Jul 08

Comics: A Beginner’s Guide: SF

The Brown Wedge7 comments • 853 views

I guess the place to start for SF comics, particularly on a British site, is 2000AD. Its title now makes it sound very unlike SF, but it’s been running future adventure stories for decades. It’s never been consistently great, but it’s had lots of great strips over the years: Alan Moore and Ian Gibson’s future-Locas series Halo Jones, Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell’s superhero strip Zenith, Pat Mills’ future-inquisition story Nemesis, with lots of artists, but most famously, Judge Dredd. I don’t know how many Dredd stories there have been by now, but nearly all of them are at least pretty good – Mills and John Wagner managed a strong standard for a very long time. It’s hard to know where to start with highlights, but the early Judge Death stories, with art by Brian Bolland, are wonderful (a sample is shown, a favourite comic moment of mine), and Mike McMahon’s art in the same era is as good as British action art has ever been – well, except he may have beaten it on Pat Mills’ Celtic fantasy series Slaine, also in 2000AD.

SF’s always had a big part in comics all over the world – the argument used to be that comics had an unlimited special effects budget. Whatever, there have been some good ones. EC did plenty of SF, with some wonderful art – see the horror and war entries for some of the names. The stories are often a little unexciting, but they are very nice to look at. Before Marvel started doing superheroes, the great Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko did lots of SF and horror for them. Kirby specialised in big monsters, Ditko in little twisty tales. These are sillier and more fun than the EC stories, and the art is even better – Ditko in particular provided a lot of the best splash pages I’ve ever seen on these stories.

It’s also been a huge part of manga. My taste for big robots and post-apocalyptic settings is pretty small, so most of it is of no great interest to me, but I do want to mention Hiyao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind – he wrote and drew the comic, as well as directing the movie. It’s a dense work, much more complex and substantial than the film, and as strong an SF story as I’ve ever read in comics.

Collections: all of Nemesis is collected in fat, reasonably priced volumes, and the same publisher is gradually putting out Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files (10 books so far – these are nearly as good value, pages per pound, as Marvel’s Essential and DC’s Showcase reprints). Moore’s Halo Jones and the McMahon Slaines can be found reasonably easily in book collections too. The EC SF has been reprinted more than once, and there are big hardback volumes too. There’s a lovely big omnibus collection of Amazing Fantasy, including some terrific Kirby monsters and a huge amount of Ditko SF and horror shorts. Nausicaa is available in four books.


  1. 1
    Tom on 23 Jul 2008 #

    re Nemesis – it’s honestly not that worth bothering with the second collection (god help us if there’s a third too) – once past Book IV: The Gothic Empire (which was intended to be the first and only Nemesis story) the strip nosedives a bit, though Brian Talbot’s art is still pretty nice. I’d recommend getting Pat Mills’ other big 2000AD sci-fi story, The ABC Warriors, which though it never comes close to meshing into any kind of overall plot has enough gonzo inventiveness to be pretty much the definition of thrill-power: magnificent O’Neill and McMahon art too.

    My favourite American SF series is Mike Baron and Steve Rude’s Nexus, about an existential superpowered future assassin – Rude’s super-streamlined hi-gloss art is part of the appeal but the comic is enormously charming and slyly intelligent too, a mix of 50s space opera, tongue-in-cheek Nivenish culture-building and 80s smarts and cynicism. And it builds at least two or three coherent 30-plus issue plots without making a big song and dance about it or ever seeming particularly saggy: even the apparently indulgent detours end up relevant.

  2. 2
    Martin Skidmore on 23 Jul 2008 #

    I bought all the Nemesis volumes, and while there is some really terrible stuff later on (a photo story!), there is some good stuff too, I thought. Is there an ABC Warriors collection in that series yet?

    Gosh, I haven’t thought about Nexus in ages – it was very good, yes. I tend to think of it as more or less a superhero strip, really.

  3. 3
    Tom on 23 Jul 2008 #

    I think the superhero trappings of Nexus were there to sell it to the direct market – notably, every time they revive the property the first story is a fairly straightforward superhero one. But once the main run of the series gets going it’s certainly as much sci-fi as superheroics: the stuff I remember is all the business with the heads, the Gucci assassins, the Gravity Well plotline etc.

    ABC Warriors I think is in print, but tread carefully as there’s a LOT of rubbish later stories around.

    I think they should rush out a RO-JAWS collection to cash in on the success of Wall-E, too. There was some marvellously demented stuff in Ro-Busters.

  4. 4
    Martin Skidmore on 24 Jul 2008 #

    I think there is a collection, in the Dredd Case Files imprint, of Ro-Busters or ABC Warriors later in the year. If so, I will be grabbing it instantly.

  5. 5
    chap on 24 Jul 2008 #

    No mention of Ezquerra in the list of quintessential Dredd artists? He seems to be often unfairly dismissed as a journeyman, but he’s a fantastic storyteller with a real solidity to his work.

  6. 6
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 24 Jul 2008 #

    *scrabbles around for potato-related joke but it is too hot*

  7. 7
    Martin Skidmore on 24 Jul 2008 #

    I like Esquerra, and I agree with what you say. I picked out a couple of favourites, but I do see him as the definitive Dredd artist, the one who most defines the look of the character for me.

    That’s another interesting point – anyone’s idea of a definitive artist on any character or title can vary, and it often isn’t the best or first or favourite. Herb Trimpe is my idea of the definitive Hulk artist, though Jack Kirby fits the other three criteria. That’s just longevity, obviously, but it is often more complicated than that.

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