Posts Tagged ‘‘Robusters’’

Happy Yule! Horrific Christmas Art from 2000 AD’s Kevin O’Neill

December 26, 2022

Happy Boxing Day everyone! I hope you all had a great Christmas Day yesterday, and are enjoying the seasonal holidays. Or at least, as close as anyone comes to enjoying anything in this Tory-inflicted Winter of Discontent. I’m a big fan of the comics artist Kevin O’Neill, who sadly passed away earlier this year. O’Neill drew a number of favourite strips, including ‘Robusters’ and ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ for 2000 AD, and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen for DC. His speciality was robots and aliens, and he was able to draw the most amazing, grotesque and horrific creatures. This was particularly shown in his art for Nemesis the Warlock, which was set in a far-future dark age where Earth was ruled by the Terminators, a religious order which regarded aliens as demons and was intent on their extermination. But it was also shown in many of his other strips, such as the edition of DC’s Green Lantern Corps which the Comics Code refused to pass. The Comics Code were the industry’s censors, set up in the 1950s to reassure American parents that the comics they approved were good, wholesome fare for American youth. The Code refused to pass that issue of the Corps not for any particular reason of the script, but because O’Neill’s artwork was ‘completely unsuitable for children.’ O’Neill had been cheerily turning out such art for British kids in 2000 AD for years by then with no apparent complaint. Well, there was the lad who supposedly told Dave Gibbons, another giant of British comics, that O’Neill’s art gave him nightmares which he could only dispel by looking at his. I think O’Neill consider his rejection by the censors something of an accolade. It’s certainly presented as such in his conversation with Tharg in a celebratory strip 2000 AD ran for Prog 500.

O’Neill also drew the front and back covers for one of 2000 AD’s Christmas issues. This portrayed Santa Claus and the other Christmas features as horrific, including the Christmas turkey and fireplace hung with stockings as rampaging grotesque monsters. It sort of followed in a long tradition of such comic art. One of the children’s humour comics did a feature on the seven ghostly wonders of Britain, in which famous British landmarks became spooky monsters. One of these was ‘Cheddar George’, in which the Somerset cave system became a twisted face with open, ravenous maw.

So, here for your enjoyment, this festive season are the covers drawn by O’Neill. RIP, big man – may your art continue to fascinate, amuse and inspire kids for generations to come. And to everyone else, please – don’t have nightmares.

And here’s the piece from Prog 500 in which Tharg and O’Neill discuss O’Neill’s moment of glory from the Comics Code.

Sketch of Comics Creators Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill

November 23, 2022

This is for all the comics fans out there. It’s a sketch of the comics writer, Alan Moore, with the artist Kevin O’Neill. It’s based on a photo of the two that was published last week on one of the comics sites that reported the sad death of O’Neill. Moore began his career in comics with the strip ‘The Stars My Degradation’ in Sounds, which he wrote and drew under the pseudonym Kurt Vile. This was a satire of the American superhero comics of the time. He also created ‘Laser Eraser and Pressbutton’, about a future female assassin and her companion, the psychotic cyborg Axel Pressbutton, which was revived in the 1980s as one of the strips in the adult comic Warrior. From there he progressed to writing Captain Britain in Marvel UK, as well as the eccentric genius, ‘Abelard Snazz – the Man with the High-Rise Head’ and a number of stories for ‘Tharg’s Future Shocks’ and ‘Time Twisters’ in 2000 AD. He was then poached by DC Comics over in the states, writing Swamp Thing and later The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. This last strip was illustrated by O’Neill, and was about a Victorian superhero group made up of Alan Quartermain, Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde, the Invisible Man, Dorian Grey and Captain Nemo and the Nautilus. This was later filmed with Sean Connery playing Quatermain. Moore and O’Neill were also responsible for the edition of the Green Lantern Corps that the American Comics Code refused to pass as suitable for children. When Moore asked what was wrong with it, and if he could change anything to get it passed, they told him, ‘No.’ It was O’Neill’s artwork. That was totally unsuitable for wholesome American youth. By this time, O’Neill and his art had already appeared for years in British comics like 2000 AD. Moore also wrote ‘V for Vendetta’, which originally appeared in Warrior. This was about a masked vigilante, whose real identity is never revealed, and his female companion Evie, attempting to bring down the corrupt, brutal government in a future Fascist Britain. It was later filmed with Hugo Weaving as ‘V’ and Natalie Portman as Evie, with the dictator played by John Hurt. It was this film that launched the Guy Fawkes mask as the symbol of the hackers’ group Anonymous and universal protest across the world.

O’Neill launched a number of favourite strips in 2000 AD, where his particular strengths were drawing robots and aliens. He co-created with writer Pat Mills, ‘Robusters’, about a robot disaster squad, ‘ABC Warriors’, about a group of war robots fighting tyranny, injustice and the Volgans, and ‘Nemesis the Warlock’, about an alien sorcerer fighting the evil Terminators, a xenophobic human military order determined to exterminate all intelligent aliens. He and Mills also created a short-lived strip for DC, Metalzoic, about a group of robot apemen on a far-future Earth, where robots had evolved to become the dominant creatures and formed an entire ecology of robot animals – mammoths, sharks, lions, giraffes and so on. He and Mills also created the violent and nihilistic anti-superhero strip, Marshal Law, set in a devastated future San Francisco. This was about a superpowered policeman who was employed to fight violent and criminal superhero gangs, formed by former soldiers left traumatised by a war in Central America. Alan Moore has also praised O’Neill’s depiction of humans. O’Neill is also very good at depicting grotesques, and Moore believed he was the greatest artist of that kind of human life since Hogarth. High praise indeed! O’Neill also illustrated strips for other comics, as well writing a number of SF fanzines. As an artist, I think his work transcends the medium and is itself great art, like the other comics artist Jack Kirby, comparable to H.R. Giger, the man who created the Alien and the Russian artists of the austere style. O’Neill was a real character at conventions, with many funny anecdotes and his death is a real loss to British and American comics.

