Wednesday, December 23, 2015

No. 54 Kelvin Gosnell

First Prog: 1
Final Prog: 404

Total appearances: 181
- including 90 as a script droid, and 91 as sub-editor / editor

Creator credits:
Project: Overkill
The Lawless Touch (from Tornado)
-and he had not a small hand in the very creation of both 2000 AD and StarLord

-and perhaps it’s he who coined the word drokk?

Dare utters the word 'drokk' many times in his frist series.
Art by Massimo Belardinelli

Other writing credits:
Judge Dredd
adaptations of Harry Harrison’s the Stainless Steel Rat
Lots and lots of one-off twisty tales

Notable character creations:
Joe Black
Johnny Lawless (he must be notable - he got his own introductory cover!)

Art by Barry Mitchell

Notable characteristics:
Selfish, money-grabbing, lazy heroes. Setting up challenges in his plots that the heroes solve through a combination of quick wits, bluffing and good old fashioned luck.

On Kelvin:
Pat Mills, godfather and mastermind of 2000AD, has always been quick to apportion credit to Kelvin Gosnell for coming up with the idea of doing a Sci-Fi action comic for boys. Specifically, it appears he spotted in advance that Star Wars was going to be massive, and that people were going to want more of that sort of thing. Executives were persuaded, Mills was cajoled into bringing the comic to actual life, and thus AD2000 was born.

The originsl dummy cover for the comic that would go on to become, of course, 2000AD
Art by ? Designer Doug Church, maybe?

Perhaps as a reward for all this, Mills got Gosnell on board as the scripter for the first run of the new adventures of Dan Dare, the most Star Wars-like of the first wave of strips in the comic. And Gosnell then took over from Mills as the editor on the comic for the bulk of its first year, covering Progs 17-85. He only stopped because he had ambitions to copy and improve upon the 20000 AD model by setting up and then editing all 22 issues of StarLord – the comic that birthed Strontium Dog and Ro-Busters.

Was the run of 22 issues of StarLord better than Progs 64-85?
Art on this cover by Ramon Sola

So unquestionably, Gosnell was a key player in the foundation and early success of our favourite comic. I struggle to speak to his editorial style, but I guess he’d have been involved in decisions such as trying out a new style for Dan Dare, and choosing when / how to finish off Invasion, and MACH One, making room for the likes of RoboHunter.

He also deserves a measure of credit for helping out the early comics career of Alan Grant, who started off as Gosnell’s sub-editor, then worked with him to carry Blackhawk over from Tornado (where he was a straight-up historical action hero) to 2000AD, where he became a way-out space gladiator. The way Grant ells, his, Gosnell gave him both practical advice and perhaps even confidence to turn his hand to writing a comic script. See also Judge Dredd: Aggro Dome, co-written by the pair, and a hugely rare non-Wagner Dredd story that you absolutely can’t tell isn’t by John Wagner, it fits the series so well.

Was the script for this born during the tempestuos time sof the IPC strike?
Art by Mike McMahon
From that point on, Gosnell’s credits move exclusively to the script droid box. He never quite hit it off with a whole new series, aside from his masterful adaptations of three Stainless Steel Rat novels, but his many one-offs were always delightful, and the tone he uses suggests that it was as much his worldview as anyone else’s that informed the nascent 2000 AD.

Let’s look into that a bit more, shall we? I suggested that the first Dan Dare run is the most Star Wars-y thing to appear in 2000AD.* But this is only inasmuch as it features spaceships, space pirates and space battles with alien weirdoes. Overall, Dan Dare isn’t remotely like Star Wars in tone. What it is is a showcase for Gosnell’s fondness for sneering, no-nonsense gruff action heroics, coupled with alarmingly over the top escapades that often involve harsh moral choices. Dare, the good guy, is a sweary, anti-authoritarian dude right from the start. Very specifically, this is the signal to us readers that we’re going to be on his side. He does things his way, doesn’t worry overmuch about the consequences, and he definitely won’t take a telling.

