Posts Tagged ‘Milton Keynes’

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.

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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.