2000AD and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Artist Kevin O’Neill Dies Aged 69

November 9, 2022

I was saddened to learn of the death on Monday of Kevin O’Neill, one of the great British comics artists behind many of the favourite strips in 2000AD over here and DC Comics and other publishers in America. O’Neill was the co-creator, with writer Pat Mills, of the Robusters, ABC Warriors and Nemesis the Warlock strips in 2000 AD, the galaxy’s greatest comic. Robusters was about a robot disaster squad, led by Hammerstein, an old war droid, and Rojaws, a foul-mouthed sewer robot, who formed a kind of double act. The squad was owned by the dictatorial Howard Quartz, alias ‘Mr 10 Per Cent’, because after some kind of disaster, only ten per cent of him – his brain – was still human, housed in a robot body. The penalty for failure or simply upsetting the boss was destruction, and the pair were always on the verge of being pulled apart by the sadistic but thick robot bulldozer, Mekquake. ABC Warriors was a continuation of Hammerstein’s adventures, first in a world war against the Volgan Republic, and then on Mars and a far future Earth, as the leader of an elite squad of robots dedicated to fighting evil. Nemesis the Warlock was a weird sword and sorcery strip set in the far future. The surface of the Earth had become a devastated wasteland and humanity had retreated underground. Renamed Termight, short for ‘Mighty Terra’, it was a medieval society ruled by an evil order of warriors, the Terminators, that hated and feared intelligent alien. Led by their Grand Master, Torquemada, Earth regarded such aliens as demonic and waged a war of extermination against them. O’Neill’s art, which is angular and geometric, was suitably Gothic and horrific, creating a nightmare variety of alien creatures. His art was so horrific, in fact, that later, when he was working on the Green Lantern Corps, a superhero comic for DC, it put the wind up the Comics Code Authority. This had been founded in the 1950s during the moral panic over comics. It was supposed to judge whether or not a comic was suitable to be read by children. Although it was supposedly voluntary, in fact all children’s comics had to be submitted to the Authority as otherwise the mainstream newsagents over there wouldn’t carry them. The writer, Alan Moore, who also created the cult strip about a future Fascist Britain, V For Vendetta, took the unusual step of contacting the Authority. Would the comic get approved if various changes were made? No, they replied. It wasn’t the strip’s story; it was the artwork. It was totally unsuitable for children. This became something of a source of pride and amusement to O’Neill and the other creators at 2000 AD. So grim was his art that rumours started circulating that he had an occult temple in his basement and drew only at night. These were completely false. On the other hand, a fan once told his fellow 2000 AD artist, Dave Gibbons, that O’Neill’s art gave him nightmares which he could only cure by looking a Gibbons. When O’Neill wasn’t traumatising people with his serious strips, he made them laugh with Dash Descent, a parody of the old Flash Gordon serials. He also drew the Tharg’s Future Shocks strip which a court later ruled had been plagiarised by the film maker Richard Stanley for the film Hardware. This was set in a decaying city in which a scavenger in the radiation deserts finds and brings back the remains of an experimental war robot, the B.A.A.L. His artist girlfriends reassembles it and it then goes off on a frenzy of killing. Hardware is a cult film, which stands up even now, three decades after it was made. Highlights include cameo appearances by Lemmy, as a water taxi driver, and the voice of Iggy Pop as a radio announcer. It’s just a pity Stanley didn’t work out a deal with 2000 AD first. He also contributed in other, minor ways to the comic. He created the look of Tharg, the comic’s alien editor from the star Betelgeuse, and introduced the credit cards telling readers who the writer, artist and letterer were, quite against the publisher’s policy. But this allowed the people, who actually created the strips, to gain the proper recognition and respect for their work.

O’Neill left 2000 AD for work with the American comics companies. He and writer Pat Mills created Metalzoic for DC. This was another robot strip, set on a far future Earth where an ecology of robot animals had developed and taken over, and followed the adventures of a tribe of robot ape men and the human woman they had rescued. It still is one of my favourite strips, but sadly flopped, though it was later reprinted in 2000 AD. O’Neill was far more successful with the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, written by Alan Moore. This had the idea that the great figures of 19th and early 20th century SF, Fantasy and Horror – Alan Quatermaine, the Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll/Mr Hyde, Captain Nemo and Dorian Grey – had formed a kind of superhero group. It was filmed with Sean Connery as Quatermaine. Back to causing gleeful mayhem, O’Neill and Mills created the violent, nihilistic Marshal Law. This was an adult comic set in a near future San Francisco. Devastated by an earthquake, the city was renamed San Futuro, and plagued by warring superhero gangs. The superheroes had been created to fight in a war in South America. As a result, many of the survivors had returned to America mentally and physically scarred, some turning to violent crime. Law was the member of a small anti-superhero squad, moved by a deep hatred of superheroes. He uttered phrases like ‘They say I hate superheroes. They’re wrong. Hatred is far too bland a word for the way I feel about them’ and ‘I’m hunting heroes. I haven’t found any yet’. Mills hates superheroes and has very left-wing politics and poured that into the strip. It commented on recent developments in genetic engineering and the patenting of GMOs, insane CIA plans to overthrow Fidel Castro and other South American left-wing regimes and how America trained the sadistic torturers for the continent’s Fascist dictators. There was also an overt feminist critique of the genre and the fictional glamorisation of the real horrors of war. The Marshal’s opponents were vicious parodies of various superheroes. Despite its grim premise, it was a hilarious strip, although the humour was pitch-black. It was too much for one publisher, however, and moved from one to another. It has now been collected into a single album, although sadly without the crossover strip featuring the Marshal fighting Pinhead from Hellraiser.

Outside of comics, O’Neill apparently published his own fanzine, Just Imagine: The Journal of Film and Television Special Effects. I also remember him being credited in Starlog for designing the aliens in the Disney film, Return to Witch Mountain.

I met O’Neill extremely briefly at the UKCAC 90 comics convention, 32 years ago. From what I can remember, he was a short, slightly built chap in a T-shirt championing solidarity with Nicaragua, whose left-wing regime was under attack by the brutal Contras funded by Reagan and Thatcher. He was drawing people’s favourite characters for them on badges supplied by the convention’s organisers. But he was an amazing artist, producing very high-quality drawings in a blur of speed. There are a series of videos of him speaking at various comics conventions about Nemesis, Marshal Law and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, where he appears as short, jolly fellow with a great sense of humour, chortling over the daft incidents he’s experienced during his career.

