenly and unselfconsciously is fascinating.
Thankfully, at the end of this installment, Ms Marilyn is written out, never to be seen again, so that is one less problematic character in the comic book, which can only be a good thing. Hopefully I won’t have to spend quite so much time apologizing for next week’s issue, and I can just get on with enjoying the sci-fi action. Although, thinking about it, it’s a little disheartening just how relevant these messed up stereotypes are to our own time, right now, under Trump.
Okay, that’s enough ancient British comic books - now comes the plug for my books.
Galaxy Dog (Dark Galaxy) Start Reading the Dark Galaxy Trilogy
The first book in the Dark Galaxy Trilogy, always the best place to start, is Galaxy Dog. It’s a little more old-school and fun than a lot of the sci-fi that is around at the moment. It has spaceships, robots, battles, and brave warriors rebelling against an evil empire. Click the book cover and go to the storefront you prefer to buy it now, or follow this link.