In Review: Action 2020 Special

Our first review of this year’s Action 2020 Special by Moose Harris certainly divided fans. Here’s another take that may do the same… Review by Luke Williams

Action Special 2020
Action Special cover by Staz Johnson, colour by Quinton Winter

 Action, as everyone reading this is bound to know, was the precursor to the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic, 2000AD. The weekly adventure comic had a similar format to the early issues of 2000AD, a broad spectrum of genres, with a hard-hitting violent edge, which is hardly surprising as they were both helmed by Pat Mills.

Each strip was developed around popular themes in cinemas of the time, for example, espionage, monsters (or specifically sharks) and war. When it was announced that Rebellion had bought the IPC/Fleetway properties, it was the resurrection of the “boys” material from this era of IPC that your reviewer was looking forward to the most.

Your reviewer was too young to catch Action in its original run. Due to its almost legendary (if not notorious) status, there are plenty of articles and reprints to digest, including Martin Barker’s excellent  book Action: The Story of  A Violent Comic, bits of that reprinted in places, and of course The Sevenpenny Nightmare micro site here on downthtubes. As has oft been repeated, Action fell foul of moral crusaders seeking to stop IPC from corrupting our youth with anarchic, violent and bloody content. Action had managed to stay on the right side of the line, but one controversial cover later and the game was up. Publication of the what The Sun called “The Sevenpenny Nightmare” was suspended with Issue 37, returning a few months later, in a neutered, establishment-friendly form. Deprived of its edge, it was folded into stablemate Battle, in November 1977.

Action Special 2020 - Kids Rule OK
Action Special 2020 – Kids Rule OK

Things kick off interestingly in the Action 2020 Special with “Kids Rule OK”, the strip is set in a post apocalyptic world where all the adults have died (and source of the cover that broke the camel’s back in Action‘s first run) and kids are running everything. Writer Ram V provides sparse dialogue and as a plot it’s more of a set up for an ongoing strip, less about the destruction of the adult world and more about rebuilding and recreating a new world. Not a lot happens, but gives a flavour of where the series could be taken. It’s lost some of the anarchy and attitude of the original, and the ending is redolent of a certain series of famous simian orientated classic sci fi films, but rising star Henrik Sahlstrom provides suitably moody and bold art.

Action Special 2020: “Hellman : At The Twilight of the Reich”
“Hellman : At The Twilight of the Reich”

Hellman : At The Twilight of the Reich” by Garth Ennis and Mike Dorey is up next. “Hellman” as a war strip courted controversy by being told from the perspective of a Panzer commander in the German army. It started a little flurry of such strips, published by both IPC and DC Thomson (“Iron Annie” and “Kampfgruppe Falken” to name but two and both, as it happens, drawn by Mike Dorey). Here, Hellman and crew assist three German refugee children in escaping the oncoming Russian army and almost certain death.

This must have been a dream job for Ennis, the leading proponent of war stories in comics he has often spoken of his love for late 1970s and early eighties British comics. It is touching and empathic as the realities of war hit home to the three teenagers, illustrated with fantastically grimy, atmospheric art. This is the peak of the package and makes this reviewer hanker for a collection of Mike Dorey drawn war comics.

Action Special 2020 - Hell Machine
Hell Machine

Hell Machine” is a new strip, the brainchild of Henry Flint, who scripts and provides the first 6 pages of art after which he hands over to Jake Lynch. Tonally, it’s a good fit, if not a bit dark for the original run. Bloody, highly imaginative and with some stunning art from Lynch and Flint, ”Hell Machine” is set in an oppressive, dystopian  future where rebellious elements of society are forced to enter the titular device, a sort of brutal and murderous “confidence course”.  Victims are pulped and mashed; think the TV show Wipeout, with a  man-size blender and body count.

It’s all surreal and bloodily disturbing, ideal for this special really and confirms that Henry Flint needs psychiatric help.

Action Special 2020: Hookjaw

 “Hookjaw”, the gaff-impaled shark star of Action of the 1970s, meets “Shako” the CIA0battling Polar Bear in a fan pleasing crossover that skips plot for gratuitous violence. Pseudonymous Quint Amity (see what they did there?) eschews dialogue, relying on the heavily cross hatched art by Dan Lish to tell what story there is. Light relief? Not really. Throw away and slight? Most definitely and it’s weirdly reminiscent of “Bob Byrne’s Twisted Tales” due to the lack of dialogue. It’s not sophisticated – but who doesn’t want to see a murderous Great White Shark face off against a revenge driven Polar Bear?

Action Special 2020 - Dredger

Wrapping things up is “Dredger”, the working class secret agent / “Dirty Harry” analogue drawn by the underrated Staz Johnson, with colours by John Charles and written by author Zina Hutton. Dredger is tasked with intercepting a former agent carrying a powerful toxin, but double crossed by his boss, cue exotic locations and shoot outs.

Dynamic art and layouts are let down by a story that if told in the 1970s style would have far more substance. There’s not a lot going on here and it’s not a great sell for a traditional British tough guy strip.

My copy came with the reprint of Action Issue 37, the final pre-media frenzy edition of the comic that had almost its entire print run pulped. It’s interesting to compare the differing styles of the 2020 Special and the 1976 weekly. The biggest difference between this and old strips, is how much less is in the new strips. There is an economy in the older strips, they are “denser”.  The pacing in the new strips is much slower, more expansive, and this reflected particularly in the Special’s “Dredger”.

As a package, apart from minor hiccups, it bodes well for the “Battle” special later in the year. More please.

Luke Williams

• The Action 2020 Special is available direct from the Treasury of British Comics web ship as a print or digital edition – both versions include the “Banned” Action supplement

Please note: Rebellion reports there are ongoing delays to orders due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. International orders may see related postal delays for both orders and subscriptions. Please bear with the company as they protect workers

Keith Richardson, editor of the Rebellion Specials, outlines the choice of strips here on the 2000AD web site

Read Moose Harris review of the Action Special 2020

• Check out our Action: The Sevenpenny Nightmare Micro Site dedicated to Action

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