Page 45 Review by Stephen
I'm 2000 AD's self-appointed ambassador for the week, welcoming newcomers and suggesting that loyal devotees might also consider this the perfect present with which to initiate your friends.
Unlike Judge Dredd - the one-man Emergency Response Unit for whom evidence is an irrelevance and juries an unnecessary impediment - I present exhibit A:
"You creeps are under arrest. Attempted murder, fifteen apiece.
"Plus seven for arming an infant."
We'll be returning to Williams and Weston's whimsical short story about the dearly deluded and far from beloved, green crocodilian Klegg soon enough. It is this collection's prime example of how much intricate detail and unexpected lateral thinking can be crammed into such short stories whilst leaving plenty of space for the eye to roam and the mind to muse on a) mankind's atrocious lack of empathy b) the bliss of innocence and ignorance and c) what Emily Bronte might do if she were transformed into a bi-pedal alligator on the run from a big-game hunter while stuck in a utilitarian tower block whose elevator door obstinately refuses to open.
But if you're new to the satirical world of 2000 AD then "Plus seven for arming an infant" should give you quite the clue of what to expect. As should this:
"By the time the traffic was halted, the assassin was spread over 500 metres of Mega-Way."
If you are new to Britain's weekly comic which just last year published its 2000th consecutive issue in addition to new material in monthly magazines and specials, what an achievement is that! Also, what a great place to start: thirteen short stories from throughout this irreverent institution's forty years, selected and introduced by acclaimed creators commending their peers.
There's a particularly delicious and ever so English full-colour entry called 'The Strange Case Of The Wyndham Demon' by Johns Smith & Burns in which a quaint country village finds itself assaulted by semi-sentient bread dough whose need to feed coincides fatally with a dutiful wife's need to knead. It's not so much a hands-on experience as a hands-off experience.
"Ellen screams and steps back, suddenly faint, suddenly worried because her hands have gone.
"Ted'll be home in an hour and she can't find her hands.
"Ellen Harris' last thought, as she faints from loss of blood, is: 'Who's going to do the washing up?'"
If that weren't enough for this blood-letting kitchen sink drama, an angry old man called Doctor Sin - already on a vocal rampage of intolerance towards the satanic influence of rock and roll luring millions of innocent youngsters towards "alcoholism, hooliganism, socialism and self-abuse" - vows to get to the bottom of this devilry by weeding out local perversion and filth like the local St. Judith's Bell Ringers association.
Speaking of intolerance, Judge Dredd himself is very well represented from as early as Prog 5 and as recently as Prog 1889.
Issues or editions were called 'Progs' in the future. That's a sentence which beautifully sums up the smile-twitching situation we now find ourselves in: that 2000AD seen as a once far-flung future date back in 1977 has now long since come and gone. Not everything predicted has come to pass, although if we haven't criminalised sugar yet (as they satirically suggested we might back in 1981) then we've certainly demonised it. 2000 AD's semi-accuracy was part of its charm, as was such mischief: you're not going to get fat on cocaine. I'm pretty sure obesity was a crime. And when I type "semi-accuracy" it was often spot-on, for I seem to recall one Neil Gaiman predicting our current obsession with mobile phones there. It isn't included.
We're certainly catching up fast in jettisoning our freedoms, but Judge Dredd's stomping ground, Mega-City One, had long since dispensed with privacy laws. Everyone was on camera and every client who even bought a stick of lipstick was logged, their names and addresses surrendered to even the most casual police enquiries without question. I don't think that world even had a word for 'warrant' any longer. And I think that's brilliant: that the kids (and its readers were kids back then) were warned, through comedy, of the dangers of unchecked authority.
The epitome of this totalitarianism was Judge Dredd himself, he of the impassive, iron, jutting jaw as originally impressed upon us by Carlos Ezquerra. It was masterfully perpetuated by the likes of Bolland, Wilson, Weston, Dillon, Fegredo, Teague etc who are all in evidence here, and if you aren't familiar with Dylan Teague, well, I present you with another Dave Gibbons. He really is that good, his whiplash choreography bolstered by foot-on-the-ground physics.
