A Zarjaz 40 Years!: A Celebration Of 2000AD

Borag Thungg, Earthlets!

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“Welcome to the galaxy’s greatest comic: a subtle blend of thrills, some old, some new, all of them zarjaz. 2000AD: thrills from the future at an old-fashioned price!” – Tharg The Mighty. 

“It’s wild! It’s sensational! It’s your future!”

In the last week of February 1977, the first zarjaz issue of 2000AD was unleashed on an unsuspecting planet. It contained three stories and a free gift – a ghafflebette Space Spinner! – attached to the front cover.

Nobody had any idea that it would not only become a sensational hit, but dramatically transform the British comics industy. Back then, you see, the average life expectancy of new comics lasted no more than “a few issues.” Up until that point, there had been no market for SF in the UK comics market, so – oddly enough – it was automatically assumed that 2000AD would fare no better…

Each issue – or Prog as it is affectionately known – came adorned with the legend: “In Orbit Every Monday.” But more intriguingly, the Editor happened to be Tharg The Mighty: a green-skinned Betelgeusian responsible for delivering these weekly doses of “thrill-power,” and regarded plastic cups as his fave delicacy; Betelgeusian phrases made regular appearances in each Prog.

Published by IPC Magazines, it was aimed at young boys who craved something other than the usual “war and football fare”. Studying it’s awesomeness down the years, what is most striking is its formidable – and consistent – array of writing and artistic talent – cheekily referred to as “the droids” – who would garner international acclaim and go on to develop projects for Marvel and DC Comics.

In the beginning, it looked rather tame: Dan Dare – the Pilot of the Future – was more commonly associated with Eagle comic, while Mach 1 was a direct copy of the Six Million Dollar Man

Ironically, another sci-fi comic released in 1978: Starlord – produced on better quality paper – enjoyed higher sales figures. However, production costs meant that 2000AD survived, and Starlord disappered after only 22 issues. Strangely enough, Strontium Dog and Ro-Busters were transferred from Starlord and became some of 2000AD’s most popular stars.

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“Dredd to Control! Some kind of ruckus going on, Hank Wangford Underblock! Better get me a Catch Wagon!” – Judge Dredd. 

Can remember reading the comic at school – 1984 was a classic year for 2000 AD. Not sure who brought the copies in, but they were widely circulated around the classroom.

Although the comic’s most popular character was Judge Dredd, who made his debut patrolling the ultra-mean streets of Mega-City Onein Prog 2 – my Vinglop Hudsock (reading enjoyment) always concentrated on the exploits of the A.B.C (Atomic*Bacterial*Chemical) Warriors such as Hammerstein, Deadlock – and perhaps the COOLEST comic book character EVER – Joe PineapplesRogue Trooperthe GI (genetic infantryman) roaming the Morokk desert of Nu-Earth, in the eternal future war between Norts and Southers with his helmet, backpack and gun containing bio-chips of his three fallen buddies, brilliantly illustrated by Cam Kennedy.

And DON’T exclude the extraordinary awesomeness in the form of Nemesis The Warlock, wonderfully created by Brother Mills and Brother O’Neill and extolled the virtues:

“Be pure, be vigilant, behave!”

At a time when sci-fi was still considered as Boy’s Own fare, it is amazing to reflect that part of its innovation lay in its impressive range of strong, female characters including: Halo Jones, Venus Bluegenes, Durham Red, Tiffany Rex and of course Judge Anderson: Head of Mega-City One’s Psi-Division. 

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“Military fuzz, dammit. Gotta move. I ain’t gonna be shot by my own side… Sorry to disappoint you, fuzzballs!” – Rogue Trooper.  

Also that year, in London, just round the corner from Grandma’s gaff, a newsagent had a half-price box. Therein lay Progs: 365 and 370 – my very first purchases of thrill-power!

Having just retrieved them from my files – the covers have inevitably yellowed and the edges are crumpled – they now sit in pride of place on the desk beside me.

Bizarrely, one of the comic’s most ensuring characters was Slaine: a Celtic barbarian – with its delirious mix of dragons and sorcery this strip looked so incongruous, but was well-received all the same. Another script-hit from Pat Mills – does it come as a surprise to learn that he is one of my all-time favourite writers (in any medium)?

