Posts Tagged ‘Carlos Ezquerra’

Zarjaz! Documentary about 2000 AD!

September 25, 2016

Borag Thungg, Earthlets! As the Mighty Tharg used to say. I found over at Moria, the Science Fiction Film and Television database, a review of the 2014 documentary Future Shock! The Story of 2000 AD, directed by Paul Goodwin, and made by Stanton Media/Deviant Films. The film tells the story of the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic, and the crew of recidivist cultural deviants, who responsible, amongst other offences, for bringing the world Judge Dredd, Mega-City 1’s toughest lawman. Among those speaking in the movie are the mighty comics creators Pat Mills, Kevin O’Neill, Brian Bolland, Neil Gaiman, Carlos Ezquerra, John Wagner, Dave Gibbon, Bryan Talbot, Alan Grant, Grant Morrison, Cam Kennedy and Karl Urban, who played Dredd in the movie of the same name a few years ago.

The Moria review sets the origins of the comic in the context of Britain in the late 70s and early 80s, when Margaret Thatcher was in power, unemployment was at three million and the National Front was on the march. 2000 AD appeared following the cancellation of Action, a previous comic that had been banned after parents’ concerns that it was too violent. The team assembled to produce the new comic were partly drawn from those responsible for Action, like Mills, and the new comic definitely had a subversive edge. It was partly reacting against the old Fleetway children’s comics, whose stories were very safe. It takes its title from a series of unrelated bizarre stories, ‘Tharg’s Future Shocks’. As I recall, the strip in which these stories were first announced set the tone by showing a jaded, spoiled sprog, defiantly unimpressed with the previous offerings from British comics, who is then taken by Tharg to see the terrible and dangerous visions that the Future Shock strips will introduce. This is too much for the enfant terrible, and the traumatised brat is led away to received much-needed medical care, while Tharg urges them to ‘treat him gently’. An example of the strong subversive theme running through the comic is Dredd himself. Dredd was deliberately intended to be something of an ambivalent hero, a parody of Fascistic US policing. The Moria review notes that the more extreme Dredd became, the more popular he was, to the point where Carlos Ezquerra didn’t want to continue drawing the character after producing the original design. This probably shouldn’t be too surprising, as Ezquerra had as his inspiration for Dredd’s uniform that of Franco’s Fascists with their helmets and shoulder pads, though the review doesn’t mention this. John Wagner, Dredd’s creator, was always insistent that the character should never take off his helmet and show his face, as he was the symbol of the faceless police state.

The review discusses 2000 AD’s role as the first British comic to credit the artists and writers, and how this led to a brain drain as their leading creators were then lured off by the big American comic firms like Vertigo. I don’t think 2000 AD were quite the first. I think a few years before then the war comic, Battle, had also started to credit the people creating the strips. It also covers the magazine’s drop in quality and popularity in the 1990s, and then it’s revival under Matt Smith. It notes that all of the creators interviewed saw the comic as edgy, subversive and individualistic. This is certainly born out by some of the comments made in the movie’s trailer, which is also included in the review. This features the various writers and illustrators remarking on the comic and what they intended to achieve with it. Several of them, such as one by Pat Mills, are along the lines that the comics company really didn’t know what was about to hit them.

I don’t think they did. 2000 AD was never as controversial as Action, but nevertheless there were concerns occasionally that the comic was too violent. It did, however, produce some of the greatest comic strips that are still going thirty years later, like the ABC Warriors, Slaine, Nemesis the Warlock, Strontium Dog, The Ballad of Halo Jones, and, of course, Judge Dredd. The future’s ultimate cop was hailed at the time by the space fact magazine, New Voyager, as the Dan Dare for the 1980s. High praise indeed!

