It’s been a long, long day at work, comrades, so you may have to once again forgive me for being self-indulgent in the absence of time to research a decent blog entry. Yes, I do research these things. Shut up, I totally do.
So anyway, today I’m going to talk a little bit about comics. Now, comics are big business these days – think of the number of comic book movies that have come out in recent years. Iron Man, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Scott Pilgrim, Green Lantern, Kick-Ass, Watchmen, 300, The Dark Knight, X-Men: First Class, the list goes on and on.
Yet there’s one comic that, notably, doesn’t seem to get as much love from Hollywood as it ought to. In Britain, undoubtedly the best known comic is the weekly anthology 2000AD. Now, granted, unless you’re a comics afficionado, you’re not likely to have heard of many of its stories other than Judge Dredd. But it’s been one of the most fertile grounds for the nurturing of comics talent around. Some of the best-known creators in comics have spent time working on 2oooAD. Alan Moore, Mark Millar, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis, Kevin O’Neill, Jamie Hewlett, Brian Bolland, Pat Mills, Simon Bisley, John Wagner, Dave Gibbons – all have, at one time or another, worked on the comic. Some still do. Yet the only films to have been based on 2000AD titles have been the appalling Sylvester Stallone version of Judge Dredd (ironic, given that Stallone was a source of inspiration for the creation of the character) and an obscure sci-fi horror film called Hardware that was plagiarised from a short story. There’s a new Dredd movie in the works at present, which looks a lot better than the Stallone one, but we’ll see.
The thing is, though, there are plenty of other stories the movie makers could be plundering. The punky up-yours philosophy of the comic has thrown up some concepts unlike anything else in the mainstream press. There’s ABC Warriors, the misadventures of a group of elderly robots on Mars. Strontium Dog, a sort of X-Men for Thatcher’s Britain about a mutant bounty hunter and his Viking partner. Nikolai Dante, the bizarre and swashbuckling adventures of a thief and swordsman in a far-future Russia that’s mysteriously reminiscent of the 19th century. Personally, I think the cyberpunk adventures of the pun-happy assassins of Sinister Dexter would be tailor-made for an Edgar Wright adaptation.
And then there’s my personal favourite – Devlin Waugh. Even by the standards of 2000AD, Devlin is a bit of an odd character. Set in the same post-apocalyptic world as Judge Dredd, Waugh is an arse-kicking exorcist working for the Vatican. Oh, and also, he’s a vampire. So that’s two of the boxes ticked for box office gold – comic books and vampires.
What makes him unique as a comics character is that while he is an occult expert and martial arts badass, he is also a middle-aged, flamboyantly camp aesthete. Openly gay and just as openly shallow, with a taste for watercolours and vintage fashion. Think Oscar Wilde with more vampire-punching.
He is, in short, the first Chap superhero. In the early 1990s, when he first appeared, he was also perhaps the first gay mainstream comics hero (no doubt some comics expert will come along and tell me different, hence the qualifying “perhaps”). Gay characters in comics are something of a touchy subject, often coming across as a cheap publicity stunt, a pointless piece of tokenism or as a slightly embarrassing stereotype. Oddly enough, I’ve never seen any of these gripes brought up by 2000AD readers. This despite the fact that, as I mentioned, Waugh epitomises the most flamboyant excesses of camp. If I were to suggest a reason, I’d say that perhaps it’s because the character is not just gay. He’s selfish, lazy, misanthropic, arrogant and preening, and proud of all of these things. The fact that he sleeps with men is a minor point. Or maybe it’s simply the fact that he is so brazen about it – his homosexuality is not presented as a novelty or a freakshow, but something that he does. Just as James Bond has his eye on the ladies, so Devlin Waugh has his on the gents.
Then there’s the world he inhabits. One suspects that Smith only set it in the Dreddverse to make the concept more saleable to 2000AD. The first Waugh story, ‘Swimming In Blood,’ revolves around an undersea prison that gets taken over by a centuries-old fast- evolving vampire with the help of the psychopaths in the maximum security wing and a swarm of cockroaches. This is the most mainstream story by far – later tales would involve snake women, time-travelling French dwarves, a bone golem, ancient astronauts, African fetishes, demon plagues and Devlin’s mum, all told in Smith’s stream-of-consciousness style with plenty of literary and folklore references for those who live for such things.
Actually, to be honest, I can’t see Hollywood picking this one up. Even though ‘Swimming in Blood’ would, I think, make a superb film (probably could be done for a reasonably low budget, too), can you really see the money-men signing up for a screamingly camp action hero? Ah well, a chap can dream.