Written by: Gordon Rennie & Emma Beeby
Art by: Neil Googe
Price: £12.99 (UK) $ 17.99 (USA)
This Graphic Novel reprints the following stories:
- “Survival Geeks” – (Prog 1824 – 1826)
- “Steampunk’d” – (Prog 1918 – 1923)
- “Movie Night” – (2000AD Sci-Fi Special 2015)
- “Geeks Fatales” – (Prog 1973 – 1977)
- “Lord of the Ringers” – (Prog 1978 – 1981)
2000AD has a rich history in producing humour strips with a science-fiction edge, with classics such as D.R & Quinch, Robo Hunter and Ace Trucking & Co. immediately coming to mind. Survival Geeks is the latest addition to this trend, adopting a contemporary tone as three geeky flatmates and a reluctant one-night-stand end up travelling the multiverse together in their teleporting house. To sum it up in an elevator pitch for you, it’s “The Big Bang Theory meets Sliders, with a dash of Red Dwarf”.
The series definitely feels like a sitcom in terms of style, partly due to the archetypal characters involved and the constant refreshing of location for each storyline, which gives the series a strong episodic format and keeps the narrative ever-fresh. The writing team of Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby infuse the series with plenty of pop culture in-jokes, making reference to Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who and other sci-fi institutions. Much of the series’ humour comes from these jokes, which demonstrate a keen awareness of geek culture from the point of view of the fan, mocking both the source material and the obsessive ‘geek’ who places such importance on fictional worlds.
Another key factor in establishing tone is Neil Googe’s simply fantastic artwork, which is filled to the brim with geeky Easter eggs and subtle references to sci-fi and fantasy franchises. The opening panel which reveals Simon’s geek paradise of a bedroom is a joy to behold, with literally hundreds of pop culture references for the eagle-eyed reader to discover. Googe infuses his artwork with an enthusiasm and energy that matches the satirical tone of the script, making him the ideal choice as artist for this series. His attention to detail and ability to create striking cinematic panels results in some of the strongest moments in the series, particularly in the Steampunk universe.
The initial adventure, “Survival Geeks” serves as a rapid-fire introduction to the group and the trans-dimensional status-quo for the strip. Designed as a three-parter for the Tharg’s 3rillers format, the story acts as a TV pilot to gauge reader interest. It succeeded admirably, resulting in several subsequent adventures over the following years, allowing Rennie and Beeby to flesh out the characters and develop individual personalities for them. The freedom of the multi-verse concept gives the writers unlimited scope for adventure, much like how the TARDIS allows Doctor Who writers to conjure up literally any adventure for the Time Lord. It’s a deliciously simple concept, and one that is ripe for plenty of exploration, so it’s no wonder that the series was recommissioned for future stories.
The second adventure, “Steampunk’d” boasted an increased page count and fleshed out the four leads in greater detail, allowing their characters to develop. Rennie and Beeby separate all four, giving them a mini-adventure that allows the reader to form an attachment to them all, whilst giving their personalities the opportunity to bloom. The storyline pokes fun at the steampunk genre mercilessly, although Neil Googe manages to make it look effortlessly cool – I particularly loved his visions of a steampunk Star Wars during one dream sequence. Why has no-one made this idea into a film yet?! Firmly established as an ongoing series, there’s an increased sense of confidence to this sophomore adventure that makes it really enjoyable, and I love how our ‘heroes’ aren’t there to save the day and instead lurch from one disaster to the next.
A short one-off strip in the 2000AD 2015 Summer Special revisited the characters, alongside their stowaway ‘pet’ – a mini Cthulhu named Howard. While “Movie Night” continues the series’ penchant for mimicking pop culture iconography, with some laugh-out-loud parodies of famous film franchises realised by Neil Googe’s astonishingly good artwork. Rennie and Beeby also drop some foreshadowing for future adventures with the hint of a “big bad”, creating a smidgen of continuity for the humour series, although it isn’t strictly necessary.
The third full storyline, “Geek Fatales” plays with one of my favourite science-fiction tropes – the gender-reversed parallel universe. Much like that classic episode of Red Dwarf, the Survival Geeks find themselves meeting their female counterparts, who turn out to be vastly better at travelling through the multiverse than they are. Again, this storyline allows Rennie and Beeby to explore the essence of their core characters, viewing them through a distorted prism. Rather than appearing as two-dimensional copies of the originals, the female Survival Geeks are strong and distinctive characters in their own right – equally as deserving of a series. Numerous hints are made about a future reunion between the pair, and I hope that this story thread is explored in greater detail in future adventures. The adventure itself takes a background seat to the clash of the two geek groups, although there is some gloriously casual ultra-violence at the end of the adventure that helps solidify the laissez-faire tone to the series.
The fourth and final storyline, “Lord of the Ringers” takes another recognisable theme from science-fiction and genre television – the imposter who has rewritten reality to fit into the team – and puts a humorous spin on it. Anyone who has seen Season Five of Buffy the Vampire Slayer will recognise the central conceit, although it is easily explained within the narrative of the story. As the final adventure collected in this graphic novel, there’s a nice sense of symmetry as Rennie and Beeby revive the villain from the first series, creating the first recurring nemesis for the team to deal with. The fourth wall undergoes a fair bit of battering in this adventure, which I’m not overly fond of, as Clive and Rufus talk directly to the reader and display an awareness that they are in a comic strip. I don’t like this plot device when Deadpool, She-Hulk or Harley Quinn do it, and while it’s slightly more forgivable here, I hope it doesn’t become a recurring theme as it weakens the suspension of belief. I do like the frequent meta references sprinkled throughout the series, but the direct addressing of the audience is a step too far, in my opinion.
Filled to the brim with hilarious pop culture references, both visual and verbal, Survival Geeks is guaranteed to raise a smile from the most hardened science-fiction fanatic. Neil Googe’s art is delightfully energetic, and effortlessly encapsulates the manic tone of the series in every panel. Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby trade playful jabs with the reader, most of whom will identify with at least one of the archetypal characters featured in the series, making fun of some of the more extreme aspects of geek culture. Simon Pegg has professed his love for 2000AD multiple times over, and it was a presence in his cult sitcom, Spaced, so it seems fitting that 2000AD has repaid the favour with a series of its own that also takes the sitcom format and stretches it to the limits. While this collection features all of the Survival Geeks storylines to date, I sincerely hope that future adventures appear in the weekly Prog in the near future, as there are plenty of targets for its creators to unleash their sharp wit upon, and 2000AD is definitely a brighter place for it.