On this day, 9 July 1977: 2000AD (Prog 20)
On this day, 9 July 1977 … The first ‘new’ serial to begin in 2000AD following the end of any of the initial range of thrills (in this case, Flesh), was Shako! in Prog 20. Shako was the name of a huge polar bear, pursued in bloody splashes across the Arctic Circle by one Jake K. ‘Foul Mouth’ Falmuth of the CIA after swallowing a top secret capsule. It’s a great action story, entertainingly illustrated in several of its early episodes by Ramon Sola, and is so Action-esque in tone that my initial thought upon re-reading it this week was that it must have been a script commissioned for Action before its sanitised re-launch. Various sources suggest that that’s not the case, however, but that it was more likely to have been written for the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic as an imitation of Action’s Hook Jaw.
Kevin O’Neill says in David Bishop’s Thrill-power Overload that Shako! could have been a lot bloodier and gorier than it eventually ended up (which is still fairly violent, to be fair), but it was ‘chalked and bodged around’ by IPC management keen to avoid another Action scandal. There’s another good anecdote in Thrill-power Overload: Kelvin Gosnell remembers one of John Wagner’s original scripts in which a pilot flew over Shako! for the first time. ‘The first words in John’s script were: “Christ on a fucking bike, look at the size of that thing!” We just shat ourselves with laughter. Pat and I spent a long time looking for something that had the same impact.’
This early issue of 2000AD is fascinating to read. Throughout, there’s a cocksure attitude that belies the fact that it’s just a few months old and allows for some fantastic page designs and splashy images – see not just Shako! but Dave Gibbons’ Artie Gruber in Harlem Heroes and Massimo Belardinelli’s dynamic space action in Dan Dare. Interestingly, I would say that Judge Dredd is the tamest of all the stories on show here (although there’s some meta fun as Joe’s informer Max Normal leads the judges to a hidden stash of forbidden back issues of 2000AD on micro-film slugs). Dredd was still a fairly regular virtuous action hero at this stage (who didn’t even qualify for his own t-shirt on the back page), yet to reveal the darker shades that help to establish him as Britain’s greatest comic character.