Friday, April 15, 2016

Home of the Anti-hero

FUTURE SHOCK! THE STORY OF 2000AD (2015)

Pat Mills' 'Flesh' strip typified 2000AD's vicious streak. Exploring similar man-dominating-nature themes to his 'Hook Jaw' in Action, cowboys from the future farm dinosaurs for their meat. Its "dinosaurs eating people" vein tapped into the comics' mantra of giving the readers what they wanted.

ALTHOUGH IPC began 2000AD in the slipstream of STAR WARS, the comic would be in a galaxy far, far away from George Lucas' straight-laced space adventure. Here was a publication that prided itself in the unruly Britain of the late seventies, with an anti-authoritarian swagger and violence to spare. It spawned a parade of legendary writers and artists (termed a "brotherhood" here by Dave Gibbons), and forged life-long friendships and eternal arguments. Directed by Paul Goodwin, this documentary charts the rise and near-fall of British comics' saviour, from its heady beginnings during the cultural clashes of the punk ethic and the silver jubilee, to surviving the 1990's with its attempted 'Lads Mag' rebranding and strips on a cyborg Tony Blair, then onto its lasting legacy of the "destroyed future."

With such a broad canvas to cover FUTURE SHOCK! can only hint at the horror stories behind the scenes, and for far more comprehensive coverage you should be directed to David Bishop's book Thrill-Power Overload: Thirty Years of 2000 AD. The quality of the "talking heads" differ wildly, and their effectiveness gets less interesting as the prog count flies by. Creator/first editor Pat Mills is in his element, providing numerous examples of what would later be termed a "Mills Bomb"; furthermore, Kevin O'Neill, John Wagner and Alan Grant are wonderfully wry, and Alan Moore is notable in his absence. At the other end of the spectrum Anthrax's Scott Ian tells us he once wrote a song about Judge Dredd, and Leah Moore just wants Daddy to finish Halo Jones for her.

Grant Morrison's Zenith debuted in 2000AD #535 (August 1987). This was a period of new stories and new talent for the comic, with Zenith being a spoilt Generation X'er who used his super powers not to fight evil but to promote a pop career.

When a documentary is so gushing in its own importance as this, it is far too easy to overreach. Apparently 2000AD has influenced virtually every science-fiction film since, from the obvious (ROBOCOP, HARDWARE, TIMECRIMES) to the tenuous-at best (BATMAN BEGINS, MAN OF STEEL). Alex Garland is the most thoughtful in this passage, making the point that the comic's influences on film is similar to the connection between Conrad's Heart of Darkness and APOCALYPSE NOW: the power of Coppola's Vietnam odyssey reaching out to a far greater audience. What is more measured is the publications link to the creation of DC's Vertigo imprint, the direct result of the much-discussed American headhunting of British graphic talent in the mid-80's.

But 2000AD did save the British comic book industry. Its subversive "gang of reprobates" washed its hands of the stagnant norm and carried on the mentality of the banned Action and fused its pages with black humour and sub textual weight (although Mills laments this forced "retreat" into science fiction). Away from its supposed cinematic wastelands, the comic's greatest lasting legacy indirectly links back to the culling of talent by DC; with its "Credit Cards," it was the first time a strip magazine acknowledged its creative talents. But by seeking this healthier working platform, artists and writers suddenly became brands in their own right, jumping ship to the US and creating an intellectual change that transformed the staid American market.

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