- HBO Grants Game of Thrones Epic Season 4Posted 51 days ago
- Dispute Gets Game of Thrones Actor The Tyson VS Holyfield TreatmentPosted 58 days ago
- Game of Thrones: George R. R. Martin Makes a Cameo in Season 4Posted 61 days ago
- Jon Snow & Ygritte Get Cozy In Game of Thrones Portraits!Posted 63 days ago
- Watch The Newest Game of Thrones Trailer!Posted 65 days ago
- Game of Thrones Season 3 is a Beast Waiting to be StirredPosted 67 days ago
- Game of Thrones Recap: Get Caught Up On Season 2Posted 73 days ago
- Game of Thrones Extended Season 3 Trailer Has Bears, Sex, Flaming Swords and Everything ElsePosted 80 days ago
- Game of Thrones: Shadowed Cast in New Season 3 PostersPosted 81 days ago
- Game of Thrones Season 3 is Chaotic in New Teaser from HBOPosted 101 days ago
Tyrannosaurs and Bums – a brief appreciation of 2000 AD, issue #4
My intention with this short piece is to wistfully reminisce about a single issue of a comic that was very important to me in my childhood and early adolescence. I’m aware that memories are extremely unreliable sources of information about anything; but I feel that checking the facts against my memories in this instance would be against the spirit of the exercise. Feel free to correct me on any point you like. Just don’t expect me to correct myself. I want to wallow in hazy sentiment, and that is a pleasure we all should permit ourselves once in a while.
When I was 9 years old, my father came home from work one evening and wordlessly flung down before me an object that turned out to have a greater influence on my subsequent creative life than anything before or since. Perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration. There were two other massive influences on my childhood mind. Doctor Who, starring Jon Pertwee in the leading role, was one of them; and a mostly forgotten show called The Goodies, a sort of light surreal comedy, was the other. But I don’t recall the first time I encountered either of those.
On that particular evening, I was lying on the floor reading something, probably another comic, when the issue of 2000 AD that my father had bought for me span down and landed on top of what I was engrossed in. I took one look at the cover of this interloper and was hooked right away. The way I visualise it now is that it depicted a screaming astronaut in the various stages of being sucked into a black hole. The man was getting smaller and smaller, being crushed by the massive gravitational forces of that irresistible and terrifying cosmic phenomenon. It was issue #4. My father had picked it up for me on a whim. It was a whim I was grateful for in the following weeks, months and years.
I read and re-read that issue and allowed my friends to borrow it, but it didn’t fall to pieces, strangely. Maybe we were more careful than kids at that age ought to be. I loved the sheer visceral power of the stories. There was a strip called ‘Invasion’ (or was it ‘Invasion 1999′) which involved the occupation of Britain by the military forces of Volga, a breakaway Soviet republic. That story followed the adventures of the local guerrillas, a back to basics resistance movement led by a rough-and-tumble Cockney folk hero named Savage. He was an expert with the double-barrelled shotgun and his main conspirator was a longhaired intellectual hippy called Silk, who looked like one of the musicians from the Soft Machine after they started playing fusion jazz. Silk was the brains and Savage the brawn. For some reason I remember the dialogue as being full of repetitions of the word ‘savage’ (“Kill him savagely and they’ll call us savages, Savage!”) but I’m undoubtedly wrong about that.
Despite my glee at witnessing Volgans getting riddled with buckshot, the next story in the issue was the one that really blew me away. ‘Flesh’ was a time-travelling romp with a difference, the sort of thing that Philip José Farmer might have dreamed up (I had absolutely no idea who Philip José Farmer was back then, but years later I read a novel of his also called Flesh, though it has nothing to do with time-travel). The main conceit of ‘Flesh’ was that there simply wasn’t enough food to feed the billions of a future Earth; the best solution was to go back in time and hunt dinosaurs for meat, without any thought of the paradoxical consequences that might result. The world of ‘Flesh’ is thus a mixture of prehistoric brutality and futuristic gadgetry with a Wild West slant. I don’t remember the name of the main hero. I just remember that the villain (who wasn’t always a villain) was called Claw Carver and that his hand had been bitten off by a velociraptor; he killed the beast and took one of its claws for a substitute hand. Later he fought a duel with another velociraptor, claw to claw. But his primary achievement in issue #4, as far as I was concerned, was that he said the word “bums” while playing poker in a saloon.
Although 2000 AD was a British comic, American comics were a big influence on it. How could they fail to be? American comics set all the standards back then; in most ways, they still do. I don’t want to get into a debate about the bigger picture, but American comics are rivalled only by Japanese comics as the archetypal, perfect kind. The best comics from other countries either go with the flow established by American comics, or else they consciously go against the flow. Either way, they are reacting to that flow; and the potency of that flow can never be denied. 2000 AD was no exception and that’s why the readership (myself most definitely included) felt so proud when it first appeared on the shelves of our drab 1970s newsagents. “At long last,” we said to ourselves, “we’ve got a taste of the quality the Yanks are used to.”
But now I’m drifting off the point… Obviously, the word “bum” has different meanings on both sides of the Atlantic. In the USA it means a tramp, a loafer, someone who doesn’t work, a scruffy individual. But in good old Britain, a bum is the human posterior, the buttocks and butthole combined. When Claw Carver said the word “bum” in issue #4, I didn’t care about the context. I just rejoiced that he had said it. I underlined the word with a felt tip pen. What joy! Bums! It was a major revelation for me. It seemed that there was someone out there who truly cared about the young people, someone willing to smuggle the word “bums” into our own houses under the noses of our parents. Rarely have I ever felt such warm conspiratorial fellowship since that cherished moment.