Dare don't care.
Art by Massimo Belardinelli

 Pat Mills concocted and wrote the opening episodes of most of the very early series in 2000AD, including Dan Dare, but Gosnell will have helped him out. He clearly has an affinity for this kind of ‘stick it to the man’ character that Mills was so keen to be the template hero for the comic, so I can’t help but imagine he and Mills had a fair amount of constructive back and forth on this sort of thing.

Gosnell was also called upon to write several of the middle episodes of Flesh book 1. Again, the tone of this strip is to root for the ‘heroes’ who are actively ignoring the orders of their superiors. This time it’s a bit more obvious that there are morally sound reasons for doing so, but it’s the laconic ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’ attitude that informs the likes of Earl Regan. I also imagine that what Gosnell was really into were the episodes that focus on dino-based carnage, complete with the screams of dying children brats.

Choose your way to die - giant spiders of hungry Tyrannosaurs.
And kudos to Gosnell for being aware of fur-covered theropods as a real thing.
Art by Ramon Sola (and don't tell me you can't see some Henry Flint DNA in there)

He was also one of a handful of writers to have a go at scripting some very early Judge Dredd episodes, back when that series was still trying to find its feet before John Wagner took over. He had a pretty great handle on the basics of coming up with inventive future crimes, coupled with the dirtbags who commit such crimes.

The Gosnell character archetype is the lithe but dependable man’s man who knows how to do stuff for himself, doesn’t waste time on emotions – unless it’s anger or greed – and is pretty handy with his fists. Yup, it’s 70s action heroes all the way.

Earl Reagan is a man's man.
Art by Boix, I think? Or else more glorious Sola

And so we get Captain Kenny Harris, pilot extraordinaire and eventual hero who busts the evils of Project: Overkill wide open. It’s not the most fondly remembered of stories, perhaps, but I think it’s one of the better one-off long stories to have run. Indeed, I wonder if it was Gosnell as editor who first approved the idea of running 7-12 episode long stories that were never meant to be part of a new, endless strip. Always something of a risk if you end up with a 12-week run of a weak story (*cough*Colony Earth!; Dry Run; Trash etc), but more often than not these have been a dependable source of exciting new and original stories for 2000AD.

Project: Overkill is a mountain?
Art by Jesus Redondo

Any, back to Kenny Harris. Ostensibly an upright chap, he’s mostly motivated by a sense of annoyance that he can’t remember what happened, and that his name as a good pilot has been maligned. Yes, he wants to be sure that his passengers are all safe, but you can sort of tell that it’s more personal than that.

Kenny Harris wants answers, goddamit!
Art by Ian Gibson

Gosnell's heros also have a strong sense of right and wrong.
Art by Jesus Redondo

It turns out that there’s a popular character from the world of pulp SF novels who fits Gosnell to a tee – slippery Jim DiGriz, the Stainless Steel Rat. DiGriz is a thief, but an enormously honourable one, who goes to great lengths to only steal from peopple who can afford it, or who, arguably, deserve a comeuppance or two. In the first story, he's coerced into becomeing an agent for the equivalent of an interplanetary FBI, and spends the rest of his adventures carrying out clever missions to take down scumbags (starting with psycho-killer Angelina, who becomes his wife). DiGriz is all about quick wits, sharp tongues, and being handy in a fight.

Harrison's original prose isn't too far from this terse style, actually.
Art by Carlos Ezquerra

Angelina DiGriz - 2000AD's deadliest female?
Art by Carlos Ezquerra

Gosnell must have put a fair bit of effort into securing the rights from author Harry Harrison to adapt his series for comics. He certainly put a lot of effort into writing the scripts – the three books Gosnell adapted are amongst the very best novel-to-comics works I’ve ever read.

This is how to turn prose into comics, folks
Art by Carlos Ezquerra

Vast swathes of credit to series artist Carlos Ezquerra, of course, and indeed to Harrison, who knows his way around an exciting, page-turning adventure that lends itself to the pacing needs of a comic.

