Madness In Mega City One

Due to Rebellion’s rather wonderful range of summer specials based on the old Fleetway / IPC back catalogue, I’m rediscovering my love for all things comic, not least 2000AD, a comic it took my younger mind a long time to get into the spirit of, especially when compared to the slightly more sedate sausage-snaffling and smacked slippers antics of DC Thomson characters. Even the slightly more chaotic characters couldn’t prepare me for the sheer amount of ideas going on in an average issue, not to mention some bafflement at the long-running sagas of the likes of Celtic warrior Slaine, batshit good vs. evil to the extremes battler Nemesis The Warlock and future robot soldier action in ABC Warriors.

Judge Dredd was always incredibly simple to understand though. There were bad guys and then there was Dredd. Occasionally you might agree with the reasons behind what the bad guys were doing  – its tough, after all, living in a future dystopian USA (now named Mega City One) where residents are crammed into “blocks” up to 50,000 at a time, all named after ridiculous famous types (real and fictional) – but you knew ultimately that in the end, they were still bad guys and Dredd was…Dredd. No contest. Justice always prevails. And if you knew all this and feel like you’re being told how to suck off your grandma’s eggs (NB: check phrase before publishing) then congratulations, five years into the Iso-Bins, you grud-sucking Bennett Beany wannabe.

Ultimately, whilst more outright comedic strips like Ace Trucking Co and DR & Quinch were my real entry point over into the ‘Greatest Comic in the Galaxy’ through reprints, one of the biggest influences on me becoming interested in 2000AD to begin with was none other than Suggs. No, not Mean Machine‘s beloved Sarah “Seven-Pound Sadie” Suggs but Suggs. Off of Night Fever. And the “Full House” advert (“and puzzles all for 40p!”) Oh and ska pop legends Madness, who were the first band I became absolutely obsessed with thanks to their fun easy-going singles that everyone in my family seemed to adore and were about to make a big comeback with the “Divine Madness” compilation and return of “It Must Be Love” to the top ten.

When reading one of the many articles heralding their return I learnt that Suggs and Chas Smash after the Madness split had done a one-off 2000AD themed single in the mid 80s. This combination threw me entirely – even when I learnt that the band had started its own Virgin Records sub-label “Zarjazz” in 1984 named after a term used in the comic by its fictional editor Tharg The Mighty to describe something excellent. When I saw the characters the pair were meant to be dressed as, I was even more confused…

“Mean Machine” and Fink Angel (the duo on the right of the above foursome) were two of the nasty low-down rotters that made up the Angel Gang, a family of variously mutated criminals that live in the post-apocalyptic Cursed Earth, distinguishable by, in turn, a dial on Mean’s forehead that controls his anger and a green skeletal look from a life spent living in holes away from the family home. So, how did that translate to the ex-Nutty Boy cosplayers? Well…

Personally, I think its surprisingly decent for 1985 (if a tad Wurzel Gummidge in Space) with Suggs quoted as saying “we wanted as much as possible to make it like the comic, not just a record by a couple of out-of-work pop stars” and even seemed to stand up to the stresses of performing. And boy, did they perform! A lot! Popping up on kids programmes all over, such as this truly strange “Saturday Starship” appearance…

As for the song itself, its a fun if not exactly Cursed Earth-shattering bit of electro pop with hip hop beats, brass and lots of catchphrase bellowing just about passing in places for rap. “We wanted to make an electro/hip-hop record like the ones we’d heard in the New York clubs”, Suggs told Smash Hits. Whilst you cant imagine the hippest denizens of NYC grooving down to the Judgin’ jives, its also nothing like their former band and had they made one of the oft-mooted Dredd movies in the 80s, it would’ve fit perfectly over the end credits.

There were other songs based in the big Meg, such as the slightly point-missing “I Am The Law” by The Human League from the massive “Dare” album, “Judge Y’Self” by the Manic Street Preachers (demoed for the movie but unfinished until 2003 due to 2000AD fan Richey‘s still unsolved disappearance) and the popular but dreadful Anthrax who wrote a song absolutely packed with knowledge about the strip but also filled it with lyrics like:

They call him Judge, his last name is Dredd
So break the law, and you may wind up dead
Truth and justice are what he’s fighting for
Judge Dredd the man, he is the law

Sadly “Mutants In Mega City One” was far from a (Chas) Smash, peaking at 50 in the charts on 16th February 1985 and staying in the top 75 for just four weeks. A disappointment after so much publicity – and no more so than in the pages of 2000AD itself which even permitted an exclusive Brian Bolland-painted cover of Dredd as the single artwork – but a noble endeavour entered into with full gusto by two men who clearly genuine fans of the thing they were promoting. As Smash said “For anyone who had any interest in the Marvel comics when they were young, they just didn’t change over the years. Nothing really happens….I think the very real appeal of 2000AD is that it turns everything upside down: heroes may die and things aren’t always as they seem“.

In today’s climate, where comics are mostly bags of toys tied to a licence and pop is Ed Sheeran dueting with Ed Sheeran in honour of the late Ed Sheeran, we could definitely use a little more of that uncertainty, experimentation and – dare I say it? – madness.

For more pop nonsense, try my music trivia collection ” Never Mind The Quizbooks: A Music Quiz Book For People Who Dont Like Music Quiz Books” in paperback here.

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