Told with humorous candour by it’s creators, this thrill-powered documentary blasts through the groundbreaking history of seminal British sci-fi comic, 2000AD.
It was launched as a short term cash grab on 1977’s Star Wars-inspired craze for sci-fi, and no-one expected it to be still be around in the year 2000, never mind in rude health in 2015.
My first exposure occurred in 1978 with an off the cuff remark from my older brother about the death of character, John Probe.
Nothing intrigues a seven year old boy more than death, so I asked to take a look at his comic and my life was changed for ever.
John Probe, codenamed MACH 1, was a blatant mashed-up rip-off of TV’s The Six Million Dollar Man, and Steven Spielberg’s 1978 Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.
Kind of interesting and fun, the super-powered spy strip was quickly forgotten when I discovered the awesome artistic majesty of Mike McMahon’s full colour centre spread.
Featuring flying giant killer mutant rats and human sacrifice, this was my introduction to the insane world of Judge Dredd. I’d just found what I didn’t know had been missing in my life.
A typographic cover of little more than 3 letters in a heavy font would be a startling choice now, but back then it was a typically outrageous and in your face statement.
These were the trademarks of an unruly group of pioneering writers and artists who forged the comic’s anti-establishment attitude in the punk rock heat of 1970’s industrial unrest.
At it’s best 2000AD is full of violent, funny, subversive, anarchic, satirical and allegorical stories.
In strips such as Halo Jones, Strontium Dog, Nemesis the Warlock and Nikolai Dante the protagonists and anti-heroes are bounty hunting mutants, piratical lotharios and all manner of robots and aliens.
Central to the comic’s longevity is the character of Judge Dredd, the fearless, ruthless 21st century lawman; a judge, jury and executioner.
He was visually influenced by films such as 1975’s Death Race 2000, and 1974’s The Cars That Ate Paris, and eventually took to the big screen in his own right.
Hoodlum in chief was the first editor and creator Pat Mills, who through force of personality willed the comic into existence.
The soundtrack’s thrash guitar chords echo the combative spirit of the comic but can’t drown out Mills’ vigorous championing of the work or numb us to the ultra violence of the fabulous art.
Mills is interviewed at length along with many other key creators such as writers John Wagner and Alan Grant, and artists Carlos Ezquerra and Brian Bolland, who provide smart, articulate, passionate and wry commentary.
Artist Dave Gibbons and Kevin O’Neil describe the good long Friday afternoon pub sessions, where a friendly competitive atmosphere was fostered. But Mike McMahon, my favourite member of the holy trinity of Judge Dredd artists is notably and sadly absent.
Treated as workhorses, the creators struggled for recognition, were ripped off by management, saw irreplaceable artwork dumped in skips and threatened with litigation – for copyright infringement of their own work.
In the following years the comic has changed owners, seen many of it’s top talent lured to the American comics market and suffered a variety of editors.
Dave Bishop is as disarmingly honest about the success of his stewardship as Mills is scathing of it.
As the comic has become a convenient shop window for ambitious talent, the 2000AD temperament has also been exported to the States.
Sly Stallone’s 1995 movie version of Judge Dredd, was poorly received and mocked by fans, whereas 2012’s Alex Garland scripted Dredd, is a superb realisation of the character and his world.
Garland went on to write and direct 2015’s brilliant Ex Machina, and he argues the influence of 2000AD has infiltrated long and deep into cinema.
Clear examples of 2000AD’s influence include 1987’s Robocop, 1990’s Hardware, 2007’s Timecrimes and 2015’s Robot Overlords.
But few recent sci-fi films don’t include some 2000AD DNA. It’s not possible to view Christopher Nolan’s 2014 Interstellar, without comparing the library sequence with the ending of Gordon Rennie and Frazer Irving’s 2000 series, Necronauts.
In the words of it’s green-skinned alien editor Tharg the Mighty, Futureshock is zarjaz and scrotnig. Watch the film. Then go buy the comic.