It’s fair to say that Action – launched in February 1976 and ending its run as an individual title in November 1977, at which point it merged with sister title Battle – caused quite a stir during its brief lifespan. Gaining infamy for its violent, anarchic tone, Action was the focus of a moral panic, with the comic’s potentially harmful content even being debated in the House of Commons. The media-led furore even saw publishers IPC get cold feet over publishing the 37th issue – fearing that major chains would cease stocking Action and other IPC titles. The issue was pulped and the comic returned a month later, resuming its weekly release schedule with toned down, ‘safer’ content. With the title’s unique selling point – the fairly unrestrained violence, blood and gore – taken out, there was little left to distinguish Action from other adventure comics on the shelves.
The violence and anti-authoritarian spirit moved into a more science-fiction based space with 2000AD in 1977; divorced from the more realistic settings seen in Action, it became somehow more palatable and didn’t attract the same levels of attention (except from readers of course, who lapped up 2000AD’s edgy, politically and socially aware content.
Fast forward to 2020 and the owners of 2000AD, Rebellion, published the Action 2020 Special; a comic featuring some of the original characters from the 70s comic in all new stories, as well as a new creation – Hell Machine – from Henry Flint, which features a grim, gory authoritarian dystopia and the political prisoners trying to escape the surreal environment of the title.
The comic certainly makes an effort to live up to the reputation of its source material. The Kids Rule OK story is an ultimately optimistic but graphically gore soaked depiction of a future in which youngsters have been forced to fend for themselves and rebuild society. Hellman – by Garth Ennis – depicts an encounter in the dying days of World War 2: German kids trying to get themselves to safety run into the eponymous Panzer Commander, who may not be the man they believe him to be. Hook-Jaw vs Shako pits the Action-originated Jaws-alike against another famously violent comic book animal star in an entirely dialogue-free, very gory strip, scripted by the cheekily pseudonymous ‘Quint Amity’. Finally, British secret agent Dredger takes on a mission to stop a former trainee agent from unleashing a toxin that’ll kill thousands of people – but things don’t go as expected…
The collection of stories here are fantastic and – if you were quick enough (I sadly wasn’t) – the Special even came bagged with a reprint of the infamously ‘banned’ issue from 1976. Though the strength of the writing and art is clear throughout the Special, it does suffer from a lack of supplemental material – which really elevated other specials this year, such as the ones focusing on Roy of the Rovers and Sexton Blake. Given Action’s controversial history, it would have been fantastic to get some insight into the trouble it both faced and caused during its initial 70s run.
That said, though it’s perhaps a less complete package than other Rebellion Specials, the content can’t be faulted. Dark, violent, gory and laced with an anti-authoritarian, punky attitude, the Action 2020 Special is a great homage to – and continuation of – the moral panic-inducing original. As with the Scream and Misty Specials, it’d be great to see the format and its characters return on an annual basis at least.
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