In a separate interview, also on YouTube, Alan Moore commented on his art, praising him as one of the greatest British artists of all time. Moore remarks that O’Neill’s celebrated for his robots and aliens, but not for his humans. But Moore considers that he is brilliant depicter of humans as grotesques, and in that sense is one of the best artists since Hogarth. It sounds like something that should go in Private Eye’s ‘Pseud’s Corner’, but in my opinion it’s absolutely correct. Particularly as Hogarth produced sequential art himself as the kind of precursor of comics. I strongly believe that comics artists, or at least the very best, are insufficiently appreciated. I think they can be as good as serious fine artists. Way back in the 90s I submitted a piece to one of the art magazines arguing that comics artists like O’Neill and Jack Kirby were artists, whose styles meant that they should receive the same appreciation as those of the Soviet austere style, Francis Bacon and H.R. Giger. The Nemesis the Warlock strip had scenes of pure body horror. In one of the two precursor strips that launched the character, Killerwatt, Nemesis and Torquemada chase each other down the teleport wires, in which people are transported electrically similar to the telephone. At one point they have to cross the Sea of Dead Souls, a nightmare morass caused when a gooney bird, a massive mechanical bird, sat on the wires. Those unfortunate enough to be there when it happened are turned into a mass of hugely distorted body parts, such as giant feet with eyes. It resembles the scene of the ‘shunt’ in the 80s horror movie, Society, where members of America’s elite class are portrayed as predators who can twist and distort their bodies into any shape whatsoever. The Shunt is an orgy in which they melt down into a similar morass of bodies to feed off tramps and other members of the lower orders. Society’s a great film if you like that kind of ‘orror, but came out a few years after Mills and O’Neill got there first.

There have been a number of great obituaries for him at Bleedingcool and on 2000 AD’s website. These give the reactions and messages of grief and appreciation from the other comics creators. The 2000 AD page gives a full potted biography and examples of his truly amazing artwork.

RIP great man. May your art continue to shock, amaze, amuse and inspire.

Kevin O’Neill 1953 – 2022

https://bleedingcool.com/comics/kevin-oneill-the-man-the-comics-code-tried-to-ban-has-died-at-69/

In Memoriam: Comic Artist Kevin O’Neill 1953 – 2022

Private Eye on the Massive Failure of the Pepper Commercial Robot in Japan

December 1, 2021

I found this highly amusing little snippet in Private Eye’s ‘Funny Old World’ column in their edition for the 6-18 August 2021. It’s report from the Japan Times about a Japanese company suspending manufacture and recalling thousands of their robots due to malfunctions and poor performance. The article runs

“We have suspended production of our Pepper robot,” a spokeswoman for Softbank Group Corp told reporters in Minato (Tokyo), “the AI robot, home companion and store assistant that we first marketed in 2014. We are in discussions with our French robotics unit about potential job reductions.”

Over the past seven years, 27,000 Pepper robots have been produced, and marketed as the world’s first AI robots, but many were sacked by the companies that bought them for inappropriate behaviour. “We bought one for our flagship Edinburgh store,” said a spokesman for Margiotta grocery chain, “but fired it because it kept telling customers ‘to look in the alcohol section’ when they asked it where things were.” Funeral director Osamu Funaki bought a Pepper robot to recite sutras during ceremonies, but sacked it after repeated malfunctions, lamenting “what if it refuses to operate in the middle of a ceremony? It would be such a disaster.” A Japanese nursing home purchased three Pepper androids to lead community singalongs, but dismissed them for repeatedly breaking down.

“Pepper did a lot of harm to genuine robotics research by giving an often false impression of a bright cognitive being that could hold conversations,” Professor Noel Sharkey observed. “But it was mostly remote-controlled with a human conversing through its speakers. I’m happy to see an end to it.”

This is less the ruthlessly efficient killing machines of The Terminator franchise or the similarly murderous androids of the early Tom Baker Dr. Who story, ‘The Robots of Death’ or any number of other stories in which the machines rise up to exterminate their human masters. It isn’t like Judge Dredd’s Megacity One, where automation and the use of robots has created a 95 per cent unemployment rate. No, it’s the Sirius Cybernetics Company from the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, whose products are so uniformly terrible that the complaints division now covers the major land masses of three whole planets, as this clip from the Beeb TV series on Michael Snow’s channel on YouTube explains:

As for the robots being sacked, for comics readers of a certain age this sounds like they suffered the same fate as those poor machines that were sent down to be ripped apart by the frightening, but also frighteningly stupid demolition robot Mekquake in the ‘Robusters’ and ‘ABC Warriors’ strips in 2000 AD. Mekquake was always being frustrated at not being able to destroy the strips’ two heroes, Rojaws, a foul-mouthed sewer droid, and Hammerstein, an old war robot, who continually outwitted him. But if robots keep being manufactured with the same spectacular flaws as the Pepper robot, it probably won’t be long before someone invents a Mekquake-style machine to take care of them. Oh, by crikey, yes, as the thuggish old machine used to say!

Rojaws and Hammerstein prepare to meet Mekquake for the last time. From ABC Warriors – Return to Robusters, by Pat Mills and Clint Langley, (Rebellion: 2015, 2016).

*******

I’ve also written the following books, which are available from Lulu.

The Global Campaign, Volume 1

Price: £12.00

Available at The Global Campaign Volume 1 (lulu.com)

The Global Campaign Volume 2

Price: £12.00

Available at Global Campaign Vol 2 (lulu.com)

For a Worker’s Chamber

Price: £4.50

Available at For A Worker’s Chamber (lulu.com)

Privatisation: Killing the NHS

Price: £5.25

Available at Privatisation: Killing the NHS (lulu.com)

Crimes of Empire

Price: £10.00

Available at Crimes of Empire (lulu.com)

Radio 4 Programme Next Saturday on Working-Class Heroes

August 18, 2020

Also according to next week’s Radio Times, Saturday’s edition of Archive on 4, 22nd August 2020, is ‘Working-Class Heroes’. The blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

Danny Leigh revisits the settings of three 1960s British kitchen-sink dramas: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning; A Taste of Honey; and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. In Nottingham, Salford and Blackpool he finds out from contemporary working-class communities how people relate to the films today.

I can’t say that any of the above flicks really appeal to me. I’ve always preferred fantasy and escapism to social realism. But there is an issue here in that film, TV and literature is dominated by middle class heroes to the exclusion of the working class. It’s something the great British comics writers, Pat Mills, set out to correct in the strips he created. One of these was the long-running anti-war story, ‘Charlie’s War’, in Battle, whose hero was very definitely an ordinary working-class Tommy. I put up a video from YouTube of Mills talking about comics and working- and middle class heroes to the comrades of the Socialist Party, formerly the Socialist Workers’ Party, a little while ago. It’s very interesting and well-worth watching, if you’re interested in this aspect of popular culture. When asked which of his creations he identifies with, Mills replies ‘Rojaws’, the crude, vulgar, subversive sewer droid, who gets on the nerves of his mate Hammerstein, a patriotic war droid, in the strips Robusters and ABC Warriors. Which also shows that you can combine hilarious fantasy and SF with working class protagonists.