Crucially, Dredd never once removed his helmet for that would betray / instil in him some humanity. Although you might be amused to learn that he once had an Italian cleaning lady. He wasn't the most sympathetic of employers: when she ushered in a cold-caller called Kevin O'Neill, Dredd threatened to drown Maria in her Minestrone. Quite right too!
No, Judge Dredd was and remains both hero and villain. He postures in his pursuit of justice, but all Dredd seeks truly is punishment. I doubt he could even spell "rehabilitation". He is hilariously yet egregiously free from the concept of joy. He is thrillingly efficient to the point that one cannot help but applaud a one-panel button-punch which sends a criminal careening through page after page of aerial pain, and so determined that no perpetrator will go unpunished that you wish so fervently that he'd headed the original Stephen Lawrence investigation. Yet he is implacable, dogmatic, relentless and remorseless. In Wagner and Fegredo's 'The Runner' he shoots a man down in cold blood for achieving his best jogging record:
"B-but he's not a criminal! He loved running... He was always running. That's all. Is it a crime to run now?"
"It's reasonable grounds for suspicion."
That's a fabulous short story, by the way, seen from the point of view of that jogger / runner. Artist Fegredo is a maestro of movement as seen to spectacular effect in Mark Millar's MPH, and remains comics' king of gesticulation - on a par with Will Eisner or sculpture's Auguste Rodin - and here his figure's fingers are seen poised as if daintily drinking a cup of tea.
So we return to where we began with Rob Williams and Chris Weston's 'The Heart Is A Lonely Klegg Hunter'. It's a relatively recent entry with exceptional, glowing colour art by Michael Dowling over Chris Weston's phenomenally intricate lines. You're in a rich and deliciously satirical delight as Williams takes on speed dating, errant apostrophes, employer disloyalty, the humble aspirations and meek expectations of a literature-loving, anthropomorphic crocodile wearing a yin-yang belt buckle, feared and loathed so unreasonably by all, plus the duplicity of vapid, day-time television hosts who should all be taken outside right now and shot.
Sorry... I think the Judge is rubbing off on me.
"Boy, I thought Kleggs were supposed to be fearsome, not tiresome!"
"After sitting through that, Andrea, I for one feel we should invade the Klegg homeworld and wipe out their entire race."
"Hmm. genocide. Good thing or bad thing? Viewers, press your screen now."
My only qualm is that even more 2000 AD non-Judge-mental gems like Smith & Burns' - unavailable in other collections - could have been better served with this spotlight. But I'd reiterate that it's a crackingly good primer and I'll tell you this for nothing:
2000 AD is a family, and once you've offered yourself up for adoption you will be cherished. I cannot think of a single other publisher whose Twitter @2000AD treats its readers with such all-encompassing, interactive affection. That account is evidently run with a great deal of fun for its readers.
There was (and continues to be) such an outpouring of adoration for the comic's extensive 40th birthday celebrations (I hear this every day from those who attended on our shop floor) and its 2000th Prog which meant that Page 45 sold 10 times its normal number of copies, shipping it worldwide and - on several notable occasions - off-world.
250+ copies went to a planet called Quaxxan orbiting the very real star which you might well know as Betelgeuse, which was almost as strange and satisfying as when we sent a SCOTT PILGRIM t-shirt to Toronto.
I'll concede that in this instance the postage was crippling, but you show me any other comic shop on this planet that can and will ship to anywhere in this worldwide wibbliverse. Where there's a will, there's a way. And where there's money involved, our Jonathan will find a way. He's from Yorkshire.
Heart-felt congratulations to 2000 AD, then, not just on its prescience, its eloquence, its endurance and its anniversary achievements but also on giving so many individualistic artists and writers - whom we now know so well - their very first jack-booted foot in the door.
All the art shown is from this very collection; it's just a shame I could find none of Fegredo's nor John Burns' online. Soz!