Tag Archives: abc-warriors

R is for Robot Wars

Call-Me-KennethI’ve already written several times about pivotal moments in the development of the Judge Dredd series; points which proved decisive in the survival of the strip and its development. Robot Wars (progs 10-17, 1977, with a prologue in prog 9) is the first of these pivotal moments.

It is easy to forget given how it came to dominate the comic, but in the early days there was no reason to regard Judge Dredd as different to any other strip running in 2000AD. It was not “featuring Judge Dredd” – indeed the character only first appeared in prog 2. If anything, it was “featuring Dan Dare”, the 1950s space pilot who editor Pat Mills had revived to spark interest in the new comic. True, it is clear that Pat Mills felt he was onto something with Dredd, which is why its development process ended up being quite so tortuous, but that was no guarantee that the character would survive if it couldn’t prove itself.

John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra’s decision to walk away from their creation was a severe blow. The first seven Dredd strips to appear in 2000AD were written by Peter Harris, Pat Mills, Kelvin Gosnell, Charles Herring and in particular Malcolm Shaw. With the exception of Judge Whitey (prog 2, 1977), Dredd’s first appearance, none of these stories are remembered with any particular affection.

Robot Wars was the first multi-part storyline. More significantly, it was also the first story written by John Wagner to appear in print (and the first story drawn by Carlos Ezquerra, albeit only for one episode). The difference in quality is quite striking.

The story revolves around a robot called Call-Me-Kenneth, a carpenter droid (and yes, that is a Biblical reference) who kills his brutal master and leads a rebellion amongst the robots. Dredd defeats this rebellion, assisted by his robot servant Walter, who is granted full citizenship at the end of the story but chooses to continue working unpaid for Dredd anyway.

This is the first time the satire in the Dredd strip really bites. The analogies being drawn between African slavery and the brutal treatment of the robots by the humans are pretty easy to spot. Call-Me-Kenneth is enjoyably villainous, but the humans and in particular Judge Dredd don’t exactly come off well in this story either. It is the much put upon robots caught up in between we are really being invited to sympathise with.

Robo-HunterThe both the theme of robots-as-oppressed-people and the comic potential of robots were to go on to become recurring themes in 2000AD. Killer Car (progs 53-56, 1978) recycles a lot of the comedy in Robot Wars, and Wagner went on to collaborate with Ian Gibson, artist on both Robot Wars and Killer Car, on Robo-Hunter. Meanwhile, Pat Mills went on to make the plight of intelligent robots a theme in Ro-Busters and ABC Warriors.

Back in Judge Dredd, Walter would go on to be a recurring character for many years, even getting his own series of one-page strips drawn by Brian Bolland. Rejected by Dredd, Walter ends up founding a Call-Me-Kenneth worshipping cult in Giant (Megazine 2.50-52, 1994). And there was a second robot war, this time lead by crimelord Nero Narcos, as recounted in the Doomsday Scenario (progs 1141-1164 & Megazine 3.52-59, 1999).

Robot Wars was a triumphant return to the Judge Dredd strip by John Wagner which set the tone of the series for years afterwards. While simplistic by today’s standards, it’s quality shines through. As with The Pit almost 20 years later, if Wagner had not returned to write was in effect a manifesto for the strip at this point, it is very unlikely that the strip would have lasted the year, let alone 35.

G is for Giant

Three generations of Giants have appeared in the Dredd strip over the years. The first Judge Giant was a frequent sidekick of Dredd’s in the early years, helping him during The Day the Law Died (progs 89–108, 1978-1979) and dying in Block Mania (progs 236–244, 1982). While popular at the time, Giant somewhat dates the strip; it seems unlikely that they would introduce a black Judge these days who talked jive. His death was quite controversial – many fans quite naturally objected to one of their favourite characters being killed by being shot in the back.

Like Fargo, DeMarco and, one suspects, a pretty huge number of judges, Giant couldn’t abide by the “no sexual relations” rule of being a Judge (given the parallels with the Catholic church, it is surprising that no-one has yet decided to do a story about a Judge-Tutor abusing Cadets in the Academy of Law, but I digress). And so it was that just prior to Necropolis (progs 674–699, 1990), it emerged that Giant had secretly fathered a son (Young Giant, progs 651-655, 1989), who was swiftly inducted into the Academy of Law. Giant Jr performed a similar role in Necropolis to the one played by his father in The Day the Law Died. Soon after, Giant graduated from the Academy and went on to perform a similar role as Dredd’s sidekick in numerous stories.