The programme ‘Archive on 4: Working Class Heroes’, is on Radio 4 at 8.00 pm.

Robot Heavy Metal Band Sing ‘Ace of Spades’

October 6, 2019

More robotics now. I’ve put up a number of pieces about the German all-robot heavy metal band, Compressorhead. I found this video on YouTube yesterday of them playing Motorhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’. They’ve done it before, but this time they’ve got a robot singer for the vocals. As he was in the late 80s SF movie, Hardware, about a war robot going berserk in a devastated future, I feel the late, great Lemmy would have loved it. It even begins with a dedication to him.

The whole style of the piece reminded me of the old ‘Robusters’ strip in 2000AD. In one story, the two heroes, Rojaws and Hammerstein, go to ‘Greasy Gracie’s’, a robot cafe and nightclub. There, as the robotic clientele drink their pints of oil – what else? – other robots dance the light fantastic while a robot band plays hits like ‘I Am Your Automatic Lover’. A few years ago, writer Pat Mills revisited this story. In this version, the two are still helping robots flee Earth and human oppression. However, the strip also draws on the Black experience during slavery and segregation. The Black slaves on the plantations developed the Cakewalk dance as a parody of the airs and graces put on by the White overlords as a piece of very conscious social satire. So robots, the slaves of the future, parody humans by mimicking them dancing. Thus Rojaws and Hammerstein climb onto the stage to perform ‘We Ain’t Got a Barrel of Money’ before the joint is raid by the human police. One of the characters, a robot resistance leader, is a blind bluesman.

‘Greasy Gracie’s’, from ABC Warriors: Return to Robusters, Pat Mills writer, Clint Langley, artist, Annie Parkhouse, letters, (Oxford: Rebellion 2016).

Fortunately for human artists, robots aren’t so intelligent yet that they can actually write songs, except through programmes written for them to produce music like particular artists. But in Compressorhead, Mills’, O’Neil’s – who was the first artist on the ‘Robusters Strip’ – and Clint Langley’s vision of a robot nightclub is coming close to reality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pat Mills: Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave! 2000AD and Judge Dredd: The Secret History: Part One

March 30, 2018

Pat Mills is the creator and founding editor of 2000AD, and this is history of the comic as he remembers it, although he recognises that others’ memories may be different and contradict his. It takes its title from the watchwords of his most popular villain: Torquemada, the ultimate Fascist Grand Master of Termight, in a feudal age of space travel, violence and magic far in the future. The book is divided into three sections, each named after one of Torquemada’s three commands. The slogan even turned up on the Berlin wall, which figures. The East Germans had been living under a dictatorship not too different from Torquemada’s. It was anti-racist and anti-Fascist, but still very much a police state, where the country was watched and dissent ruthlessly crushed. A friend of mine also told me that the slogan was used by Adolf Hitler in a speech he gave to the Bund Deutscher Madel, or German Maids’ League, the female equivalent of the Hitler Youth. Which also figures. Torquemada wanted to exterminate every intelligent alien race in the Galaxy, and was constantly making speeches exhorting humans not to ‘have truck with deviant, dally with the succubus’ and so on. In other words, no racial mixing. Which was definitely what the Nazis were trying to indoctrinate these girls with.

The book tells how Mills and John Wagner got sick of grinding out stories in a garden shed, lit by paraffin lamps, and moved to London to revolutionise British comics with creation of Battle, Action and 2000AD – the Galaxy’s greatest comic. At this stage of their career, Mills and Wagner were so poor that they couldn’t afford new typing paper after they ran out, and so at one point ended typing them up on tracing paper. The economics of writing stories was such that to make ends meet, you had to write several stories very quickly in a matter of days.

It is this attitude, and the British industry’s contemptible treatment of comics creators, that Mills returns to criticise throughout this book, making a very strong and convincing case that it is these attitudes that have caused the decline in comics in Britain in contrast to France, where they are flourishing. In Britain, comics creators do not own the rights to creations. They can be given to other writers and artists, and their creators are not paid royalties for them. In France, the reverse is true, and so comics creators spend years, decades, writing and drawing some of the greatest strips in the world. Think of such comic greats as Moebius, Caza, and Enki Bilal, and the rest of them, who came out of Metal Hurlant and les Humanoides Associes.

He also had to cope with the lack of interest in any reform from the old guard, who were quite simply just content to go on as they always had, until the industry finally collapsed and they were made unemployed or drew their pensions. They were shocked when Mills bought several books on science, because he was writing and editing a science fiction comic. This was too much for company management, who found the idea of doing research for a children’s comic ridiculous. And then there’s the issue of the studied contempt the management treated artists’ work. They used them on dartboards, or to plug drains. Several artists told Mills flatly that they weren’t going to work him as IPC was the company that closed down Frank Bellamy’s studio. Bellamy, along with Frank Hampson, was the awesome artist who worked on the classic Dan Dare. And his artwork was treated in the same contemptible fashion. As a result, much of it has been lost, although its still a massive favourite at fan conventions and when it comes on the market, rightly fetches high sums.

Mills tells the story of how he came to create favourite 2000AD characters like Judge Dredd, Nemesis the Warlock, Slaine and Finn. He champions the work of artists, who he feels have been unfairly neglected, or even vilified. They include Belardinelli for his contribution to the Slaine strip, which he is proud to have had put back into Titan’s reprints of the strip, as well as SMS, David Bircham, and Fay Dalton. SMS is a superb artist, whose work has appeared on the cover of Interzone, amongst others. He drew the ABC Warriors strip when they were trying to save Termight and the universe from destruction from an artificial black hole, created by Terra’s engineers to give them quick access to space and the Galaxy. One of the results was a whole city like the dimension-twisting drawings of the zarjaz Max Escher. Fay Dalton won a £1,000 prize in a competition to get more women into comics. She draws and paints in a retro style, looking back to the glamour of the 50s. She didn’t last long. It was too sexy for the puritanical Thargs. Then there was the sheer abuse some fans meted out to John Hicklenton, another awesome artist best known for his work on Nemesis the Warlock. Hicklenton was stricken with MS, and sadly ended his life in a Dignitas Clinic. His career and struggle with the condition was the subject of Channel 4 documentary a few years ago. His escape from this ‘medieval, terrorist disease’ was his art, and so it was particularly cruel that he should have subjected to often very coarse abuse.

