Sunday 7 August 2022

Alan Grant: 2000 AD and Batman mastermind

I was a fan long before I knew the name of the acclaimed writer who wrote many of my favourite childhood comics from 2000 AD to Batman! That writer was Alan Grant.

Nick Smith, our resident US-based stellar scribe, remembers a comic book legend.

Guest post by Nick Smith

The world was on the brink of destruction. Only one tough-nut future cop stood between the survival of the civilized world and its bitter end. I witnessed The Apocalypse War at the tender age of 10, shelling out 16p a week to pick up an ingenious comic called 2000 AD and reading a handful of pages, flip-ticking towards doomsday.

Although Judge Dredd was a stoic, dependable protagonist, there were no guarantees of success in this epic series, which tapped into the fears of kids like me. In June 1982, the same month Dredd was depicted on the cover of 2000 AD riding a nuclear missile like a grim Slim Pickens warhead warrior, one million anti-nuke protesters marched in New York. Nuclear war was the prevalent stuff of nightmares.

Two years earlier, the British Government had distributed Protect and Survive, a pamphlet that landed through my letterbox telling me what to do in the event of a nuclear attack (‘if you are not at home… lie in a ditch,’ an accompanying public information film said reassuringly).

While disturbing at the time, the Protect and Survive materials look quaint now. Mega-City One’s trusty Judge, conversely, is as timely as ever, with better dialogue: ‘Gaze into the fist of Dredd!’

Comics fed my brain more effectively than Home Office literature. Predating the feature film WarGames and cautionary TV movies The Day After and Threads, The Apocalypse War was the most immediate representation of the threat of worldwide nuclear catastrophe, put in the hands of kids, encouraging them to think and hopefully make a better future.

Grant took the comic book form and used it to explore vast topics – politics, philosophy, personal freedom and vigilantism. In RoboHunter, he created downtrodden mechanical people more deserving of our sympathy than some humans. In the finale of the Judge Child saga, he helped John Wagner combine space opera with a family of hillbilly killers (the Angel Gang) and a young, bald boy who could do strange telepathic things on the planet Xanadu. Grant and Wagner made all these elements work in a tour de force of cohesive world-building.

As I thrilled to Grant’s Future Shocks, Blackhawk, Ace Trucking Co. (written with Wagner), Judge Dredd, and Doomworld (in a relaunched Eagle comic), little did I know that he was born in my hometown of Bristol, England. Sensibly, he moved to Newtongrange, Scotland while still in nappies.

Bristol was lonely for me – I was the only writer, dreamer and 2000 AD fan I knew. But Grant’s comic book adventures helped me to escape from my loneliness and trust that there was an avenue for storytellers like me. Like him.

Later, in my teens, I was excited to find Grant’s name pop up with Wagner’s, writing Detective Comics and Batman. Cue long-lasting, vivid villains like Ventriloquist, Ratcatcher, Victor Zsasz, and Anarky, the latter proving that a personal philosophy could be the fuel for a story or character (at the time, Grant was an anarchist).

As always, these characters were ingenious and sympathetic and Grant obviously enjoyed playing in this world, coming up with memorable new villains. So what if Batman sounded like Judge Dredd? If you didn’t like it you didn’t have to read it, creep!

While Grant kept writing and editing comics as well as publishing through his company Bad Press Ltd, he also encouraged creativity in his own community. In 2020, he led a project with his fellow residents of Moniaive, Dumfriesshire, to make a comic about COVID and the resilient spirit of the locals. He passed away on July 20th, 2022 but his ideas and great tales and iconic heroes (and villains!) live on.

It doesn’t matter whether a story is set in the past or the future, the real world or some fantasy land. If the writing is exquisite and the characters vivid, that story will inspire as well as entertain.

Alan Grant was a master of his craft and he will be missed.

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