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Great British Comic Book Characters: The Rise Of The British Superhero

Dredd

American comic-books over the past decade have most assuredly become a much more mainstream field of interest, mostly due to the popularity of celluloid and small screen adaptations, bringing a larger audience to their outrageous spandex clad antics. Though established characters such as Batman and Wonder Woman have been with us now for well over eighty years, and are as readily recognised by even non comic-book fans by their symbolism and deeds, their popularity before said live action adaptations were nowhere near the stratospheric levels they have now reached through their various cinematic endeavours.

Superheroes and their villainous nemeses are now en-vogue, and comic-books as a medium are now more widely accepted as as a legitimate and serious form of storytelling. It wasn’t always this way of course. I have been collecting and reading comics since I was a mere six years of age, and have lost count over the years of the amount of times I have had to defend my choice of escapist literature to the non fan. Even with the rise in prevalence of the celluloid Superhero in recent years , I do tend, even now, to to get a stereotypical – “but comics are for kids” reaction when I profess my adoration for the medium. This situation though has improved in more recent times, again, mainly thanks to the introduction of these beloved characters through their filmic personae. Now more people than ever are buying and reading comics, and actively sharing their own passion for this new found hobby unashamedly with their friends and families. Geeks and Nerds are now de-rigeur.

With both the DC Extended Universe and the MCU going great guns at the box office, the American Superhero has firmly established itself in the public consciousness… But what of it’s British counterparts?

BvD

British comics differ greatly from their American brethren, though have endured since their introduction way back in 1937 with – The Dandy. Dandy is a long running children’s publication (in fact, the third longest running comic-book series in history after Action Comics and Detective Comics!) and introduced classic characters – Desperate Dan, and Korky the Kat. Following shortly after, in 1938, The Beano emerged, and presented the British buying public with the arguably more famous (than their Dandy counterparts at least) Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx and Billy Whizz.

DtM

These early comics were invariably aimed at the younger market and followed a format that is still primarily used in the UK comic scene today – the anthology. Several stories were contained in each individual issue, introducing the young fan to a plethora of cool characters in quick two or three page adventures, perfect at the time for the attention span of the younger readership. The Superhero archetype was still very much the domain of the American market at this time, and it wasn’t until 1950 that the UK conjured up their own equivalent with the classic sci-fi hero – Dan Dare.

DD

In April of 1950 a new breed of comic-book hit the British news-stands  – EAGLE, differing appreciably from from Dandy and Beano it focused on more sophisticated storylines and considerably more intricate artwork. It was the inaugural issue that introduced one of the UK’s most popular and enduring heroes in Dan Dare, though the stories themselves were set in the distant future, the dialog and mannerisms were very reminiscent of old Brit war movies, in fact Dare himself was described as “Biggles in space”  (Biggles was a popular series of post WW1 novels starring an ace British pilot, which first published in 1932)

It was the quality of art that really set Dare’s iconic adventures apart from his competitors at this time, and was the first UK comic to use the centrefold ‘splash-page’ style approach to represent its galactic action sequences. Dan Dare endured in EAGLE throughout its initial seventeen year run until 1967. Though he has returned, like the proverbial phoenix, several times, not just in the later relaunched variant of Eagle Comics in 1982, but also Virgin Comics (founded by English entrepreneur – Richard Branson) where he was penned by fan favourite writer – Garth Ennis, and of course, his legendary run in the UK’s most popular comic – 2000 A.D.

Prog1

2000 A.D. continued the long held tradition of the anthology that was evergreen in the UK, its first issue (known as Progs in the UK) was released in February of 1977, and introduced the Brit comic-book fan to brand new and exciting heroes, and villains hitherto unexplored in a UK publication. The initial line up of strips included  – Harlem Heroes – a series that was heavily inspired by the 1970’s explosion of Kung-Fu movies, American basketball stars (specifically – The Harlem Globetrotters) and violent future sports movie – Rollerball. M.A.C.H – 1, told the tale of of a super powered British secret service agent, with obvious nods to both James Bond and The Six Million Dollar Man, and FLESH – an ultra-violent tale about time travelling cowboys heading to the Jurassic era to harvest dinosaurs for their meat, a story that presented a very young me personally, with one of my all time favourite non human protagonists – Old One Eye.

