Bad City Blue is a digital comic from 2000 AD due out on the 4th of August. It’s been published before, back in 1986 and might still be one of the darkest stories ever told in the magazine.
Let’s venture inside the aptly named Bader City, shall we?
The city was dying. It was dying hard, and dying ugly. The rot had set in a long time ago. And bit by bit, zone by zone, it’d spread like some obscene disease.”
Bader City fills a dome that’s burrowed into an asteroid, a pernicious wart of technological potential that’s gone wrong. The only safe place to live within the protective sphere is at the very top. That’s where those of class live; the landed gentry of this dark space age.
The city below, at least 90% of the dome, is a slum.
The Bader City slum is so bad that the cops don’t go. The button men go instead. They’re agents recruited to do what needs to be done to try and keep some semblance of law and order in the dying city.
Bad City Blue follows one such button man, Blue, and brawls straight into the action. Our hero makes no bones about it, he’s en route to the kill zone as he enters Devil territory, and we see what that means without much in the way of fanfare. There are just a few explosions and some blood puddles later; we see how law enforcement works in Bader City.
Written by Alan Grant and illustrated by Robin Smith, the panels in Bad City Blue are as cramped, dark and oppressive as the city itself. Each line feels like it was carved into the screen, a black wound of hate that just about tolerates its neighbouring lines. It’s not as if these menacing stabs of ink have any choice; they’re all bounded by the impregnable limits of the panel together.
The tension isn’t an ever-present undercurrent in Bad City Blue. There’s nothing undercurrent about it; it’s always there, always front of mind, always on the page. Even in the two or three brief cells in which Blue is home, dropping off some paltry loot he got in lieu of payment, it’s there as a throbbing headache.
Judge Dredd tackles baddie after baddie, but that’s not Blue’s fate. Once we see the button man in action, Bad City Blue hurries us on to the rest of the unfolding plot as if there was a ticking timebomb under the readers’ chair and precious few minutes to waste. The whole story is over in less than 60 brooding pages.
Call them plot twists if you want to, but I won’t. Whether it’s the surprising flora and fauna of Bader City (my favourite characters), the story lurches you from one disaster to another, and it’s not about predicting what is about to happen. It’s about digesting what just happened as the story speeds onwards.
It is worth taking a minute to reflect on the political landscape in the UK at the time. The 1980s. It’s the peak of Thatcher’s rule (UK Prime Minister from 79 to 90). The rich were getting richer, and the poor poorer. It was a time when town planners aggressively. Just as Bad City Blues has riots, here in the UK, the Community Charge, known as the poll tax, introduced by Thatcher and the Tories was tested in Scotland first, resulting in riots.
The name “poll tax” came from its resemblance to a tax system previously seen in the 1300s. It favoured the wealthy, inexpensive houses and penalised those families having to squeeze many people into smaller homes.
In hindsight, Bad City Blues isn’t just a commentary on urban decay and the class divide; it predicted the risk of riots and the mental health consequences of inequality by design.
I’m no comic book historian, but I wonder why it took this long for such a strong candidate from Rebellion’s archives to be published again. Perhaps it was a rights issue, and wouldn’t that be a little ironic.
Happily, this bleak story is getting some fresh light and a bit more room to breathe – at least escaping the confines of print and spreading out to digital.
When you’re feeling up to it, give it a read.
In August, you’ll be able to buy Bad City Blue via;
My digital copy of Bad City Blue was provided by Rebellion for review.
It’s not a golden age wonder or a joy of four colour hope, but this review of the dark Bad City Blue is part of Superhero Week, and you can use this teleport link to jump. Where will you land? A randomly selected superhero week article.