But yes, if there’s one thing I’ll value from Gosnell above anything else, it’s the Stainless Steel Rat series. So glad Rebellion managed to put out a collected volume! So sad to think that there are another 8 or so books that could, in theory, get the same treatment from Gosnell/Ezquerra, but presumably at this point never will.

One of DiGriz's more loathsome villains is about to get his comeuppance
Art by Carlos Ezquerra

This leaves us with Gosnell’s other major contribution, Tharg’s Future Shocks! History may or may not record if any one person had the brainwave to insert these single-episode twisty tales into the staple line-up of 2000AD stories, but since Gosnell was editor when they first went in, he’ll get some of that credit. Writer Steve Moore likely deserves the biggest cheer for showing everyone else how its done – although, frankly, the vast majority of the early Future Shocks were not so great.

Gosnell himself wrote plenty, including I think the very first ‘man trapped in a virtual reality prison’ story. You know, the story that Tharg specifically tells all submissions pile hopeful NOT to use!

Art by Colin Wilson

Other clich├ęs perpetrated by Gosnell include the old
‘things are the way they are because alien beings are playing games’…
Art by Kevin O'Neill

I’m being unkind, because Gosnell wrote some pretty great one-off tales, too, not least a series of short stories featuring Joe Black, perhaps the first Future Shock protagonist to (almost) earn himself his own series. A classic Gosnell rogue, Black has to use a combination of wits, luck and basic mechanics skills to get what he wants out of life – peace, quiet and the promise of enough cash to buy a beer.

Black wins by cheating.
Art by John Higgins
More on Kelvin Gosnell:
There's only a passing mention of Kelvin Gosnell himself in here, but this is a lengthy piece by Pat Mills about the genesis of Dan Dare's appearance in 2000AD
I believe it's noe out of print, but if you can get hold of a copy of Beyond 2000AD by Hibernia Press, you'll find some words from the man himself

Personal favourites:
Judge Dredd: The New You; Aggro Dome
Project: Overkill
The Stainless Steel Rat
Joe Black: Trial and Error; Horn of Plenty; the Hume Factor
The Art of Advertising

Art by Garry Leach

*Later, post-Gosnell Dan Dare was more similar to Star Trek. And in the decades since, other strips such as, hell, Junker or even Ace Trucking Co were a bit more Star Wars-y, for the smuggling side of things, and I guess Insurrection for the ‘rebels vs evil Empire’ type stuff.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

No. 53 Simon Geller

First Prog: 180
Final Prog: 604

Total appearances: 182
-mostly for his work as assistant editor, but includes 32 appearances as a scripter

Writing credits:
Rogue Trooper: the Hitman years
DiceMan dice logo.
Art by Dave Gibbons
-and a Dice Man episode of Rogue, too.
Puns for the front cover

Notable characteristics:
As an editor, basic competency and a clear sense of fun. As a writer, it’s hard to say across a relatively short body of work, but I’ll go with straight down-the-line action.

On Simon:
The man got a pretty big boost on joining the 2000AD team in the form of a Tharg story that really bigs him up. He comes into the office, dubbed Sim-1, and gets everyone back on track producing top tier progs.

The reality may boil down to the fact that he wasn’t Burt, the office whipping boy in print and perhaps real life, too.

Sim-1 takes charge!
Art by Carlos Ezquerra
Geller even got to be on TV once, although my only exposure to this is from a photo-montage of the event in the 1987 Sci-Fi Special.

Geller is sat on the right; the long-haired fella on the left is Nico,
who presented a children's TV show called Splash!, I believe.
The real Geller looks a lot younger than his droid counterpart, I feel.

It is, however, surely not a coincidence that Geller’s tenure on the comic coincides with what is generally held to be the longest stretch of concentrated Thrill Power the comic has ever seen, covering seemingly endless runs of Strontium Dog, Rogue Trooper, Robo Hunter, Nemesis the Warlock, Slaine, Halo Jones, Ace Trucking Co, even ending on the high of Bad Company book 1. All the stuff that gets the Case Files treatment, in other words.

And then there was Dice Man, an experimental comic if ever there was one, attempting to cash in on the early 80s craze for Dungeons & Dragons and, more particularly, Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks, in which the reader reads a story but also decides what action should happen, creating many fractured pathways of story, usually ending in death.

