Posted by: John Kane on July 7, 2012
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!!!