Irreverence isn’t a tone I often expect of documentaries, but it’s one that perfectly describes Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD. Detailing the history of Britain’s celebrated science fiction comic book, 2000 AD, the film aims to capture the subversive, almost anarchic quality of its inception in the late ‘70s, drawing explicit connections to the contemporaneous rise of the punk movement. That anarchy is reflected in the array of interviewees, which range from writers, artists and editors involved in 2000 AD to actors and musicians who were inspired by it, presenting a cross-section of varied perspectives from historical to personal.
At all times, though, the film maintains a kind of puckish playfulness that perfectly reflects its subject matter. Indeed, many of the film’s most satisfying moments underscore interviewee’s points by accompanying their words with images from the comic (brought to kinetic life with animations from 3PS), finding humour in the juxtaposition in much the same way any given comic from 2000 AD might. That playfulness works just as well for drama, taking an uncomfortable turn as the comic’s co-founder and longtime writer Pat Mills condemns decisions made by other publishers, fellow contributors, and especially former editors David Bishop and Andy Diggle — many of whom are also interviewed. Some of those criticisms are met with deference (Bishop in particular expresses more regret than pride in his tenure as editor), but others stand by their decisions.
Of particular contention is the habit of American publishers to mine talent from 2000 AD, a fact that garners ire from many loyalists (Mills among them), even as they acknowledge the issues of creative rights, respect, and remuneration that plagued the comic. For their part, those creators who left (and the editors who sought them out) defend the decision to move to the larger and more lucrative American market as logical and pragmatic in light of 2000 AD‘s problems. Many of those problems persist as the film winds to an optimistic close, leaving issues of creators’ rights, a pronounced gender imbalance (reflected in the makeup of interviewees), and the haemorrhaging of talent unresolved. Moreover, the film struggles to overcome the nostalgia that its interviewees feel for the early years of the publication, before those problems reared their heads. The bulk of characters discussed — Judge Dredd and Halo Jones receive special attention — all came from those halcyon days, leaving the celebrations decidedly lopsided.
Perhaps more tellingly, the strongest assertions of 2000 AD’s cultural legacy revolve around the more popular American comics and films that they’ve inspired, suggesting that 2000 AD’s greatest strength ultimately was acting as an incubator for ideas and talent for the American market. Several creators make compelling cases that the plots of Robocop and the less well-known film Hardware took ideas wholesale from 2000 AD, but all seem resigned to accepting it. It’s this resignation that allows the foul-mouthed subversiveness that defined 2000 AD creators and fans to curdle into resentment. Resentment at how 2000 AD’s editors and publishers mishandled creative, business, and marketing decisions. Resentment at American publishers for head-hunting talent from 2000 AD. Resentment at the British talent who were won over by those overtures. As with the problems they respond to, these resentments are left utterly unresolved.
The result is a portrait of a comic that at best hasn’t quite returned to its former glory, and at worst, has its best days behind it. The film succeeds in capturing the energy of 2000 AD, but its emphasis on the publication’s early years is telling. Even so, the film should prove to be fascinating for longtime 2000 AD fans, as well as an ingratiating introduction to newcomers.