Kev O'Neill came up with a death-fixated host for the comic; Geller provided the text

Art by Kevin O'Neill

Pat Mills, I believe, actually took on the job of writing the vast majority of those insanely complex scripts. Geller was the editor. I can’t help but believe he must have had a fair hand in the nightmare of sorting all those panels onto a page in an order that made some sense, although really a lot of this would have been down to Mills and his various artists.

If there’s one thing that characterises this era of 2000AD, it’s the pun-based headline son the front covers. This was an era when the cover image was as likely as not to have a speech balloon, as well as a tagline, and an 80% chance of a hearty chuckle.

According to his section of Thrill Power Overload, Geller was especially fond of, and maybe responsible for, setting up these jokes. Sometimes it’s obvious that the joke follows on from the picture, other times it has been built in to the picture already, possibly by the artist although likely suggested by the editor in many cases. Enough prattle – here’s a selection to enjoy.

Bullet in - geddit?
Art by Ron Smith

It's a homonym
Art by Steve Dillon

Art by Kim Raymond

Young me wouldn't go on to find out what SNAFU stands for until 1989's Tango & Cash.Art by Bryan Talbot

'cos Toby is a robot, see?
Art by Ian Gibson

Art by Massimo Belardinelli

Even the darkest, grimmest, revegeiest of stories can't escape without some wordplay.
Art by Carlos Ezquerra

Phantom of the Shoppera is the gift that keeps on giving.
Art by John Higgins

I can believe Geller retired from 2000AD after realising he'd never top this effort.
Art by Brett Ewins

And the punning wasn;t restricted to the covers. 'Next Prog' ads reeked of them...

A mid-series plug for Halo Jones Book I
Art by Ian Gibson; editorializing has to be Geller, right?
Heck, these 'next prog' bits wer so much fun, that one fo the Annuals or Specials of the era (I forget exactly which) had a whole feature on them, dubbed 'Last Prog's Next Progs'. That's commitment to filling space, but somewhow making it fun anyway. I approve.

Just as Geller was winding down as an editorial assistant (perhaps from boredom, or at least a healthy desire to do something different), he had a crack at writing. Poor old Gerry Finley-Day had essentially been fired from Rogue Trooper, but the character remained popular. The wild-goose chase of the antigen hunt, followed by the rather sudden, but actually kinda neat end of the Nort-Souther War left Rogue himself literally adrift in space.

Geller reimagined him as a hitman, working at the best of some sort of alien gods, who were straddling the line of benign/sinister. This device didn’t really work in itself. What did work, though, was the excuse for a series of quick and dirty storied where Rogue has to infiltrate and assassinate some bad dudes. And the Steve Dillon art didn’t hurt either, especially drawing a ghostly Venus Bluegenes as the mouthpiece of the gods.

It's clear there was no plan behind the Hitman concept, fun as the individual stories were.
Art by Steve Dillon

The four Hitman stories that ran between progs 500 and 600 were the moral equivalent of straight to video action films of the top tier. Think early Steven Seagal, or maybe Michael Dudikoff or even Eric Roberts. Lots of snarling, various one-liners, and vague themes that never get in the way of the action set pieces.  Good solid fun in other words, if never as engagingly weird as the early Rogue stories. If nothing else, the series demonstrated how vital the Nu-Earth setting is to Rogue Trooper, as is contrasting him with regular grunts.

Dissention in the ranks
Art by Steve Dillon
Rogue following orders
Art by Steve Dillon

Geller's first Rogue effort was set during the war.
Art by Brett Ewins

Short, sweet and to the point. Good stuff.

More on Simon Geller
Aside from his chat with David Bishop, I can't find anything.

Personal favourites:
Rogue Trooper: Hit One, Hit 2, Hit 3

Friday, December 11, 2015

No. 52 Grant Morrison

First Prog: 463
Final Prog: 2001 / 1280 (the 25th Anniversary party story, just a couple of months after Prog 2001). Before that, Prog 1031.
Total appearances: 184
-including Dare from Revolver/Crisis, and his other Crisis work, too.

