It is pretty rare these days for a middle aged man like myself, who collects comic books, to walk into a store, see something on the new release rack and genuinely be excited about it. At least it is in my world. But that is exactly what happened to me last weekend when I walked into Newbury Comics.
I don’t have a “real” comic shop close to me, but I do have a Newbury Comics where the folks running the store are all big comic people and really do their best to keep a nice selection of comics, trade paperbacks, and anime in stock. When I get the chance, I’ll talk to whomever might be around about the new releases, the things we are reading, or the latest movies we saw. It may not be a full fledged LCS but it’s pretty darn close.
On this particular Sunday afternoon I was looking at the shelves with last week’s books and there on the bottom was a copy of Action 2020, the cover promising Mayhem and Danger! I snatched it up and quickly tried to figure out if it was what I thought it was, a new issue of the British comic magazine, controversial for being overly violent. It was so controversial that the October 23rd (1976) issue was “banned” and copies were pulped before making it to the newsstands. After checking the comic out for a minute or two, I realized it was exactly that and I made my purchase.
When I got home I did a little research and I learned that earlier this year Treasury of British Comics released Action 2020 as a one shot. I expect they were trying to capitalize on the nostalgia for the original series and it’s checkered past. They even sold the printed copy of the new magazine with a reproduction of the Oct 23rd issue that was never released. I’ve since been searching online for a copy of that bagged issue for a week now without success. In that same time I also managed to read the actual comic.
Before I get to the stories I want to mention how I even know what Action! is. One of my all time favorite podcasts is Chris and Reggie’s Cosmic Treadmill. Episode #137 of their show covered the book and the folks who worked on it. They also discuss the era of British culture, why the comic was “banned”, and the video “nasties”. I’ve got a real fondness for seventies history, British history, and comic history so this episode was a trifecta for me. I would encourage anyone that might be interested to check the episode out. Now with that out of the way let’s get to the DANGER!
Kids Rule O.K.
Created by: Chris Lowder & Mike White
Script – Ram V
Art – Henrik Sahlstom
Letters – Petitecreme
The story opens with a young person in jeans, a hoodie, and goggles dragging a large metal sheet through the streets of London. The editorial boxes tell the reader that there was a plague in 1986 that killed all the adults and old people, leaving just the children of the world to survive and carry on. The kid reaches his destination, a large ramshackle metal structure, and is greeted by several other kids in hoodies and goggles. The plan is to add the new scrap to whatever it is they are building.
Off in the distance comes the sound of engines. A motorcycle gang approaches and one of the kid builders sounds the alarm by ringing a bell. Several older and larger teenagers grab guns and a giant ax and get ready to rumble with the motorcycle gang. A very brutal and gory battle commences. The small group of defenders inflict some serious damage on the gang, including a massive headbutt into the nose and face of one of the bikers, that sends the surviving members of the gang off and running. The story closes with the teenagers reflecting on why they fight and what they are fighting for as they watch the younger kids try to put out a fire that was started on the structure they were building.
Hellman at the Twilight of the Reich
Created by: Gerry Finley Day & Mike Dorey
Script – Garth Ennis
Art – Mike Dorey
Letters – Rob Steen
1945 and three children are standing around a car with the hood open. Suddenly a Panzer tank bursts out of the woods pulling in front of the car. The brother tries to comfort his sisters telling them it is a German tank, one of their own, nothing to be afraid of. A German officer, Kurt Hellman, gets out of the tank to find out what the trouble is. The children, whose parents have most likely been killed, are trying to escape from the encroaching Russian forces. Hellman tells one of his men to get working on the car and explains to the children that they must have got lost because they were headed straight towards them.
Max, the crew member of the tank working on the car, complains that they need to get moving. The young boy, Erich, is enamored by the war hero Hellman, and explains to his sisters about the stories of victories in battle that he’s read about in the paper. Hellman can barely pay attention to the children but does seem to genuinely care about their welfare. Erich’s sister, the older one, Greta, is not quite so taken with the soldier or the tank crew. She understands that the Germans are losing the war.
One of the tank crew calls Hellman telling him that Russian tanks are approaching on one side and soldiers on the other. Max tells the kids to get in close to the tank and cover their ears. The solitary Panzer makes short work of the Russians. After the battle Erich is even more star struck by what’s just happened. His sister Greta fells differently and gives him a good talking to about the reality of the war and what they just saw. The story ends with Hellman sending the kids off to find the first British or American troops they can to surrender too and the tank crew heading off to finish their mission.
Created by: Henry Flint
Script – Henry Flint
Art – Henry Flint & Jake Lynch
Colours – JIm Boswell
Letters – Simon Bowland
A young woman is waking up, trying to remember who she is. As she starts to recall her past we get some exposition that she was born illegally, her mother never paid to get pregnant, so they had to become outlaws and live outside society. The woman remembers her own name, Tase. Named after the fact that she was born when the police tasered her pregnant mother during a riot. Tase eventually figures out she is on a treadmill with hundreds of other people being fed into the hell machine. What follows is a dystopian adventure of a young woman trying to escape a giant meat grinder where it is unknown what happens to the people who manage to survive the hooks and buzzsaws and get through the HELL MACHINE.
Created by: Ken Armstrong, Pat Mills, & Roman Sola
Script – Quint Amity
Art – Dan Lish
Right off the bat I’ve got to believe that the name “Quint Amity” is a pen named for the writer who obviously loves Jaws (Captain Quint, Amity Island…get it?). The five pages of wordless story feature a fishing crew in the Arctic ocean who has taken a live Polar Bear onboard. The Polar Bear gets free from it’s cage when during a storm, the giant great white shark, Hook Jaw, slams into the hull of the ship. The polar bear kills the crew in glorious fashion eventually diving into the ocean following the last of his captors overboard. The climax features the polar bear and great white dismembering the fisherman at the same time and then attacking each other.
Created by: Kelvin Gosnell, Pat Mills, & Horcio Altuna
Script – Zina Hutton
Art – Staz Johnson
Colours – John Charles
Lettering – Agent PC
This is a pretty standard, but action packed short, about a spy sent to recover stolen data, who gets double crossed but eventually comes out on top and completes his assignment. This one feels like a chapter in a larger story that I haven’t read but would enjoy if I could.
End note – I could not bring myself to post the final panel of the Hook Jaw story here. I understand I wrote about what happens at the end of the story in the synopsis but the final splash page is something that a comic reader should be allowed to see and experience for themselves without me spoiling it here.
I cannot fully explain how excited I was when I saw this magazine on the stands at Newbury. It was that elated feeling you get when you come across something that you didn’t know existed but now have the opportunity to dive into and enjoy. It is like taking a hike in the woods and coming across a beautiful waterfall you didn’t know you would see that day. That may seem a little melodramatic when talking about a comic filled with war, dystopian futures, and killer sharks but I think if you have that collector bug inside you, and are reading this piece, then you probably can understand what I’m getting at.
The comic itself was really enjoyable. The Kids Rule, Hellman, and Hook Jaw stories were the real standouts. Each story was a well done chapter that felt like they were part of a larger story but were still good tales on their own. That kind of story-telling, where the reader can pick it up in the middle and get an idea for what came before, but still enjoy what is presented in this chapter takes some real talent to tell. The art was good across the board but the black and white Hellman story drawn by Mike Dorey was especially well done because it made it feel like a comic magazine story from the seventies.
All in all this was a terrific magazine that I’d love to see resume publication. I’ll close with the pin up from the back cover and hope that you are ready for Action!