From the 1984 2000ad Annual.
Layout Robin Smith. Cover by Brian Bolland.
Written by John Wagner and Alan Grant and, of course, illustrated by Carlos Ezquerra.
Have to be honest- I couldn’t remember much about the story contained in here. Had never revisited it since it first ran in the prog (Seriously: 1987!! Feel old yet…?) and the only memory it did evoke was that poor aul Wulf was currently rowing his way to the drinking halls of Valhalla, Johnny was now out on his own and Strontium Dog was going to take a bit of getting used to. Worse still, I was a little worried the reason I couldn’t remember much about this story was that, well… maybe it hadn’t been very good to begin with.
And of course, it turns out there’s nothing to worry about. Bitch is a great read and on top of that, successfully introduces a sexy, badass, perfectly capable female character into 2000AD’s canon. (I only make special mention of that because, certainly back in 1987, there weren’t many female characters in the comic’s history that managed to make a dent for all the right reasons. In layman’s terms- beyond Halo Jones, 2000AD was an all-out sausage-fest.)
Gather round, children: Bitch, based on a true story, tells us what happens when disgruntled alien terrorists from the 22nd century time-travel back to 1987, kidnap then-President of the United States Ronald Reagan, and demand all humans leave their planet or they’ll alter all of human history by vaporizing him. Mutant bounty hunter Johnny Alpha teams up with fellow mutant bounty hunter Durham Red, the Beee-yotch of the title, to track down Reagan, return him to 1987, restore our timeline and also, and more importantly, collect the colossal ten million credits in reward.
So, a couple of things: I was surprised to find Bitch ran for a sprawling 25 issues. That’s some Apocalypse War shit right there, yet it never feels like it lags at any point. If anything, the length gives the story enough room to explore all its various threads in a satisfying manner. The aliens’ motivation to kidnap Reagan turns out to be a somewhat justified one, and it’s a nice trick to have Johnny, no stranger to being marginalized due to his mutated nature, sympathizing with their plight.
But Durham Red herself is the draw here. She’s brash sexuality, hardened killer, head-wrecking opportunist and mistress of her own plans all at once. Simultaneously feeling the weight of her mutation (she’s a vampire) yet also revved-up and charged by it. And yet, at her core, she’s even more alone than Johnny. For all her flirting, it’s just a facade. Even her own ilk, the lowest tier of this society, fear and mistrust her. Seriously, I was totally unprepared for how great she was in this.
And Wagner and Grant are having some fun too: they put Johnny to the test in a way we haven’t seen before. All those years of macho galaxy-hopping and bounty-hunting with Wulf have taken their toll: Give him a weapon and a quarry and he can kick anyone’s ass but pair him up with a manipulative flirty woman and Johnny’s well outside his comfort zone. Watching him try to stick to the plan while Red embraces a somewhat looser – and certainly more mercenary – approach to her work is a joy.
Even Ronald Reagan’s handled well. Wagner and Grant keep him teetering on the right side of grating parody although looking back at footage of the man himself, I’m not sure their take is that far off from the real thing. I found myself laughing out loud at Ezquerra’s caricatures as well, some of which resemble nothing more than a dried raisin yet always stay impressively and hilariously recognizable.
And yeah, while we’ve mentioned the man: the other main star of the strip is Ezquerra’s artwork. Dude, it took me six fucking months to do an eight pager for Zarjaz once. Ol’ Carlos? He just rockets through twenty-five consecutive episodes like a champion, no big deal. As always, it’s a joy to peruse. You’re in the hands of a balls-out master now: Fantastic compositions, confident and exciting storytelling, the draughtmanship’s as perfect as ever and there’s an attention to detail that’s unmatched. Even the characters in the background get as much attention as anything around them. Anyway, I ended up loving this, as you can tell. A great bit of fun with some great artwork. Wagner, Grant and Ezquerra doing what they do best, basically. In fact, I liked it so much, I ended up sorta pissed off remembering that eventually, 2000AD decided poor ol’ Red should get transported 1000 years into the future and completely stripped of all the stuff that makes her great here. (Never cared for that take on her, sorry to say.)
Packaging is beautiful, the reprint quality’s pretty great. One or two pages a little muddy in my copy but nothing that’ll ruin your enjoyment. This is well worth your time and your money. Go fucking buy it.
Well, the annual pilgrimage to San Diego Comic Con has been indulged in once again and I rolled around in its greasy musk like a freshly-coiffed dog rolling in a savory excrement at the local park, moaning and grinning like a fool the whole time, exasperating those around me and necessitating a violent hose down before I could set foot back inside my humble abode. Perhaps my sights were honed a little more tightly this time but it seemed to me 2000AD product was to the fore more so than previous years. All good news for the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic…?