The review also talks about the three films or so have that were released based on the comic. These include the two Judge Dredd films, Judge Dredd, which appeared in the 1990s with Sylvester Stallone playing Dredd; and Dredd, which came out a couple of years ago, with Karl Urban in the title role. They also include Richard Stanley’s Hardware, which was taken uncredited from Shok!, a short story told by Dredd’s mechanical friend, Walter the Wobot. 2000 AD took the film’s producers to court in plagiarism case, and won. The film’s producers were forced to credit the 2000 AD strip, though I think Stanley still maintains that he didn’t steal the idea from 2000 AD. Of the two Dredd films, the first is considered a disaster, while the second was a hit with both audiences and the strip’s creators, who praise the movie in the film. Stanley’s Hardware is also a classic of low budget SF film-making, and has rightly received wide praise. It was made in 1989, but still looks good a quarter of a century and more later, and its relatively high quality of design and production makes it appear that it had a bigger budget than it actually had. Stanley’s career as a cinema director I think ended after he was sacked from directing the 1990s remake of The Island of Dr. Moreau. This was at least partly the result of the utterly bizarre behaviour of Marlon Brando, who took the part of Moreau. There’s also a film about the making of that movie, which shows just how bonkers and extremely difficult to work with Brando was, to the point where filming at time degenerated something close to farce. it’s a pity, as Stanley was and is a talented film-maker with fresh, interesting concepts. If things were ideal, he and 2000 AD would ideally make their peace, and he should produce a film based on some of the comics’ other strips. But this ain’t an ideal world, and so that very definitely won’t happen.

I don’t know if the documentary is available on YouTube, and I don’t recall having seen it on the shelves of HMV, but it might be worth checking out your local comics shop, like Forbidden Planet.

The Moria review can be read at: http://moria.co.nz/sciencefiction/future-shock-the-story-of-2000ad-2014.htm

Advertisements

Increase the Peace: Criticism of the Iraq Invasion in 2000 AD’s ABC Warriors

April 18, 2015

Borag Thungg, Earthlets! As the mighty Tharg used to say.

I’ve posted a number of pieces about satire and social criticism in comics, particularly the British SF comic, 2000 AD. Mike over at Vox Political posted a piece on the very pointed comment about the effect of sanctions and workfare in the Judge Dredd strip. And it’s been released that after the elections are safely over, Megacity I’s hardest lawman will go up against a corrupt politician fomenting hatred against immigrants after a series of terrorist attacks. This politician’s name: Bilious Barrage. And he bears a striking resemblance to a certain head of an anti-EU, anti-immigration party.

Bilious Barage

Bilious Barrage: Mega-City 1’st anti-immigration politician and leading candidate for a place in the Iso-Cubes.

2000 AD has always had a very strong strain of satire and social comment. The Strontium Dog strip, about the mutant bounty hunter, Johnny Alpha, used the character’s mutation to criticise racism and the British class system. This included a story in which the king of Britain, Clarkie II, in order to reach out to all his subjects, marries a mutant from the Milton Keynes ghetto, Vera Duckworth. Who, as her name suggests, was blessed with a duck’s bill.

Strontium Clarkie Duckworth

Johnny Alpha with his highness King Clarkie II and Vera Duckworth, as drawn by Carlos Ezquerra.

This was partly based on Prince Charles, and his concern in the 1980s to help Britain’s unemployed created by Maggie Thatcher’s recession.

Real political figures also made their way into 2000 AD’s strip, like Ronald Reagan. The then-president of America featured in a story in which he had been kidnapped by time-travelling aliens, who wish to use him as a hostage in their campaign to break free from human domination.

Strontium Reagan Red

A kidnapped Ronald Reagan menaced by the mutant vampire, Durham Red, from the Strontium Dog strip.

The Second Gulf War and the Iraq invasion has also been criticised in its turn in the three volumes of collected ABC Warriors’ strips, The Volgan War, scripted by the strips’ creator, Pat Mills, and drawn with almost photo-real precision by Clint Langley.

The ABC Warriors are a kind of ‘Meknificent Seven’, a group of ex-war robots, led by the morally upright Hammerstein, dedicated to protecting justice and defending the weak and innocent in a violent and corrupt galaxy. The strip itself is a kind of spin-off from the Ro-Busters strip, about a group of robots sent in to rescue humans from disasters where the situation was too dangerous to risk human lives.

Hammerstein and the other robots were built to fight in the Volgan Wars. The Volgan Republic was a disguised version of the Soviet Union, which was shown conquering Britain in the early 2000 AD strip, Invasion. The treatment of the Volgan Wars in the ABC Warriors is permeated with a very strong anti-war message. Robots are expendable slaves, and their human officers have no respect for their lives or the pain they suffer, so long as they achieve their objectives and win medals for them.