Old One Eye

2000 A.D. has gone on to become the most widely read and circulated comic-book series in British history and has delivered some of the most archetypal and fascinating characters ever conceived in the world of the Superhero. As the publication became more in demand, new characters were added to the fold, with likes of Johnny Alpha – Strontium Dog, who found fame after transferring to 2000 A.D. when his original home publication – Starlord – was cancelled. Other terrific tales include – Rogue Trooper – the blue skinned genetically engineered soldier of the future, and the A.B.C Warriors – a team of battling bots who are able to withstand atomic, bacterial and chemical warfare.

rogueT

Many other heroes and villains have since been presented in the pages of this hallowed publication, some of whom we have already covered in previous posts (of which I will link below for anyone who is interested in this particularly Brit rabbit hole) Of course, conspicuous by his absence is the UK’s biggest and most popular character of all time, the grimly determined lawman of the future – Judge Dredd – For a multitude of reasons Dredd didn’t make an appearance in the first Prog of 2000 A.D. his debut though, came a mere one week later in Prog #2, which cemented his well deserved place in comic-book history!

Has this wet your appetite for other classic Brit characters, then why not check out some of my earlier profile pieces –

Vampire Bounty Hunter – Durham Red

Alien Freedom Fighter – Nemesis The Warlock

Reluctant Superhero – Zenith

Authoritarian Hero Hater – Marshal Law

 

Great British Comic-Book Characters: Judge Dredd Lives!

JD Logo

 

Iconic British anthology comic 2000AD has been administering thrill power to the masses since its inception in 1977. It not only succeeded in presenting to the world seminal characters like Judge Dredd, Zenith and Nemesis the Warlock, but also helped launch into the spotlight some of the greatest British writers and artists in comic book history, luminaries such as Brian Bolland, Pat Mills, Alan Grant, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and Simon Bisley. American comic book companies like DC and Marvel have been mining these outstanding British talents to great effect since then on titles that include Watchmen, Batman: The Killing Joke, V For Vendetta and many, many others too numerous to mention.

2000ad zarjaz

1975 and Kevin Gosnell, an editor at IPC Magazines commissioned the freelance writer Pat Mills, who had previously created weekly adventure comic Action, to develop a new science fiction based anthology comic which he hoped would ride on the wave of popularity of forthcoming Sci-Fi blockbuster movies. Pat Mills brought in another freelancer, John Wagner as adviser and together they began to create characters for the new publication. The futuristic sounding name of 2000AD was then chosen, with the failure rate of new comics in the UK at a high, no-one ever expected the title to ever last past that date. How wrong they were… thankfully.

The debut issue of 2000AD hit the British newsagents on the 26 February 1977, consisting of a line up of four separate stories, Harlem Heroes, Flesh, M.A.C.H 1, and 50’s British Science Fiction icon Dan Dare who was revived from ten years in limbo after his original home publication Eagle Comics shuttered in 1967.

2000ad line up

There was another character who also made his first appearance in the new anthology comic, he would go on to be one of only two characters to appear in nearly every issue of 2000AD since its inception (the other being Dredd.) Tharg The Mighty was created by Pat Mills as the fictional editor of the comic, an alien who hailed from the planet Quaxxann in Betelgeuse, Tharg writes the comics introduction, answers questions from its readership (whom he originally referred to as ‘Earthlets’) and gives out prizes to readers who suggested stories and sent in artwork (prizes could be given in pound sterling or Tharg’s own currency of galactic groats.) Tharg would oversee the ‘Thrill Power’ quotient of each comic and led a team of creative robots who supplied the art and stories for each issue (with each robot resembling their real life counterpart.)