Mills is also unhappy, and understandably so, about the way his then wife, and co-creator of Slaine, Angela Kincaid, was treated by the other writers and artists. She was the artist on the very first Slaine strip. This topped the reader’s polls that week, but she was very much excluded from the boy’s club of the other creators. No-one rang her up to congratulate her and she was ignored by them. This wouldn’t have occurred if she was a bloke.

Mills takes the time to correct a few myths. He was determined that it wouldn’t be a comic dominated by a main strip, which carried the others, like Captain Hurricane in Valiant. Instead, it was to be a comic of all main strips, including the revived Dan Dare, Mach 1, a superpowered secret agent based on The Six Million Dollar Man, and Shako. This was about a polar bear, who was being chased by the American army because it had swallowed a top secret, radioactive satellite that had crashed to Earth. He also talks about the creation of such fave strips as Ro-Busters, which became the ABC Warriors, and, of course, Nemesis the Warlock and the inspiration for Torquemada.

The evil Grand Master and Judge Dredd were based on two, viciously sadistic monks teaching at his old Roman Catholic school, and, he strongly hints, were paedophiles. One of them was yanked from teaching and sent to monastery in the Channel Islands to sort out his sexual appetites. He was later sacked, and returned briefly as a lay teacher, before being kicked again. The schoolboys made jokes about how the other monks on the island must be similarly depraved, and imagined what shipwrecked sailors would do. Coming up the beach to find the Brothers running towards them, they’d turn and head as quickly as possible back to the sea. But neither of the two were prosecuted. Other old boys have found literary outlets to express their pain and trauma at the hands of these monsters. Mills simply states that his is humiliating Torquemada.

Continued in Part Two.

Roger Dean and Nemesis the Warlock’s Gooney Birds

January 11, 2018

Long time readers of 2000 AD may remember the Gooney Birds. These were vast, predatory metal birds evolved from Concorde, that appeared in the second Nemesis the Warlock story, ‘Killerwatt’, back in Prog 178, when one of them attacked a train carrying the strip’s villain, Torquemada, as it passed overland.

Looking through the Sciencefictiongallery tumblr site, which shows pieces of classic and not so classic SF art, I came across this similar piccie by Roger Dean on the page for the 5th February 2014.

It isn’t quite the same thing. Dean’s picture is of a Blackbird spy plane, rather than Concorde, but the idea’s the same. The crowd at 2000 AD took some of their inspiration from the popular culture around them, including pop music. It was why the revived Dan Dare was made to look rather like Ziggy Stardust. The two earliest Nemesis the Warlock stories, ‘Terror Tube’ and ‘Killerwatt’, were published as part of a ‘Comic Rock’ series of strips, which were explicitly inspired by the pop music of the time. In the case of ‘Terror Tube’, this was the Jam’s ‘Going Underground’. In fact, the story had its origin in Mills and O’Neill wishing to stick two fingers up to the comic’s editor, Kevin Gosnell. Gosnell had censored a chase scene in the ‘Robusters’ strip on the grounds that it was too long. So when he was away on holiday, Mills and O’Neill created a story, ‘Terror Tube’, that was just one long chase. As the strip itself acknowledged in its titles, the second Nemesis story, ‘Killerwatt’, was suggested by the album ‘Killerwatts’.

Roger Dean is known for the superb artwork he did for various record sleeves. So you’re left wondering whether Dean’s depiction of the Blackbird spy plane as swooping bird of prey served as the inspiration for the Gooney Birds in the Nemesis the Warlock story, or if it was just an idea that was going around at the time, and which different artists had independently. Either way, ‘Killerwatt’ and its predecessor, ‘Terror Tube’, blew my teenage mind with their depiction of a ravaged, far-future Earth, populated by weird creatures and under the malign heel of Torquemada and Terminators. They provided a solid basis for the Nemesis the Warlock strip proper when this later appeared, and helped to make it one of 2000 AD’s most popular strips.

The Young Turks on Pizza Delivery Drivers Being Replaced by Driverless Cars

September 3, 2017

This is probably going to be the reality behind the driverless cars the car industry and the media have been hyping. In this short clip from The Young Turks, the hosts Ana Kasparian and Brett Ehrlich report and comment on the story that Domino’s Pizzas are planning to replace their pizza delivery people with driverless cars.

It’s only a trial run at the moment. They intend to go through their customers at random, and ask them if they’re happy with their pizza delivered by a driverless car instead. The vehicle will take a maximum of four pizzas to them. To get their orders, the customers will have to punch in a code into a keypad on the car.

After a bit of silly banter about the number of pizzas people usually order, they get down to discussing what this really represents. Kasparian says that when they usually talk about American jobs being lost, they’re usually reporting on corporate outsourcing. But automation is the other way in which people are losing their jobs in America. Kasparian she states that she isn’t against technological innovation, but points out that not only are people going to lose their jobs as pizza delivery staff, but they’re also going to lose an opportunity to acquire useful skills to succeed in a very competitive jobs market. She also states that we also need to give young people proper, affordable college education as well.

Domino’s has released a statement saying that they have at the moment 100,000 pizza delivery people. They hope that when this comes in, they will be able to find other positions within the company. The Turks end by saying that they hope so too.

To be fair, the BBC has carried news and documentary programmes, which forecast that in the coming decades, 1/3 of all retail jobs will be lost to automation. Nevertheless, whenever you see driverless cars appear, the overwhelming message is one of boundless enthusiasm, with the presenters raving about the technology. Clarkson went on a driverless truck on Top Gear, and went almost berserk with excitement when it started to make its way without human guidance.

Driverless trucks are due to be trialed on roads in Britain, according to a report in the I newspaper. They’re going to be tested in groups of three. I talked about this technology and its threats to jobs with a friend a little while ago. He told me that there are about 40,000 truckers in Britain, so that’s 40,000 people, who stand to lose their jobs.

Counterpunch has run an article on this, stating that there’s no desire for the cars from ordinary people. They’re being hyped and pushed by the insurance companies, who hope that their appearance and promotion as being safer than human driving will allow them to put up their premiums for people, who won’t use them.

