Progs for Sprogs
Ah, 2000 AD! When the comic first appeared I was a month away from turning eleven, and now I'm thirty-seven and a bit. Despite my now-advanced years, I can still remember the "buzz" in the playground when we learned that 2000 AD was imminent; we'd seen half-page ads for it in comics like Battle and Action. You younger folk should remember that at that time we'd never even heard of Star Wars - the closest we got to kick-ass science fiction was when Doctor Who ran down a corridor - so 2000 AD really was something "out of this world" (as it was described in the article in my dad's paper, which I should have kept, but didn't).
Anyway, the reason I'm currently navigating my lawmaster down Memory Lane is this: in the early days 2000 AD was a "boys' comic." It isn't any more. I don't mean that it's now a comic for all genders; I mean that it started off as a comic for boys, not for twenty or thirty-somethings. Believe me, it was a revelation to see a dedicated science fiction comic that gave us everything we wanted: monsters, aliens, giant hovercraft, spaceships, dinosaurs, robots, cyborgs, time-travel, bloody big motorbikes, jet packs, explosions, and so on.
Like Battle and Action before it, 2000 AD (I understand that many early fans abbreviated the title to "2000" or even to "Twoth", but for us prepubescent pedants only the full title would do) didn't hold back. There was blood and gore and killings and violence, and despite that - as far as I know - none of us turned out to be mass-murderers or anything like that.
This makes me wonder what the idea was behind the short-lived Judge Dredd: Lawman of the Future... For those of you who don't remember, this was a fortnightly comic that was released to tie in with the 1995 Judge Dredd movie. It was marketed as being for "younger readers" - in other words, for readers about the same age as I was when 2000 AD came out - but it was so sterile it might as well have been dunked in bleach.
In JD:LotF, Dredd "never uses his gun to kill", we're told. He's a tough but fair lawman who'd rather dispense jail time than bullets. Or in other words, this was Judge Dredd with two vital ingredients missing: his balls. I mean, this was a kids' non-violent comic based on a pretty violent movie that was itself based on an extremely violent comic.
I have to ask... What in the name of holy drokk were they thinking? Back in 1977 Dredd blasted the living crap out of perps. Look at the very first Dredd story, from prog 2: it opens with the murder of a judge.
JD:LotF was not a success, but I think that if it had been the same Dredd as in 2000 AD, it would have stood a much better chance. Let other kids' comics be nicey-nicey and sanitised and pastel-coloured and come with free lollipops - any 2000 AD derivative should have action and violence and murder and retribution and bloody great cyborgs tearing up the city. After all, the Megazine has all of this and it's been a success, right?
2000 AD succeeded where contemporaries like Warlord and Bullet failed, and it occurs to me that there are two primary reasons for this: (1) Pat Mills and John Wagner, and (2) it didn't treat the readers with kid(s) gloves. On the other hand, JD:LotF felt like it was made by people who had "grown up" and come to the conclusion that if kids see violence in a comic they'll think it's okay to commit violence in real life.
I think that the vast majority of kids do understand the difference between real violence and fictional violence. As a writer of science fiction and fantasy books for (please forgive the horrible marketing term) "young adult readers", I get to speak to hundreds of pre-teen kids every year during my tours of schools and libraries. By my reckoning, about half of these kids have seen ultra-violent 18s-rated movies like Robocop, Aliens, and Starship Troopers (I know this because I ask them). I don't approve of this myself, and I certainly don't encourage it, but from what I can tell these kids are no more violent or hyperactive than the kids who vehemently support football teams.
I have an eleven-year-old nephew who's just getting into comics. I showed him the first few issues of JD:LotF and the first few progs of 2000 AD. Guess which he preferred? Yes, that's right! He preferred JD:LotF, because (a) it's in colour and (b) Dredd wears the same uniform as he had in the movie (which he loves).
But when he actually sat down and read the stories, he changed his mind. Okay, so he couldn't get past the idea that Invasion is set in 1999, but apart from that he loved it. He wanted to know what happened next with the Harlem Heroes, and why the eagle on Dredd's shoulder didn't look like it was made out of solid gold, and whether M.A.C.H. 1 was stronger than Wolverine.
But I digress: my point here is that I believe that because 2000 AD has kind of grown up with its readers, there is niche in the market for a kids' science fiction comic. Those lovely and talented people at Rebellion should strongly consider filling this niche with a new 2000 AD spin-off - especially with the new planned Dredd movies and the Dredd vs. Death game on the way.
Of course, this new comic wouldn't be quite the same as 2000 AD was in its infancy: to be successful, it would probably have to be even more violent. After all, most kids these days have already witnessed (and committed) hundreds of thousands of Playstation deaths. So I say give 'em what they want, not just what you feel that their parents might think is acceptable!
All Judge Dredd Lawman of the Future artwork by Simon Fraser