I hope you’ll indulge me however, if I spend most of the rest of this article focusing on Giant Senior’s father, and Giant Junior’s grandfather, John “Giant” Clay. This character only appears once in the Dredd strip, although there was a one-off story called Whatever Happened to John “Giant” Clay (Judge Dredd Megazine issue 216, 2004)? He was better known as the star of the Harlem Heroes series (progs 1-27, 1977), one of the most popular strips in the first year of 2000AD. Indeed, since Harlem Heroes was published in prog 1, Giant actually predates Dredd by one week.

Harlem Heroes, named as a nod to the Harlem Globetrotters, focused around the futuristic sport of aeroball. As lost genre now, British comics in the 70s and 80s were full of sports stories, and this one followed the same basic formula (think Roy of the Rovers but with jetpacks).

This explicit link between Judge Dredd and the Harlem Heroes was to be just one of several little cross references which were to appear in the Dredd strip over the years. Satanus, the black tyrannosaur which appeared in The Cursed Earth (progs 61–85, 1978) was cloned Jurassic Park style from the DNA of the son of Old One Eye, the tyrannosaur which was the main antagonist in Flesh! (progs 1-19, 1977); just to be confusing, his own son Golgotha then appeared in the ABC Warriors in a story which was technically set several decades before Dredd was even born (ABC Warriors: Golgotha, progs 134 to 136, 1979). ABC Warriors itself was set initially during the fag end of the Volgan War, which first appeared in the 2000AD story Invasion. The Kleggs, alien mercenaries who appeared in The Day the Law Died, were to appear in the first Ace Trucking Co story (The Kleggs, progs 232-236, 1981). And finally, there have been two stories in which Dredd either fights or teams up with Johnny Alpha from Strontium Dog, a series which is set in the late 22nd century (Dredd is set in the early 22nd century).

As time has gone on however, enthusiasm for the idea of a shared 2000AD universe akin to the Marvel or DC universe, appears to have waned. Origins (progs 1505–1519 & 1529–1535, 2006-2007) makes no reference to the Volgan War for instance. A number of series have appeared subsequently which have been explicitly set in Dredd’s world, mostly in the Judge Dredd Megazine, but the more tenuously linked strips have tended to go their separate ways in recent years, although Pat Mills has actually been drawing his own creations Invasion and the ABC Warriors even closer together, with Invasion’s follow-up Savage telling the origins of the ABC Warriors and its predecessor series Ro-Busters.

Where there have been crossovers in recent years, they have tended to take the form of alternate versions. The 1995 Judge Dredd film featured an “ABC Warrior” which looked remarkably like Hammerstein from the ABC Warriors. As a tie-in, Pat Mills wrote Hammerstein (progs 960-963, 1995), which ret-conned the robot into being one of the wardroids used by President Booth to fight the judges at the end of the Atomic Wars. That story has since been contradicted by the ABC Warriors series, which establishes the Volgan War continuing for decades longer than would work in Dredd’s continuity.

A year previously, 2000AD featured a crossover between Dredd and the Rogue Trooper (Casualties of War, prog 900, 1994), but this Rogue Trooper appears to be an amalgam of both the original Rogue Trooper and the reboot version “Friday” (Rogue Trooper continuity is a whole other kettle of fish I won’t go into here).

And finally, in the story Helter Skelter (progs 1250–1261, 2000), Dredd faces his own Crisis on Multiple Earths and encounters several different 2000AD characters, as well as judges from another parallel universe.

It probably made sense to decouple all these series from each other; the longer they went on the more of a straitjacket it would become. From a fan’s perspective however it is a bit of a shame as it was fun trying to piece it all together. Judge Giant then is a sort of artefact from a bygone era.
Highlights include:

  • Giant Sr’s first appearance – The Academy of Law (progs 27-28, 1977)
  • Giant Sr’s death – Block Mania (progs 236–244, 1982)
  • Giant Jr’s first appearance – Young Giant (progs 651-655, 1989)
  • Giant Jr’s finest moment – Necropolis (progs 674–699, 1990)
  • Satanus’s first appearance – The Cursed Earth (progs 61–85, 1978)
  • First (and best) Strontium Dog crossover – Top Dogs (Judge Dredd Annual, 1991)
  • Rogue Trooper crossover – Casualties of War (prog 900, 1994)

G is also for…

Alan Grant
Thus far in this A-Z I have made numerous comments about Alan Grant’s contribution to the Dredd series, most of them not complimentary. I wouldn’t however wish you to think that I don’t value the contribution he made to the Dredd series.

