Whilst most characters in 2000AD were created especially for the comic before making the leap into novels, audio dramas and eventually films, slippery James Bolivar DiGriz took his playfully anarchic adventures from book to strip. Harry Harrison’s hugely popular anti-hero first appeared in 1961 and has schemed his way through nine subsequent novels.
A charming master criminal, a quick-witted master of disguise with an ability to confound the law through devious schemes and escape plans, he’s recruited by a covert group of intergalactic cops called the Special Corps (which is made up of ex-criminals) to undertake dangerous missions using his own unique skills, and as long as he gets results, no one will question his methods.
Whilst Harrison agreed to the adaptations, it’s left to 2000AD’s first editor Kelvin Gosnell to write the script. Punchy and economical, the three Rat tales on this volume move at light speed in terms of action and humour, each story set a few years ahead of each other. They also constitute the full quota of adapted stories to appear to date.
Considering 2000AD is now into its fourth decade, it has been surprisingly adaption free, apart from a couple of movie-related strips, the adaptation of Danny Boyle’s A Life Less Ordinary, and later Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s fun Shaun Of The Dead tie-in. So, Slippery Jim remains a unique part of prog history.
The first, The Stainless Steel Rat, introduces the wily master criminal on his first mission to track down a psychotic galactic assassin called Angelina, a chance that takes him halfway across the universe and back. Not surprisingly, he learns to love his enemy, with the approval of his superiors, who now have a double act to do their dirty work (with a little genetic modification, of course).
The second tale (and third novel), The Stainless Steel Rat Saves The Universe, it’s a time-travel twister as DiGriz battles against the master criminal only known as ‘He’. It’s a journey from the far-flung future to 1975 Earth and an encounter with a victorious Napoleon.
For the final tale, The Stainless Steel Rat For President (which is the fifth novel in the series), DiGriz heads for the planet Paraiso-Aqui with his wife and now teenage sons, James and Bolivar, where they discover a corrupt dictatorship that needs to be toppled the only way possible: through the first fully democratic election, rigged by the Rat, in a broad satire on the banana republics of Latin America.
A rogue, a rebel, a hero, the perfect hero for Tharg to recruit. Whether he would have eluded Dredd’s line of justice, we’ll never know. But the biggest reward from reading these tales is the artwork from Carlos Esquerra, who seems to be the ultimate visionary of our war-scarred future, and seems to have modelled DiGriz on James Coburn.
At some stage the Rat will be back, I’m sure, and the treasure trove of other novels waiting for adaptation could offer a zarjaz mine of possibilities.
The Stainless Steel Rat is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.