Sam Slade : Robo Hunter
A Potted History
Part 1 can be found here :
Sometimes, something’s should really be left to rest. Perhaps Sam is one.
Sam was resurrected for prog 723 2000ad’s first all colour prog’. Wagner, Grant and Gibson had been replaced by upcoming Scottish firebrand (and now international comic superstar) Mark Millar, art was supplied by Jose Casanovas. Millar’s Sam was young, rejuvenated (literally) and back in the city, previous continuity was “overlooked”. 2000ad was rebooting a few of its classic characters and strips around this period, notably “Strontium Dogs”. Largely, these reboots didn’t work and Robo Hunter was no exception.
Both Millar and his one time mentor Grant Morrison (now famed for their enmity) didn’t “get” the classic 200ad characters. Their interpretation of Dredd, Millar’s solo (?) “Robo Hunter” and “Rogue Trooper” are characterised by cliched 80’s action flick dialogue, extreme violence, hackneyed villains and plots that define the term “simplistic”. A bit of a shame really, I really like their other stuff. Interviewed for “Thrillpower Overload”, John Wagner said that after he saw the strip in the comic he requested editorial not publish any new stories, but to no avail, whilst Alan Grant offers this assessment:
“My objection arose when I saw the abomination produced. It was early in Mark’s career, so I guess he should get the benefit of the doubt – but that doesn’t stop it being a pile of crap”.
Millar led Sam on an extended arc that ended back on Verdus. He brought Cutie back, made her Mrs. Slade and turned her into a murderess. The strip wasn’t a success. A new writer will always bring their spin on a character, but this was throwing the baby out with the bath water. Millar replaces the wit and verve of the Grant, Wagner and Gibson stories with crude jokes, clumsy nods to contemporary culture (which has become his stock in trade) and poor attempts at parody. The strip lost it’s elements of farce and all of its subtlety. The only salve for the third degree burns that Millar’s run inflicted on the strip is by some rather spiffy art from Casanovas (and Jnr) and the underrated Anthony Williams.
After the end of “Return to Verdus” arc, Ron Smith and Simon Jacob (who was born to draw robots) took over for a few strips, Millar moved onto other things and Sam was put out to pasture again.
Next to pull Sam out of retirement were script droid and former editorial droid Peter Hogan with design ‘bot Rian Hughes who brought his distinctive retro style to the art. Hogan and Hughes’s was a bit more like the classic Wagner/Grant / Gibson run, but heavy on the twee and bland. Hogan’s characterisation of Sam dispensed with the world weary cynicism, satire and became gentler. Hughes’s retro pastel coloured art lends itself to quirky or dialogue heavy strips (“Dare” is brilliant and I recommend his “Yesterday’s Tomorrow’s collection”), but not to action. In the new creative teams debut on the strip Sam was drawn with an inane grin and wearing his cap sideways like some chav hanging around the local offie on a summer evening . The humour became less barbed, the strip more akin to a strip for under 12s rather than a sophisticated science fiction/fantasy comic.
Hughes tightened up on his interpretation of Sam, but to no avail. Simon Jacob steps in for a few strips, but Sam was put back on the shelf.
A few years later Alan Grant and Ian Gibson returned to the strip and dust off Sam, or rather his head did. The next Robo Hunter run starred Samantha Slade, Sam’s granddaughter was trying her way in the family business, guided by the preserved head of Grandpa. Samantha was sassy, sexy and even occasionally funny (helped out by some fantastic art from Gibson). Hoagy and Stogie returned to help out Grandpa’s girl, but Sam was relegated to supporting character.
Fun though it was, this was pretty lightweight and clearly didn’t set the world alight. Gibson left before the strip ended didn’t finish the last strip, leaving perennial pinchhitter penciller Anthony Williams to complete it.
The latest resurrection was slipped in with little fanfare in the Sci Fi Special. Alec Worley has got a better grip on the character and the humour better than Hogan or Millar, the wacky humour and satire are present in equal measures. Marc Simmons provides a clutch of easter eggs and references to past creators and runs and most importantly he draws great robots, pretty important in a strip that revolves around them echoing but not slavishly copying Gibson.
Not a classic, but a good start for any revival, it’s certainly better than the last few revivals.
It’s been a long time since any of Sam’s adventures have been essential. As much as I love reading Sam, perhaps he should retire permanently. I’ve ranted about this before:
Perhaps Worley and Simmons can do what other teams haven’t been able to do and return Sam to greatness. I’d be happy to be proved wrong.
Recommended Reading :
“Verdus” (Found in the Robo Hunter Droid Files volume 1)
“Day of The Droids” (Found in the Robo Hunter Droid Files volume 1)
“The Filby Case” (Found in the Robo Hunter Droid Files volume 1)
“Football Crazy” (Found in the Robo Hunter Droid Files volume 2)
“The Killing of Kidd” (Found in the Robo Hunter Droid Files volume 2)