Borag Thungg, Earthlets! And here we are with the last Drokking Scrotnig of 2019. A lot has happened in the world of British comics this year, including many, many announcements that should have you looking forward to next year. So what better way to close out our year together than to stick to the classic “12 Days of Blah Blah” formula? Or, in our case today, The 12 Days of Classic British Comics.
It’s no secret that 2000 AD publisher Rebellion has curated quite the back catalog over the years, and continues to dig up more and more long-forgotten characters that have seemingly been lost to time. But the more they resurface, the clearer it becomes that many of these comics — whether harvested from the vaults of IPC for the Treasury of British Comics, or originating from 2000 AD over the last 42 years — have a timeless thrill and campiness about them that needs to be celebrated. And if the holidays are good for one thing, it’s celebrating camp. So: Enjoy! Rejoice! And find below a list of six titles from ye olde 2000 AD worth checking out, as well as six ye olde olde Treasury of British Comics titles! And with some of these spanning back over six decades, I can guarantee there will be more than enough classics to fill your stocking.
ONE EYED JACK
From the pages of Valiant (not the US comic company) in 1975 comes an example of early John Wagner work — pre-Judge Dredd, even — co-created with the late artist John Cooper. Reading like a hilarious mix of Dredd and Dirty Harry, the stories follow Jack McBane, a police detective in New York City in the 1970s. But after having his eye shot out by a creep in the very first strip, McBane decides — essentially — that doing police work by the book is for suckers who are begging to get their eye shot out. From there, each strip sees McBane being an absolute badass, rejecting authority, and taking matters into his own hands as he takes down the many thieves, creeps, and scoundrels of New York. (Did I mention that this is really, really just a Dirty Harry comic?)
Between Wagner’s early penchant for hardened authoritarians and Cooper’s gritty, deep inks, this is exactly the sort of hard boiled cop story you’ve been looking for.
ACE TRUCKING CO.
Ever wonder why this column’s news section is titled “Breaker breaker, Earth Diggin’ Buddies”? Well you have Ace Trucking Co. to thank for that.
Featured in 2000 AD from classic writing duo Alan Grant and John Wagner and artist Massimo Belardinelli, Ace Trucking Co. follows the misadventures of the spaceship Speedo Ghost and its freakish smuggling crew: Ace Garp, a pointy-headed alien who speaks in CB radio slang; his possibly deceased bodyguard GBH, the ever-creepy Feek the Freek, and the sentient computer of their ship, Ghost.
This title in particular is one that I refuse to let people pass on because it mixes sci-fi, funny, and something distinctly trailer trash and makes it into something….even more stupid than it sounds. I mean, c’mon: GBH (which normally stands for Grievous Bodily Harm) is a big lug who was kicked out of his space tribe and is now convinced that that means he is dead, Ace is a fast-talking idiot who will do anything to make a buck, and the entire premise is “inept smugglers running rings around incompetent authority figures in space.”
What do you do when you’re a rough-and-tumble mobster who is aching to have a baby, but your wife — who is also the mob boss’ daughter — isn’t up for the idea of pregnancy? Well, when there’s a will, there’s a way. John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra took that idea and ran away with it, screaming and morning sickness barfing their way through half a decade of comedic genius.
Not only do you get a great mobster shoot-em-up story out of this book, but it comes with the added comedy of Al “The Beast” Bestardi — a lumbering stooge of Don Luigi Sarcoma — carrying a baby to term while still trying to take care of mob business. In case that isn’t enough, the second story in the collection, Blood on The Bib, follows up with the story of Al’s monster of a baby and Al having to take him on the road after being blackballed by every babysitter in town.
I could not make this up, but thankfully Wagner and Ezquerra did. And yes, it is entirely as perfect as it sounds.
Have you not gotten your dose of Carlos Ezquerra’s incredible art recently? Then look no further than El Mestizo, because this is Ezquerra drawing the absolute hell out of a Western written by Alan Hebden.
El Mestizo himself is a mysterious gunslinger (and escaped slave) from Alabama now out for revenge after battling in the American Civil War and fleeing to Mexico. Although, yes, it is as kick-ass as it sounds, the strip only ran for 16 weeks in Battle [Picture Weekly]. Fortunately for us readers, that means that this tough, cinematic spaghetti Western is now collected in one tidy little package.
You’re a fool if you’re not chasing this down immediately.
Look. I’m going to be sitting at my desk for for the next three years connecting string on a crazy wall if I try to explain what Indigo Prime really is, but I will try to be as succinct as possible here.