In with a bang! It's the Maniac for Hire.
(Morrison loves to get meta, so I might as well honour that tradition here)
Art by Johnny Johnstone
Creator credits:
Ulysses Sweet, Zenith, New Adventures of Hitler, Bible John, Really & Truly,
Janus: Psi Division; Big Dave 

The villain from Really & Truly - a bald man in a leather jacket. Morrison playing himself?
Art by Rian Hughes

Other writing credits:
Judge Dredd
Venus Bluegenes
A large pile of one-offs, including some cracking good ones.

Notable character creations:
at the risk of repeating the above lists…
Ulysses Sweet (although he’s only notable now that the character has been resurrected to good effect by other creators)
Zenith and his supporting cast, especially:
Peter St John, Ruby, Dr Payne
Judge Janus (is she still around in MC1 somewhere? And whatever happened to Karyn and Juliet November, while we’re on the subject of random Psi Judges?)
Big Dave
Egyptian Judge Rameses
Vatican Inquisitor/Judge Cesare
-these last two are especially notable for being terrible

ex-Judge Grice from Inferno was pretty horrendous, too - but Morrison didn't create the character.
Art by Carlos Ezquerra
Notable characteristics:
Where to begin? Characters with actively negative personality traits. Plots that resolve because the writer wants them to without really making sense – but then occasionally figuring out really intricate and clever ways for the plots to resolve, too. Modernism in the various senses of that term – being self-referential, feeling contemporary, pointedly showing no respect to the past. Satire (where satire means being mean about things in a way that is often funny, but also thinks it is making clever observations about the world that don’t always come off).

Pointing out that superheroes don't solve real-world problems such as unemployment, but then not going on to pursue this whole thing in your story is more annoying than helpful.
Art by Steve Yeowell
Much like Garth Ennis, Morrison has become so famous in the world of comics that it’s hard to look past his later writing obsessions to see if and where they fit into his 2000AD work. I think there’s a pretty clear through-line, but there’s not much in Morrison’s 2000AD output that is explicitly about, for example, magic and the concept of story as a real and potent thing, which are among his more prominent themes in later work.

I will say that he started his thing with putting himself directly into his comics surprisingly early. It's only a cameo, but here's that time he (and artist Steve Yeowell) met Zenith...

And a whole heap of late 80s slebs, too, of course.
Art by Steve Yeowell

On Grant:
Art by Steve Yeowell
Grant Morrison reminds me of Tom Cruise.* Bear with me on this. Tom Cruise is, I think, an incredibly gifted actor. But largely because of the force of his own personality, he positioned himself early on in his career as a movie star, and it’s something he can never seem to escape from (and in fact I suspect he doesn’t want to). So, any new film with Tom Cruise in becomes a Tom Cruise film. Even when he’s trying to hide himself in edgy roles (Magnolia) or beneath grotesque make-up (Tropic Thunder), it’s still pointedly Tom Cruise shining through. And, as a consequence, it’s hard for me not to have a little bit of a cynical edge when watching the man’s films, an edge that says ‘how is this furthering Cruise’s position in the world? What is he trying to use this role to do?’ In short, it prevents me from enjoying the film as a film, even when it’s a pure entertainment vehicle such as any of the Mission: Impossible franchise. It almost doesn’t matter when some of his films are pretty great and others are downright terrible. And it can make the terrible films more interesting to watch.

And so it is with Grant Morrison. He is an excellent writer of comics. He can write comics in many different styles and in different genres. Some end up rather good, some less so. But he’s also Grant Morrison, a man whose force of personality turned him into one of a handful of international comics superstars, so it barely matters if he turns in something good, bad or mediocre. I’m sure he’d like to get away from that and just put out some fun comics from time to time. I’m also pretty sure he effing loves being an international comics superstar.