Both these Progs were graced by one of my very favourite characters: Strontium Dog: the adventures of Johnny Alpha, the mutie bounty hunter and his “norm” partner: Wulf Sternhammer. Featuring the terrific artwork of Carlos Ezquerra, it was honoured in this Post: 

And – grok! Had almost forgotten D.R. & Quinch. My most immediate memory to flood back from Prog 365 was this hilarious pastiche of Hollywood written by Alan Moore – yes! That Alan Moore.

“Man, this was a problem of mind-liquefying majorness. The script had about fifty-eleven-hundred pages. Of this, eight words were completely readable. These were ‘Oranges’ in the title, and ‘Close the curtains, Geoffrey, I’m amphibious,’ which was right at the end. To be perfectly frank, man, I wasn’t even 100% sure about ‘amphibious'” – D.R. Dobbs. 

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Torquemada: “Only I stand for order! And discipline! Especially discipline!”

Nemesis: “Basically I stand for having a good time…”

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“Some day soon we’ll all be feeding the worms… so why waste time playing heroes when we could be killing for kicks and riches?” – Thrax. 

And then there was Bad Company: a weird, but wonderful, future-war tale created by Pete Milligan, Brett Ewins and Jim McCarthy. Rather than focus predictably, and monotonously, on the horrors of war, this irresistible classic centered on its absurdities.

It offered a truly bizarre roster of characters, including the young wide-eyed narrator: Danny Franks; the mad, monocled mutant Frankenstein’s Monster-like Kano; and my personal fave: the ghoulish dude with the over-sized overcoat: Thrax, distinctive with his long, supercool fringe, and his amusing tendency to call everyone: “turnipheads”.

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“I want to feel alive again. That’s why I keep a heart in my chest locker” – Joe Pineapples.

My days as a Nonscrot (someone who does NOT read it regularly) were numbered. At the end of June 1988, a bolt of unavoidable thrill-power hit me in one newsagent at the end of June 1988 in the form of 2000AD Prog 581 (above). Who doesn’t dig large-taloned dudes with even cooler swords? One excited flick through: and it was immediately purchased.

There then followed a really scrotnig Summer, hunting local comics emporia for the most recent back issues. Having designed a major facelift – new format, new logo – for Prog 555, Tharg The Innovative reinvented the entire package with Prog: 650, adorned with the slogan: “New Thrills! More Colour!”   

With two stints at university, leading eventually to an overseas job, following the galaxy’s greatest comic became virtually impossible. In the last two years whilst working on this blog, re-energizing my taste for SF, my thoughts inevitably slide back to those golden years of 2000ADcan still smell that grotty classroom even now… 

But memories of that classic thrill-power lingers much longer…

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“Don’t want to hurt other Strontium Dogs unless we have to – electro-flare!” – Johnny Alpha.

Months ago, rummaging through the basement of a secondhand bookstore, looking – as is always the way – for something else, my heart leapt as a pile of 2000 AD back issues (from the classic years of 1983 and 1986) emerged at the back of the bottom shelf! 

The biggest problem is: how does one catch up with a quarter-century of Progs? So much thrill-power – so little time…

It is absolutely staggering to think that 2000AD still thrives to this day; it’s constant formula of experimental characters and witty cultural/political refs is hopefully winning new converts. The magic Prog 2000 came out last September, but all the drokks have been reserved especially for this week’s Anniversary Special. It is heartening to see the return of personal fave: Strontium Dog.

And of course, Joe Dredd just had to make a special appearance: shutting down the Prog’s birthday bash, disapproving of such a “seditious freak-out weirdo trashzine.” Hey Joe, what’s wrong with that? Don’t be a Grexnix, old man! This Squaxx Dek Thargo used to create and edit his own trashzines back in his juve-days, y’know! If anything, you should complain that today’s droids have failed to offer a Space Spinner or suchlike with this Prog…

Quaequam Blag!

As Tharg himself said: “2000AD: it’s not a comic… it’s an attitude!” 

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Splundig Vur Thrigg!

“Everything Is Blue”: A Celebration Of One Of The UK’s Finest Writers

Sophisticated Suspense.

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“Why shouldn’t you have a bit of fun while dealing with the deepest issues of the mind?” – Alan Moore.  

