Tag Archives: ro-busters

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.

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.