Hootin’ heck! Ace Garp is back. Breaking out of Bide-A-Wee Penitentiary, he’s loose amongst the spaceways again, causing mayhem wherever he goes. Hugely popular back in the 1980s in 2000AD, he’s a comical anecdote to all the post-apocalyptic grimness and dark satire of Judge Dredd and Johnny Alpha. This is Grant and Wagner taking the brakes off their imagination with some of the wildest worlds and most ridiculous aliens they’ve ever created, teamed with the riotously mirthful artwork of the late Massimo Bellardinelli.
Pencil-headed Ace trucks around across the universe in his ship Speedo Ghost and his two-man crew, the gentle giant GBH (dead), an outcast of the nomadic Sha’ka’kan tribe, and skeletal Feek the Geek. Devised initially at a time when CB radio was all the rage, it is peppered with its own space jockey jargon…
This second batch of adventures finds Ace on official galactic police business as he heads to pirate base, Porto Bucko, to rescue Princess Gadarina and return her to her home planet Hoggus Major. Helping homicidal baddie Evil Blood escape at the beginning was only a ploy and once the ruse is exposed, they make an enemy of the pirate captain, who doesn’t like being double-crossed.
He pursues them through the first few stories. If that wasn’t enough trouble, his own crew organise a workers’ co-operative and go on strike. He also faces death when he’s diagnosed with a terminal illness and prepares for his croakside trip – only his illness was a ruse set up by rival trucker, Jago Kain, but it’s realised too late to stop him from flying into the heart of a star.
The strip’s enduring popularity meant that Tharg had to engineer his miraculous resurrection, so he’s revived in a parallel universe with another Garp. That’s when the fun really begins as Ace and his Doppelgarp smuggle mind-altering boozlbugs to the planet Uck Puck…which is inhabited by chickens.
Cue an endless parade of puns, as customs officer Captain Leghorn and his undercover team board the ship in the guise of the pop group Dave Cluck Five. When he fails, it’s up to his superior Rooster Coburn to finish the job. Equally, the hallucinatory effects of ingesting these rare bugs give Bellardinelli a flight into fantasy that runs riot with his pen.
As for the final adventure The Garpetbaggers, that’s just movie mayhem as our heroes search for the buried treasure of Movieola, an area on Earth where reality has broken down and filmland has taken over. So episode after episode spools from the wild west frontiers of High Noon Spaceport through the war-riddled jungles of Rambo County and the mad chase across Silent City.
With a trip to Critics’ Choice Bar in Barrynormantown, they have to face down the rival treasure hunter Melvyn Barg. It’s a chance to have a crackshot at Hollywood through a crackpot quest.
The magic of the strip is in Bellardinelli’s bonkers artwork. His cartoon antics are full of incidental details and visual mischief. True blubberoni. It’s full of wild characters, birds, animals, insects, fantastical creatures swarming from all corners of the imagination.
Even seemingly inanimate objects develop a life of their own, including Ace’s scarf, which acts like a pair of flailing arms. It also means that his own face is often included amongst the menagerie of aliens. This is the madcap mirth of Hitch-Hiker’s Guide combined with the galactic scope of Star Wars. Who needs comics to be profound or brutally cynical, when you can have unashamed fun like this and a fittingly fun tribute to an unique artist? Worth every hard-spent bym.
The Complete Ace Trucking Company Volume 2 is out now.