“My killers dislocated my electroskeleton…

Bent the clear note of my being out of pitch…

Out of harmony with the earth…

Barred from my planet’s emerald heart…

And unwilling to burn…

The turquoise ferns and duck-egg pebbles…

The aquarium light filtering through clouds of bleached cobalt…

“Everything is blue.”

Seeing as it’s his birthday today, this Post has been set aside to honour Alan Moore, acclaimed creator of such classic comic literature as Watchmen, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,  From Hell and V For Vendetta; we shall focus instead on Swamp Thing, because that is where my startled discovery of his great talent was made.

Originally created as a simple eight-page modern gothic tear-jerker by Len Wein and Berni Wrightson for House of Secrets #92, in 1972, scientist Alex Olsen was “killed” in a chemical explosion, his flaming body hurling into the bayou, only to be soon resurrected as a mossy and morose muck-monster. 

Each edition of Moore’s Swamp Thing offered individual brilliance, but for me, none more so than Issue 56 (dated Jan 87).

Can remember reading this one for the first time; entitled: “My Blue Heaven” it was more a case of bewilderment, than being gobsmacked. Rather than displaying the traditional lurid coloured inks of say, Superman or Wonder Woman, this particular issue told a unique story utilising an ingenious monochromatic technique, adding instant mood and atmosphereevery panel was blue. 

Didn’t know what to make of it initially, but one thing was clear: here in my hands lay an example of a drastically different form of graphic art, and all my comic-reading years had never prepared my senses to savour a script quite like this. 

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Happy Birthday To The Wonderful Wizard of Northampton!

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“Forever.

I will spend forever here…

An immortal wandering endlessly towards eternity…

Across a monochrome landscape…

One color, ome word.

So many shades…

The color of saxophones at dusk…

Of orbiting police lights smeared across tenement windows…

Of loneliness…

Of melancholy.

The blues.”

When planning a movie adaptation of Watchmen, Terry Gilliam (who Moore revealed would have been an excellent choice to direct a Watchmen movie) asked: “How would you make a film of Watchmen?” 

“Well, frankly,” Moore replied, “If anyone had bothered to consult me, I would have said ‘I wouldn’t’.”

Moore had written Watchmen expressly to explore the possibilities of the comic book medium, utilising narrative devices that deliberately set out to be unfilmable. So with this title, Moore could really experiment with ways in which a superior sophisticated graphic novel could be presented.

What Moore could you want? Who better than the beloved bewhiskered Brit to take this tragic figure but present him optimistically as a creator of his own realm?

Instead of wallowing in loneliness, the Thing creates his own doppelganger: “manipulating… two sets of muscles… I stand and walk toward myself… We touch… marveling to find not the cold hardness of mirror glass… but another palm, cool and dry.” 

Thus unfolded a dream-like narrativestrange: most certainly; compelling reading: oh yes…

And for company, he (re)creates Abby, his long-lost love:

“…As the flowers blossom… in a pale mane from her scalp… I am breathless. 

“Oh, she is beautiful… and I am lost.”

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“We kiss… then kiss again…

Embracing, we sink to our knees,

Through the dreamlike phosphorescence…

Of air too rich in rare gasses, 

We tumble… a kinetic progression…

Of stop-motion glimpses…

Sensual and inevitable in their sequence…

A blue movie.” 

Swamp Thing helped pave the way for DC Comics to handle more mature topics in an increasing number of titles specifically aimed at a much older readership. Amidst other bold and brilliant titles branded as: “Suggested For Mature Readers,” Swamp Thing did his own distinct and bizarre thing on a monthly basis.

For four years, Moore took this unlikely titular vegetable hero and revealed it to be just a tragic “shambling mound of foliage” that has merely acquired the consciousness of the dead scientist (now referred to as Alec Holland). This inspired the kind of extended, positively surreal, character study that Moore relishes.

Ultimately, the Swamp Thing must banish all thought of ever having been human in the first place, let alone trying to devise the bio-restorative formula to regain that glimmer of humanity. Thus, the creature must – over several episodes – contemplate not only the worthlessness of its existence, but decide what it should do with itself from then on.

Where else could you find a comic book where the central character foregoes living and merges with the mass-psyche of the earth itself, becoming a vegetable in all senses of the word?