What also struck me was how cold, lonely and impersonal the future represented by this type of automation is. In much SF depictions of an automated future, the machines performing human jobs also have something like human cognitive abilities and personalities. Long term 2000 AD readers will remember Dredd’s little robotic companion, Walter the Wobot. The character had a lisp and was a gentle soul, providing a contrast with the brutal machismo of Mega City 1’s toughest lawman. Or the robots in the Robohunter strip. These were extremely strong characters with all the traits, foibles and psychological failings of the human creators, including stupidity, thuggishness and all-round criminality. Like the God-Droid, the automatated underworld boss, a machine version of Marlon Brando with a sign stamped across its stomach reading ‘Omerta’, or the incendiary temperament of Molotov, the automatic cocktail-shaker and head of the Amalgamated Androids’ Union, who lectures Spade on the evils of human exploitation. Or Ro-Jaws, a chirpy, bolshie, foul-mouthed sewer droid, and his more dignified mate, the war-robot Hammerstein, and the moronic and sadistic Mek-Quake, the main characters in the Robusters strip, and its spin-off, ABC Warriors.

These fictional machines all had real, authentic characters. They had minds and characters like human beings, even if their bodies and brains were of metal and plastic. And so the strips’ writers could use them to make serious satirical points amidst the cartoon violence and mayhem. From the first, the ABC Warriors strip included a bitter commentary on the horrors of war, and the way soldiers lives were sacrificed by an officer and political class insulated from the actual fighting. The fact that robots were machines, with no rights, also allowed 2000 AD to explore real issues like slavery, racism, and institutionalized discrimination with deliberate, and sometimes very obvious parallels to the experience of Black Americans before Civil Rights.

But the real machines taking our jobs won’t even have personalities, friendly or otherwise, with which we will interact. Admittedly, there isn’t much social interaction with the mail and other delivery people, who turn up at our doors. The conversation is naturally very limited. But with these machines, we won’t even have that. Just a car turning up, following by the customer trudging out to punch in a code to open the doors.

Silent, efficient, and coldly impersonal.

And this is going to make the atomization and despair of contemporary western, and particularly American society, much worse. I’ve also come across a series of videos Chris Hedges has also made, in which he talks about the new American Fascism, and specifically the Religious Right. I think Hedges is probably an atheist, from some of the things he has said about the religious right promoting magical thinking. But he has a divinity degree, his father was a politically radical Presbyterian clergyman, his mother was also a divinity student, and so Hedges doesn’t hate religion or regard the antics of the religious right and the frauds and bigots leading it as normal. Indeed, he is at pains to show that, for all that they scream that they represent traditional values, they don’t. He states in one video that they’re as far from traditional Christian religious doctrine and practice as the religious liberals they despise.

One of the points he makes in these videos is that these bigots have been assisted in their rise to power by the social atomization of modern American society. In places like LA there are no pavements, so people can’t walk down the street. You have to drive. And so people drive straight to work, and then straight home. They don’t really meet or interact with anyone else. And the religious right has exploited this atomization, this alienation, by offering people a community in the ideologically enclosed space of their megachurches. And the people they target are those who have suffered from the attacks of neoliberalism – people in the rustbelt, who have seen their jobs decline and their communities fall into poverty along with them.

Other observers of the American Right have said the same. One of the essays in the book attacking the Neo-Cons, Confronting the New Conservativism, states that these b*stards are able to get away with promoting bigotry and racism, because of the decline in genuine, working class communities. The jobs are going, and White flight has meant that Whites have moved out of racially mixed areas in the centres of town to the suburbs. Community centres have also closed, and the attack on trade unions has also destroyed this pillar of working class community. The result is that the individual is left isolated from both people of other ethnic groups, and similar people to him- or herself. He or she goes to work and comes home. This isolation leaves them vulnerable to the vile propaganda spewed at them by bigots like Jerry Falwell and the rest of the rightwing televangelists that were thrown up by the 1980s.

This atomization and alienation is one of the fundamental characteristics of totalitarian societies of the Left and Right. In the Soviet Union, society was arranged so that people were deliberately isolated from each other. The only way of keeping in contact and forming communities and relationships, at least officially, was through the party organisations. Ditto with the Third Reich. Hitler boasted that they would never leave the individual alone, not even in a poker club.

And the driverless cars also remind me of another dystopian vision of the future, that of Ray Bradbury’s The Pedestrian. This is a tale by one of the great masters of SF, in which a man walking late at night is stopped and picked up by a police car. The car’s not crewed. It’s entirely automatic. Bradbury describes the computer punchcards being processed as the machine thinks. The machine asks the man why he’s on the streets so late at night. He replies simply that he just wanted to take a walk.

Already there are places in some American cities, where you can’t walk. Mike found this out a few years ago when he visited friends in California. You had to drive everywhere, even down to the local stores. Which means that the cold future of The Pedestrian really ain’t that far away.

Hyper Evolution – The Rise of the Robots Part 2

August 5, 2017

Wednesday evening I sat down to watch the second part of the BBC 4 documentary, Hyperevolution: the Rise of the Robots, in which the evolutionary biologist Ben Garrod and the electronics engineer Prof. Danielle George trace the development of robots from the beginning of the 20th century to today. I blogged about the first part of the show on Tuesday in a post about another forthcoming programme on the negative consequences of IT and automation, Secrets of Silicon Valley. The tone of Hyperevolution is optimistic and enthusiastic, with one or two qualms from Garrod, who fears that robots may pose a threat to humanity. The programme states that robots are an evolving species, and that we are well on the way to developing true Artificial Intelligence.

Last week, Garrod went off to meet a Japanese robotics engineer, whose creation had been sent up to keep a Japanese astronaut company of the International Space Station. Rocket launches are notoriously expensive, and space is a very, very expensive premium. So it was no surprise that the robot was only about four inches tall. It’s been designed as a device to keep people company, which the programme explained was a growing problem in Japan. Japan has a falling birthrate and thus an aging population. The robot is programmed to ask and respond to questions, and to look at the person, who’s speaking to it. It doesn’t really understand what is being said, but simply gives an answer according to its programming. Nevertheless, it gives the impression of being able to follow and respond intelligently to conversation. It also has the very ‘cute’ look that characterizes much Japanese technology, and which I think comes from the conventions of Manga art. Garrod noted how it was like baby animals in having a large head and eyes, which made the parents love them.

