Friday, June 16, 2017

Harry 20 on the High Rock

Harry 20 on the High Rock
Alan Davis (art) and Gerry Finley-Day (story)
2000 AD / Rebellion, August 2010

'Harry 20 on the High Rock' first appeared in the 23 October, 1982 issue ('Prog') 287 of 2000 AD. It ran in periodic fashion, sharing space with features like Judge Dredd, Robo Hunter, Time Twisters, Ace Trucking Co., and Rogue Trooper, until Prog 307 (12 March 1983)

This trade paperback compiles all of the episodes, along with a sketch section.

The story takes place in the near future, when all criminals are housed in a massive orbiting prison, known as the High Rock. Every one of the 10,000 inmates are known by their first name and the number of years in their sentence. After getting convicted of smuggling food to a humanitarian group in the Equatorial Zone of Earth, Harry Thompson is sentenced to 20 years on the High Rock, hence the 'Harry 20' moniker.

The High Rock is run by the feared Warden Worldwise, who has the freedom to impose any policy he so desires. Discipline is strict, with infractions earning a prompt beatdown from the sadistic guards. Inmates who cross the line can find themselves dispatched to the 'gravy train', a work detail in which inmates are given thin spacesuits and tasked with chipping ice off of the vents on the exterior of the Rock.

Needless to say, Harry 20 has every intention of escaping the High Rock, and he's willing to take his share of beatings if it brings him closer to his goal. But Warden Worldwise and the prison guards aren't the only obstacles Harry must overcome if he is to have any hope of succeeding. Other inmates - notably Big Red, the most dangerous and homicidal of all the Rock's prisoners - have it in for Harry 20.

And needless to say, if Harry 20 is going to escape the High Rock, a high body count is definitely in the offing...............

'Harry 20 on the High Rock' is one of the best series to appear in the early years of 2000 AD. This is due to Gerry Finley-Day's script, which keeps the narrative simple and straightforward, while also working in various twists and surprises that keep the reader in suspense till the very last page. It's never entirely clear if Harry will experience a happy ending, and this keeps the story from becoming too formulaic.

'Harry 20' relies on sharp little episodes of violence to remind the reader why the High Rock is a hellhole, and why Harry needs to escape. These scenes of violence - men being hit in the face with pickaxes, chuckling guards callously gunning down inmates, or kicking inmates in the groin -  may not be all that remarkable to modern-day readers, but back in the early 80s, when the Comics Code still restricted content in many US comic books, it was another reminder of how edgy and gritty the 2000 AD lineup was.

It's also noteworthy that Gerry Finley-Day avoids imbuing his story with the sort of glib moralizing that an American comics writer would almost certainly have larded the script with. There are no extended soliloquies and musings about Injustice, or the Dehumanization of the Imprisoned, just Harry trying to stay alive long enough to make his do-or-die break for freedom.

Another factor that makes 'Harry 20' one of the best strips to appear in 2000 AD is the artwork of Alan Davis. Davis nowadays is of course a well-regarded artist for both DC and Marvel, but back in 1982, 'Harry 20' was his first major assignment, given to him when John Watkiss proved unable to come through. While a little awkward at times, his artwork does a great job of rendering the grim confines of the High Rock and the various battles and confrontations that Harry must deal with in his day-to-day life.

Summing up, 'Harry 20' stands the test of time quite well, and compares favorably to many of the comics on store shelves nowadays. Whether you're a fan who remembers those early days of 2000 AD, or someone to whom the 2000 AD lineup is new and novel, this compilation is well worth getting.

1 comment:

David Simpson said...

There's an interview with Alan Davis on his time spent drawing Harry 20, and on his other 200AD work, at

What still amazes me is that he was drawing Harry 20 and Marvelman and Captain Britain all at the same time -- that's around forty pages of full art a month.