Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Aliens, Robots, and Dredd

I don't know if 2000 AD has ever had a brief for what to include in each Prog, but if it did, I expect it would involve these three staples. The comic may set itself apart from others with its black humour and relentless killings, but it has always been, and continues to be, an unashamed genre comic. And when that genre is Science Fiction, you're gonna get some goddamn robots and aliens. And just occasionally, you're gonna get humans who turn out to be aliens, robots and even alien robots.

Others have tried to feature Dredd-like

characters (Jerry Ordway's US Agent, anyone?),
but he reamins a uniquely 2000 AD creation. Dredd stories feature aliens and robots from time to time. He's not a fan*.

In 30 years of weekly Progs, 2000 AD has had a go at pretty much any kind of robot/alien concept you might care to name. Frankly, it's not always about originality - a good writer can get a lot of mileage from a simple idea. Like Alan Moore's Skizz, a simple 'friendly alien comes to Earth' story. The E.T.-like plot was elevated partly because Moore chose to set it against a backdrop of a very British working class locale, and partly because he had a genuinely unusual and alien conception for his central character. Look, the story is so compelling, you can have a whole page without picturing the protagonist in it, and its one of the best pages in the strip:

(OK, so the irony is heavy-handed, but still, it's a powerful piece of teen drama)

As for robots, the theme still not done to death is surely that of programmable humanoid devices that have dictinct personalities, and ultimately experience the human condition. 2000 AD writers seem to go to ways with this. On the one hand, you have Pat Mills, whose Ro-Busters are downtrodden and put upon slaves who are aching to be treated as equals.

On the other hand, you have John Wagner (and Alan Grant), whose robots tend to show human personality problems taken to curious extremes. I'd love to read a Robo-Hunter story in which we meet the scientists who programmed the crazy droids that inhabit this universe:

Yes, these are robots. Yes, these are mobsters. And yes, they fulfil their brief right down to the need to wax poetical about their dirty work. Hey, I'm sure real mafioso don't do it, but it feels like they should. Expressionism, no?

And how about Molotov, leader of the Amalgamated Androids Union. He's got a beef, and he won't let up. Plus, you can just tell that he's programmed to be a Union droid first, and a cocktail mixer second.

And what about that third 2000 AD staple - Judge Dredd? I'm sure reams have been written about the character (although not nearly enough), and the fact remains that he is by far the most exciting and enduring character to come out of 2000 AD. Other strips have been more fun from time to time, but none seems to have such an inexhaustible supply of funny, tragic, philosophical, political, and above all satirical stories to tell. John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra (and of course Pat mills), we salute you! Are you listening, people?

*Unless you're kindly alien Tweak, who was created by Pat Mills and therefore doesn't quite count.


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