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“Like blue bile…

The scream floods from my throat…

And I turn and run…

Past cars that are gradually losing their shapes to the rain…

“I try… to hold the world together in my mind… 

“But it slithers from a grasp… made slippery by sap…

In despair… I let it die…

I let the buildings unravel…

And the children fall dead in the streets…

I stop the hearts… of the perspiring old men…

I kill the world.

Blue murder.” 

John Constantine, the British occult mage/annoying smartass – whose character would about to be considerably expanded in his own highly successful, critically-acclaimed ongoing series called Hellblazer – made his debut in The Saga of The Swamp Thing #37. 

Here, he makes another distinctive cameo appearance – as this is Swamp Thing’s own dreamworld, so John is nothing more than an illusion, but still offering an annoying supporting role! Odd, yet compelling material. 

Finally, as this Post comes to it’s end, so we reach the final lines of Moore’s classic script:

“I leave… the world that I have made… behind me…

It shall remain here…

As a decayed monument… to the pain… of sundered romance… 

A bitter love letter… left tear-stained and crumpled…

In the obscure corner… of the universe…  

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“A blue valentine.” 

“No Hard Feelings, Point Break” Or: How Brad Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Comics

About those works that changed my perception of what comics could be… 

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“Of course… You always have to have surprises. You always have to make the reader say: ‘Wow! I never expected this.’ It’s become… tradition” – Stan Lee. 

Rather than bang on about those Avengers for the umpteenth time, and the torrents of comicbook movies we can expect over the next few years – but still keen to write anything comics-related – permit me to break away from the Marvel/DC fold for the moment and gush about some of the best specimens in my collection which – for sentimental reasons, obviously – could not, and never will, be discarded.  

Yes, having had to sift through boxes and piles of my stuff recently, it was only a question of time before these ancient gems were uncovered again…

For the sake of time, space and convenience, just six titles have been selected. In no particular order, away we go! Oh, and you know what? Each one of this not-so-dirty half-dozen would make a great movie…

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Flash Gordon began his exploits on the four-color pages of the Sunday funnies… Not only did Raymond draw the best rayguns, rocketships, and alien creatures, he drew the sexiest women” – Richard Siegel and Jean-Claude Suares. 

What better way to begin than with the Godfather of Sci-Fi Strips? The original Flash Gordon, created in 1934 by Alex Raymond have retained their lustre as sci-fi gold. His art is stupendous; despite becoming an SF artist of some considerable dexterity myself, it was always frustrating (during my formative years) trying (and failing!) to copy some of Raymond’s more dynamic or intricate panels!

It has to be said that, admittedly, the style is unmistakably indicative of the 1930s. That is, by no means, a hindrance; on the contrary, to this eager lil seven-year old, it was more fascinating for that.

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“You may speak to me now. My purple light is on” – General Ironicus.

In 1979, my joyous – albeit short-lived – fascination with Doctor Who began. Having enjoyed each instalment on TV every Saturday teatime, you can well imagine my gob-smacked rapture upon discovering the “Fantastic First Issue” of the Dr Who Weekly, an amazing addition to the immensely impressive wing of Marvel UK. 

The very first story instantly won me over. Doctor Who and The Iron Legion offers an intriguing scenario: where the Roman Empire never fell, but instead expanded its dominion across the galaxy. Simultaneously slaking my thirst for sci-fi and history, it splendidly evokes the charm of the Tom Baker era.

Artist Dave Gibbons may be revered the most for Watchmen, but it is The Iron Legion which – to me – made the greatest impact. Moreover, there’s never been anything quite like the witty and wonderful script by Pat Mills (a personal fave writer) and John Wagner.

And that panel depicting the robot centurion bursting through the shop window is still as sharp and special as when my wide excited eyes first caught it thirty-six years ago!

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“I’m glad that hurt, Jaffar. I pray my kick made you an eunuch!” – Marada The She-Wolf.

Marada, The She-Wolf was an awesome fantasy saga about a mercenary of Rome and her travails against the Mabdhara – a triad of Demon-Lords. She starred in the February and April 1982 issues of Epic Illustrated, then “the Marvel Magazine of Fantasy and Science-Fiction”; she reappeared in Wizard’s Masque in the February and April 1984 issues.

