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“We’ll Have Our Race Back, America!” COMICS! Sometimes The President is Frankenstein!

John Kane

Pat Mills! Kevin O’Neill! A comic that is basically Marshal Law but where cars stand in for the super power set! That’s what this one is about, when it actually stays on track. Which it doesn’t. Oh, belated Happy 4th July!


So, I went to Cornwall for the week. There may have been corn but there certainly wasn’t walls of the stuff. Cornwall is very clean. Disturbingly clean. It was okay, however, I felt super guilty about not posting anything. Then…well, when Messrs. Hibbs, Khosla and Lester are demonstrating How Words Are  Done I content myself with the crossword (1. DOWN: Superfluous “J-o-h_ “) So, this one’s just an attempt to limber up and get back into the flow.


DEATH RACE 2020 #1-3
Art by Kevin O’Neill
Written by Pat Mills & Tony skinner
Lettered by Christine Barnett
Coloured by Digital Chameleon
Celebrity Car Crash Corners by Dave Cooper,Pat Moriarty  and Bob Fingerman
Roger Corman’s Cosmic Comics, $2.50ea (1995)
DEATH RACE 2020 is based in part on the film Death Race 2000 written by Robert Thom and Charles Griffith, directed by Paul Bartel, and produced by Roger Corman


So briefly did Roger Corman’s Cosmic Comics imprint last that it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry. The Krankies have a Wikipedia entry, but not Roger Corman’s Cosmic Comics. But, yes, Roger Corman lent his name to a comics imprint. It was probably one of those Brewster’s Millions type deals that happen more than you would think in real life (which means they only have to have happened once). The comics produced were all based on or were continuations of Corman movie properties. So, there were comics based on Rock’n’Roll High School, The Little Shop of Horrors and Caged Heat 3000. Perhaps someone has read those, if so do let me know how they were. I’d be interested to know if the appeal of a musical can be reproduced on the comics page and, more importantly, also whether the appeal of bawdy teen comedies and chicks behind bars flicks can make good comics. Since this appeal largely revolves around the solitary and borderline OCD activity of pantslessley sitting hunched over sweatily stabbing the remote to pause the film and capture a frozen slice of aureole in a shower scene, I doubt it. Oh yeah, there was also a comic based on Death Race 2000, this comic: DEATH RACE 2020.

(In the comments Mr. Brian Hibbs,  Industry Legend, takes time out from hand-selling SAGA to correctly state that the original Little Shop of Horrors was not a musical.)


The original film, Death Race 2000, was a low budget piece of schlock which involved a Future America which held a legal race where drivers scored points for running over pedestrians. This conceit of a murderous Wacky Races was pretty much the film’s one gift to posterity. And electric blue eye shadow applied liberally. Well, pop culture posterity. The central conceit has remained tenaciously appealing, particularly in the area of gaming. I remember playing Carmageddon 1 and 2 on the PC back in the day and I’m pretty sure GTA’s gameplay was coloured by this film’s existence.  The other thing the film is remembered for is an early role for Sly Stallone. In the first two issues director Paul Bartel reminisces about the film and reveals that Sly was shy about his bum being exposed and requested it be secreted beneath a towel during the massage scene.  What the film isn’t remembered for is being very good. It is fun though and the energy of everyone involved manage to make it pleasantly daft viewing.


It’s the kind of film everyone thinks would have been a lot better if it had cost a lot more. Until someone remakes it and it costs a lot more. Which they did in 2008 as Death Race, “starring” Jason Statham. I haven’t seen it. That’s because I have no time for Jason Statham films. Not because I’m a snob but because I caught a bit of one of those Transporter films and I said, “This is so fucking badly done that if it was a ’70s Roger Moore film a drunk would witness some of this daft shit, do a double take and throw his bottle away.”  Not thirty seconds passed before this exact thing happened.  I am not making that up. So, no, I have no desire to spend my twilight years watching what are basically bad Roger Moore films. I’m not that desperate for ‘irony‘, thanks. And also, Statham’s an uppity oik, he hasn’t done the necessaries to deserve his station. It’s no good just jumping straight to The Wild Geese with The Expendables, Statham. You don’t get to do that. The Wild Geese has to be earned, Jason Statham. Where’s your Man Who Haunted Himself, where’s your North Sea Hijack, where’s your Persuaders, Jason Statham? Nowhere. That’s where, Jason Statham. There’s just no respect for the artist’s journey in your work, Statham. Supporting the work of Jason Statham is like keying Roger Moore’s car. Really, I wouldn’t want to overstate this but watching Jason Statham films takes us all just one step closer to burning children for fun and using human faeces as currency. So, no, I haven’t seen Death Race. If you have, I hope you enjoyed it.


