Sunday, 10 April 2016

Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD

Title: Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD
Director: Paul Goodwin
Released: 2014

Plot: Documentary charting the history of the iconic British comic, which not only gave the world the likes of Judge Dread but also served as a launch pad for the career of many now legendry comic book writers / artists including Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Garth Ennis.

Review: Growing up in the rain soaked shores of the south of England I never had much access to the comics being churned out by Marvel or DC, whose characters I knew better from their Saturday morning cartoon series than I did from the comics themselves. This of course being the downside of there being no comic shops near to where I lived but what we did have instead was “2000AD” a weekly comic series and whose pages would inevitable be filled with the kind of hyper violent sci-fi and fantasy stories that I course lapped up.

While it might be a publication not overly well known outside of the UK, this distinctly British flavoured comic was born out the ashes of the likes of horrendous comics like “Action” in the late 70’s providing its readers with its own iconic cast of characters such as the aforementioned Judge Dread aswell as the likes of Flesh, Rogue Trooper, Nemesis and Slaine whose catchphrase of “Kiss my axe!” is still as badass to me now as it was back then.  Needless to say the many of the key titles are covered in the documentary or atleast nodded to even if the focus is distinctly on the early titles rather than any of the later titles such as Durham Red, Outlaw or Sinister Dexter  which was created as a spoof of Pulp Fiction’s Hitmen Vincent and Jools.

While its characters might have been iconic as we see here in this Talking Heads heavy documentary the comic also served as base and starting point for essentially the who’s who of British comic book talent  and it’s a real credit to director Paul Goodwin that he’s been able to round up so many of the key names with only Alan Moore, Mark Millar and Garth Ennis being noticeably absent  which considering Moore’s feelings on the general treatment of his stories makes it unsurprising that he doesn’t appear here to share further tales of mistreatment of his work or the issues concerning the rights to his stories and creations which is cited as being one of the key influences for the British invasion of America and which in turn would lead to DC creating their “Vertigo” imprint to essentially give these artists the freedom to really do anything they wanted. That being said you have to question the states the industry would currently be in had 2000AD been able to handle this issue with rights to the material as the documentary certainly seems to imply that this was the sole reason for DC being able to create Vertigo in the first place.

Starting with the creation of the comic its these early years which make up the best moments of the documentary with the founding editor Pat Mills still every bit the aging activist as he highlights the satirical elements of society and the govement at the time which would soon become the foundations for the material they were creating and like all the interview subjects shares plenty of great behind the scenes stories including wanting to throttle cover artist Carlos Ezquerra over his colour choices for a cover which he felt changed the tone while most amusing is hearing the general distain by the staff for its fictional editor Tharg, who would become very much to the comic what Cousin Eddie is to “Iron Maiden” with attempts to drop him being greeted with an onslaught of complaints from the readers.

By the time we leave this golden period in the second half of the documentary entering into David Bishop’s time as editor which saw the comic not only lose focus as its once sharp satirical eye began to wonder to easy targets like Tony Blair (B.L.A.I.R. 1) and the Spice Girls (The Space girls), while at the time Bishop had to battle against less than PC advertising which seemingly was designed to embrace the lad culture of the 90’s but at the same time eliminate any female readership they had. Honestly it really has to be seen to believed that they could ever have been considered a good idea. Its also around this point that the documentary starts to sag as it gets bogged down in talks of contracts and artists writes, while constantly feeling towards the end that Goodwin is struggling to find that one soundbite which will allow him to move on.

Considering the past attempts to adapt Judge Dread it’s unsurprising that both film versions get a mention with the Stallone version unsurprisingly getting bashed, despite it really not being as bad as a lot of people would like you to believe. The more recent attempt “Dread” however is praised with Alex Garland on hand to explain his approach for the script, while Karl Urban gives the impression that he is still far from done with playing Dread despite the attempts to make a sequel still seemingly stalled at the time of writing. The documentary also interestingly draws comparisons between Dread and Robocop which certainly the 2000AD team would have you belive was an attempt to rip off Dread which is only made the harder to doubt when you see the original helmet design for Robocop and it’s an exact copy of the original Judge Dread design.  This section is also rounded out by the controversy surrounding Richard Stanley’s “Hardware” which ripped off a “Future Shocks” story.

Despite the sagging middle section the focus here is clearly to tell as full a history of the comic as possible while equally having zero qualms about exposing more than a few grim moments from its long history as no one holds back especially in the case of Pat Mills, while the material is presented in an engaging format with extensive use of archive material and a fantastic animated opening which really grabs the audience and captures the energy and feel of the material. However this is a documentary really designed for those familiar with the material as it sadly misses an opportunity to explore the inspiration for many of the great characters though despite this it remains an important piece of comic book history and worth giving a watch if your curious about the history of this legendry comic.    

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