Just as Tom Cruise has certain acting tricks to rely on (mostly revolving around disarming grins and outstanding stunts), Grant Morrison has some very overt tropes he likes to rake over again and again (see above). They’re worthwhile tropes, and they tend to mean his stories are interesting at the very least, but I find it almost impossible not to examine the Grant Morrisoniness of his comics over and above just reading them as stories.

Again, just as Tom Cruise pretty much achieved superstar status early in his career with Risky Business and Top Gun, so Morrison basically achieved it with Zenith (for British audiences) and very soon after with Animal Man and Doom Patrol (for American and British audiences).

And now we can get into the meat of the matter.

An intellectual surrounded by dullards - is this how Morrison viewed his childhood?
Art by Steve Dillon
My first exposure to Morrison’s work was his spate of Future Shocks. Not that I took any notice of the names in the credit boxes in those days. But his efforts stuck with me more than most, specifically Danger: Genius at work! and Candy & the Catchman. Clever, funny, horrifying.  

Listen to the man, boy!
Art by John Ridgway

I’d rate him alongside contemporaries Peter Milligan and John Smith as one of the best ever regular Future Shock writers (after Alan Moore, obvs). And I don’t think that’s controversial. He had ideas, he new how to express them without hitting you over the head with it, and he definitely allowed artists to shine.

And let’s remember that although he didn’t take the character any further, he did achieve that rare feat of creating a character for a Future Shock who was so much fun he ended up in his own series. Ulysses Sweet, Maniac for Hire. I especially applaud the episode wherein Morrison mocks his own staunch commitment to vegetarianism.

Rockatarians - when Veganism just isn't pure enough.
Art by Colin MacNeil
I first noticed his name as the writer of Zenith – a series that left me incredibly cold when it first ran, and to be honest that put me off Morrison for a long long time. I pretty much bracketed him off as ‘pretentious, thinks he’s cleverer than he is, likes to sneer at people’.** 

And you can bet Morrison specifcally asked artist Steve Yeowell to pastiche that famous bit from Michelangelo's Sistene Chapel. If I'm honest, this sort of pretentiousness IS my bag, baby.
I don’t think I’ll ever love Zenith the way so many people do, but I have come around on it and recognise it as a genuinely outstanding comic strip. I remain frustrated that it’s an action/horror comic about superheroes fighting interdimensional demons, and not a comedy/satire about a super-powered popstar and his frazzled agent getting up to wizard wheezes with the Prime Minister. As a rule, the first and last episodes of each phase are my ideal Zenith, and the rest is a well-told action romp.

Zenith's greatest fear is not the Lloigor
With a lot of delightful jokes along the way.

And again, it’s worth pausing to acknowledge that Morrison does great dialogue, allowing each character to have his/her own voice, and to sow seeds of exposition without hitting you over the head (although sometimes I need a bit more hitting, I think). And, sometimes, he pitches his clever, showing-off bits about right.

You see, Frankenstein is a story about a man creating a new breed of human, only to see his creation run amok.
Which is a bit like Payne creating his superheroes, so it's appropriate that Zenith himself is reading Frankenstein.
What does come out across all four phases is that Morrison is great at characters. So many are introduced, and then disposed of, that it’s worth acknowledging how much they stick in the mind (credit also to original designer Brendan McCarthy and series artist Steve Yeowell, who bring them to life).

The other thing is how much Morrison is both good at plot and also dismissive of it. His stories are not, on the whole easy to follow. I certainly found I had to put a lot of effort in, and I still find Phase III to be a mess. It doesn’t help that Morrison is quite big on bathos – I think that’s the word – building up to a grand finale that then just sort of happens with little fanfare, because the plot was so artfully constructed that it’s not about a hero digging deep and going that extra mile, it’s about ‘the story could only end one way because that’s how it was set up in the beginning’. But you have to pay attention early on to understand why/how it works.

It’s both admirable and irritating.

It’s also why, I think, Morrison had such a hard time on Dredd. Dredd stories aren’t about intricate clockwork plots – or at least, they’re not if your focus is on emphasising that Dredd is first and foremost a bully and a hardman. And that definitely seems to be Morrison’s vision of Dredd. So what happened was that Morrison’s three (and only?***) Dredd stories all end up with Dredd in a fight with the villain, which he wins by being the biggest bastard. 

