Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 251: <i>2000AD</i> #278: "Hot Item"

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today's page is from 2000AD #278: "Hot Item", which was published by Fleetway and is cover dated 21 August 1982. This scan is from The Complete Alan Moore Future Shocks, which was published in 2006. Enjoy!

Back in 1982, who knew that John Higgins would once so thoroughly betray his partner in crime, Alan Moore, by drawing a pirate comic? No, thirty years ago, it was all lollipops and ice cream for these two, as they worked on goofy stories for 2000AD and dreamed of taking over American comics (in Moore's case) and drawing one of the most incomprehensible comics ever written (in Higgins' case - guess which one!). Good times!

This first page shows us how clever Moore is and how well he builds drama even though he's writing a silly tale. He creates this atmosphere of doom and gloom with references to "Fimbulwinter" and "the heat-death of the universe," making it seem like we're going to read a horrible story about all energy vanishing from the universe. Two things belie this notion in the final panel: The title of the story and the way Moore gets to it ("any source of energy will be a precious commodity, will be a real ... hot item") and the shouting of the two men in the vehicle, which seems all dramatic until you actually read the words: "two hundred metres an hour"? What the crap? Yes, on this world, everything moves extremely slowly, and Moore plays with that throughout, as those "heat-jackers" stop to argue about something and then realize they can't catch up to the vehicle because it's put so many "centimetres" between them and it since they stopped running. It's quite humorous. Then, their source of energy is ... a copy of 2000AD. Yes, it's true. That Alan Moore - before he got all crotchety, he was quite the japester!

Higgins doesn't have too much to do on this page, but he does fine. The vulture in the first three panels is part of the joke - it dies in the time it takes that smoke cloud to come closer because everything moves so slowly, and the poor vulture can't live long enough to see the vehicle pass underneath its tree. Higgins does a nice job subtly putting the smoke by the narrative boxes without being too obvious - our eyes are drawn to the vulture, so only when we try to figure out why it disappears in the third panel (it could conceivably be flying away) do we start to suss things out and notice the smoke and the lengthening icicles on the branches. The "heat-jackers" are silly monsters, but they're imposing enough on this page, so when they become jokes on the next page it's a decent misdirect. Higgins designs an interesting steampunk vehicle, with the giant chimney and furnace on the back and the sleeker driving area, indicating both the characters' advanced science and their degradation. The vehicle is slightly to the left of the panel because the tableau of the vehicle and the monsters is centered well on the page. The mountains on either side complete the framing of the central image.

This page shows Moore's oddball imagination at work, and it's interesting to read these stories (and others from 2000AD) because they show how much the writers had to pack into very few pages. Moore is good at that, so these stories are fun to read!

I've gotten a few more e-mails from readers asking for a specific comic to be featured here in October, but I can still use more! Let me know out there in Internet-land which comic you'd like to get a spotlight! My e-mail address is gregorymburgas@gmail.com. You know you want to!

Next: Oooh, horror comics! Pretty freaky stuff, if you can handle it! Fret not - there are many non-horror comics in the archives!

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