The latest of 2000 AD‘s latest digital collections, Slaughterbowl, by John Smith and Paul Peart, comes out on 2nd June – time to mount up your dino and get yourself to the slaughter as we revisit a lost classic!
Back in the summer of 1993, 2000 AD turned its pages over to the young turks, with Grant Morrison and Mark Millar taking top billing, and talk of a new regime with eight weeks of the Prog full of four news strips and Morrison’s Dredd story, ‘Inferno’. They called it the ‘Summer Offensive‘ (pun definitely intended) and it’s always been something of a contentious moment in 2000 AD‘s history.
It’s perhaps most remembered as a bit of a failure of an experiment, with the Morrison/Millar satire of everything wrong with tabloid attitudes, Big Dave, really setting the wrong tone, albeit with Steve Parkhouse‘s gorgeous artwork.
Alongside that, ‘Inferno’ was hardly great Dredd, Morrison’s ‘Really & Truly was a poor take on doing a Deadline style strip, packed with drugs and forced wackiness, although again, it had the benefit of the brilliance of Rian Hughes on art. But then there was Maniac 5, Millar and Steve Yeowell’s all-out stupid action strip, which I seem to remember was just ridiculous fun (must go back and read that one again to check at some point.)
And then… there was Slaughterbowl.
Remember how I said it was Millar and Morrison who took top billing? Well, Slaughterbowl was the odd strip out, written by the brilliant John Smith, one of the best of the new breed of writers and one who’s all too often criminally overlooked.
It’s just 48 short pages of comics, but it really is something of a lost bit of brilliance, a great looking, weird reading thing, mixing up the classic futuristic sports strip format 2000 AD always did so well with plenty of gratuitous dino-violence and a heft dose of serial killer involvement.
So… welcome to Slaughterbowl 30, the world’s deadliest sport, where convicted criminals on dinosaurs battle to the finish… most of them will end up dead, but the winner gets a year on parole to live the high-life before being forced to enter next year’s Slaughterbowl.
Money is awarded for every second you stay alive in the Slaughterbowl, one second gets you $500, plus the kill bonuses, marker hits, and upgrade tokens, and all the sponsorship money that pours in. But for the winner comes glory and death row deferred for another year.
This year, there’s the return of three-time world Slaughterbowl champion, Mr Throat, the undisputed favourite, who’s joined with the worst of the worst, murderers, thrill-killers, serial killers… Ripper McGraw, white supremacist leader from South Africa, Bjorn Jaag, ex-Eurovision winner, both coming into Slaughterbowl in straightjackets, and Erik Bickmeyer, the Swiss ‘clockwork killer,’ who doesn’t even make it to the starting line, escaping after killing his police escort during a routine hygiene test. Mass murderer Amit Chandra makes it a little further, having a psychotic breakdown an hour before the off.
And then there’s Stanley Modest, the “hero” of our tale… who’s just starting what will turn out to be a very, very bad day… all starting with being laid off from his crappy job writing crappy verses in crappy greetings cards…
You can see right there just how good Smith’s writing here is, tongue rammed so hard into his cheek that it must have hurt, but through Slaughterbowl he’s coming up with moment after moment, line after line that just pops, making this a genuine little bit of brilliant, twisted fun…
“Miss Harkness in accounts started a petition, a few weeks ago now. They’ve all signed it. They want you ou, my lad.
You’ve worked here 23 years now, Stanley. It’s not often you see that kind of loyalty in the greetings cards business.
But from what I gather, they’re sick of the sight of you.”
Yes, Stanley Modest is as far from a Slaughterbowl champion as you could imagine, the epitome of the mild-mannered man.
Or so you’d think.
His beloved wife, Deirdre, is in the hospital, she’s been on the machines for six years now, and with his medical insurance gone, the hospital wants to pull the plug. Unless Stanley can get his hands on 150 grand.
But that’s not the half of it.
Because Stanley’s got other problems as well…
It’s always the quiet one’s isn’t it?
There’s at least 119 bodies found under the floorboards of the house, including his own kids. He says he’s innocent, he says he’s been framed, but he’s off sharpish to death row…
Trapped on death row, he’s got just five days before they pull the plug on Deirdre.
And it just so happens it’s also five days before the start of Slaughterbowl.
So Stanley has a plan… it’s a stupid, suicidal plan for sure… but it’s a plan…
And that’s it, we’re off and running, as the dinos and their riders launch into explosive, deadly action.
The clever thing Smith does here isn’t in the all-out action and the ultra-violence of Slaughterbowl, although that’s loads of fun, especially with all that fabulous-looking Paul Peart artwork.
No, the clever thing is how he plays with all of our ideas of what’s going on, keeping us in the dark about mild-mannered Stanley, letting us come to our own conclusions – and consequently, filling in all the dark gaps in what he’s leaving out of the back-story, something that always comes out way nastier than anything Smith could put on the pages.
There’s also the obvious commentary Smith is making about the increasingly brutal and gratuitous mass media of the time, and remember that is back nearly three decades ago. He makes his point and he makes it so well.
In a Summer Offensive full of in-your-face stuff and some really disappointing reads, Slaughterbowl still shines as a strip that works, with the dino-action the big, in your face, stuff that lets Smith tell a different sort of story, of a mild-mannered man who might, just might, be a monster.
Slaughterbowl – written by John Smith, art by Paul Peart, letters by Ellie de Ville, cover by Paul Marshall. Published by 2000 AD on 2 June.
Originally published in 2000 AD Prog 842-849 (1993)
Now, enjoy the first few pages of a long-forgotten little gem from the history of 2000 AD… Slaughterbowl…