2000AD: Still Daring the Future After All These Years!

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“Dare the Future” was a tagline from the advertisement published in several IPC/Fleetway titles in 1977 which introduced Britain’s comics readers to a new sci-fi title called 2000AD, a title evoking what seemed like a far future time. Now, the year 2000 has long since come and gone, but 35 years on 2000AD is still forging ahead!

The world of British comics was a very different place when, at the request of editor Kelvin Gosnell, Pat Mills, John Wagner and Kevin O’Neill (amongst others) first launched 2000AD on the world in the hopes of cashing in on the sci-fi craze which Gosnell correctly predicted was coming. Star Wars was still to arrive, though its arrival was imminent and much anticipated, the Six Million Dollar Man was a well-established TV favourite, but the majority of British adventure comics were still mining the still vivid but now rapidly becoming more remote memories of World War II for much of their inspiration.

The British Action weekly, Fleetway’s last major success (before it came crashing down in flames, the victim of a parental backlash against its violent content) had tried to move with the times, tapping into things like the blockbuster movie Jaws to give it more bite (sorry) with its Hook Jaw strip (currently being reprinted in Strip Magazine), but even Action still felt the need to include traditional war and spy stories, the tried and tested formulas which were still popular but becoming just slightly stale.

What 2000AD did that made all the difference was to look around and ahead rather than backwards for inspiration. Its creators saw which way the wind was blowing and tried to tie the stories into what was either popular and relevant at the time or likely to become so. The Six Million Dollar Man was still getting huge audiences, so 20000AD gave us M.A.C.H. One, a low rent Six Million Dollar Man who got his super-powers from high-tech acupuncture rather than bionics (logical enough; it’s unlikely the British Government had six million quid to spend on him, after all). Dinosaurs were popular, as were cowboys, so hey let’s have dinosaurs fighting time-travelling cowboys in Flesh! Characters like Dirty Harry struck a chord with kids, so we got future cop Judge Dredd, who had more than a touch of Clint Eastwood about him. And while the thought of a British adventure comic without a sports-based strip was unthinkable, there was no law saying it couldn’t be a sport of the future: enter the Harlem Heroes, stars of the Aeroball arena! Everything was designed to appeal to an existing market, but throw in a sci-fi twist. And it worked!

Over the years, 2000AD has continued to do this, mining popular culture for inspiration, and trying to predict trends. The ABC Warriors, Millis’s robotic peacekeepers, were basically the Magnificent Seven in space (something that would probably have appealed to kids constantly ‘treated’ to reruns of classic cowboy movies on a Saturday afternoon) while warped warrior Slaine, created a few years later in the early Eighties, surely owed a lot to the then current craze for sword and sorcery movies like Dragonslayer and games like Dungeons & Dragons. In  fact, Slaine’s own strip was briefly transformed into a “make your own adventure” game of the kind then currently doing the rounds in the mid-Eighties, as were several other 2000AD properties in the short lived spin-off magazine Diceman (one of Pat Mills’ less successful notions one feels).


Then, of course, there was Alan Moore’s touching and funny series Skizz, about an alien trapped in Birmingham, which bore more than a faint conceptual resemblance to Steven Spielberg’s hit movie E.T, the Extra-terrestrial! The magazine has, however, also proved something of a trendsetter in its own right. When, in 1996, a movie version of Judge Dredd starring Sylvester Stallone was released to something rather less than much critical acclaim, one perceptive journalist was heard to remark that the movie had been redundant in any case, as there was already a big screen version of Dredd, called Robocop.    

