2000AD at the movies in a post-Dredd World

Just because Dredd didn't catch on as hoped, it doesn't mean there aren't many 2000AD strips that shouldn't be overlooked.

In 1977, a bearded young man made Star Wars, a little film you may have heard of. Said movie went on to imprint itself onto the public’s hearts, and spawned a franchise that’s (thankfully) never been stronger.

However, popular culture gained another iconic creation in that same year: 2000AD, the self-titled Galaxy’s Greatest Comic. It’s fair to say that, while you could likely find a hermit in the world’s deepest, darkest cave with some knowledge of Star Wars, 2000AD has less global recognition.

Over the years, though, 2000AD has continued to flourish, and has, recently, begun to expand its reach: the comic now has its own podcast (the Thrill-Cast, well worth a listen, featuring interviews with major creators from across the comic’s run); an app for digital downloads is available; and major American publisher IDW runs various titles featuring 2000 AD‘s characters.

2012’s Dredd movie has certainly helped to raise the publication’s profile, and did an incredible job of translating the character to the screen without any of the missteps that torpedoed Stallone’s 1995 version. But given 2000AD‘s impressively long history, and the huge variety of fascinating stories to grace its pages, why have there been so few film adaptations of its material? And is now the right time for that to change?

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Box office woes

Both Sylvester Stallone and Karl Urban’s Judge Dredd movies feature the same character and the same setting, but they’re completely different films: one is a clichéd attempt to transform Dredd into a kid-friendly superhero, complete with a catchphrase (“I knew you’d say that!”), a ‘funny’ sidekick, a love interest, and an impractically-tight costume.

The other was an intelligent, witty, exciting movie which gave fans (including this writer) the Dredd they wanted to see: Karl Urban was fantastic in the role, and, due to his fondness for the character, the perfect choice – he understood how vital it was to remain under the helmet for the entire movie, and so any repeats of Stallone’s ego-centric mistake were avoided. The crew made the most of their limited funding, and managed to create a Mega-City one that looked and felt very real.

Sadly, though, while Dredd was a hit with fans and some critics, it failed to strike box-office gold: on a budget of $45m, it pulled in only around $41.5m, though home-disc sales have been encouraging, and a fan-led campaign for a sequel continues to build support (from Urban and co-star Olivia Thirlby too, no less). While a third dip into Mega-City One may or may not be forthcoming, it’s strange that no other stories from 2000AD have ever made it to the screen.

In 1990, Hardware, a British-American movie was released, which was clearly based on a 2000AD story – the filmmakers neglected to credit for its release, though, and so the strip’s creators took legal action to get their names credited. At most, then, this is an unofficial adaptation – and one that most people have likely never heard of.

Judge Dredd is the comic’s most iconic character, so, of course, he’s a shoe-in for an adaptation. Still, the writers and artists working on 2000AD (which is published weekly, always to exceptional quality) continue to create absolute gold, keeping decades-old characters fresh and exciting for long-term and fresh readers alike, whilst inventing entire new series overflowing with imagination. Some of these writers – including idea-powerhouses Pat Mills and John Wagner, who co-nurtured the comic into fruition way back when – have been with the publication for decades.

Given the huge number of series to have appeared in the comic since 1977, discussing them all would make this a dissertation rather than an article – so let’s look at four of its most iconic non-Dredd series.

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Iconic movies waiting to happen

Rogue Trooper. ABC Warriors. Sláine. Strontium Dog. If these names mean nothing to you, then you’re honestly missing out: each of these series boasts a great concept, awesome characters, exciting action, and their own rich mythologies.

Rogue Trooper, for example, is set in the far future, in which a war between the Norts and Southers has raged for years upon years, leaving the planet of Nu-Earth ravaged by chemical and biological weaponry. The Southers use genetic engineering to create the Genetic Infantry (G.I.): soldiers able to breathe the toxic air and remain immune to its poisons: when many of the Infantry is eliminated, one – Rogue Trooper – roams the planet, aided by three of his dead comrades, now existing as banter-happy chips inside his helmet, his gun, and his backpack. Over the years, the series has changed quite a bit, with various characters taking the lead, but its concept easily lends itself to a big-screen action epic.

So, why hasn’t this happened yet? Well, in truth, the film has come close to being realised: in 2011, word got out that Sam Worthington’s production company had purchased the rights, and was hard at work developing the movie, with genius writer Grant Morrison penning the screenplay. In an interview from this February, writer Gary Whitta (Book Of Eli) discussed his passion for the film, and his attempts to get it made, revealing some impressive concept art.

