On this day, 3 October 1987: 2000AD (Prog 542)
On this day, 3 October 1987 … At first, I assumed that the cover of this prog featured PJ Maybe, serial killer extraordinaire and among Judge Dredd’s most excellent supporting characters, who first appeared in 2000AD as a young lad around this time, created by this artist, Liam Sharp. I’ve been on a bit of a Maybe kick recently, following his recent climactic fall from grace in the current-day 2000AD coinciding with my re-reading of his adventures in the Judge Dredd Mega Collection.
But no, this isn’t PJ jerking his parents around, but a juve called Moon Proctor, star of a one-off Dredd story that turns out to be rather shocking to twenty-first-century eyes. Moon reports his parents to the Judges after they spank him on the bottom for being naughty; Dredd interrogates the parents and cautions them; Moon takes advantage of the subsequent lack of discipline to run riot, his parents too scared to do anything but obey his every whim; the parents have enough, and flee to start a new life in the Cursed Earth; Moon reports them to Dredd; Dredd – now literally in loco parentis – gets fed up with the boy’s spoilt behaviour and slaps him in the face: ‘Difference is, I did it legal.’ The image of Dredd hitting a child is a chilling one, and I doubt this story would have been printed today without attracting a fair bit of controversy. Looking at it in context, though, John Wagner and Alan Grant wrote it in the year following the outlawing of corporal punishment in state schools in Britain – a move which wasn’t universally supported at the time (it wasn’t banned in private schools until nearly the end of the century). This story seems to take a ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ stance which speaks into the agenda of the day and, perhaps, is a coda to the first PJ Maybe story which had appeared just eight weeks previously – PJ escaped punishment for his crimes and was very much emboldened to commit further terrors.
I don’t look too often at issues of 2000AD from the later 1980s, first-class though many of them are. I think that’s probably because they feel a bit more grown-up than the majority of the comics featured on the blog. 2000AD was, very wisely, maturing at the same rate as its first wave of readers – an editorial decision that surely was crucial in the title’s survival after the crash of children’s comics publishing around the end of this decade. This prog is a great example of how the comic was changing. If the early years were characterised by an iconic roster of now legendary artists – Bolland, Ezquerra, McMahon, O’Neill, Belardinelli, etc – this issue showcases the work of a new wave of equally talented artists: Liam Sharp, Steve Yeowell (on Grant Morrison’s Zenith), Will Simpson, Colin MacNeil and John Higgins (the latter drawing the first episode of Peter Milligan’s Freaks).