With the massive popularity of super heroes and comic books and their subsequent film and television adaptations, it is surprising that very few comprehensive documentaries about the world of comics exist. Every year or so, the History Channel or other cable outlets will produce a generic overview of the long history of the medium and hit all of the key eras (the original Golden Age, Frederic Wertham’s crusade against comics, the Silver Age comeback, the gritty 1980’s, the current popularity of super hero films, etc.), but viewers (and more importantly, comic fans) rarely get the documentaries they deserve.
Up to now, the best documentary one could find is based on the home of the original superheroes: D.C. Comics. Secret Origins: The Story of DC Comics took the time to delve into the various touchstones and paradigm shifts in the industry and also included a variety of the original artists and writers who shared the history of, as well as their first hand experiences, in continuing the adventures of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and more. And despite their enormous success and recent tumultuous publishing history, no comparable documentary about Marvel Comics exists to this day.
One of the most important segments in Secret Origins is the focus on “the British Invasion” lead by Alan Moore in the early 80’s and the British creators ever-lasting impact on the comic industry (along with the formation of the Vertigo imprint). Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ The Watchmen changed the landscape of comic books forever, but The Watchman would not have been possible without a breeding ground for sophisticated and adult story-telling in the shape of 2000AD.
Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD is the type of documentary that comic fans (particularly those whose formative years took place in the 1980’s) have been waiting years for. Not only does the documentary provide a comprehensive history of the seminal British publication, but the trials and tribulations of 2000AD also reveal how the entire comic book industry changed in this era.
Numerous artists/writers/editors who worked on or were influenced by 2000ad are profiled in the documentary (with the exception of the reclusive Alan Moore). Director Paul Goodwin expertly weaves the interview clips into an oral history of the publication from the origins of the title from the ashes of the banned Action weekly, to the rise of the 2000ad’s breakout star Judge Dredd, and the editorial battles, censorship, creator rights, and the political and cultural impact and influence of the magazine. Goodwin has a lot of material to work with, as the creators (most notably original editor of 2000ad and creator of Nemesis the Warlock and Slaine, Pat Mills) pull no punches when discussing the highs and lows of 2000ad, whether it be the draconian working conditions and pay scale, the genesis of their characters, or how they currently feel about their legacy and contemporaries.
The documentary also displays 2000ad’s publication history as a microcosm of the entire industry, without clearly connecting the dots to the what occurred “across the pond”. When DC Comics came calling in the early 80’s and continued to raid the 2000ad talent pool for the likes of Brian Bolland, Grant Morrison, Peter Milligan, Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis and numerous others, the creators left for more money, better working conditions and treatment, and in many cases, the rights to the original characters that they created. The American comic book industry would experience a similar shift when a group of young artists broke from Marvel Comics roughly a decade later over the same factors and founded Image Comics.
The similarities of the 1990’s spotty screen adaptations and marketing of comic book characters, particularly Judge Dredd, is also a focus of the film and viewers may forget how badly the helmet-wearing lawman was portrayed by Sylvester Stallone in the 1995 version. Writer/director Alex Garland (Ex Machina) and others discuss the important changes that took place in the 2012 Dredd film starring Karl Urban (who is also interviewed for the film), which effectively washed away the shinny-suited Stallone version.
Severin films release of Future Shock! is packed with over 6 hours of extended interviews, outtakes, and features on the unique characters and creators that called 2000ad home. The quality of the supplementary material is equal to the quality of the documentary, and I found myself wondering why some of the stories and history were not included in the documentary itself (and then I realized that the film would most likely double its one hour and 45 minute run time). These extras are absolutely worth watching, as they continue to detail the rich history and influence of the publication, revealing stories that have never been documented before.
Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD is a must have for fans who remember walking into comic stores in the 1980’s and seeing Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper, the ABC Warriors, and Halo Jones for the first time, as well as viewers who want to understand where the enormous shift in literary quality in comic books came from.