Another story was called ‘MACH 1′ and was about a man who had been in a near fatal accident. As part of the effort to save his life, he was subjected to a bout of computer-enhanced acupuncture. This unorthodox surgical procedure filled him with something called ‘hyperpower’. There was also a computer installed in his brain that told him how much of this hyperpower he needed for any task (for example 58% to lift a girder, 0.1% to open a bottle of beer). I’m sure he only ever went up to 100% on one occasion, when he was fighting a man with two hearts; but that came much later. The computer in his head wasn’t always a friend. Its loyalty was primarily to his employers, who were the secret service or a similar organisation. I’m sure this story was a variation of The Six Million Dollar Man. It contained an implicit challenge to other comics (“Your heroes only have superpower but ours have hyperpower!”) That was the typical bluster one came to expect from Tharg.
Ah yes, Tharg… the ultra-intelligent, mega-arrogant alien editor of 2000 AD. He was green and originated on a planet that orbited the star Betelgeuse. Everything about him was the best in the universe. He had barely concealed contempt for poor earthlings. He was cleverer, stronger, and wittier than us. I wrote him many letters but none were published in the weekly letters page. Years later I met a man who worked in the same office as the real Tharg and I’m now in a position to let you know that he wasn’t as green as he claimed. Mind you, that might have been a different Tharg. One thing Tharg did was present one-off stories called (I think) ‘Futureshocks’. These were short, ironic, full of twists. I don’t remember if issue #4 had one of these special stories in it. Almost certainly not. I think the tradition started later. Bizarrely, when I first started reading Isaac Asimov in my teens, I did briefly wonder if he might be a pseudonym for Tharg. The personalities were so similar…
Judge Dredd. 2000 AD is almost synonymous with Dredd, but when I first encountered Mega City One’s finest law-enforcer, I never guessed he would soon become the most popular character in the entire comic. What I remember about his appearance in issue #4 is that he had to repulse an invasion by the mutants of the Cursed Earth. But those mutants got inside the city with laughable ease. The walls of the city were low ramparts and unarmed and unattended. I’m not saying that Mega City One was a low-rise city back then, but it wasn’t as imposing as it became in later issues. I did eventually become a big fan of Dredd, and I still recall with pleasure his brusque treatment of Judge Fear (“Gaze into the face of Fear.” “Gaze into the fist of Dredd.”), but at that time his strip seemed trivial compared with ‘Flesh’ and Claw Carver’s magisterial bums.
Dan Dare. Already a hero, he had been resurrected especially for 2000 AD, but I didn’t know that. I thought he was an original character. I can’t say I was hugely impressed by his exploits. The most memorable thing about him was his Venusian enemy, the levitating Mekon. I have never been able to look at a wok without thinking to myself, “That’s what the Mekon uses for transport.” This adds a certain spice to stir-fries that isn’t included in the actual food. Dan Dare was a fine square-jawed hero, but I had no interest in square-jawed heroes. I wanted to see dinosaurs biting off heads and hear the rude words of futuristic cowboys. When Dan Dare was dropped from the comic I didn’t bat a beansprout.
The only other story I definitely remember appearing in issue #4 was ‘The Harlem Heroes’. It’s a sad thing to say but this was my very first exposure to black characters in any comic. I remember this story as a genuinely interesting treatment of a futuristic sport called aeroball that had similarities to rollerball. The ball was a globe filled with helium that floated and the players wore jetpacks. Zack was the hopeful youth. An old-timer by the name of King was fond of switching off his jetpack and running along the ground with the ball, I’m not sure why. Eventually the Harlem Heroes progressed through the domestic leagues to the stage where they were able to take on the best teams at an international level (the top team, I believe, were The Teutonic Knights, who carried shields that could be used to flatten the noses of the opposition).
As I said earlier, I have relied entirely on memory to reconstruct this issue. If I do go and check the real thing, I’m sure I’ll discover that #4 wasn’t at all the way I’ve described it. But that’s the wonder and absurdity of memory… And there must have been more stories than the ones I have briefly outlined. What were they? I’m tempted to find out, but I intend to resist the temptation. The Internet has made some things too easy. One more thing. I think there was a free gift that came with the comic, but I don’t recall what it was. Might it have been a propeller-thing that span through the air when you threw it? Issue #4 overawed me. It instantly turned me into a fanatically devoted 2000 AD reader. I never failed to miss an issue until… Until when exactly?
I stopped reading 2000 AD when I went to college at the age of 17. So this means I was a devoted fan for eight years. The final story I remember reading before I abandoned the comic concerned a character called Halo Jones who lived in an artificial city in the middle of the ocean. She had a robotic dog; or maybe the dog wasn’t actually hers but it could talk and its teeth were very sharp. I didn’t enjoy Halo Jones very much because there was too much going on; it was too cluttered, too cyberpunkish (for want of a better word). But the real failing was mine. The truth is that I had been left behind by an evolution in style. Comics in general at that time were becoming more urban, sassy, cool. I was still locked into the old ways. Halo Jones was beyond my comprehension. Deep down I still yearned for the traditional values of tyrannosaurs and bums.