Wednesday, January 6, 2016

No. 55 Alan Hebden

First Prog: 27
Final Prog: 551

Total appearances: 176
including his epics from StarLord and Tornado, but not his works from Battle or the Eagle.

Creator credits:
Death Planet; Mind Wars; Holocaust!; The Angry Planet; Meltdown Man; The Amazing Maze Dumoir

Trademark crazy space operatics.
Art by Ian Gibson
Who could forget Ding Dong Dooley?
Art by Massimo Belardinelli

Other writing credits:
Mean Team
Lots and lots of one-off twisty tales

Notable character creations:
Lorna Varn (well I remember her)
Arlen and Ardeni Lakam, the telepathic twins from Mind Wars
Nick Stone and the yugees from Meltdown Man
Maze Dumoir (although she was perhaps a bit too amazing for her own good)
Dare I say Bloo Baloo?

Notable characteristics:
Fun. Epic storylines. Powerful women - in both the literal sense of wielding lots of power, but also the more nebulous/contentious sense of meaning prominent female characters who push forward a storyline and generally don’t take any guff from the other characters. Embracing of Sci-Fi staple ideas and running with them. Deeply unpretentious.

Space ladies with guns
Art by Lopez

On Alan:
Hebden was one of the first of a new wave of writers who became a 2000AD regular after the first crop of stories started to come to an end. My UK comics chronology is not too hot, but I’m pretty sure Hebden was already a regular writer for a bunch of war comics, most notably creating Major Eazy and El Mestizo with Carlos Ezquerra.*

Would you trust this woman?
Art by Lopez
Like almost every new writer since, Hebden’s first job was a couple of Future Shocks (some of the first ever, in fact). Unlike almost every new writer since, he then immediately moved into a couple of full series. (Of course, it’s not so unusual since he’d established credentials on other comics). Running pretty much concurrently was the much-maligned Death Planet in 2000AD, and the almost-forgotten Mind Wars and Holocaust in Star Lord.

Death Planet used to be Tharg’s go-to series for shame, at least until the Space Girls. Miraculously, it has actually been reprinted twice since then, and no longer seems to be quite so hated. It is clunky, to be sure, and possibly suffers from packing too much into a mere 9 parts. I also wonder if it suffers from being in the wrong medium – its set up of a ragtag bunch of na├»ve heroes up against an evil slaver and her empire is more the makings of a cult TV show than a short comic.

But it will forever be notable, surely, for being the first time that 2000AD passed the Bechdel Test.**

Two women, talking to each other, not about a man. Never mind the genre cliches.
Art by Lopez
In fact, this wasn’t even Hebden’s first time pushing women protagonists. Several Progs earlier, he scripted MACH woman, about, you guessed it, a woman with compu-puncture hyper-powers. (Sadly she wasn’t dubbed WACH). Even more unusual than that, the woman remains a hero throughout, and does not turn out to be a traitor in the final act, as with basically every other female in 2000AD (see Strontium Dog and Rogue Trooper for plentiful examples).

Meet Agent Tanya: Russian Spy, or hero in waiting?
Art by Lozano/Canos

Again on the powerful women theme, Arlen Lakam from the 22-part mega-epic Mind Wars is a psychic with enough power to destroy the Galaxy. This is a series that is crying out for a reprint (assuming the rights are available). It’s pretty much Star Wars (right down to the title!) but with both twins using their psychic powers to get in and out of trouble with the evil empire / the heroic rebellion. With spaceships, laser battles, and manly men of dubious morals.

Don't mess with the Lakam twins
Art by Jesus Redondo
An act of betrayal!
Art by Jesus Redondo

Holocaust, also in Star Lord, was a more down to Earth tale of alien invasion, very much in the Hebden mode of breakneck plotting, cliffhangers galore, and stakes both so high and so low they end up being fun rather than tense. 

Don't worry, Hebden sometimes follows the formula of
'nice woman turns out to be evil', too.
Art by Horacio Lalia
I only wish I had the opportunity to read Hebden’s Mars colony epic The Angry Planet, which ran in Tornado soon after Mind Wars wrapped up.

