M.A.C.H.1 Review

by Gavin Johnston on February 28, 2018

Writers: Pat Mills, Robert Flynn, Nick Allen, John Wagner Roy Preston, Charles Herring, Steve Macmanus, Peter Harris
Artists: Enio, Ian Kennedy, Massimo Belardinelli, John Cooper, Mike Dorey, Barrie Mitchell, Jesus Redondo, Eugenio Zoppi, Marzal Canos, P. Martinez Henares, Luis Collado, Lopez, Pierre Frisano,  Carlos Freixas, Carlos Pino
Letterers: Bill Nuttall, Jack Potter, J. Swain, John Aldrich, Tony Jacob, Peter Knight, Tom Frame
Publisher:  Rebellion

Although 2000AD is now regularly at the forefront of popular culture, in its early days it borrowed rather shamelessly from television and movies. Whether it was the Rollerball inspired Harlem Heroes, or Dredd himself, a futuristic Dirty Harry mixed with Death Race


MACH 1 is a 2000AD legend and was the cover-star, along with long established British spaceman Dan Dare, of Prog 1 way back in 1977. MACH 1 is also a rather shameless rip-off of popular 1970s television show, The Six Million Dollar Man.


Replacing The Six million Dollar Man's all-American astronaut Steve Austin is his rugged lookalike, Englishman John Probe. Whilst a series of hi tech implants saved Austin’s life, giving him the ability to run really fast and jump really high in slow motion, Probe volunteers for a ground breaking treatment to turn him into a super soldier. Rather bizarrely and possibly only to provide him with a cool acronym, Probe’s superpowers operate through the entirely non-scientific method of acupuncture – making him MACH 1, the first “Man Activated by Compu-puncture Hyperpower”


MACH 1 is packed with explosive action, doing all the stuff that simply couldn’t be done on screen in the 1970s. As the British government sends its new secret weapon out into the world to battle terrorists, communists and foreign agents, Probes engages each week in budget defying action. Trucks explode when hit by planes, ballistic missiles are launched, sunken Nazi submarines are explored, and alien invasions are prevented. MACH 1 had big ambitions and delivered over the top action in each weekly prog. 


The strip also had few qualms about its portrayal of violence. Hero Probe throws bad guys from helicopters, crushes henchmen with trucks, and kicks enemy agents to death after leaping on them from atop a mountain. It might make you wonder what the creators didn’t managed to get past the editors, and makes the regular warning to readers to avoid copying Probe's death defying antics seem a little quaint.


Collected here are MACH 1 stores which appeared in 2000AD from Progs 1 – 33, as well as a handful of strips from annuals and specials of the time. Originally appearing in five or six page strips each week, MACH 1 remains a shining example of fast, all action storytelling which defined British anthology comics. Each week, Probe and his situation would be introduced, a mission presented, undertaken and violently resolved. There’s no fat here; it’s all action. Each page is filled with panels which ceaselessly move the story forward. A whole series of talented artists, presumably struggling against tight deadlines, provide top quality work.


MACH 1 is also very much of its era. Like many comics of the time, it presents us with some unpleasant racial stereotypes, and limits women to cheerleading roles. From a historical point of view, these stories are fascinating if only to see how far we’ve come.


With the focus on action and quickly resolved conflict, there is ostensibly little room for character development. Collected together like this, its easier to see that there is a wonderful subtlety to the writing, as Probe's frustration with his situation becomes clearer. The MACH 1 stories end somewhat abruptly, as Probe prevents an alien invasion in small town America and his anger at the authorities comes bubbling to the surface. The character would return in later stories, where this was explored further.


MACH 1 was an early star of 2000AD, and defined much of what the comic was about. It has also inspired parody and pastiche since then, with the unpopular political satire BLAIR 1 in the late nineties, and more recently Al Ewing and Henry Flint’s Zombo, which borrowed aspects of Probe’s adventures it its own scattershot and polite way.


MACH 1 will be too old fashioned a story for many. But as an example of British adventure comics from the era, as a lesson in quick-paced storytelling, as an illustration of how much further comics can push the boundaries than other media, and as a look into the history of 2000AD, MACH 1 has to be highly recommended.


Our Score:


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