As time went on, 2000AD broadened its scope and, aware of a growing fanbase of older readers, began not only to reflect pop culture (as with Grant Morrison’s fame-obsessed celebrity superhero Zenith, a character who pretty much embodied the somewhat shallow and superficial spirit of the mid-to-late Eighties) but also the times themselves and to mirror events in the real world. The Robo-Hunter story ‘Football Crazy’ (which includes some spectacularly politically incorrect scenes, including a stereotypically bucktoothed Japanese tourist plaintively crying “no blakee Pentax”) was inspired by the feverish excitement surrounding the World Cup, while the Judge Dredd story ‘Block Mania’, which led into the epic ‘Apocalypse War’ storyline and concerned massive civil unrest in Mega City One, came just six months after the Brixton riots of 1981, at a time when such civil unrest was still one of the less palatable facts of life in Thatcher’s Britain.

The 1983 series Skizz, meanwhile, while owing a lot to E.T as previously mentioned, also touched on the massive unemployment problem of the time, with the character of simple-minded but good-hearted unemployed pipe fitter Cornelius Cardew clearly modelled to some extent on one of the TV icons of the time, the damaged and desperate Yosser Hughes, played by Bernard Hill in Alan Bleasdale’s classic 1982 TV series Boys from the Black Stuff. Like Yosser, whose appearances are constantly punctuated by a plaintive cry of “Gissa job? I could do that!” Cornelius even had his own equally poignant catchphrase, “I’ve got my pride”.  

In the Nineties, the now infamous character of Big Dave, “Manchester’s hardest man” debuted, in a wickedly satirical strip which poked fun at everyone from Saddam Hussein (whose evil schemes Dave defeated with the aid of former hostage Terry Waite) to the Royal Family, before breaking every possible barrier of good taste by pitting Dave and a team of disabled children against a German team managed by Adolf Hitler in the World Cup. The series had a short life, beginning in 1993 and ending in 1994, and has never been collected, perhaps unsurprisingly since one storyline ended with Dave in bed with Princess Diana, who would be elevated to something approaching sainthood in the real world following her tragic death in 1997.


Later, in 1997, Prime Minister Tony Blair was parodied in a spoof updating of M.A.C.H. One, the absurd B.L.A.I.R One, which depicted him as a super-capitalist controlled by a computer intelligence called Doctor Spin, while around the same time, pop sensations the Spice Girls were targeted in the strip Space Girls, the five proponents of “Girl Power” caricatured as five genetically engineered escaped love slaves, Deep Space, Hyper Space, Free Space, Inner Space and the nymphomaniac Wide Open Space. Sadly (though some would say justifiably) the readers hated both strips, which failed to catch on despite B.L.A.I.R One  generating 2000AD a surprising amount of publicity; the character was featured in the tabloid press every time he reappeared in the comic.

Since being bought by games developer Rebellion, oddly enough in the year 2000, the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic has continued to look - and move - forward, remaining both relevant and surprisingly popular throughout the changing times even as it has gone from being the brash young newcomer of the late ‘70s to the groundbreaking, innovative force that revolutionized comics in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, to the well-established British institution it is today. In a seemingly shrinking marketplace, 2000AD seems to be one of the few titles to have remained successful thanks to its forward-thinking attitude.

In fact, there’s only one small way in which 2000AD has proved itself in the past to be somewhat short-sighted, and that is in the matter of its name. In 1977, the name ‘2000AD’ evoked visions of a future time we might never live to see, a world of silver suits and personal jet packs and cities on the Moon, and it’s probably understandable that IPC went with that date. After all, who would ever have imagined that then new children’s comic would still be with us when the Millennium rolled around, let alone twelve years later. But seriously, guys: 2000AD? I mean, there’s retro, and then there’s ridiculous. But for better or worse, it seems 2000AD is here to stay, forever looking to the future even as the actual future that inspired it sinks deeper into the past…    

For more on the Galaxy's Greatest Comic check out the 2000AD website here.

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  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Feb 27, 2012 at 12:33pm

    Excellent, thoughtful piece Tony. And I remember picking up Prog 1 from WHSmith in Romford as well...

  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Feb 29, 2012 at 8:22am

    Tony rulez the 2000 AD yo! great article

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