I’ve already taken a look at most of the 2020 Specials that have been released by 2000AD publisher Rebellion so far – so it was only a matter of time before I reached Smash! It’s a lot wackier and irreverent in tone to comics such as Action (which got its own Special this year) or 2000AD itself (even though neither of those titles are strangers to more bizarre content), as befits its source material – which was an often eclectic mix of strips.
Smash! was originally published in 1966 and ran until 1971, with a wide range of comics including humour, adventure, superheroes and even reprints of Marvel and DC material that – back then – would have been a gateway to US comics for many British kids. Cashing in on the popularity of the campy 60s Batman TV show, with the character featuring on the front cover for a year and a half at one point. Unusually, Marvel and DC characters occupied the pages of Smash! simultaneously, with Hulk alongside Batman and other British strips filling the rest of the page count.
In the 2020 Special, we focus solely on the action end of the Smash! character spectrum – seeing as some of the humour strips that featured within the original comic’s pages can now be found in the Cor!! Buster Specials from Rebellion (what a tangled web these classic British comics weave!).
Characters such as supervillain turned supervillain hunter turned supervillain again (just go with it!) The Spider, who gets a fantastic story here, written by the ever reliable Rob Williams and featuring gorgeous art from John McCrea; it does incredibly well to bring the eccentric character into a more realistic, clearly contemporary setting that even features a recognisably oafish buffoon as the British Prime Minister.
Thunderbolt the Avenger – who’s been appearing in the pages of The Valiant and the Judge Dredd Megazine (with The Valiant’s stories concluding in the Dredd monthly) gets her origin story here, as the original character – a not-very-competent police officer who can transform himself into a superhero thanks to a futuristic wristwatch – passes the torch to her. Johnny Future, whose bizarre character synopsis really baffled me, is up next – and I’m still none the wiser after reading the strip featured here; but the Tom Raney artwork is excellent at least.
Probably one of the biggest selling points of the Special is the appearance of comedian, actor and author Charlie Higson – co-writer of (and performer in) huge 90s British TV sketch comedy The Fast Show – as the writer of The Steel Claw, an-ex criminal turned hero who can make himself disappear aside from his prosthetic metal hand, which is always visible. It’s a fast-paced set-piece that takes place at the turn of the 21st Century, featuring era-appropriate celebrity – and political – cameos, along with a series of evil organisations using increasingly daft acronyms and other metal appendages that refuse to disappear. The artwork – by The Walking Dead’s Charlie Adlard – is, like the original strips, in black and white, retaining a very old school look that’s as appealing as its knowingly silly script.
Mytek the Mighty – a solar-powered robotic ape – gets a surprisingly politically charged, unexpectedly straight-faced story with some stunning painted artwork. It’s probably my favourite strip in the Special. Cursitor Doom and Jason Hyde – two separate characters who originated in Smash! and Valiant respectively, are combined in a spooky tale with nicely Hellboy-esque artwork by Andreas Butzbach. Finally, the slightly creepy talking dolls in The House of Dolmann shine in a nicely written tale where they pursue a master criminal; written by Simon Furman and strongly illustrated by Chris Weston, it’s a decent conclusion to the Special that definitely leaves you hungering for more mobile mannequin action.
Though I was unfamiliar with many of the featured characters, the Special does a great job of introducing each one with a synopsis page before diving in to their newly created stories. The artwork is of an incredibly high standard throughout and the only weakness for me was that at least a few of the stories could have done with a bit more time to develop; in a few cases, they feel like little more than trailers. Despite this, the overall page count is high and it does at least contain a lot of content for the cover price. Another issue I had is that the comic is in a US-sized smaller format, rather than the bigger UK-sized magazine we’re used to. I’d much rather have seen the fantastic art – which is quite often incredibly detailed – in a much larger form.
Hopefully we’ll see more from these characters in the future; though there’s a few that didn’t do very much for me, there’s certainly enough history for each of them to draw on and new status quos set up in these very pages that should make for some very interesting reading if the characters were to pop up again.
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