Happy Birthday, 2000AD

Cover of the first issue of 2000 AD, 26 Februa...
Cover of the first issue of 2000 AD, 26 February 1977. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For those who aren’t aware, 2000AD is a weekly sci-fi comic produced in the UK. Originally, I think, under the ownership of Fleetway – one of the biggest comic companies going in their day – it was more recently bought by Rebellion who have done an incredible job of raising its profile and ensuring that the publication will be around for many years to come.

Thirty seven. That means it was first published in 1977, the same year as Starburst magazine‘s first incarnation and some film called Star Wars. Indeed, 2000AD was released to jump on the sci-fi bandwagon created by George Lucas’ blockbuster. Such was the way back then – quick release, short run, then pinch the more popular characters to put them into your flagship title.

Only 2000AD surpassed all expectation and became a flagship title. Starlord was published to run alongside it as its peak, lasted a few months and a couple of still-familiar faces (including Strontium Dog) joined the ranks of 2000AD. Hell, even the mighty Dan Dare graced the pages of 2000AD for some time, in between incarnations of The Eagle.

But when did I start reading it? Given that I wasn’t even four years of age when the first issue came out, I’ve obviously not been reading it since day 1 – although I have managed to go back and fill in all the gaps with the help of pretty much all of my Christmas money one year.

I started reading in the early 80’s. I would have been 10-11 years old and to this day I cannot recall why I started reading. Therefore I’m blaming Tharg the Mighty and some kind of mind control device. I just remember going to the newsagent’s where I worked (Sunday deliveries) and asking them to hold it for me every week. I don’t even know if I’d read it before then. Maybe an annual or something.

Prog 446

What I do remember are little moments around then. One in particular was walking to school with my new issue. It was a sunny day, because I was with a friend and leafing through the pages. The cover depicted Messerschmitts attacking Mega City 1 after flying through some kind of hole in time. After a quick Google, I’ve found this to be prog 446 from November 1985. Not my first issue, but one I remember for some reason.

Then there was the short-lived Diceman series which jumped onto the “Fighting Fantasy” bandwagon. Comic-quality storylines involving choosing your own path, sometimes with combat based on rolling dice. Brilliant.

Judge Dredd got his own fortnightly title in 1990 (the “Megazine”) which, though now monthly, is also still going strong. He was played by Stallone in a risible film in the 90’s and again, far better, in last year’s “Dredd” – but was one of the key influences on the original RoboCop. Dredd has battled aliens from Mars, Batman, the Joker, Lobo, Aliens and a Predator or two. He’s also featured in at least two computer games, a role playing game and a desktop wargame. Then there’s his musical influence (the band Mega City 4 and Anthrax’ “I Am The Law” to name but two).

Rogue Trooper has ended up as a computer game and a desktop game, Strontium Dog ended up in development hell as an idea for an ongoing TV show.

But it’s not just the characters. A huge number of writers and artists making their way in US comics cut their teeth in the pages of 2000AD. It’s a testing ground, and still a risk-taker – something that the “big two” in American comics can’t afford. They’ve tried stuff that’s fallen utterly flat… but, hey, it’s an anthology comic so there are always other stories in the issue to back it up.

For a single title to last this long is staggering. To maintain ongoing quality and to be making a bigger imprint on other media now than it ever has is incredible.

I’m the proud owner of a (near) complete collection of the weekly comics, annuals, spin-offs and so on. The amount of merchandise these days is a little out of my budget, but I did get a fantastic Dredd-themed cake for my birthday and treated myself to a similar tattoo last year. I can’t wait until our son is a bit older so we can start going through all these old comics that dad keeps in the loft and share the excitement I had reading them for the first time.

So happy birthday, 2000AD. Thirty seven years old and in far better shape than I am at forty. Long may you reign!

RoboCop (2014)

120px-Film-strip2Ah, remakes. For when you haven’t got an original idea in your head. After an enjoyable couple of hours at a Yelp! meeting (free food and drinks, yay) we had time to run over to Cineworld and catch the RoboCop reboot.

RoboCop (2014)

“I wouldn’t buy that for a dollar.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Man creates robots. Then Man put man into robots. Then man in robot tries to show he’s more man than robot.

See it if you like: sub-standard rehashes of classic ideas

OK, wasn’t going to compare this reboot / re-imagining / rehash to Paul Verhoeven‘s classic 1987 original. Mainly because, barring the most basic of premises, there’s little in common between the two. However…

The satirical view of a dark future is gone to be replaced by something that looks like it could be set next week but with bigger buildings. The closest to the interjected fake TV ads are the comments running under the news items – and even they are repeated throughout the film. A bit poor given that one news report is supposedly being broadcast months before another. Besides, some of them are just poor jokes rather than biting witticisms.

I can’t fault the cast – it’s not their fault that the story is just so “by the numbers” as to be bordering on dull. The collection of Wall Street-esque self-centred men in suits who care nothing for their cyborg creation has been replaced by one corporate head (Michael Keaton) and a few hangers-on who aren’t even annoying enough to be yes-men.

The special effects are also rather good… mostly. It’s painfully obvious when Joel Kinnaman‘s “man in a suit” is replaced by a fully CGI RoboCop. However, the updated ED-209 units are definitely more evil and realistic than those from 1987.

I enjoyed the opening sequence, but after that the film just lost it with no real central bad guy. The original had two, this one has one bad-guy’s worth of character split between two individuals, one of whom hardly gets any screen time.

Stepping back, it was OK to watch but just nowhere near as satisfying as it could have been. It’s also not as bad as the risible RoboCop 3 (let’s just pretend that didn’t happen). However, they also don’t have the excuse that they had to rush out a quick sequel to make some cash like Orion did back in the day. In fact, the budget for this version jumped from $60m to $120m. Part of the problem is the 12A/PG-13 rating that the studio insisted on, but that can’t be blamed for the unimaginative script.

Taken on its own merits, it’s watchable. Put into context alongside its aging source material and it’s very weak indeed.