This seems like as good a time as any to acknowledge a rather large debt. A creative one, to be precise. To what you might call a kind of great-great-grandfather once removed, whose bastard descendants include Preacher, Hitman, The Boys, Wormwood, The Pro, Kev, Barracuda, Dicks and more; whose barebones characterization, dark humour and intense action were and always will be a massive influence on my own work; whose writers, artists and editors created the greatest comic ever.
It cost 7p Earth money, it was printed on recycled bog roll, and it made Friday afternoons that little bit better: it was 2000AD, and in those first ten years- before they got desperate and started employing people like me- it was like lightning in a bottle. A glance at the roster of talent involved is enough to take the breath away, and it should be remembered that a whole generation of readers was able to pick up almost any given issue and see a dozen of these guys at their very best.
So thank you: Pat Mills, John Wagner, Gerry Finley-Day, Alan Grant, Alan Moore, Tom Tully, Alan Hebden, Steve MacManus, Kelvin Gosnell, Nick Landau, Robin Smith, Simon Geller, Richard Burton, Doug Church, Tom Frame, Carlos Ezquerra, Ramon Sola, Jesus Blasco, Massimo Belardinelli, Dave Gibbons, Mike McMahon, Kevin O'Neill, Ian Gibson, John Cooper, Brian Bolland, Brett Ewins, Brendan McCarthy, Garry Leach, Ron Smith, Colin Wilson, Steve Dillon, Kim Raymond, Cam Kennedy, John Higgins, Barry Kitson, Mike Dorey, Carlos Pino, Jim Watson, Alan Davis, Jesus Redondo, Jose Ortiz, Ian Kennedy, Eric Bradbury, Mike White, Bryan Talbot, Ron Turner, Jim Baikie, Angie Mills, Glenn Fabry, David Pugh, Mike Collins and many more.
Thank you for two Tyrannosaurs fighting to the death on the rim of a volcano; Bofors gunners shooting it out with UFOs; Old One Eye's last and greatest kill; the only Bear on the CIA death list; "Quack-quack, Volg!"; the truly unstoppable Artie Gruber; Dan Dare at the battle of Jupiter; Conclusion: MACH One terminated. Now closing down transmission; the Space Fort's final battle with the Starslayer Empire; I came into the apartment blasting. I've been at this game for forty years and there's one thing I've learned- never give a robot an even break; "Goodbye, Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein. Little Mo and I will always remember you"; Blackhawk and his comrades at the Event Horizon; "When you get old, you start gettin' strange notions, like maybe people aren't so bad. Maybe if we treat 'em with kindness, the good in them will come out. I guess that's when it's time to quit"; I was there the day the heavens turned to hell; an ammo belt of silver Spandau bullets; the madness that was Meltdown Man; "Boys, you're making a big mistake. I'm the one you should be afraid of. And here's why"; "Perhaps we could all do with a little more of what Dredd's got".
Thank you, also, for the night the G.I.s died; the Dark Judges on the loose in Billy Carter Block; "Is that what people are? Are we robots too?"; "Vape, baby, vape!"; And there was great celebration which went on all night… and the night went on forever; "An' the name's Thompson–Harry Thompson!"; Carefully–oh, so carefully–creeps the Starborn Thing; "And some of them… some of them are stars"; Johnny and Wulf fighting dead men in an alien churchyard; "There's a moral here somewhere, Grobbendonk"; "Grim"; Red Planet Blues; "Welcome to the wound-feast!"; "But the third word is probably oranges"; "I know many things, Old Red-Eyes"; For you are a Judge. And it is your duty; "Wake up, guys…we're home,"; "Fancy that for dinner, George?"; The city screaming Chopper's name; "Been nice knowin' ya, good buddies. Guess this is it. Truck tucker, y'hear?"; Halo Jones eating breakfast in the ruins; And let the Third Law be that anyone says different's a dead man; "Because I hate you."
And, of course: "This Cursed Earth will not break me! I am The Law! I am Dredd–JUDGE DREDD!"
Finally, there's the best bit of all, to me the greatest moment in comics history: part 22 of The Apocalypse War. Having fought a losing battle against the invaders, seen half of Mega-City One destroyed, massacred collaborators and euthanised the critically wounded, Dredd has led an elite team of Judges into an East-Meg missile silo. Following one of the best action sequences I've ever read in a comic, the Judges find themselves unable to gain access to the operations room, until Dredd simply bangs on the door with his pistol and shoots the curious halfwit who opens it point-blank. Our boys storm the ops room and seal the door. Anderson, the telepath (and only volunteer in the Apocalypse Squad- no peacenik cosmic wandering in those days) pulls the launch codes out of the silo commander's mind. The nukes are targeted on East-Meg One. "Please, Dredd", begs the commander, "There are half a billion people in my city–half a billion human beings! You can't just wipe them out with the push of a button!" And Dredd doesn't hesitate, not even for a second.
He can and he does. I still think about that today; what it meant about the character, and about the comic I was reading (aged 12). Even now I don't know if Dredd was right or if he was wrong. It was the only way to win, to avoid the further slaughter and enslavement of his own people–but it was genocide. It was moral courage on an almost unimaginable level–but it was appalling. In the end, it was a dilemma not unlike those faced by a number of good and bad men in our own history, and if I had to sum it up in one line, I'd say this: what are you prepared to do when there isn't any easy way out?
And that, I think, is why I've never been able to care about Batman, or Wolverine, or Iron Man… or any of them, really. Not because of what characters like that would or wouldn't do, but because their publishers would never have the courage to have them written into such a situation.
A belated–but sincere–Happy Thirty-Second Birthday to the Galaxy's Greatest Comic.
New York City, June 2009