This was part of the strip from its very beginning in the late ’70s and early 1980s. And it’s still the same now in the 21st Century. In Vol. 2 of the Volgan Wars series, the Warriors are shown talking about how they suffer from survivor’s guilt.

Steelhorn says ‘The hardest thing when I got back was humans slapping me on the back and saying ‘Great job Steelhorn!’

To which Mongrol, another Warrior replies, ‘They wanted it to be a good war so that they could sleep at night.’

Hammerstein adds ‘But we know it wasn’t a good war. There’s no such thing as a good war.’

In this post-Iraq Invasion reworking of the strip, the aggressors are the West. The world has passed peak oil, and so America and her allies have invaded the Volgan Empire – Russia – in order to get their hands on its oil reserves.

ABC Tipping Point Oil

The above panels show the Volkhan, the supreme Volgan war robot, stating this in his speech to the massed Volgan war machines.

‘Remember! The world has passed the tipping point! The oil is finally running out! It’s why the ABC criminals have invaded our country! To steal our oil!’

‘Only Volgograd stands in the way of their advance to the Caspian oilfields! If Volgograd falls, Mother Russia falls!’

The American officers leading the invasion are very much aware that the rationale for the war – that they are liberating the Russian people – is a sham, and note privately that it should be a public scandal.

In one scene, Blackblood, one of the Volgan robots, reads out an entry confirming this from the diary of a captured American officer.

ABC Volgan War Reasons

The entry reads

“This terrible war is a set-up to steal the Volgan’s oil and make money for robot weapons manufacturers Like Howard Quartz. The general public should be told what is really going on.”

The Volgans are presented as sadistic killers, who have absolutely no qualms about committing atrocities such as the mass murder of innocent civilians. Blackblood is one of the most treacherous and brutal, who takes his name because he drinks the oil of the other robots he and his soldiers have killed. In order to avenge such atrocities, the allies have established the Knights Martial, an order of robot knights, to try war crimes and bring those responsible to justice.

Their role was originally intended to be solely confined to Volgan war criminals. The Knights have, however, broken their programming and gone beyond that. They are now judging allied generals for the atrocities they have committed, as shown when Deadlok, the order’s Grand Master, puts an American ABC general on trial.

Clearly, the ABC Warriors are meant as fictional entertainment, but the social comment and political satire in the strip makes it acutely relevant. The volumes on the Volgan War were published five or six years ago in 2009 and 10. The present, however, seems to be catching up very fast with the future envisioned by the writer Pat Mills, and the strips’ artists. In his introduction to the second volume, Pat Mills discusses the emergence of real autonomous war machines, including the PackBot.

A robot called the PackBot is used in Iraq to locate and blow up enemy bombs, also blowing itself up in the process at a cost of $150,000 per robot. it can only be a matter of time before indestructible machines like Hammerstein will carry out these same tasks. A Pentagon spokesman has stated, “Robot’s don’t get hungry. They’re not afraid. They don’t forget their orders. They don’t care if the guy next to them has just been shot. Will they do a better job than humans? Yes.” That sounds very much like the ABC Warriors.

The singularity, the point of no return, could well be soon. This is the time when robots become so intelligent, they are able to build ever more intelligent and powerful versions of themselves without reference to humans. When that moment arrives, the Warriors’ adventures may be seen as closer to science fact than science fiction and the truth may be even stranger than the fiction depicted in this second volume of The Volgan Wars.

I’m afraid that the future depicted in the ABC Warriors may become all too real very soon. The current events in the Ukraine strike me very much as an attempt by the West to create a pro-western government in the former Soviet state, partly in order to get their hands on its immensely fertile agricultural soil and partly for its vast mineral reserves, including oil. And, of course, it’s only a short distance away from the major oil reserves around the Caspian Sea and Azerbaijan. Something like the Volgan War could easily become a horrific reality.

The ABC Warrior’s value isn’t just in its realistic depiction of a future war and the possible machines built to fight it, but in the human and trans-human moral cost of such a conflict. Like much of the best Science Fiction in all media, whether literature, film and television or comics, the ABC Warrior’s brings a critical satirical eye to contemporary politicians, who have manufactured wars and sacrificed human lives in furtherance of their personal and geopolitical ambitions.

