Across The Pond: Pommy Heroes

In case you didn’t know, I’m an Australian. My country has a bit of a schizoid attitude to the British. On the one hand, we dislike them for looking down on us, bathing less frequently than they should, having our young men killed in wars and losing at the cricket all the time. On the other hand, we prefer their spelling and pronunciation of the language to that of our new imperial overlords the Americans and we know more about the poms popular culture than a lot of poms do (`pom` is slang for “English person”, often but not always derogatory).

I grew up on a diet of Dr Who and gritty police action shows like Callan, the Sweeney, New Scotland Yard. This was largely thanks to my parents, who had a feeling that British stuff was more high-culture than American stuff. Thus I missed out on T.J Hooker, Charlie`s Angels and the like. I also missed out on most Australian 70s TV shows, not entirely a bad thing. With comics, I grew myself up on Marvel comics, which I collected and swapped with a small circle of Marvel-obsessed mates (okay, two people). The two worlds didn’t usually overlap. The yanks ruled the page, the Brits ruled the air-waves. Then came the Invaders.

The Invaders was a seventies attempt by Marvel comics to cash in on the World War II heritage of their back-catalogue. They owned Captain America and the Human Torch. Captain America was the WW2 hero, who had been conveniently frozen in ice until the Avengers discovered him bobbing around sometime in the late sixties. The Human Torch was a completely different character to his wartime namesake. The wartime Torch had had a boy assistant, as seemed compulsory then.

Anyway, in the seventies Marvel made a wartime superteam. I think it was Captain America, the Human Torch, Namor the Sub-Mariner (a perpetually grumpy fish-man, who spent most of his talking time bitching about losing his underwater kingdom of Atlantis. Somehow they’d persuaded him that the Nazis were worse than the other surface dwellers….all those U-boats I guess). I can’t remember who else. Bucky, Cap`s boyish assistant for sure. But they had a lot of contact with Europe and….British superheroes.

Marvel dreamt up a British super hero for the story, called Union Jack. Right away the dodginess of the concept was there. All the guy did was wear a Union Jack costume and run around a bit. By the time the Invaders met him, he was a retired WWI hero – just as well, since he’d been so lame in the first war he would have been an embarrassment in the second. It wasn’t the highlight of my comic reading youth – they were using an appalling artist at the time, but I remembered thinking, the British can’t do heroes. What I meant was they can’t do that kind of hero – the muscle bound, confident, lets-get-a-move-on-and-make-the-world-better kind of hero. Squalid self-doubting heroes are a doddle for the poms; Edward Woodward’s miserable spy Callan, the Spy who came in from the Cold, the coppers in the Sweeney; nobody does squalor better than the Poms.

That’s why I liked Alien 3 so much, Sigourney Weaver was stuck in an abandoned mine full of British depression-masters such as Brian Glover, has a doomed affair with Charles Dance. All very British.

All of which is a preamble to one reason why I like 2000 AD so much. Dredd is a British idea of an American hero. He is strong and arrogant, but his world has a squalor that is uniquely British. He says `hop it` and `you lot`. The British often appear as snooty, vacuous stereotypes (which seems masochistic until you consider how many of the creators are Scottish and that it`s the English who are being stereotyped). You can see Britishness in the MegaCity one citizens and perps too, the various hobbies and eccentricities they have are very pom. There`s a beautiful Wagner story called `vidspex` about the awfulness of English soap-operas, the heroine is a loser who spends all her time improbably watching Eastenders and Coronation street on her vid-spex and even changes her name to Vera Duckworth (pronounced `Dookworth`). In the middle of a fight between two rival groups of armed loonies, she shouts “eeeh, Ken, poot that gun down” quoting from a show. She is totally unaware of the standoff, since she`s watching on her vidspex. One of the baddies has the futuristic name `eeken` and is convinced she knows him. Lovely stuff.

Perhaps it’s being Aussie and being between the two Englishes (British and American) but 2000 AD suits my anglophilia and non-Englishness very well. I’m curious as to how American readers find the language there.

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