Monday, 23 July 2018

Comic Review - 2000AD: Big Dave

As part of a publicity stunt in 1993 control of 2000AD was handed over to young Turks Grant Morrison, Mark Millar and John Smith for a couple of months, leading to the so-called Summer Offensive which begat sub-Thompson drugs bore Really & Truly, gory retread Slaughterbowl and nihilistic actioner Maniac 5. The jewel though was Big Dave, detailing the adventures of the titular yob, Manchester's hardest man. A hilarious and OTT spoof of tabloid attitudes laced with boisterous, aggressive narration taking swipes at everything going, it remains a relevant and funny criticism of British laddishness.
Written by Morrison & Millar and drawn by veteran Steve Parkhouse, the character ended up having five adventures, all brief enough to not outstay their welcome. The first saw Dave (and his pitbulls, Zoltan and Kickboxer) recruited and partnered up with Big Terry (Terry Waite) to stop Saddam Hussein turning British troops into homosexuals with an alien love ray. First though the track-suited yob had to be recruited from the warzone of his council flat for the price of an extra giro payment, albeit at the cost of the unfortunate soldier sent to call him up. After meeting up with Terry the pair are off to Iraq, where they're met by the camped-up makeup wearing British forces; after a tough moment when the love ray turns Terry (Dave later bottles him for this, which Terry admits he deserved) and even makes Dave consider cat ownership before Saddam and the aliens get a kicking and Baghdad is given a more British slant.

That done with the second story is basically a time capsule, and the reason the strips remain out of print. It features Princess Di and Fergie as a pair of gold-digging slappers who have replaced the Royal Family with crap robot duplicates, and it's a reminder of how little regard the Princess of the People was regarded with before her death. In these lionised post-Paris tunnel days it would have the Mail and Express frothing like lunatics for the big-nosed character model of Di alone. The plot sees Dave roped into saving the real Royals in return for his giro getting sorted. However, he gets confused by the unconvincing doubles (the Queen Mother is a Dusty Bin-style thing with a handbag and  "Britain's Favourite Gran" scrawled on it), kills the real things and ends up siding with Di and Fergie against the British army. Again, it's brattish and crass but hilarious and kind to nobody; the caricatures of the rest of the family are just as cruel. You don't get to see the Queen shot in most comics these days.

There's a brief interlude then for a Yearbook story "Young Dave" relating Dave's origins and rocky relationship with his father; it's funny but just a shade too serious comics - though is that the same PE teacher that believes in the kid as in The Invisibles? It mainly serves to introduce Dave's even bigger bastard of a dad and childhood nemesis Pansy, a Walter Soft-type character, mainly seeded for a future arc. Like I say, bit too serious.
Dave returned after a few months (and the ending of the Offensive gimmick) but the third story is a bit of a let-down. "Costa Del Chaos" sends up lager lout holidays to Magaluff and the like as Dave and his friends (including tarty girlfriend Cheryl-Anne) descent on Spain, striking fear into the cowardly locals. Despite a random scattershot of happenings, including a rivalry with Newcastle's hardest man Bowser (who finally admits Dave's harder after having his face held in lava), a cameo from Robert Maxwell and constant mocking of supposed Spanish cowardice but it actually feels a bit one-note, not helped by Cheryl-Anne's airheaded letters home replacing the delirious tabloid . It doesn't help that Parkhouse skipped the strip in favour of Anthony Williams, whose art combines with the introduction of colour to make it all look considerably uglier than the first strips. It's not bad exactly but it's nowhere near as sharp as the rest.

Thankfully the series signed off on a high with "Whole Lotta Balls", a convoluted story reprinted alongside the England-less USA '94, which features Dave and his mates hijacking a minibus full of handicapped children and driving across the Atlantic to oppose the Hitler-led Axis union of Italy and Germany in the World Cup final. Tying in is Nelson Mandela as a voodoo priest who helps Dave by raising England legend Nobby Moore, appearances from Dave's dad (who he finally beats up) and Pansy, Dave's barfing, bottling illegitimate baby and Jimmy Hill, defiantly commentating despite being surrounded by Nazi stormtroopers. It's batshit and brilliant, with the tabloid fervour returning to the narration.

Across the stories Dave takes out his ire on the Spanish, the Americans, single mothers, lefties, homosexuals, priests, the postman, cats, the British army and anyone else going, his violence and insults cheered by the frothing narrator ("2000AD readers are right behind you, Dave!"). If it all sounds a bit puerile it is, but the strip walks the line nicely - someone very, very stupid might take it at face value and either genuinely be offended or agree with the characters but they would have to be very, very stupid. It's a fine line but here it's walked well, and the absurdity of the stories means they never get too boring or repetitive for the most part.

It's either interestingly prescient, or a sign that these sort of meatheads have always been there. A follow-up on Dave in 2018 would be fascinating; it would be interesting to see him now with a pauch and a bald patch, skin permanently gammon in hue as he hammered "YOU LOST GET OVER IT" into social media his pawnshop iPhone and donated half his giro to Tommy Robinson's legal fund. Sadly the stories are currently out of print - Rebellion are unlikely to want the tabloids on their back - but a collection of scans under the name "The Complete Big Dave" are relatively easy to find on filesharing sites. A recommended slice of 2000AD madness.

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