And that really is zarjaz, as Tharg the Mighty also used to say.

Splundig vur thrigg.

Sneck! Mutant Bounty Hunter In Radio 4 High Culture Shock!

April 7, 2015

Strontium Dog

Mutant Bounty Hunter Johnny Alpha, AKA Strontium Dog, from 2000 AD, drawn by Carlos Ezquerra

I’ve published a few pieces recently about comics, and particularly 2000 AD. Last week it was reported that Judge Dredd was going to be taking on Nigel Farage in the form of a hate-mongering politico, Bilious Barrage, in Mega-City 1. Now in today’s Radio Times there’s also news that another favourite from 2000 AD will get a mention on radio: Johnny Alpha, the mutant bounty hunter and hero of the strip Strontium Dog. He’s due to get an appearance on a programme about a new cycle of poems about the element, from which he and the other Search/Destroy Agents took their name The (Half) Life of Strontium.

The blurb in the Radio Times says Strontium is the 38th element in the Periodic Table and was discovered in 1792 by miners in the Scottish village of Strontian. Robert Crawford’s new suite of poems elaborates on the connections between the village in Argyll, the bomb that dropped on Nagasaki and the mutant bounty hunter, Strontium Dog.

The programme’s on at 4.30 pm. on Radio 4 on Sunday, 12th April.

The strip took its name from Strontium 90, one of the radioactive elements in nuclear fall-out. The Strontium Dogs were mutants, who were legally prevented from holding any other jobs on Earth except as bounty hunters because of their mutations. The strip combined detective adventures in a kind of future galactic Wild West, as the strip’s hero, Johnny Alpha, and his norm partner Wulf Sternhammer, roamed space bringing criminals to justice.

Alpha took his name from the alpha particles emitted by his mutant eyes. In the strip these gave him X-ray vision and the power to read minds. In practice they’re very weak. You can block them with a sheet of paper. Not that science fact necessarily gets in the way of a good tale. 2000 AD generally had a strong satirical edge, and wasn’t averse to tackling serious issues. In Strontium Dog the strips’ creators used the mutant hero and his deformed friends and enemies to explore issues of racism, prejudice and the British class system.

Alpha’s father was a ruthless right-wing politicians, Nelson Bunker Kreelman, who was determined to carry out a policy of mass murder to cleanse an irradiated Britain of its mutant population. Alpha’s own mutation was carefully hidden in order to safeguard his father’s reputation. In the event, Alpha rebels against his father, and leads a mutant revolt from one of the ancient symbols of British identity, Stonehenge.

The mutant’s victory is limited, however. Although they are tolerated, their opportunities are very limited. They are segregated into mutant ghettos, and are very much second-class citizens. When Alpha and Wulf travel, they are forced to find accommodation in the hold or in the second class cabins, as mutants very definitely may not travel first class with ordinary humans. And the discovery of mutant relatives, especially offspring, is still a major source of shame for respectable middle class Brits.

In one strip, the king of Britain, Clarkie II, attempts to bridge the divide between norm and mutant by marrying a young mutant lady with a duck’s bill from the Milton Keynes mutant ghetto. This is a step too far for his subjects, and the idealistic king is hounded, forced to abdicate, and flee into space.

It’s a slightly irreverent, but also curiously sympathetic look at Prince Charles’ actions at the time. This was before his marriage with Lady Di fell apart, and the Prince was still popular with many Brits. He also appeared to be genuinely and deeply concerned with the plight of his poorer subjects as Maggie’s recession threw millions out of work. And so the strip’s creators, Aaln Grant and Carlos Ezquerra, were able to present a fantastic version of the Prince of Wales showing his social concerns in the future. In this case, it was marrying well out of his class with a mutant girl from the wrong side of the tracks.

And what Crawford’s poem also shows us, is that apart from great literature, the major figures of British arts also started off like the rest of us: reading and enjoying the four-colour funny papers. They’ve now grown up, and Dredd, Alpha and the rest are heading upmarket alongside . At least on the radio.

Reagan Dog

Never afraid to treat authority with the amusement it deserves: Strontium Dog and his partner, Durham Red, rescue a Ronald Reagan kidnapped by time-travelling aliens.

