Not exactly Shakespeare is it? But when I read comics as a kid, I didn’t want classic literature, I wanted thrills and spills. I wanted something that felt edgy and put me in the zeitgist of the moment. And as much as I love D C Thomson’s comics, I cannot honestly say that they were as up to date as they could have been.
So when I went to a friend’s house and saw issue 1 and 2 of 2000AD, I was stunned. I was blown away by the art, the concepts, the characters and how “in yer face” it all felt.
I was in love with M.A.C.H One from the first panel. And what was there not to love? It featured a storyline that was suspiciously like the Six Million Dollar Man, my favourite TV show at the time. It was drawn by Ian Kennedy, my favourite comic artist of all time. And it featured the Vulcan, still my all-time favourite V-bomber. I take it you can see how many boxes this story was ticking?
But as great as M.A.C.H One was at the time and still is if you ask me, there was another story that featured my favourite 2000AD character of all time. And no, it didn’t start in issue 2 but was there from week one. And that story was Invasion! which was a thinly veiled reference to the ever present threat that we dealt with during the Cold War when we expected the 3rd Russian Shock Army to swarm through the Fulda Gap and signal the end of the European experiment. And the main character was Bill Savage, a truck driver who was more bothered about his mid terraced house, his truck, his wife and his kid rather than this big epic war going on all around him until they were all taken from him in one moment of insanity.
And this is why Bill still has my attention today. He is not a superhero. He doesn’t have any powers apart from sheer bloody mindedness. He is not “buff”, have any special skills or specialised training. He is more like Charley Bourne than Tony Stark or Steve Rogers (other superheroes are available). He was the character that an ordinary person could connect with, someone struggling to deal with big concepts that were just too big or too crazy for any rational person to deal with.
In the 1990s, it was trendy to rubbish characters such as Bill Savage or M.A.C.H One. You only have to look at Armoured Gideon to see that it was a case of 2000AD came from being a kids comic, but we are all so much more serious now. And the same happened in the 20th anniversary issue if I remember correctly. I will need to dig out the issues so that I can show you.
But what prompted this meander down memory lane? Well, it is my habit to frequent a local car boot sale and it has yielded some absolute gold, like the Roy Rogers annual that is autographed by Walt Howarth. But it was picking up the 1989 Eagle annual that prompted this memory of Bill Savage. As I have copies of all the first year of 2000AD and I had bought the annuals, I thought that I had run out of Invasion stories from the first run. So you can imagine my surprise when I began to flick through this annual at a local car boot sale and find an Invasion! story that I have never seen before.
This looks to have been drawn by John Vernon, which would make sense as John had been doing sterling work for Eagle and Battle until it looks like he retired around the mid 1980s. The shame of it is that there is almost no information available on John despite being in the comics industry since at least the 1950s. I can see that he drew for the Combat Picture Library, Look and Learn, Eagle and Battle. But I am digressing.
What fascinates me is how this came to be in the Eagle annual as a new story. Was this a previously rejected script? Who was the writer? Was it originally meant to be in the Dirty Jocks story arc? There are so many questions that I would love to get answered, but I doubt that I ever will. But dodgy science aside, this is a nice wee story that cheered me up no end as I really enjoy finding little gems such as this scattered around the comics world. And I hope that you have enjoyed reading this post about Bill Savage and recalling how great that story is. Now I must find my sketch book with the Charlie Adlard sketch of Bill…
All imagery (c) Rebellion
Update: Thanks to people reading this article, it appears that this is a reprint from the 1979 Dan Dare Annual. So the artist check of John Vernon looks to make even more sense as he would have been still doing quite a bit of work for IPC in 1977/1978. But it still would be interesting to find out who wrote the story.