Dredd issuing the death penalty: in character
Dredd being excessive in carrying out the death penalty: pure fan service (or not)
Art by Carlos Ezquerra
This can work. But it didn’t. There’s no Spider-Man-esque ‘I must dig deep within myself to find the strength’ so that you worry for Dredd and root for him to pull through. And there’s no Wagner-esque well-plotted in-story set up that allows Dredd to find and use some advantage. He just wins because he wins, because he’s Dredd, and every time the story is diminished by it. It’s not even bathetic – we don’t get a sense of ‘sometimes the world is just the way it is, we’re all just ants’. You may get a smidge of fun at seeing Dredd taking out the bad guy, but when it doesn’t feel earned it’s a let down.

Sometimes, pure grandiose moments DO achieve a satisfying cool.
Art by Mick Austin
A real shame, as Morrison showed later, for example on JLA, that he is actually very good at coming up with clever plots that allow a hero to beat an unstoppable foe through earned cleverness. Hell, even in 2000AD his does this more often than not with Judge Janus (at least, the ones he wrote without Mark Millar). Perhaps Morrison is more comfortable in the realm of the mind than the realm of the body, or maybe he just really hates bullies and doesn’t want them to look good, ever.

Stream of consciousness - a narrative style that feels more Morrisonian than it actually is.
Art by Carlos Ezquerra

Now this, this is clever and delightful, subverting the expectation of violence with an act of love.
This is a side of Morrison I can get excited about.
Art by Paul Johnson

Besides fans’ general love of Zenith, I suspect Morrison’s most lasting legacy on 2000AD was his very deliberate self-presentation as a disruptive bad boy. He took a cue from popstars of the era, and the scattering of interviews and questionnaires that cropped up in Tharg’s Nerve Centre here and there show him acting the clown. He’d give deliberately obtuse or obscure answers to questions, and made a point of disrespecting the likes of Pat Mills and John Wagner.

To some extent, it’s this attitude that informs Dare, the generally much-loved series that ran in Revolver (before finishing in Crisis). If you don’t know it, it’s about Dan Dare as an older man in the 1980s –a version of the 1980s with Mrs Thatcher as supreme leader of a new British Empire. All delightfully designed and drawn by Rian Hughes, the king of retro futures.


It has a tight, exciting plot, and contains some interesting meditations on ageing and the class struggle - but there’s also an edge of cynicism running through it. It feels a bit like Morrison is angry about everything the original Dan Dare stood for. I never read that, and he may well have a point.

Honestly, I can admire this kind of thing from a certain perspective. It is healthy to try to rail against what has gone before, especially in 2000AD, which was founded on the principle of not being like everything else that was out there. On the other end, it’s also kind of stupid. More to the point, it’s not as if there were hundreds of 2000AD clones out there to kick against.

Ironically, Morrison’s faux (or perhaps genuine?) rudeness and cynicism actually made a certain period of 2000AD feel more in step with the zeitgeist of Deadline and Loaded Magazine, rather than reacting against that. Whereas old hands Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill were creating Toxic!****, a comic that was to 2000AD in 1991 what 1977 2000AD had been to IPC boys’ comic of the time. Which is to say, radically weird and definitely something parents would disapprove of.

Which brings us to the notorious Summer Offensive of 1993. To be fair to Morrison, he did put his money where his mouth was, and say ‘if I ran 2000AD, this is what I’d do with it’. I don’t know if he really was de facto editor for the run of 8 comics from Prog 842-850, or if it was more of a Thargian publicity stunt, but it felt like a big deal at the time, and it lingers strong in my memory as a reader, too.

Morrison himself wrote the Dredd story, the much-hated Inferno. He wrote the none-more-Morrison lark Really & Truly. He co-wrote the still controversial Big Dave. Leaving space for Mark Millar and John Smith to deliver hyper-violent action thrillers Maniac 5 and Slaughterbowl – which I mention here because presumably Morrison had some hand in approving the idea of these stories, which boil down to hyperviolent exploitation yarns.