Without Alan Grant, it is entirely likely that Judge Dredd would have fizzled out years before its greatest stories had been told. Grant teamed up with Wagner at a crucial time during the latter’s writing of the Judge Child saga. Grant helped him get past his writer’s block and the two formed a writing team which lasted for the best part of a decade.

Most of what is regarded as the golden age of Judge Dredd was written by Wagner and Grant (or T. B. Grover as they typically wrote under). Combined with artist Ron Smith (another unsung hero), they produced a consistent, funny and imaginative body of work at a level of quality that the series struggled to reach both before and afterwards.

And of course they did this while writing numerous other titles at the same time, including Strontium Dog, Ace Trucking Co, Robo-Hunter and many other series which appeared in the Eagle and Scream. Their run on Batman remains one of my favourites (as is Alan Grant’s solo run); in particular, in the Ventriloquist they created a quintessential Bat villain.

Without Alan Grant’s no-nonsense approach, John Wagner’s style has developed to become much more introspective and meandering. In general, it is a style that I love, but that isn’t to say that the occasional jolt of Alan Grant-style anarchism wouldn’t be unappreciated to keep things more on track. An Alan Grant co-written Day of Chaos for instance would probably have ended in half the time (although I think even he would have baulked at going further than wiping out 87 per cent of the population).

I don’t agree with everything he has done, or wanted to do, with Judge Dredd and Anderson, Psi Division (not to mention killing off Johnny Alpha in Strontium Dog), but he remains one of the British comic industry’s greatest ideas men and I would like to see him writing a lot more than he does these days.

Fictional meme letters

Okay, I got this meme from Andy Hinton (not to be confused with Alex Hilton – learned that lesson!):

1. Comment on this post.
2. I will give you a letter.
3. Think of 5 fictional characters whose names begin with that letter and post their names and your comments on these characters in your LJ blog.

Because this is Quaequam Blog! I thought I would limit these to 2000AD characters:

Rogue Trooper: the gayest strip in 2000AD’s history (that’s not a criticism by the way, just an observation), the original run by Gerry Finlay-Day was about a genetic infantryman who is the lone survivor of the infamous Quartz Zone Massacre. Determined to track down the traitor general who sent his “buddies” to their doom, he goes rogue, kept company only by the personality-encoded “biochips” of his best friends. By astonishing coincidence, he is called Rogue while his marksman friend is called Gunnar (his chip is in Rogue’s rifle), his quarter-mastery friend is called Bagman (his chip is in Rogue’s, er bag) and his, er, fairly useless friend is called Helm (can you guess where they keep his chip?).

A typical GF-D strip would feature Rogue encountering a woman, flirting with her, his “buddies” getting outrageously jealous and for her to turn out to be an evil traitor. Seriously, I don’t think there is a single female character in the original run (up to the point when they track down the traitor) who doesn’t turn out to be a villain.

If that isn’t homoerotic enough for you, how about the fact that the lead character runs around topless (in a warzone – very sensible).

Original artist Dave Gibbons eventually did a reboot of the character (called War Machine), which was actually very good and reprinted in Heavy Metal. Sadly, the ongoing series that came out of that was Terrible McTerrible.

Durham RedDurham Red: Johnny Alpha’s putative replacement sidekick (after his, very-obviously-boyfriend Wulf was killed off). Shortly afterwards, Johnny went and died himself and Red decided to go into suspended animation to emerge, millennia later, as possibly the most obviously sexy character ever to appear in the comic, as drawn by Mark Harrison. In the future, apparently, clothing can defy gravity.

Not surprisingly, Durham’s reinvention was an instant hit with both boys and girls alike (even if the strips were rather shallow and not up to writer Dan Abnett’s best), but Mark nearly went bonkers drawing her mind-bogglingly complicated CG strips. He now appears to eschew Photoshop in favour of good old fashioned paint.

Rico DreddRico: sort of a two-for-one here as Rico can refer either to Joe Dredd’s twin brother or Joe Dredd’s rookie. Given that all three are clones of each other, the distinction is a fine one, although Rico Dredd becomes evil while Judge Rico is (at the time of writing) one of the good guys.

The whole “what’s it like being a clone?” thing has been used to good effect by John Wagner over the years. The exact reason why Rico Dredd went bad has not been fully explored, by Wagner at least. But Rico was originally created by Pat Mills, who had a go at the character in 1995 (during his chaos magick weirdie phase), which was not entirely successful and seems to have acquired apocryphal status during the years.