1988 turned out to be a fantastic year: catching up with Classic X-Men, featuring the scripts by Chris Claremont, featuring stunning artwork by John Byrne (republished stories from 1978) and John Bolton (added features of individual X-Men); then, quite unexpectedly, this came into my life.  

Had never heard of “Marada. It didn’t matter. Anything adorned with the talents of Claremont and Bolton was sure to be good. Those issues of Epic Illustrated became essential purchases. The material is so different from the more usual mutant superheroes fare. Claremont writes enthralling dialogue, but through Bolton’s stupendous art, Marada really comes across as a beautiful and feisty protagonist; she deserves mass appeal.

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“A half-Mohawk boy born in 1900… Night Raven had no powers but was a highly trained fighter and marksman… exposed to a chemical toxin which made him nearly indestructible” – Marvel Database. 

One of the more striking heroes of in my earliest comic-devouring years was undoubtedly the Night-Raven – “Britain’s very own man of mystery.” Apparently, this masked vigilante of the 1930s made his debut in Hulk Comic #1 (March 1979), of which quite a few issues made their way into my collection, but it is in Savage Action – yet another Marvel UK godsend – where my enjoyment of this “faceless, enigmatic nemesis” ensued.  

Its creator: David Lloyd would much later become best known for V for Vendetta. Although my recollections are a little hazy, Night-Raven was always depicted in fedora and trenchcoat, with revolvers in both hands.

One of the few characters created exclusively for Marvel UK, he doesn’t appear to have made much impression on the other side of the Pond, which is a pity. In 1990, Night-Raven: The Collected Stories appeared, but it has never, alas, come into my clutches. Again, last year enquiring at Forbidden Planet – London’s Temple of Geekdom – the “expert” had never heard of this character. Shocking…

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I’ll take you dead or alive. They’re going to kill you anyway – may as well try your luck” – Johnny Alpha.

Johnny Alpha – the mutant bounty hunter with the light eyes and the variable cartridge blaster and electroknux, the most recognised member of the Search/Destroy Agency, whose members are widely known as “Strontium Dogs” – made his debut in Starlord comic in 1978. When that title went defunct, he made a successful switch to the then-burgeoning 2000AD, a British weekly publishing legend throughout the 1980s.

Following the nuclear war of 2150, the society of New Britain had to contend with the spiralling number of mutants (caused by the showers of Strontium-90) in what remained of the population. Forbidden to take normal jobs, “mutoes” had to take on bounty hunting as their only means of survival. In an intriguing plot development, Johnny turned out to to be the son of Nelson Bunker Kreelman, the despised “norm” politician responsible for instigating the anti-mutant laws. 

At first, the gruff style of Carlos Ezquerra’s art did not appeal, but it gradually won me over.

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With The No-Go Job starting in Prog 580 (1988), art duties would be taken over by Simon Harrison (above), who brought a radical new look to the strip.

Johnny Alpha was killed off in 1990, one heckuva bold move considering that he had become the second most iconic character of 2000AD after Judge Dredd.

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“This was it. The night my Uncle Elias and I were going after the Beast. A creature of magic. It could only be destroyed by magic” – Luke Kirby. 

Back to the pages of 2000AD again, and with good reason. Between Progs 571-77 (April-June 1988) something well wicked my way came. Summer Magic was a delightful little seven-part serial about a boy staying with his relations in a traditional English country village during the Summer of 1962. But look beyond Mrs. Birmingham’s homemade dinners and bowls on the green, for an unutterable horror lurks in the forest yonder…  

By rights, it should not have sat alongside the more familiar sci-fi likes of the tech-war of Rogue Trooper, the chaotic chrome capers of the A.B.C. Warriors (a band of Ultrons if you will!), nor the futuristic law enforcement of Judge Dredd, but gladly it did, and made its own marvelous impression.

Just months previously, John Ridgway had come to my startled awareness through the blistering first eight issues of DC’s Hellblazer – John Constantine’s own title. Now here he was working on something equally English and unnerving!

Young Luke must learn the arts of the arcane path before confronting the Beast. And this tale of a boy wizard appeared years before Harry Potter was a glint in JK Rowling’s eye…

This Post will finish with that classic last page from the penultimate episode. At this point, there was barely a hint of the gob-smacking twist that would transpire that following week…

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Thank you, Sherise, for my Second Nomination!

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Cheers!