Posts Tagged ‘Rob Williams’

Okay, fair enough, it took me awhile, but now that Paul Goodwin’s 2014 documentary Future Shock! The Story Of 2000 AD is available for streaming on Amazon Prime (and still easy enough to find on DVD and Blu-ray, should you desire to go that route) I had precisely zero excuse to delay watching it any further — and, truth be told, now that I’ve seen it, I’m kicking myself for having waited to long.

I’d heard pretty much nothing but good things, of course, and was fully expecting that the history of the self-appointed “Galaxy’s Greatest Comic” would make for the Galaxy’s Greatest Comics Documentary, but you know how expectations go — they’re lived up to so seldom that when it happens, it’s a damn pleasant surprise. I had another major concern about the endeavor, though, as well, one that was amplified by the fact that I saw no mention of it in the hundreds of reviews of the film prior to this one (at least those I’d read) — would Goodwin venture into the weeds of the publication’s shady ethical history, or would this be a glowing hagiography, and nothing more?

More on that in a moment, but first, by way of a brief “backgrounder” for those not in the know, 2000AD is the seminal British weekly comics publication that emerged in the late 1970s from the ashes of Action, a sublimely lurid  comics magazine that touched on any number of hot-button social and political issues of its day within the framework of balls-out adventure stories. Action proved to be too much for the censors of Britain’s nascent Thatcher regime to handle, but its founder and editor, the legendary Pat Mills, hit on the idea that he could stir up just as much shit as ever on the political front, and up the ante on the violence and bad attitude considerably, if he just transposed his gleeful misanthropy into the trappings of genre storytelling — and thus was 2000AD born, its sci-fi tropes offering a kind of “safe cushioning” for the anti-authoritarian (hell, often downright anti-social) messaging that Mills and his cohorts, infused with the punk rock ethos and aesthetic of the time, were still interested in peddling to impressionable, disaffected UK youth. Let the games begin!

Now, Mills was fortunate in the extreme to hit lighting in a bottle almost right off the bat with Judge Dredd, a character he co-created with writer John Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra that was an immediate sensation and has gone on to become a household name throughout the English-speaking world (and beyond), and Goodwin does a nice job of using his “talking-heads documentary” format to show what a jumbled effort Dredd’s genesis was, as well as how Ezqurra, who jumped ship early in order to take on work that actually might feed his family, still feels burned by not being allowed back onto the strip after it took off beyond anyone’s expectations. Which rather neatly brings us back to my concern from earlier —-

To be sure, this film is very much a celebration of its subject, but it’s an honest one. Goodwin’s approach is “warts-and-all,” and that makes for a much more engaging and satisfying viewing experience. Sure, the camaraderie and friendly competition that existed between early-days writers and artists is discussed, but so is the fact that they were paid sub-poverty wages. The publication is taken to task for its lack of creator ownership of IP, particularly as it relates to Alan Moore (whose absence looms large over the proceedings) and his unfinished masterwork, The Ballad Of Halo Jones. The poaching of 2000AD  talent by American publishers (especially DC) is presented as a negative thing for the comic itself, as it no doubt was (and is), but also as being inevitable, given the archaic business practices of ownership over the years. The controversial semi-recent editorial tenure of David Bishop isn’t glossed over in the slightest, least of all by Bishop himself. And, crucially, the “boys’ club” mentality prevalent in both the magazine’s pages and its offices is taken to task by recent female additions to the fold such as Emma Beeby, Lauren Beukes, and Leah Moore. There’s no doubt that 2000AD is a kick-ass mag — but it’s one that’s not been without its share of problems over the years, and Goodwin deserves credit for not only not ignoring them, but placing them front and center when necessary.

For all that, though, Goodwin isn’t snarky about his subject in the least, and it’s clear that he loves this comic dearly and knows its history like the back of his hand. His interview subjects run the gamut from originators like Mills, Wagner, Ezquerra, Brian Bolland, Kevin O’Neill, Alan Grant, Dave Gibbons and Bryan Talbot to current contributors such as Rob Williams, Jock, Andy Diggle, and Dan Abnett,  as well as the aforementioned Beeby, Beukes, and Moore. One could argue, I suppose, that Neil Gaiman comes in for a bit too much screen time given that his contributions to the publication were pretty sparse, and that certain 2000AD luminaries like John Smith should have merited at least a mention, but on the whole, those gripes are minor, and are frankly all I’ve got listed in this film’s “minus” ledger. Goodwin has set a high bar for all future comic book documentarians and even those who don’t necessarily find the subject to be interesting are likely to enjoy the hell out of Future Shock! The Story Of 2000 AD. “Check it out now,” I say in my best Judge Dredd voice — “that’s an order!”