Zarjaz! New Children’s Laureate Backs the Four-Colour Funnies!

June 5, 2013

Britain’s new children’s laureate, the Black writer Malorie Blackman, was on breakfast TV this morning talking about her views, work and desire to encourage more children to read. She came across as an extremely intelligent and dynamic ambassador for literature for children. She said she wanted every child in the UK to get a library card. This is undoubtedly, obviously a good thing – libraries are an essential for any civilised society, and encouraging them to use them is a major step in encouraging children not only to read, but to enjoy litaracy and learning. Another of her ideas is to set up a scheme whereby children can be encouraged to produce a piece of art, poetry, drama or music inspired by something they’ve read, and shown on the web. What cheered me the most, however, was that she defended comics as a means for getting children, particularly boys to read. The two BBC hosts, Bill Turnbull and Susannah Reed, asked her about the way boys stop reading. Blackman stated it was because they had so many other things competing for their attention, and that they were also reading for exams. She was keen to encourage boys to keep on reading, and remarked that comics and graphic novels were some of the things boys did continue to read. She and Susannah Reed particularly noted that the graphic novels V for Vendetta and Watchmen contained the type of gritty issues Blackman’s works also discussed.

I fully support her comments about the power of comics to get people reading. Much of the literature I read when I was a child consisted of the four-colour funnies and their British equivalents – a lot of Marvel comics, but also British mags like Action, Battle, their predecessor, Valiant, and the humour comics Whizzer and Chips, Cheeky, the Dandy and the Beano, and, of course, the mighty 2000 AD. They gave me access to a world of fun, adventure and wonder. They also had an educational value. Marvel’s Thor obviously drew on Norse mythology, which encouraged me to read more about that. The heroes of many of Marvel’s strips were scientists: Peter Parker of Spiderman, Bruce Banner of the Incredible Hulk, and Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four. Their adventures were science fictional. They travelled to alternative dimensions, or different worlds in far-flung galaxies, and this did help encourage my own early interest in science, astronomy and space. I first heard of the Planck Constant in the pages of Hulk Comic. This was in a series of adventures in which the mighty green one shrunk until he was smaller than the above smallest unit of measurement, and so fell through the fabric of the universe onto a world in a subatomic universe. Many comics contained adaptations of classic SF and Fantasy stories, such as Conan. These encouraged their readers to seek out and read the original books. They also encourage a form of artistic appreciation, as people recognised and looked for the work of their favourite artists. Barry Windsor-Smith, who drew many of the Conan strips, is one of the very best known, as is Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko in Marvel. Over this side of the Pond the great comic book artists include Brian Bolland, Kevin O’Neill, Steve Moore, Mike McMahon, Dave Gibbons and Glen Fabry, as well as the Spanish artist Carlos Ezquerra, to name only a few. The comics world just about encircles the planet, and their readers also have a taste for exploring the pictorial, fictional worlds of other nations and cultures. The great French comic artist and author, Moebius, aka Jean Giraud, was also read and received high acclaim amongst anglo-phone comics fans, and there is an English language version of the French SF comic anthology, Metal Hurlant, which he helped found. This interest in other cultures’ comics helped launch Japanese Manga comics in America and Europe.

Now I have to say that I never got on with V for Vendetta nor Watchmen. I didn’t really like the gritty realism of which they were apart, and stopped reading comics in the ’90s as they seemed a bit too bleak and grim. I far prefered lighter adventure material. The moral assumptions behind Watchmen, or at least the Watchmen film, are also highly questionable. A few years ago the Conservative Neo-Thomist philosopher, Edward Feser, strongly criticsed the morality in Watchmen and showed that it actually didn’t make a lot of sense. Nevertheless, the two novel’s writer, Alan Moore, is still one of the finest working today and has done much to raise comics to the level of a respected literary medium. Comics can do a brilliant job of entertaining, amusing, provoking and stimulating children’s – and adult’s minds. Blackman is right in that they do encourage children, especially boys, to read. And so her comments are not only welcome, they are, as the great green editor of 2000 AD would say, ‘Zarjaz!’. I recommend her for enrolment in the Squax dek Thargo (Friends of Tharg) for her appreciation of thrill-power.