Rico occasionally appears in one of those dreadful “rogue’s gallery” type stories where Dredd is either haunted by popular villains past or, in the case of Helter Skelter by Garth Ennis, parallel universe versions of them actually team up to kick his arse. Generally speaking, if Wagner isn’t writing it, involving Rico in a story is likely to be a recipe for disaster.

Ro-JawsRo-Jaws: a waste disposal robot who spends most of the strips he appears in rummaging through the contents of a bin or “cludgie.” A gloriously loveable character from the early days of “Tooth,” who ended up a character in search of a plotline.

Tyranny RexTyranny Rex: an earlier attempt at a “sexy” female character in 2000AD, this time from the fevered imagination of erratic genius John Smith. Half “Saurian” Tyranny is just your ordinary, green, girl-about-town who happens to have a whopping great prehensile tail. Not sure the tail thing went down well with the boys, to be perfectly honest.

Tyranny’s strips were Smith’s first attempts at a regular character, the first strip of which was about music piracy with a twist (“home cloning is killing music”). Very quickly her strips morphed into the Indigo Prime series. The promised ongoing series (featuring a transvestite dog apparently) which was to appear in first Crisis and then Revolver never emerged. I can’t help but feel this is a character which could get surprise us. It is certainly the case that Smith has got it in him.
Rogan GoshRogan Gosh: technically not a 2000AD character but I’m including it here since I couldn’t think of any more characters with the letter R and the strip appeared in one of 2000AD’s sister magazines, so it counts. Milligan and McCarthy’s Rogan Gosh is, in my opinion, by far the most successful thing to come out of Fleetway’s brief experimentation with “adult” comics (with Skin – also by Milligan and McCarthy – coming a close second even if they did chicken out of publishing it).

It’s genius because it works on so many levels – is it an hallucination by Rudyard Kipling, the adventures of two blokes in an Indian restaurant or the product of the imagination of a boy committing suicide? All three narratives merge into one. No-one had ever tried doing Anglo-Indian comics before (there have been attempts since but they have been nothing like as successful, namely Grant Morrison’s Vimanarama and Pat Mills’ Black Siddha). One of the absolute highlights of my teenage years.

Anyone else want a go? Just follow the instructions above.

Tooth Review: 1559 (Obligatory Spoiler Warning)

A return to form for Dredd and Button Man IV, a great send off for A.B.C. Warriors, but the worst was left til last for Stone Island…

Prog 1559Cover: Disappointing. Mek-Quake is a peculiar-looking robot and drawn from this angle just looks rubbish. Clint Langley can’t seem to decide whether to give him a neck backed with hydraulics, as here, or a Bisley-esque snake-like one, as in the strip inside. The guns firing just look like particularly bright torches.

To top it off, the quote from Death Ray magazine (“A very well presented, well-balanced modern comic”) sounds about as inspiring as Iain Duncan Smith. Overall, not great. Still I bought it anyway.

Spoilers below… Continue reading

Tooth Review: 1558 (obligatory spoiler warning)

A slightly disappointing prog this week as the Summer Offensive draws to a close…

Prog 1558Cover: Another great Frazer Irving cover to coincide with Button Man IV. Over the past few weeks we’ve probably seen more pink on the cover of 2000AD than we had over the previous 30 years. Good to see the comic getting in touch with its feminine side.

Spoilers below… Continue reading

Tooth Review: 1556 & 1557 (obligatory spoiler warning)

A double helping this week due to illness and the conference season.

Prog 1556Cover (1556): A fantastic black, white and pink affair by Frazer Irving of the Hitman’s Daughter. The juxtaposition between the grown up assassin and the frightened child she used to be adds a level of poinancy to the image which might otherwise appear too stylised.

Prog 1557Cover (1557): Dredd, old school style, courtesy of Keeper of the Flame Rufus Dayglo (2000AD was 2.0 before 2.0 was invented – the fans have been the content generators for some time now). An eye-catching image with a slogan with an obvious-but-fun Star Wars reference. Continue reading

Tooth Review: 1555 (obligatory spoiler warning)

Prog 1555Spoilers below… Continue reading

Tooth Review: 1554 (obligatory spoiler warning)

Prog 1554Spoilers below… Continue reading

Tooth Review: 1553 (obligatory spoiler warning)

Prog 1553Spoilers below… Continue reading

Tooth Review: 1552 (obligatory spoiler warning)

Cover to 2000AD Prog 1552Spoilers below… Continue reading