DEATH RACE 2020 isn’t an adaptation of the original it’s a sequel of sorts, set as it is some 20 years after the end of the original and with Frankenstein, the race’s winner, now President of a country in which the Death Race is now illegal. As with most illegal things though the races continue because good times always find a way! Like the film the comic is intended as satire and, like the film, the satire isn’t subtle, which is why Pat Mills (and Tony Skinner) is such a great choice. Pat Mills is the kind of writer who can make a strip about a killer polar bear a satirical soapbox so a strip about a satirical soapbox derby is right up his tailpipe.


All the usual Millsian targets are here shambling complacently about as he (and Tony Skinner) bears down on them with the usual ferociously obvious and aggressively strident attacks. This isn’t the kind of stuff that makes for reasoned and enlightening debate but it does make for ridiculously entertaining comics. Religion, psychology, the myth of Good triumphing over Evil, the media, stupidity, politics and so on and so forth are all run down and then backed over until the tread on Mills & Skinners’ truculent tyres are almost worn away.

In 1985 Wiseblood  released  Motorslug which had a b-side called Death Rape 2000.  (Yeah, sorry it’s not a David Bowie reference. But he scares us old people. Ooooooo! Don’t paint your face and sing about space, David Bowie!) Not only was Death Rape 2000 evidence that young people will always enjoy using the term rape frivolously it was also was one of those “infinite” records they could do by doing whatever they did with the grooves and the vinyl and that stuff. I don’t know. Now you could do it with computers but back then they did it with physical things in the world of matter. Anyway, it was just a repetitive drumbeat (Bam!-Bam!_BAM!-Bam!-Bam!-BAM! Etc.) and I’m sure I  once filled a C120 tape with its tireless dirge because I was always a crazy fun guy loved by ladies and respected by peers. I guess Pat Mills/Tony Skinner’s  writing is a lot like that, repetitive, unvarying in tone or pitch, wearing you down with its remorselessness. Yet, strangely, something I enjoy spending time with.


I’m sure in person he can charm the birds from the trees but, what Pat Mills’ approach suggests to me is an all encompassing (and highly entertaining) misanthropy. Mills seems keen on that period where we all dressed in woad, killed the king once a year and the only products from apple were pie and juice. Rolling the clock back that far might be a bit of a stretch and limits the sympathy of a modern audience. But Mills isn’t (ever) after audience sympathy, he’s after The Man! Although, even this gets confusing. Frankenstein, like many a Mills’ “hero” (particularly Mills & O’Neill’s Marshal  Law) is pretty much the embodiment of the system he bucks against. The line between what is Wrong and Right is a bit blurry in Mills stuff, stuff which seems to suggest that doing the Wrong Thing is okay as long as you are The Right Man For The Job. Said job being Sticking It To The Man. And The Man isn’t you because you Feel Bad about, er, things. It’s okay he isn’t offering solutions, he just wants people to know there are problems. Which is pretty laudable and since it involves cars powered by the blood of their victims and terrible puns also pretty enjoyable.


Kevin O’Neill is, of course, having a whale of a time on these pages. Vehicles the size of city blocks trundling around smushing all traffic before them, a wired up grandmother’s head spitting reactionary bile, a nun bouncing off a wall with a sanctimonious splat, the nipples of news anchors squirming like games players thumbs under a shrink-wrapped top, said top proclaiming “T’n’A“, yes, these are all very much things I imagine Kevin O’Neill had fun with. They are certainly things I had fun with seeing Kevin O’Neil drawing. O’Neill is essential to the success of this comic as is testified by my totally ignoring issues 4 thru 8, as they were illustrated by Trevor Goring and I do not wish to upset Trevor Goring. I’m sure he brightens up the life of everyone he comes into contact with, but Trevor Goring is no Kevin O’Neill. But then, who is? Yes, Kevin O’Neill is, thanks for that. Given the series premise it’s not surprising that Mills, Skinner and O’Neil arrive in J G Ballard territory pretty lickety split. O’Neill gets to restage that unfortunate Dallas visit together with background cameos from famous assassins and illustrates possibly Mills’ greatest (and worst) pun. This may upset some readers, which is entirely intentional, I would have thought. However the fact is it’s probably going to not upset a lot more. Given the state of our psychic mindscapes these days it’s going to take much more than assassination as slapstick to make people blink.

