Friday, November 03, 2006

Onward to your death

2000 AD has had a long and healthy relationship with death. Or rather, many, many characters have died over the years, along with countless thousands of grunts, be they men, women, children, robots, other-gendered aliens and even sentient planets*. I don't know if that's actually 'healthy', but that seems to be the adjective of choice when describing death, and lots of it.

Legend has it** that even in Prog 1, Tharg was forced to make last minute changes because the deaths in it were too nasty (Harlem Heroes), too unjustifiable (Judge Dredd), and too realistic (Invasion - where Russians were changed to Volgans, so as to cause less offence. They still killed and got killed, naturally). Anyway, in my lifelong quest to re-read and scan every great panel from 2000 AD, I haven't got as far as these notorious efforts, so you'll have to make do with some other choice examples of people getting killed. It's a safe bet that none of these would have been published if the groundwork hadn't been laid in those early Progs, where death was established as something that readers want to see more of, yes please sir.
Looking at a little context, other British comics of the 70s had begun this trend in comics like Action and Battle. Comics I never read, 'cos I didn't exist yet, but I'm reliably reformed by the articles in the Megazine. The same articles also make it clear that Pat Mills and John Wagner, joint high priests of 2000 AD, were responsible for the gruesome bits of those comics. A concept they would develop even further with the help of artists like Kev 'more blood! more gore!' O'Neill and Colin 'exit wounds, man!' McNeil.

By the time 2000 AD went glossy and full colour in the late 80s (when I joined the fold), these deaths were astonsihing in their detail. Technically, no nastier than they had been back in '77, but higher printing quality meant you could really pore over those panels...

Again, Megazine sources suggest to me that this love of death caused some tabloid controversy in the late 70s/early 80s, to the extent that the comic 'Action' was cancelled, re-formatted, and ultimately made tame. Not that it had much effect that I can see, given that 2000 Ad was just around the corner. Funnily enough, 2000 AD suffered its own minor setback in 1978 when a panel from Belardinelli's Inferno showing a biker burning to death caused some kind of a fuss. Any amendments made to the art policy at that point seems rather redundant in the long run - and even in the shoirt run, frankly. Death by burning and all manner of other horribleness soon came back to the comic as part of the norm.
This panel from 'The Angry Planet' for example - also by M. Belardinelli!
Perhaps 2000 AD escaped because video had just arrived on the scene, allowing a new scapegoat to be found for exposing children to excessive violence. Video nasties certainly had a rough time in the early 80s, and it's really only in the last few years that we in the UK can finally get hold of films showing the same level of death and violence as 2000 AD has been showing the whole time. Not that this is teribly exciting, as most of the nasties seem to be of low quality. 2000 AD has wit, plot, characterisation (well, sometimes), as well as inventive gore. Hmm - seem to have wondered from the point a bit. I confess I'm a fan of gore in films and in comics, but that's incidental. 2000 AD deaths aren't always that gory (outside of Chris Weston); they're more in the vein of 80s action films, were villains get dispatched with a sneer and maybe a throwaway line. But usually just a sneer.

Just to rub in the reality that British comics never had to suffer the way American comics did in the 50s, here's a panel from 'Holocaust' (Hell, that title alone probably isn't code aproved):

Remind anyone of this infamous panel - one of the key exhibits in the trial when US comics were basically castrated?

I'm not making a point, I just think it's funny that a 'needle to the eye' panel can cause so much fuss in one place at one time, and be utterly ignored in another. (To be fair, Jack Cole's panel is more horrifically realised and better drawn, but the concept is the same)

Perhaps it's as well that 2000 AD doesn't have a massive readership, as it would surely be tamed if it did. And let's not get into the nudity - in recent years it's become common to see an exposed breast or even a flayed penis; there's surprising amounts of fun to be had seeing how far back this goes. You can spot exposed parts in Progs going back further than you might think...

*Actually I haven't checked on that last one, but it's bound to have happened in a future shock somewhere. Was it an episode of the Judge Child, as well?
**Or rather, history has it; you can check it out in the forthcoming 'Thrill Power Overload" by David Bishop, which I am well excited about.


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