Mean Team by John Wagner, Alan Grant graphic novel review

2000 AD’s Mean Team, by Alan Grant, John Wagner, Massimo Belardinelli is out now

There’s no denying the impressive catalogue of hits to come from the fortnightly ideas factory that is British anthology comic 2000 AD, but you’d have to be some sort of intellectual masochist to think the churn of dribbling out stories to order every two weeks entirely conducive to creativity.

Against the odds, a pool of writers and artists dominated by a handful of regulars have managed to reshape the cultural landscape from the offal-covered slaughterhouse floor of publishing – and there’s few more regular that Alan Grant and John Wagner, whose impressive runs on the likes of Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog, and Anderson, Psi Division rank among the title’s greatest contributions to the landscape of speculative fiction.

Suffice to say Mean Team, which was originally published from September 1985 to September 1987, hasn’t been omitted from that list in error, and as often as 2000 AD used the format’s inherent immediacy to grasp the zeitgeist and wrestle it into submission like a sandworm, it was perhaps as equally guilty of throwing itself dumbly in the path of whatever passing trend was pulling in punters down the three screen fleapit.

A combination of Death Race 2000, Rollerball and hugely underrated Italian artist Massimo Belardinelli’s earlier Tornado and 2000 AD strips, the gladiatorial Blackhawk and the fatal future-sport InfernoMean Team begins as a sort of generic b-movie premise – a bad-ass team of grizzled future gladiators fighting for their freedom while bellowing “MAXIMUM KILL POINTS!” – before spiralling into first edition D&D sourcebook non-sequiters, as the hokey drive-in shoulder pad post-apocalypse is traded for the sort of fairytale fantasy world small children come up with when the sugar-demons have locked up their imagination.

The more the fantasy takes over the narrative, the more the pace seems to be dictated by however many pages needed to be filled, with nonsensical cliffhangers dragged out seemingly at random as gruff future warrior ‘Bad’ Jack Keller embraces his deeply contrived destiny, all while warding off duplicitous centaurs and a set of irritating conjoined twins who speak exclusively in rhyme, and pop up with all the grim regularity of comedy evil villain sidekicks in a shit kids’ TV show.