It’s extremely clever, but it struck me as being a development of the Tamagotchi, the robotic ‘pet’ which was all over the place a few years ago. As for companionship, I could help thinking of a line from Andrei Tarkovsky’s epic Solaris, based on the novel by the Polish SF writer, Stanislaw Lem. The film follow the cosmonaut, Kris, on his mission to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. The planet’s vast ocean is alive, and has attempted to establish contact with the station’s crew by dredging their memories, and sending them replicas of people they know. The planet does this to Kris, creating a replica of a former girlfriend. At one point, pondering the human condition in a vast, incomprehensible cosmos, Kris states ‘There are only four billion of us…a mere handful. We don’t need spaceships, aliens…What man needs is man.’ Or words to that effect. I forget the exact quote. I dare say robots will have their uses caring for and providing mental stimulation for the elderly, but this can’t replace real, human contact.

George went to America to NASA, where the space agency is building Valkyrie to help with the future exploration of Mars in 2030. Valkyrie is certainly not small and cute. She’s six foot, and built very much like the police machines in Andrew Blomkamp’s Chappie. George stated that they were trying to teach the robot how to walk through a door using trial and error. But each time the machine stumbled. The computer scientists then went through the robot’s programming trying to find and correct the error. After they thought they had solved it, they tried again. And again the machine stumbled.

George, however, remained optimistic. She told ‘those of you, who think this experiment is a failure’, that this was precisely what the learning process entailed, as the machine was meant to learn from its mistakes, just like her own toddler now learning to walk. She’s right, and I don’t doubt that the robot will eventually learn to walk upright, like the humanoid robots devised by their competitors over at DARPA. However, there’s no guarantee that this will be the case. People do learn from their mistakes, but if mistakes keep being made and can’t be correctly, then it’s fair to say that a person has failed to learn from them. And if a robot fails to learn from its mistakes, then it would also be fair to say that the experiment has failed.

Holy Joe Smith! I was also a reminded of another piece of classic SF in this segment. Not film, but 2000 AD’s ‘Robohunter’ strip. In its debut story, the aged robohunter, Sam Slade – ‘that’s S-L-A-Y-E-D to you’ – his robometer, Kewtie and pilot, Kidd, are sent to Verdus to investigate what has happened to the human colonists. Verdus is so far away, that robots have been despatched to prepare it for human colonization, and a special hyperdrive has to be used to get Slade there. This rejuvenates him from an old man in his seventies to an energetic guy in his thirties. Kidd, his foul mouthed, obnoxious pilot, who is in his 30s, is transformed into a foul-mouthed, obnoxious, gun-toting baby.

The robot pioneers have indeed prepared Verdus for human habitation. They’ve built vast, sophisticated cities, with shops and apartments just waiting to be occupied, along with a plethora of entertainment channels, all of whose hosts and performers are robotic. However, their evolution has outpaced that of humanity, so that they are now superior, both physically and mentally. They continue to expect humans to be the superiors, and so when humans have come to Verdus, they’ve imprisoned, killed and experimented on them as ‘Sims’ – simulated humans, not realizing that these are the very beings they were created to serve. In which case, Martian colonists should beware. And carry a good blaster, just in case.

Garrod and George then went to another lab, where the robot unnerved Garrod by looking at him, and following him around with its eye. George really couldn’t understand why this should upset him. Talking about it afterwards, Garrod said that he was worried about the threat robots pose to humanity. George replied by stating her belief that they also promise to bring immense benefits, and that this was worth any possible danger. And that was the end of that conversation before they went on to the next adventure.

George’s reply isn’t entirely convincing. This is what opponents of nuclear power were told back in the ’50s and ’60s, however. Through nuclear energy we were going to have ships and planes that could span the globe in a couple of minutes, and electricity was going to be so plentiful and cheap that it would barely be metered. This failed, because the scientists and politicians advocating nuclear energy hadn’t really worked out what would need to be done to isolate and protect against the toxic waste products. Hence nearly six decades later, nuclear power and the real health and environmental problems it poses are still very much controversial issues. And there’s also that quote from Bertrand Russell. Russell was a very staunch member of CND. When he was asked why he opposed nuclear weapons, he stated that it was because they threatened to destroy humanity. ‘And some of us think that would be a very great pity’.

Back in America, George went to a bar to meet Alpha, a robot created by a British inventor/showman in 1932. Alpha was claimed to be an autonomous robot, answering questions by choosing appropriate answers from recordings on wax cylinders. George noted that this was extremely advanced for the time, if true. Finding the machine resting in a display case, filled with other bizarre items like bongo drums, she took an access plate off the machine to examine its innards. She was disappointed. Although there were wires to work the machine’s limbs, there were no wax cylinders or any other similar devices. She concluded that the robot was probably worked by a human operator hiding behind a curtain.

Then it was off to Japan again, to see another robot, which, like Valkyrie, was learning for itself. This was to be a robot shop assistant. In order to teach it to be shop assistant, its creators had built an entire replica camera shop, and employed real shop workers to play out their roles, surrounded by various cameras recording the proceedings. So Garrod also entered the scenario, where he pretended to be interested in buying a camera, asking questions about shutter speeds and such like. The robot duly answered his questions, and moved about the shop showing him various cameras at different prices. Like the robotic companion, the machine didn’t really know or understand what it was saying or doing. It was just following the motions it had learned from its human counterparts.

I was left wondering how realistic the role-playing had actually been. The way it was presented on camera, everything was very polite and straightforward, with the customer politely asking the price, thanking the assistant and moving on to ask to see the next of their wares. I wondered if they had ever played at being a difficult customer in front of it. Someone who came in and, when asked what they were looking for, sucked their teeth and said, ‘I dunno really,’ or who got angry at the prices being asked, or otherwise got irate at not being able to find something suitable.

Through the programme, Japanese society is held up as being admirably progressive and accepting of robots. Earlier in that edition, Garrod finished a piece on one Japanese robot by asking why it was that a car manufacturer was turning to robotics. The answer’s simple. The market for Japanese cars and motorcycles is more or less glutted, and they’re facing competition from other countries, like Indonesia and Tokyo. So the manufacturers are turning to electronics.

The positive attitude the Japanese have to computers and robots is also questionable. The Japanese are very interested in developing these machines, but actually don’t like using them themselves. The number of robots in Japan can easily be exaggerated, as they include any machine tool as a robot. And while many British shops and businesses will use a computer, the Japanese prefer to do things the old way by hand. For example, if you go to a post office in Japan, the assistant, rather than look something up on computer, will pull out a ledger. Way back in the 1990s someone worked out that if the Japanese were to mechanise their industry to the same extent as the West, they’d throw half their population out of work.