DEATH RACE 2020 is Pat Mills’ practically trademarked satirical silliness illustrated by the unique and worrying Kevin O’Neill and is thus VERY GOOD!

And now to enjoy the British monsoon which is blighting all the laughter in our lives this summer! That’s okay because the weather never affects – COMICS!!!

11 Responses to “ “We’ll Have Our Race Back, America!” COMICS! Sometimes The President is Frankenstein! ”

  1. (1) Yayyyyyy! John Kane writing about Pat Mills, which is one of my favorite things. Your take on the man is pretty spot-on, I think.

    (2) Death Race 2000, it’s worth pointing out, was based on a short story (which I read as a kid years before I saw the movie) by Ib Melchior. According to Wikipedia, good ol’ Melchior sounds like my kind of guy, having not only written that story (“The Driver”) but books like Order of Battle: Hitler’s Werewolves, movies like Reptilicus and Robinson Crusoe on Mars, and did the English adaptation for Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires. Like Mills, he’s probably way more influential than most of us would think.

    (3) It’s too bad that “going over the top” isn’t an Olympic event because Kevin O’Neill deserves fistfuls of gold medals for being to able to do consistently that, no matter how untoppable the material.

    (4) I liked Death Race 2000 more than you–you seem to think of it as enjoyable slop; I tend to think of it as a surprisingly robust piece of entertainment that nails the state of Reality TV culture pretty well dead center two decades before it even emerged.

    (5) I saw Death Race and liked it, which shocked me because I thought the chances of me loathing it were quite good, and am quite torn on your opinion of Statham.

    (a) On the one hand, I utterly agree: I watched The Mechanic, the Statham remake of the Bronson flick, and it was not only terrible and dull but Jason Statham was terrible and dull! And I didn’t really figure it out until Ben Foster came on screen and actually did this weird, obscure thing called “acting” and suddenly–well, the movie wasn’t suddenly good, but at least it wasn’t dull anymore. Statham is a terrible, terrible actor, a guy who knows how to deliver a line one of three ways and that’s about it.

    (b) On the other hand…Statham is one of the few guys making Hollywood films (well, French/UK/Hollywood films) who can actually fight. He’s no Jackie Chan or anything (lord no, no he’s not) but him in front of a director like HK great Corey Yuen and you’ll see some actual honest-to-god “hey, the star of the movie actually used his own foot to kick that guy in the head” fight scenes. Despite being incredibly buff and bald, he doesn’t seem vain, and is more than game to make a ludicrous movie (Crank) or two (Crank 2) or three (The Pink Panther). He is no longer a guarantee of a certain level of quality any more, but he is still capable of making a movie that, when squinted at from the right angle of lowered expectations, can actually be considered recommendable.

    (6) Your panel choices are always brilliant. I hate how they’ve raised the bar for this site as I’m lucky if I can find a panel from what I’m reviewing, much less choose such perfectly enticing ones.

    (7) Again, cracking good stuff here, Mr. K (UK)!

  2. Correction: Corman’s LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is no musical. It only became a musical like 20 years later.

    Trivia: It’s got a very crazy young Jack Nicholson in it (see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPQSiTIb2Ac … well, if you can, not sure if that works equally well outside the USA?), and the entire film was shot IN JUST TWO DAYS. Awesome.


  3. @Jeff:
    1) I should stress that there is no end to my love and admiration for Pat Mills’ work and his influence on (British) comics.
    2)I did not know that! That’s great, thanks for that. I’ve only seen RC on Mars of those films. Wasn’t Galaxy of Terror a Corman production? Rings a bell.
    3)He’s a little miracle isn’t he? Also, I would totally watch that Event to cheer on Oor Kev.
    4)Oh, I like the original film. Schlock isn’t derogatory round my house.It is a clever little film indeed. Darn, I came across all wrong there.
    5)I love how you are so totally on the ball about something like Jason Statham’s appeal. It is awesome. I’m not really into fighting films, but I appreciate and concede that there is a level of physical skill involved that I am remiss in discounting. I don’t mind Statham, I was just being excessive because I do hate that drunk-double take-drop bottle schtick. Although in a Moore Bond film there’s a bit where a pigeon does a double take. Top that Statham!
    6)Hey, cheers! I try hard with the pictures. But if it’s a TPB all my panel choices depend on them being near the outer edge of the page so I can fit them on the scanner. That irritates me.
    7)Oh no, cracking stuff from you, sir. I thank you for your shockingly comprehensive response and wish you well as ever.