Is it just me, or has it been waaaaaaayyy too long since DC’s Vertigo imprint went trolling for fresh new talent on the other side of the Atlantic? In the early days of the line, of course, British creators were all the rage, from established luminaries like Neil Gaiman, Peter Milligan, Grant Morrison, Jamie Delano,  and Garth Ennis to “one-and-done” types like John Smith, Gary Ushaw, and Nick Abadzis, the UK was the primary well tapped by the editors of the newly-minted “mature readers” range.

And then the trans-oceanic creativity pipeline just sort of seemed to dry up. It’s not that promising new writers and artists weren’t still coming on the scene in Britain, it’s just that Vertigo stopped looking in that direction, for whatever reason. Their London office, helmed by Art Young, folded up shop, and Vertigo seemed to zero in  on North American talent, in the main, for the next couple of decades.

I’m pleased to say that appears to be over, as the very promising new six-part mini-series The Royals : Masters Of War so ably demonstrates. Coming to us by way of the U.K.-based writer/artist team of Rob Williams and Simon Coleby, both of whom cut their creative teeth in the pages of the venerable 2000 A.D. weekly comic, this book hopefully marks the opening salvo in a new “British Invasion” that’s long overdue.



Now, to be honest, I probably should find this series more immediately off-putting than I do, simply because I flat-out despise the monarchy. The American tabloid press seems even more obsessed with them than their British counterparts, and for the life of me I just can’t figure out why. The comings and goings of the vapid, idle super-rich don’t interest me in the least. The Windsors — and every other royal family — should have been stripped of their “birthright” and been forced to work for a living like the rest of us a long time ago, in my opinion,  but at least Williams and Coleby have chosen to focus their story on a novel new take on exactly why these folks enjoy such power and privilege — namely, they’ve all got super-powers, and us lowly “commoners” don’t.

Admittedly intriguing in a sort of “gosh, why didn’t I think of that?” way, this also provides a funky new twist on the notorious and thoroughly-well-documented practice of interbreeding and inbreeding that the world’s various royal lineages still adhere to,  because the “purer” the bloodline, the more powerful the heir-to-be will consequently end up being. It’s all pretty creepy and cool at the same time.

Williams drops us right into the action high above Berlin in 1945, with our ostensible “hero,” Prince Henry, about to jump into battle. As he surveys the devastation around him — brought to remarkable life by Coleby’s evocative pencils and inks which are more than ably abetted by J.D. Mettler’s amazingly sensitive and realistic color palette — he flashes back five years earlier to the moment he first decided to break the non-intervention pact that all the super-powered royals of the world had been living under. While London was being decimated by Hitler’s blitz, Henry’s older brother, Arthur, wandered through life shit-faced drunk and his father, King Albert, sat idly by doing nothing. It all apparently got to be a bit too much for our guy Henry to handle, and with the support of no one else in his family apart from his sister (and, it’s hinted, lover), Rose,  he  decided that enough was enough and chose to unilaterally break the truce.


What happens next? Well, I guess that’s what the next five issues are for, but Williams does such a superb job setting the stage here that my curiosity to know more is definitely piqued. Apart from Henry, no one’s very “likable,” per se, which strikes me as a pretty realistic depiction of royalty in general, and it seems that typical “palace intrigue” bullshit will only be a small part of the world he and Coleby will be exploring here. We’ve seen “Point A” and the early stages of “Point B,” but how we go from one to the other is still entirely up in the air, and that’s a good thing because, hey, we all like comics that keep us guessing, right?



So it appears what we have his is part alternative history, part World War II comic, part old-school Vertigo Brit book (albeit by a new generation of creators — apart from old pro Brian Bolland, who does a nice job with the first issue’s alternate cover) and part revisionist super-hero tale. If succeeding issues follow through on the promise shown in this debut chapter, then I’m definitely in it for the duration.