As there are obviously going to be some broken eggs when it comes to making the omelette of the universe, Indigo Prime exists; a interdimensional agency that maintains and keeps order in the multiverse. All agents are chosen after death based on a rare and specific gene they each possess, are given a new body, and trained to specialize in their jobs: Sceneshifters, Seamsters, and Imagineers, each of whom have their own way of manipulating time and space.
It starts out from creator John Smith as “very LSD trip meets Doctor Who meets Quantum Leap” in the best way possible, combining in an almost lyrical way Smith’s words with astounding art from none other than Chris Weston, Mike Hadley, Edmund Bagwell, et al, and additional writing from KEK-W and art by Lee Carter in it’s more recent, and equally bizarre, iteration.
Ultimately, the best reason to read Indigo Prime is because it acts as an Easter egg of the 2000 AD world. You occasionally see these characters dropped into other series like it’s no big deal, and that my dear readers, is completely brilliant.
ROY OF THE ROVERS
To start off: A giant happy 65th anniversary to the Roy of the Rovers strip! Holy cats, that is a long time.
But also: sure, you see a sports comic and go “ugh”, but hear me out. I am also not really a fan of sports and, subsequently, I wouldn’t really care about a sports comic normally. But Roy of the Rovers is an absolutely delightful read.
The strip is about the life of a football — see also: soccer — player Roy Race who (eventually) plays for the Melchester Rovers. The most recent revival from Rebellion shows Roy in present day splitting his time between taking care of his father and going to college with the big dream of playing for Melchester. He finds himself on the team as a trainee, but eventually sees himself and the rest of the team bumped to lead players as they fight tooth and nail to make it to the playoffs and win the championship.
Whether you read from the title’s original iteration (that began in 1954 — what) written by Frank S. Pepper and drawn by Joe Colquhoun; or the ongoing reboot written by Rob Williams and Ben Wilshire, this is a title that brings coming-of-age wholesomeness, humor, and sports and turns it into something incredibly fun.
Clearly this classic British comics list was missing some ridiculous stuff (it’s not), so I wanted to make sure to highlight Death Wish by writer Barrie Tomlinson and artist Vanyo — A.K.A. the most reckless Phantom of the Opera ever.
Used to a life of vanity as a Formula 1 race car driver, Blake Edmonds is devastated when, after a horrific crash, he awakens to a face that looks like a piece of pizza when you peel the cheese off. In his shame, he has a mask made to hide his disfiguration before announcing that he will take on any stunt anyone will offer for money…as long as there’s a good chance he won’t survive it.
Unfortunately, that sort of nihilistic attitude gets a passively-suicidal Blake nowhere as his luck takes a turn and he manages to survive a cavalcade of heart-stopping adventures and challenges. And guess what? One of them involves him showing down with Dracula.
Yes. Dracula. You’re welcome.
You know what would make a film noir detective story even better? Placing it in the far future and making the hard-bitten gumshoe the type of guy who tracks down malfunctioning robots instead of philandering husbands.
Sam Slade — that’s S-L-A-Y-E-D, as he keeps telling everyone at any given opportunity — has the best job in comics: He gets paid to take care of all kinds of problems, as long as they involve robots causing trouble. Picture Scooby-Doo, but with comedy androids instead of ghosts and robotic cigars nagging people to stop smoking instead of preppy sidekicks called Fred and that’s a pretty good idea of what to expect from John Wagner, Alan Grant and Ian Gibson’s increasingly weird sit-com strip.
(Be warned: This series is the product of the far-less-enlightened 1970s and ‘80s and there are some “comedy” accents and attitudes here that go far over the line into downright offensive to be found here. It’s not a good look.)
LEOPARD FROM LIME STREET
Have you ever wondered what Spider-Man would be like if he were far smaller, a bit more insufferable, and bitten by 100% less radioactive spiders and 100% more radioactive leopards? Well, boy, have I got good news for you.
It all starts with Billy Farmer; a schoolboy who is dealing with bullies and terrible adults, but then gets bitten by a rogue radioactive leopard who has escaped from a lab and *dun dun dundun!* turns into the Leopard from Lime Street. Rough day, right? So on top of the hardships of everyday adolescence, now Billy is taking down robbers and small time criminals on occasion! And if you’re sitting there like “Chloe, that’s only part of Spider-Man’s core story”, I may have forgotten to add that he starts selling photos of him in action to the local newspaper — the Selbridge Sun — where editor Thaddeus Clegg (WHAT A NAME) uses them to frame the Leopard as a villain!