As for using robots, there’s a racist and sexist dimension to this. The Japanese birthrate it falling, and so there is real fear of a labour shortage. Robots are being developed to fill it. But Japanese society is also extremely nationalistic and xenophobic. Only people, whose parents are both Japanese, are properly Japanese citizens with full civil rights. There are third-generation Koreans, constituting an underclass, who, despite having lived there for three generations, are still a discriminated against underclass. The Japanese are developing robots, so they don’t have to import foreign workers, and so face the problems and strains of a multicultural society.

Japanese society also has some very conservative attitudes towards women. So much so, in fact, that the chapter on the subject in a book I read two decades ago on Japan, written by a Times journalist, was entitled ‘A Woman’s Place Is In the Wrong’. Married women are expected to stay at home to raise the kids, and the removal of a large number of women from the workplace was one cause of the low unemployment rate in Japan. There’s clearly a conflict between opening up the workplace to allow more married women to have a career, and employing more robots.

Garrod also went off to Bristol University, where he met the ‘turtles’ created by the neuroscientist, Grey Walter. Walter was interested in using robots to explore how the brain functioned. The turtles were simple robots, consisting of a light-detecting diode. The machine was constructed to follow and move towards light sources. As Garrod himself pointed out, this was like the very primitive organisms he’d studied, which also only had a light-sensitive spot.

However, the view that the human brain is really a form of computer have also been discredited by recent research. Hubert L. Dreyfus in his book, What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Intelligence, describes how, after the failure of Good Old Fashioned A.I. (GOFAI), computer engineers then hoped to create it through exploring the connections between different computing elements, modelled on the way individual brain cells are connected to each by a complex web of neurons. Way back in 1966, Walter Rosenblith of MIT, one of the pioneers in the use of computers in neuropsychology, wrote

We no longer hold the earlier widespread belief that the so-called all-or-none law from nerve impulses makes it legitimate to think of relays as adequate models for neurons. In addition, we have become increasingly impressed with the interactions that take place among neurons: in some instances a sequence of nerve impulses may reflect the activities of literally thousands of neurons in a finely graded manner. In a system whose numerous elements interact so strongly with each other, the functioning of the system is not necessarily best understood by proceeding on a neuron-by-neuron basis as if each had an independent personality…Detailed comparisons of the organization of computer systems and brains would prove equally frustrating and inconclusive. (Dreyfus, What Computers Still Can’t Do, p. 162).

Put simply, brain’s don’t work like computers. This was written fifty years ago, but it’s fair to ask if the problem still exists today, despite some of the highly optimistic statements to the contrary.

Almost inevitably, driverless cars made their appearance. The Germans have been developing them, and Garrod went for a spin in one, surrounded by two or three engineers. He laughed with delight when the car told him he could take his hands off the wheel and let the vehicle continue on its own. However, the car only works in the comparatively simply environment of the autobahn. When it came off the junction, back into the normal road system, the machine told him to start driving himself. So, not quite the victory for A.I. it at first appears.

Garrod did raise the question of the legal issues. Who would be responsible if the car crashed while working automatically – the car, or the driver? The engineers told him it would be the car. Garrod nevertheless concluded that segment by noting that there were still knotty legal issues around it. But I don’t know anyone who wants one, or necessarily would trust one to operate on its own. A recent Counterpunch article I blogged about stated that driverless cars are largely being pushed by a car industry, trying to expand a market that is already saturated, and the insurance companies. The latter see it as a golden opportunity to charge people, who don’t want one, higher premiums on the grounds that driverless cars are safer.

Garrod also went to meet researchers in A.I. at Plymouth University, who were also developing a robot which as part of their research into the future creation of genuine consciousness in machines. Talking to one of the scientists afterwards, Garrod heard that there could indeed be a disruptive aspect to this research. Human society was based on conscious decision making. But if the creation of consciousness was comparatively easy, so that it could be done in an afternoon, it could have a ‘disruptive’ effect. It may indeed be the case that machines will one day arise which will be conscious, sentient entities, but this does not mean that the development of consciousness is easy. You think of the vast ages of geologic time it took evolution to go from simple, single-celled organisms to complex creatures like worms, fish, insects and so on, right up to the emergence of Homo Sapiens Sapiens within the last 200,000 years.

Nevertheless, the programme ended with Garrod and George talking the matter over on the banks of the Thames in London. George concluded that the rise of robots would bring immense benefits and the development of A.I. was ‘inevitable’.

This is very optimistic, to the point where I think you could be justified by calling it hype. I’ve said in a previous article how Dreyfus’ book describes how robotics scientists and engineers have made endless predictions since Norbert Wiener and Alan Turing, predicting the rise of Artificial Intelligence, and each time they’ve been wrong. He’s also described the sheer rage with which many of those same researchers respond to criticism and doubt. In one passage he discusses a secret meeting of scientists at MIT to discuss A.I., in which a previous edition of his book came up. The scientists present howled at it with derision and abuse. He comments that why scientists should persist in responding so hostilely to criticism, and to persist in their optimistic belief that they will eventually solve the problem of A.I., is a question for psychology and the sociology of knowledge.

But there are also very strong issues about human rights, which would have to be confronted if genuine A.I. was ever created. Back in the 1970s or early ’80s, the British SF magazine, New Voyager, reviewed Roderick Random. Subtitled, ‘The Education of a Young Machine’, this is all about the creation of a robot child. The reviewer stated that the development of truly sentient machines would constitute the return of slavery. A similar point was made in Star Trek: The Next Generation, in an episode where another ship’s captain wished to take Data apart, so that he could be properly investigated and more like him built. Data refused, and so the captain sued to gain custody of him, arguing that he wasn’t really sentient, and so should be legally considered property. And in William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the book that launched the Cyberpunk SF genre, the hero, Case, finds out that the vast computer for which he’s working, Wintermute, has Swiss citizenship, but its programming are the property of the company that built it. This, he considers, is like humans having their thoughts and memories made the property of a corporation.

Back to 2000 AD, the Robusters strip portrayed exactly what such slavery would mean for genuinely intelligent machines. Hammerstein, an old war droid, and his crude sidekick, the sewer droid Rojaws and their fellows live with the constant threat of outliving their usefulness, and taking a trip down to be torn apart by the thick and sadistic Mek-Quake. Such a situation should, if it ever became a reality, be utterly intolerable to anyone who believes in the dignity of sentient beings.

I think we’re a long way off that point just yet. And despite Prof. George’s statements to the contrary, I’m not sure we will ever get there. Hyperevolution is a fascinating programme, but like many of the depictions of cutting edge research, it’s probably wise to take some of its optimistic pronouncements with a pinch of salt.