HARRY 20 ON THE HIGH ROCK
Writer: Gerry Finley-Day
Artist: Alan Davis
Letterer: Tony Jacob
Review by Lee Grice
“In the year 2060, a hundred miles above the Earth orbits the High Rock – a maximum security prison crammed with 10,000 of the most vicious criminals from the world below. Falsely accused of betraying his government, Harry Thompson is given a twenty year sentence on the Rock, but amongst thuggish guards controlled by Warden Worldwise and psychotic inmates like Big Red One, the chances of staying alive for that long are looking pretty slim”
From Escape to Alcatraz, Papillon and Cool Hand Luke to The Great Escape, Midnight Express, The Shawshank Redemption and beyond there’s been a long tradition of prison escape stories in cinema history, but in comics they are, perhaps surprisingly, far fewer and farther between. One notable and novel entry arrived in 1982 when 2000AD débuted Harry 20 On The High Rock in prog 297: essentially it was “Escape From Alcatraz In Space”.
Harry 20 is a pretty significant strip for me. You see I started reading 2000AD regularly with prog 268 and so Harry 20 was the first brand new strip I ever saw, the first one I was able to read from start to finish and own in its entirety. It was also the first time I’d seen the stunning artwork of Alan Davis, which completely blew me away. So it was with great excitement that I heard Harry 20 was finally going to be released as a collected edition albeit only in an American edition.
The reasons for Harry 20 being released as a US book and not a UK one probably aren’t too difficult to figure out. Harry 20 isn’t a terribly high profile or high demand strip here in the UK, but so far the marketing strategy for breaking the US has been to focus on strips by big-name US-fan recognisable creators and there is Harry 20’s massive virtue: it feature 100+ pages of stunning Alan Davis artwork. Being a stand-alone all-in-one book and having a juicy premise (“How can you escape from an orbiting space prison?”) doesn’t hurt either.
To fans familiar with the Davis droid’s Marvel & DC superhero work his art for Harry 20 is likely to be as much of a revelation as it was to me when I first saw it back in ’82. His style is far grittier and detailed; more rendered and illustrative than his superhero work, which is perfect for the grimy shadow-drenched interiors of the space station prison and his talent for character, expression and body-language is invaluable in what is essentially a character drama.
Story-wise I think it still holds up. Written by veteran Finley-Day (of Rogue Trooper and The VCs amongst many others) the plot whips along at a fair crack and despite inevitably touching on a few prison genre clichés he manages to serve a good few twists and surprises with typical 2000AD wit. Particularly entertaining is the fact that all the prisoner have had their surname’s replaced by their sentence terms which gives lots of leeway for puntastic supporting characters like Root 66, Swede 16, 77 Sunset and 21 Toady.
Design-wise the book itself is very nice – the trade dress matches the smart UK books and Alan Davis provides a cracking new cover as well as revealing one or two story goofs in his entertaining introduction (so you might want to leave that until after you’ve finished reading the story). There’s also a lovely little sketchbook section at the back to round it out.
Like I mentioned at the start this is a US only edition so how likely it is to show up on the shelves of your local comic shop I can’t say, but in this age of international internet shopping tracking down Harry 20 On The High Rock shouldn’t prove too hard.
As well as sometimes helping out on the ECBT2000AD podcast, Lee is also one half of the excellent Small Press Big Mouth podcast. The SFX nominated podcast actually that you can go vote for in literally two seconds HERE
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