However, so far, it looks like the film is still some way off – and may never actually come to fruition at all (also, the presence of Sam Worthington makes me wonder if he was just looking for another blue-skinned, gun-toting character to play after his success with Avatar – cynical? Moi?). Given that so many bad movies make it to the screen, it’s baffling that a concept with such potential remains unfilmed, and, while there doesn’t need to be a movie of Rogue Trooper – the comics are incredible, after all – it remains strange that only Judge Dredd has made the jump.

Lasers, laughs, and lunacy

Part of the reason for this could be 2000AD‘s tone. Granted, as youngsters, some of us may have become attracted to the comic because of its violence and more ‘grown-up’ feel (I know it held a curious fascination for me), but there’s so much more to it. The writers continually manage to blend hardcore action, deep themes, satire, and black humour with deft skill – a storyline can be laugh-out-loud funny in one panel, and moving in the next, without missing a beat. The comic’s biting satire and bizarre humour may be off-putting to some of Hollywood’s money-people, who perhaps fear that audiences just won’t ‘get it’.

For instance, Judge Dredd’s stories have involved sprawling, intense epics in which transdimensional freaks the Dark Judges arrive in Mega-City One to slaughter millions of innocent civilians; on the other hand, smaller stories have involved such comedic plots as a bus-passenger being arrested for breaking wind, and a man with a damaged, permanently-raised middle finger who inadvertently offends one disgruntled judge after another. Now, try to imagine a studio executive finding the same versatility in a run of Batman or Captain America comics: it just wouldn’t happen.

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Without trying to sound even remotely patronising, it may be that ‘getting’ what 2000AD is is just too difficult for some people, and while Dredd made it to the screen, the comedy in Stallone’s version was largely shoe-horned in and fell flat, while Urban’s version was much more straight.

Another reason for the lack of adaptations could be that studios only really associate comics with superheroes – as do many other people. This is demonstrated by the use of the irksome term ‘comic-book movie’ to describe superhero films – this implies that comics are a genre, all featuring superheroes, rather than a medium with thousands of titles, in all genres, released every month.

So, could other adaptations of 2000AD‘s characters work? Absolutely. If Rogue Trooper could be a futuristic war-movie (perhaps akin to Edge Of Tomorrow or Starship Troopers, for want of better-fitting examples), then Sláine could be a dark fantasy epic with hints of Conan The Barbarian. ABC Warriors could be an action movie with a diverse cast of distinctive, memorable robotic characters boasting a thousand times more charisma than all of Michael Bay’s Transformers combined. Strontium Dog, about a telepathic mutant bounty-hunter with one of the coolest outfits ever and a pair of nifty glowing eyes, could be a kick-ass movie chock-full of biting black humour.

The real difficulty is all of these stories are so little-known they could be a hard sell. And, while adaptations of other little-known comics have been successful – such as Road To Perdition – these concepts were already much more mainstream. On the other hand, one of the biggest movies of 2014 was Guardians Of The Galaxy – an adaptation of a very little-known Marvel comic, featuring at least two characters (Rocket and Groot) crazy enough to have started life in the pages of 2000AD itself. At that point, however, Marvel had already tapped into a fat, juicy vein, and so the project had stronger foundations – while it was a definite gamble, the studio had more confidence in its formula, and gave writer-director James Gunn a huge amount of freedom to make the movie he wanted to.

As it stands, while 2000AD has a huge fanbase and continues to expand its reach, it may still be some time before we see another adaptation of its material. Recently, Dredd co-creator John Wagner said “there will be a new Dredd film, it’s just a question of when” – hopefully, time proves him right, and we get another fantastic movie featuring Ol’ Stoney Face himself. As great as this would be, though, it’s a shame that such stories are refused the chance to shine on the big screen while so many rip-offs and committee-built movies barge their way into multiplexes. If movies are a no-go, an animated series – either in a classic 2D Saturday-morning or CG style – would also work beautifully, but is perhaps even more unlikely.

Given that comic books are bigger and more mainstream now than ever – in large part, thanks to so many film adaptations – now is the perfect time to show casual audiences what else the medium can do beyond superheroes.

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Still, if we never get to see a Strontium Dog, ABC Warriors, or even third Dredd movie, at least 2000AD itself continues to work its magic on the page week in, week out.