Tharg The Mighty

Tharg The Mighty Dispensing ‘Thrill Power’

2000AD creator Pat Mills’ writing had a strong anti-authoritarian vibe and attitude that was popular amongst his legion of readers and fans, but he also noted the effect that more authority based characters had on his readership after the creation of the Dirty Harry inspired maverick cop One-Eyed Jack by fellow 2000AD creator John Wagner for Valiant Comics, a boys adventure publication which ran between 1962 and 1976. This character was the beginning blocks of Britain’s biggest ever comic book export, the uber violent, no nonsense lawman of the future… Judge Dredd.

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Dredd made his first appearance in Prog #2 of 2000AD, a tough cop who resides in the dystopian futuristic metropolis of Mega City One. Initially designed by Wagner and named after an abandoned horror strip character created by Pat Mills about a hanging Judge named ‘Dread.’  Spanish artist Carlos Ezquerra was tasked with visualising the character, and based his first designs on the the movie character Frankenstein from the 1975 cult hit ‘Death Race 2000.’ Dredd has gone on to appear in every single issue of 2000AD since that time. In 1983 he broke into the highly lucrative comic book market in America with his own series simply titled ‘Judge Dredd’ which consisted of reprints of his earlier adventures in 2000AD. In 1990 Dredd received his own title in the UK, ‘Judge Dredd – The Megazine’ written by his creator John Wagner.

Judge Dredd vs his nemesis Judge Death

Judge Dredd battles his nemesis Judge Death

Judge Joseph Dredd is the most celebrated and feared of Mega City’s Judges, tasked with bringing the law to the innumerable criminals in the teeming metropolis, literally Judge, Jury and executioner, with the power to instantly dispense justice as he sees fit. Patrolling the streets on his Lawmaster motorcycle, which comes equipped with machine guns, a laser cannon and an artificial intelligence that can pacify crowds and perform other innumerable tasks. All judges come equipped with the Lawgiver sidearm, designed to only recognise its parent Judge’s palm print and able to fire six different kinds of ammunition, including armour piercing and heat seeking rounds. Dredd and his brother Rico were cloned from the DNA of Chief Judge Fargo, Mega City’s original Chief Judge, and the name Dredd was given to them by Morton Judd the genetic scientist who created them, to “instill fear in the populace.”

Dredd continues to dispense justice in 2000AD and The Megazine in the UK, and has been the star of two movies, the much maligned “Judge Dredd” from 1995 starring Sylvester Stallone, and the more recent (and a hell of a lot better) “Dredd” portrayed by New Zealand actor Karl Urban (which I reviewed right here

2012 movie 'Dredd' is as close to its source material as any fan could hope.

2012 movie ‘Dredd’ is as close to its source material as any fan could ever hope.

Tharg’s Catchphrase Dictionary:

Tharg the mighty not only brought fantastic characters and thrill-power to the universal masses, but also his own dialect which most 2000AD die-hards (myself included) use on a regular basis. So to induct those Terrans that have never spoken Quaxxiann, we proffer a list of his most widely used and popular catchphrases and their Terran translations.

Tharg

“Borag Thungg Earthlet” – Greetings Human.

“Zarjaz” – Excellent.

“Krill Tro Thargo” – Honoured by Tharg.

“Florix Grabundae” – Many Thanks.

“Nonscrot” – Someone who doesn’t read 2000AD.

“Scrotnig” – Exciting or amazing.

“Squaxx Dek Thargo” – Friend of Tharg.

“Splundig Vur Thrigg” – Goodbye.

 

Florix Grabundae’ to everyone who has followed this series so far, and in our next instalment we will be looking at the other classic characters that make up the UK’s biggest selling comic, especially personal favourites, Nemesis the Warlock and Rogue Trooper. So until that time, have a ‘Zarjaz’ day and ‘Splundig Vur Thrigg’ fellow ‘Squaxx Dek Thargo.’

2000AD, Judge Dredd, Harlem Heroes, Dan Dare, M.A.C.H 1, Flesh and Tharg are copyright: Rebellion 2015.