From writer Tom Tully and artists Eric Bradbury and Mike Western, the Leopard of Lime Street is entirely unoriginal in a way that make it irresistible.
SOONER OR LATER
You know how some comics from decades ago seem to come back into being hella relevant when you pick them back up years later? Well that is definitely the case for Peter Milligan’s mid-eighties strip, Sooner or Later. The story doesn’t have a definitive plot, per se, but even that works in it’s favor. Milligan is quick-tempo’d and punny with his script that revolves around Mickey Swift — a frequent placeholder in the queue of the unemployment office — who is mistaken by a time-traveler for someone wildly more significant than himself. With that, Mickey is transported to Ether City; a inter-dimensional hub in the center of London (that has otherwise been converted into a waste dump). In order to get back to his time to find a job….well….Mickey needs to get a job. And it basically goes to show that young people — no matter what time period they’re in — will consistently be bowled over by the requirements in even the most entry levels of the work force.
Sure, there’s plenty to be said for how relevant the story is and how much it speaks to the young working class all over the world even 30 years later; but more than anything it’s important to remember just how funny this collection is. (There’s plenty of satire and and jokes and musical references that you’ll totally get if you were into the 1980’s Britpop scene.) And even more than that, Brenden McCarthy (with Tony “Riot” Wright assisting) is absolutely f*%&ing insane with his use of mixed media, as many of the pages of done by hand with traditional inks and paints to create a very day-go Clockwork Orange/Yellow Submarine vibe.. And even when McCarthy bows out, who else better to take over than Tank Girl famed Jamie Hewlitt?
All I’m saying is, if you want to feel heard in your gripes about finding a job, be in awe of some iconic art, and chuckle at some good jokes about The Smiths, then this is going to be your new favorite thing.
Did you really think I could write a list of classic comics without talking about Pat Mills?! Sacrilege.
Originally published in Battle Picture Weekly from 1979 to 1986, Charley’s War tells the story of Charley Bourne — a (very) young man who joins the British Army during World War I after lying about his age. He’s quickly dropped into the famous Battle of Somme; and from there the strip follows Charley through his life in the trenches and the hardship of war. And while there’s plenty to be said for the tangents that the series takes off on (and with focus on other characters as well), the way Mills and artist Joe Colquhoun carry the story overall is above and beyond any other war comic I’ve ever read.
Highly researched in its script and clearly researched in it’s visuals, this series refused to pull punches when it came to the horrors of war and the reality of its effect on the young folks who were made to fight in it.
I saved the best of my classic British comics list for last because I just couldn’t help myself. Shako is a international treasure brought to us all as a gift from writers Pat Mills and John Wagner; and artists Ramon Sola, Juan Arancio, Dodderio, and Lopez Vera.
Shako is a polar bear who enjoys doing polar bear things; except when those polar bear things involve eating a capsule dropped from an Air Force plane containing a deadly virus. Of course, because it involves the government, the CIA starts coming after Shako to get the capsule back. Luckily, Shako has gotten a taste for human flesh and is totally into it — so taking care of them is easy! (But he’s actually a Good Boy.)
Wagner and Mills somehow take a bear that’s been put on the CIA death list and — once you get past the heavy gore — make him something empathetic and lovable. So sure, we don’t really have the Coca-Cola polar bears anymore, but this could very well be the next best thing!
BREAKER BREAKER EARTH-DIGGIN’ BUDDIES!
Since it’s getting to be around the holidays, the news has begun to slow down a bit for the year. But that hasn’t stopped Rebellion from announcing some pretty great things that readers can expect to see in 2020! So just in case you missed it this month, here’s a quick recap of some of the announcements and news blips that have popped up over December.
-With the Free Comic Book Day issue of 2000 AD being snatched up like crazy, it seems that Rebellion has decided going for the all-ages crowd might be the way of the future! They just announced a few weeks ago that 2000 AD Regened will be kicking off with a bumper 48-page special issue starting February 26th, 2020!
-If you are all about that Agatha Christie, super-sleuth, Indiana Jones type life, you’ll be happy to know that the literary super-sleuth extraordinaire Sexton Blake will be back in print with an exciting new prose collection starting April 2020.
-The co-creator behind iZombie is rising once again to bring another exciting zombie title in the world with Last Rites!
And so we’ve reached the end of our time together, Earthlets.
I know, right? It’s a much shorter post than usual this month. But hopefully there’s enough classic British comics in here to get you through the new year! For now — and until next month — it’s time to say Splundig vur Thrigg! Make sure to check back in the New Year for another post talking about the Galaxy’s Greatest Comics!