Mean Team by John Wagner, Alan Grant, Hilary Robinson, Massimo Belardinelli and Ron Smith (graphic novel review).

The setting is our galaxy in the year 2886 where Death-Bowl has been the most popular sport for the past four hundred years. It is now broadcast to over six hundred worlds and the players are the idols of trillions. Our story starts in the Killpit on Artificon Major, where the second semi-final of this year’s championships are about to take place. The Assassins from Gor take on the Mean Team led by Bad Jack Keller, who has more kills than any player in history. The aim of the game is to capture the enemies’ flag which gets you ten points. You also get five points for a kill and one for capturing or maiming somebody. It’s the kind of good clean fun you expect from John Wagner and Alan Grant.


In episode one, the Mean Team’s telepath, Henry Moon, gets badly maimed but his brain is still alive. They can’t transfer it into another human because that would be murder, though they do try, so it’s moved into the team mascot, a panther. This strange hybrid is fitted with a vocal synthesiser to help him communicate. Henry is not exactly over the moon at the change. Bad Jack promises to fix things eventually but it’s hard to see how he can as the Mean Team, like all other teams, are essentially slaves, either captured in war or condemned to execution. Who else would go into the Death-Bowl voluntarily?

The initial run of stories from 2000AD progs 437-447 is credited to script robot: ‘The Beast‘, which I take to be John Wagner and Alan Grant. The next run is from progs 525-531, 533-535 and 537-541 with script by Alan Hebden. The name is unfamiliar to me and this segment turned into a sort of fantasy quest on Earth which I didn’t like as much as the first part. Lastly, there is ‘Survivor’, a solo story about Henry Moon which is scripted by Hilary Robinson, a rare female writer on ‘2000AD’. That was pretty good as Moon is actually a better character than Bad Jack Keller or, at least, a more likeable one. The story made good use of silent panels for pacing and the art by Ron Smith was beautiful.

Excepting those few episodes at the end, the rest of the art is by Massimo Belardinelli. It’s the good old pen and ink stuff of classic British comics, somewhat reminiscent of Gustave Doré or illustrations from Dickensian magazines. I love it and it’s cheap, too! One reason comics cost so much nowadays is the extraordinarily high production values that are not always, perhaps, merited by the quality of the modern story or indeed the quantity of it. Seventeen pages that can be read without blinking cost several English pounds. In my day (waves walking stick in the air and dislodges trilby), there was usually a substantial script present along with the pictures and you could buy several comics out of a kid’s pocket money. Now you’re hard pressed to afford them on a man’s wages.

This volume reprints stuff from the good old days. No doubt because it’s in glorious black and white, this classic is priced at a mere £13.99 for over 160 pages of art which I‘ll tell you, as I know you young people can’t do sums, is 10 pages for one Earth pound. All in all, another good reprint edition from those decent chaps at Rebellion. God bless them every one!

Eamonn Murphy

April 2013

(pub: 2000AD. 160 page graphic novel. Price: £13.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78108-110-5)

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Eamonn Murphy

Eamonn Murphy reviews books for sfcrowsnest and writes short stories now and then. Website:

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