The tech futures in 2000AD
So, confession time – I seem to be regressing to childhood in lockdown. As a kid I used to get the sci-fi comic 2000AD every week. I had numbers 1 to about 450, but when I went to uni my mum gave them away to the boy scouts, saying “you didn’t want them did you?” When I tell you Issue 2 (the first to feature Judge Dredd) sells for about £600 on Ebay you can appreciate this is still kinda raw.
I’ve bought a few of the collections and graphic novels over the past couple of years. Then I got issue 1 as a birthday present and this prompted me to casually start buying the odd job lot on Ebay. It’s kind of fun to do a bit of collecting again. But the other day I was lying on the sofa, listening to Echo and The Bunnymen on vinyl and reading a paper issue of 2000AD. I was basically 13 years old again. I could intellectualise it, and I don’t think it’s _just_ nostalgia, but I’ve decided not to analyse this too much, it’s lockdown, anything goes.
Two things about 2000AD still hold up – the Britishness of it, standing against the dominance of the US comic book superhero, and the moral ambiguity. The most famous character is Judge Dredd who is both someone we root for and are appalled by (although Strontium Dog is probably my favourite). He is a lesson in what happens when you give police too much authority and allow fascist rule. This is explored in stories like America, and in a couple of recent issues that use Dredd tangentially to comment on the gig economy and private health insurance. But he’s also a hero, and you’re on his side, say when he’s fighting a T-Rex in the Cursed Earth. Garth Ennis argues that US comic book writers didn’t put their heroes in these situations, although some of that darkness is present in more recent outings.
Some of those 1970s/80s issues don’t always hold up – women tend to be drawn rather sexualised, and there are a fair few racial stereotypes (black, Jewish, Mexican), but on the other hand characters like Halo Jones gave an early feminist sci-fi hero, and there has been good diversity and representation across stories.
Anyway, to try and make this relevant, one of the recurring themes of 2000AD is our relationship with technology. Ro-Busters and the ABC Warriors showcase the moral ambiguity of how we treat sentient robots, in Rogue Trooper companions live on in microchips, there are omnipotent surveillance tools in Dredd’s MegaCity One and in Robo-Hunter a planet of robots thinks humans can’t be real because they’re supposed to be superior.
If your childhood reading shapes your adult attitudes then I wish more ed tech entrepreneurs had read 2000AD instead of Iron Man when they were young. Maybe then they’d be less inclined to view tech as a universal beneficial force and more inclined to consider it’s relationship with people. Take a look at this breathless TechCrunch piece about the ed tech companies that are going to show universities how to do online education (again). I mean, wouldn’t a dose of the grungy, messy, dirty tech of 2000AD have done them some good in their formative years?