    @Brian Hibbs: Just testing! No, thanks for that. That was a dumb mistake, neither are on TV here very often but the remake is on a bit more often and I guess that has usurped the original in my shocking memory. Other than that the thing is watertight, right? Right? Sweet clip, cheers. JUST TWO DAYS! I know, that’s just incredible! I thank you, sir, for your corrections and attentions, indeed, your correct attentions also!

    Thanks all.

  4. Great, great, great.

    I’ll have you know I finally got on eBay just to track down the subjects of your musings, John.


  5. Lol. Statham did an Uwe Boll movie. If this isn´t earning your station, I don´t know what is. This must count at least for 3 series of crap like The Persuaders. But you are insofar right that he did a lot of bad movies. Like Transporter 2+3. Terribly watered down versions of a solid concept.

    While I don´t share your love for Mills -who is more miss than hit for me – I love O´Neill unconditionally. He is one of those true artists where you always can discover new details you still missed. Just re-read LOEG 1969 and it is wonderful.

  6. @J_Smitty: You’ve been at the sugar again! Give E-Bay my best , I’m not allowed on anymore. Oh no, thank *you*.

    @AndyD: You take that back about The Persuaders! I was just joking about Statham. I was trying to sound like an old man bitterly denouncing modern pop culture while holding up The Good Old Days as some kind of Edenic paradise, when in fact they were maybe even worse. I don’t know why I did that. If I had a point it wasn’t to piss off all the Jason Statham fans in the audience. I hear Gentle Jeff Lester tore up a waffle in fury!

    Ah, Pat Mills can be a bitter pill for some but, yeah, Kevin O’Neill is a little treasure. Have you read METALZOIC by the pair (it was a 1986 DC Graphic Novel)? It’s bonkers fun! I like the LOEG books, too! Maybe too much, eh? Cheers, sir!

  7. To my mind Statham fills exactly the same purpose that Chuck Norris and Jean Claude Van Damme used to in American cinema: to provide cheesy R-rated action films with lots of hitting and kicking. And while Norris and Van Damme didn’t necessarily have better acting chops, they did have better, well, chops. But Statham is funnier. He also has a lock on tossing out a new movie in the late winter months when there’s not a lot of competition, which makes me want to peruse the internet for the release dates of Code of Silence and Sudden Impact for comparison. Or I could get a life. Strangely, Liam Neeson seems to be following the same career trajectory now.

  8. David Bowie, Pat Mills, The Roger Moore, and North Sea Hijack… Who else could it be but John K (UK)? At the risk of appearing some kind of bizarre stalker of web critics I must admit to being a *huuuge* fan, when feeling down it but takes a single visit into the unusua world of the Esrt’s Mightiest Howard Victor Chaykin fan and I am rather cheered. Oh Yes! Anyone who read your piece on the killer bear strip Shako (?) cannot have failed to have laughed themseves breathless at the simultaneouy erudite and goofy descriptions of hilarious face-scoffing terror. Or er that could just be me. It’s the mark of a gifted writer that they can draw you in with descriptions of things you otherwise have little interest in, and of course it’s even better when there are references to Bowie or Howard Victor. Long may you run Mr K, long may you run! Ahem.
    Regards, Hal

  9. @James Woodward: See, I’m old so Sudden Impact for me means Clint Eastwood being chased by a remote controlled car while Liam Neeson and Jim Carrey hope no one will remember they are in this stinky film. Oh, I am no stranger to cinematic shite, sir. I have in fact been known to seek it out. You enjoy your films, sir!

    @Hal: I really am not worthy. I thank you, but really I am not worthy. Shako is great, though.

    Thanks all!

  10. John, I beg to differ, and if I must duel you to uphold my honour then so be it! There is but one snag – I cannot duel, I have no sword, I do not like violence, and I learned all I kow of duelling from The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, an old issue of Daredevil, and the book (and film) Royal Flash; ah, make that *four* snags then… No matter the duel shall of a different kind, you shall bear the weapon of Moffat and Gatiss’s Sherlock but I shall best you by deploying the excellence of the ’80s Sherlock Holmes starring Jeremy Brett. Bwahahaha! Benedict Cumberbatch and a Moriarty who looks like a mildly disturbed Declan Donnelly needing a wee very badly up against the greatest Holmes (
    none of that “Sherlock” nonsense, thangyew)? No, as they say, contest. Erm, what happened there? I simply must remember to take my medication… Seriously, you’re too modest.

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