Well, yes and no. (But mainly yes.)
There’s loads of good: First off, 2000AD has one plum spot at SDCC. If you’ve never been, then it’s difficult to properly explain how important that point is at an event of this scale. Yeah, you’ve been to a Con before, whatever, but this is whatever that Con was violently inseminated by a raging mutant dinosaur, irradiated by some military scientist and let to exponentially expand until it’s fit to burst. Somewhere around a quarter of a million people invade San Diego for five days, most of them filthy fucking smelly nerds like you and me, so it’s vitally important if you’re selling your wares, you get an easily accessible spot somewhere in the melee. (There are middle aisles I bet have never been seen by human eyes.)
Also good: Between Planet Replicas, Mezco, 3A, and Unbox, there’s never been a better time to be a Dredd collector. Or loaded. Mainly loaded, because none of these guys are particularly cheap for what you’re getting. I don’t have any reservations regarding any of the figures on display here beyond that (and that I had to wait til I was forty-fucking-four years old to finally see something like them!). For what it’s worth, they’re all absolutely badass, particularly the 3A ones, although I’d have donated a royal nut to get a few of them back in 1/6 scale. So much attention and thought has gone into these, I’m just sad the costs don’t add up to go bigger and we can see all that glorious detail. Even better, the various figures were displayed scattershot throughout the convention center, ensuring Dredd’s mug was never far from dispensing justice wherever you looked.
And there’s more: by the time I arrived on the Friday, the 2000AD booth had already done brisk business from the day before and there was a steady stream of earthlets rabidly sucking up thrill-power as eagerly as Tom Hardy guzzling Aqua Cola through a muzzle. (On a side note: No Fury Road merch. Like, not a fucking sausage. Pah! Mediocre!)
Friday night descended into an alcoholocaust of quite some pedigree, sampling top-notch whiskeys while also discussing the finer points of replicating a Judge’s uniform with Judge Theis. See? You can have it all! It also ended up endangering the attendance for Saturday morning’s 10am spotlight on the almighty Carlos Ezquerra’s life and career and here’s where the good news takes a bit of a hiatus.
After living in Los Angeles for the best part of twenty years now, I’m happy to report that 2000AD’s presence has never been more visible on these shores but frustratingly, the attendance for Carlos’ panel wasn’t what it should have been. Dredd may finally be a part of the mainstream but it would appear his co-creator is still a bit of an unknown quantity over here. Nonetheless, it was a highly entertaining event and for those in attendance, a rare treat to breathe the same air as the man responsible for giving us so much joy over the last forty years. He was presented with SDCC’s prestigious Inkpot award for his contribution to the comic industry. The Molch-R had his questions primed and ready, and the Man Of The Hour was more than happy to engage. From Croydon’s influences on Mega City One (!!) through to explaining inking styles – great stuff from start to finish.
Once the panel ended, Carlos took pics with fans and received a Judge’s escort for the Long Walk back to the 2000AD booth, hilariously recruiting more and more Judges as he went and where he sketched and signed for fans once Jonathan Ross stopped skipping the queue.
Highlight for me was chatting one-on-one with the man for a few minutes on the walk back. Don’t want to gush too much, but the chance to tell him face-to-face how much his work has inspired and influenced my own left me with a manly lump in the throat. Without getting too maudlin: would I be living in Los Angeles, working on Family Guy, would my life have turned out the same had I not discovered the likes of this man’s art at the right time in my life?
I’ve always been a huge admirer of people who follow their own tune and create something unique along the way, even if that path sometimes leads away from a mainstream audience rather than towards it. It takes a special brand of integrity and character to resist the lure of a bigger spotlight (or as Carlos might put it- more people meddling with your work) but it became clear over the course of the hour that Carlos’ passion for his work is as alive and uncompromising now as it’s ever been. He said it himself at the panel: He’s happy and has no intention of retiring.
And we wouldn’t have it any other way. We love you, Carlos!
As for afterwards, the night’s events came back to haunt me so I camped out in Ballroom 20 waiting for the Hannibal panel.
As for purchases, it’s a testament to how easy it now is to find 2000AD related product that I shopped pretty light this year. Insurrection – fucking awesome, Strontium Dog – Bitch (which I’ll get to in more detail in a review), The Daily Dredds – seriously, how great are these in this format? – Dark Justice – which I have to confess, I didn’t much care for week-by-week in the prog but ended up loving as a complete read. Staples’ art is beyond astounding but the story surges much better altogether. Lovely jubbly.
See you next year, San Diego! If you’ve never gone before, I’d say it’s time you gave it a shot. Seriously, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before…
Well done to Our Man in the California, Steven Ross for this cool video!
Really excellent Podcast on the merchandise side of 2000ad!
Subscribe on iTunes