Really and Truly don't give a toss - they're just out for a good time, and why not?
The tone behind this series was a lot better than the actual story, which I want to love more than I do.
Art by Rian Hughes

Morrison is always quick to acknowledge that insights priovided by narcotics can often be pretty feeble.

It’s pretty much impossible at this point not to get into a thing about Big Dave. I touched on it very briefly in Mark Millar’s entry, mostly to say that I never really got the joke. And of course it’s not fair to lay the blame at either writer alone. I still struggle with the fact that so many readers at the time seemed to hate it that I desperately wanted to like it. And the odd bit did make me laugh, e.g. Terry Waite as a brawler.


A rare spot-on, actually clever and funny sequience from Big Dave.
Art by Steve Parkhouse
My guess is that the main thrust was to develop a new, overtly British hero. And then the joke is that, by following the sorts of things celebrated in the most popular media outlets of the early 1990s, that kind of hero would be horrible. He'd be a body-building, beer-swilling, sexist, xenophobic homophobe from a council estate in Manchester (nothing wrong with that last bit, mind). The dead opposite of a noble, intellectual working class New York superhero role model. And then they stick him in a version of the world in which his repellant views are actually based on truth. In Big Dave's Universe, foreigners are all vile, corrupt imbeciles. Women are all fat slags. Poofs are fodder for being beaten up.

And maybe if 2000AD was actually being read by people who read the Sun and the Daily Mail (either then or now, I suspect not a vast overlap), this would be rather clever. Maybe. I mean, it’s obvious that the creators don’t condone Dave as a role model – and that they don’t view the real world to be the way it’s presented. But I’m not sure the joke goes anywhere beyond that, so it works as a one-off, but didn’t really work as a series. 

There is something telling in the fact that if Big Dave were invented today, the strip could be pretty much exactly the same, except that on the plus side, the true-blue Brit hero would no longer be a gay basher, but on the minus side, he definitely wouldn’t be proud to be on benefits either.

Hid Dredd work aside, I applaud Morrison for filling 2000AD with characters and stories that were absolutely unlike anything that had gone before.

Personal favourites:
Candy & the Catchman
Fruitcake & Veg!
Zenith: Phase II and IV
Janus, Psi Division: House of Sighs

(and, for the record, I also like his Kill Your Boyfriend, bits of Animal Man and Doom Patrol, JLA, parts of the Invisibles, the middle bit of his New X-Men run, all of the Filth; Batman and Robin (but not especially his other Batman stuff)).

This is me using Morrison's work to make my own meta-commentary about the blog...
Art by Steve Yeowell

More on Grant Morrison
I almost don't dare to search for specific links, as there will be so many!
His official website has a section on 2000AD.
I haven't gone into any of the controversy about the ownership of Zenith, but if you're interested, you could do worse than read Laura Sneddon's slog through the whole thing. 
For a seriously in depth look at his Zenith work, I'd recommend Tim Callahan's book: Grant Morrison: the Early Years, (which was originally serialised on the web over at Sequart, a site that worships at the altar of Grant Morrison, and why not? He's written a ton of great and influential comics).

*And not because I had long assumed, in the 90s at any rate, that both men were gay. My thinking nowadays would be that Cruise is largely nuts, while Morrison is, I imagine, not in favour of labelling people according to sexuality or indeed anything else. Both men have been, and continue to be, married to women.

**While acknowledging that this could very easily describe me…

***This feels like telling tales out of school, but I understand that Morrison helped out his friend and, at the time, up-and-coming writer Mark Millar on a bunch of stories in the 1990s. Two of the three Dredds here are explicitly co-written by the pair, but Morrison may well have helped on various ‘solo’ Millar efforts. Given that Millar has long suffered from crippling health problems, this is, I think, a big point in Morrison’s credit. Helping people is always good, no? But it makes it harder to know which aspects of a story to attribute to which author.

****The only problem being that Toxic! was one gets the impression, very poorly managed from a production / financial point of view. And also it had some very divisive art and utterly incomprehensible stories…