The ne plus ultra*** of all this epic sci-fi storytelling is Hebden’s lasting masterpiece, Meltdown Man. I wasn’t old enough to read 2000AD at the time, but I can only imagine what it must have felt like to see a story unfold that literally saw a new episode each week for an entire year. A story, unlike Dredd or Rogue Trooper or even Nemesis the Warlock that was always building up to a climax, rather than telling one-off tales within a certain setting. Other stories have had more episodes, but none has had quite the epic, continuous narrative feel as this. It’s the DVD box set equivalent for 1982.

World-building, Hebden style. Meet hero Nick Stone, villain Leeshar, and the Yujees caught in the middle.
Art by Massimo Belardinelli

That's what I call a one-liner.
Art by Belardinelli
And he is, too.
Art still by
It’s especially impressive when you remember that Hebden was almost certainly making the whole thing up episode by episode as he went along, in the usual style of the time. Presumably he had an end in mind (good guy wins, bad guys loses, with a twist of some kind), but it’s all so deliciously coherent, with an endless stream of fun, Belardinelli-designed characters along the way. Meltdown Man is not complicated, but it’s a fully realised world with well-drawn characters, clear motivations, with plenty of jokes and surprises along the way. Basically, the sort of straight forward good storytelling that just works.

From then on, Hebden was most often seen in the credits box for a seemingly inexhaustible supply of Future Shocks, Time Twisters and other one offs – and indeed the occasional 2-offs. As ever, it's mostly unpretentious, generally quite clever, and often with some arresting images and ideas along the way...

Art by Zacarra

Art by John Higgins

Hebden casually invents Wikipedia!
Art by Cliff Robinson

A good old fashioned crotchety mad scientist
Art by Jesus Redondo

The Amazing Maze Dumoir was a fun spy caper that is a little too proud of itself for having the hyper-competent James Bond type be a woman, not a man. 

'Holy Nova' wins you a shot if you're playing a Hebden drinking game.
Art by Ian Gibson

The rather excellent Psi-Testers, by contrast, was a dark tale of warring telepaths that may or may not owe a debt to Scanners.

A delightful misfit hero
Art by Mike Dorey (an unsung hero if ever there was one...)

Hebden’s final effort for the Prog was book 2 of the Mean Team, in which the death-sports team have a fantasy adventure. Rather like how the Hunger Games is just less fun to read when the characters are not actually participating in a game, the Mean Team just isn’t as good outside of the Death Bowl. There’s no less imagination from Hebden, mind, and as always plenty of incident, cliffhangers and new characters thrown in. And plenty of violence. Let down by a weird double-ending that was both triumphant and nihilistic at the same time, which I suppose is different!

"Now it's your turn, evil incarnate!"
Art by Massimo Belardinelli

The mega-sad ending...

 I suspect the real problem was that the story ran at a time when 2000AD was rapidly catering to an audience that had grown up with the comic. Hebden, like Gerry Finley-Day before him, found himself off Tharg’s rota, but with steady work on 2000 AD’s younger sibling, the Eagle. Perhaps the mass-killing in the last panel was a heartfelt two finger salute to Tharg?

Art by Jesus Redondo

More on Alan Hebden:
A delightful review of Mind Wars.
Embarrassingly, this is the first time I've encountered the UK Comics Wikia. I expect it has entries for everyone on this blog!

Personal favourites:
MACH One: Mach woman
Death Planet (I didn’t say it was that good, but for some reason I like it anyway)
Mind Wars
The Angry Planet (what I’ve read of it, anyway)
Meltdown Man
Psi Testers

*Lovingly homaged by Gordon Rennie (& Ezquerra again) for the Megazine many years later.

**Other comics that pass the test...

***Hebden may not be pretentious, but that’s not going to stop me from using Latin phrases when I want to.


  1. Thanks for the plug. I also loved this article on Alan Hebden. I didn't realise he was behind so many stories I loved growing up.

    I never did find out how Angry Planet ended - I remember the episode where the heroes were being hunted by robot bloodhounds though.

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  3. One day I will track down and read Angry Planet! One day...

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