Shako – Spoilers light

Shako a  graphic novel published by 2000AD

John Wagner, Pat Mills

Ramon Sola, Juan Arancio, Dodderio, Lopez Vera

Jack Potter, Tony Jacob, Peter Knight, John Aldritch


Previously published in Progs 20-35 of 2000AD in 1977 & 2000AD Annual 1978 (published 1977)

This was the first new story to join the line up in 2000AD, after Judge Dredd started in Prog 2. Many ignore Judge Dredd beating Shako as the first new story to join the regulars as they see Dredd as an original regular, this is because in many UK comics or magazines the launch period involves the first 2 or 3 issues. So anything involved during that time tends to be considered being included from the beginning.

Shako replaced Flesh, which had been very popular. It is obviously compared to the strip Hookjaw from the cancelled weekly comic Action, Hookjaw has recently been reprinted in Strip magazine. Both tell of a wild creature seeking revenge on humans. So in some ways the theme is similar to the film Orca: Killer Whale.

Hookjaw received a lot of complaints, as did many of the strips in Action. After the cancellation of Action it was a bold step of Commissioning Editor Kelvin Gosnell to commission a similar themed story, the violence in the outgoing Flesh had been high nut the protagonists had been the humans. In this the humans were the antagonist and Shako the avenging victim.

We are told in the story that Shako means Killer in Inuit. I’ve checked & can’t find any proof of that, I did discover that it is a name in USA for girls and is attributed to ‘Native American’ for Mint. The site I found that on did have entries tagged as being from specific nations, not just ‘Native American’, so I guess they aren’t too sure which language it comes from. Anyway, in 1977 I didn’t care if it was a real Inuit word or not.

While we are on the subject of accuracy the life of a Polar Bear as described in Shako isn’t very accuarate. For example male Polar Bears have no interest in rearing their young. Indeed if they intend to mate they will kill the young that are still with a female. The female only rears their young for two years before they have to fend for themselves. You can read more on Polar Bears in my article about the BBC TV series The Polar Bear Family and me. To be fair not so much was really known by Wesstern authorities on Polar Bears at the time and in films and cartoons they are still depicted as having family units with males helping raise their young. A couple of facts in the story are spot on, Polar Bears don’t have a natural fear of humans and they are very curious.

This is entertainment, we know it isn’t always real or accurate. So I ignored these flaws as mentioned in the two previous paragraphs as a child as I knew no better. As an adult I can still ignore them as I’m reading a comic story for entertainment. So ignore what I have said if it sounds negative, it is just there to answer possible questions.

Spoilers below this point. As it is a reprint and has previously been reprinted I assume most readers will now some details, I think the spoilers are light to medium. Certainly I won’t spoil the end, I couldn’t remember it exactly myself before reading this graphic novel.

Shako accidentally swallowed a US biological weapon. The CIA therefore pursued Shako to recover the weapon. Jake Falmuth headed the operation with his second in command Dobie and their half-Inuit guide Buck Dollar. I didn’t get the joke about Dollar’s name till now, not sure if that is good or bad.

As with most Polar Bears Shako has no natural fear of man so when the plane crashes with the weapon capsule he sees it merely as a feeding opportunity. Bears do indeed kill humans, they will stalk and hunt humans, in 2011 Horatio Chapple, a British student, was killed by a Polar Bear in Svalbard.

For me one of the most memorable parts of the story happened in the last page of the second installment  Shako and his new buddy, the inebriated US sailor Jimbo. But there are many highly entertaining parts to this story.

Shako clearly develops a taste for human flesh, and driven by his anger towards Falmuth and the others that hurt him he takes any opportunity to kill. So John Wagner and Pat Mills find a wide variety of ways a Polar Bear can come across people and kill them.

Falmuth swiftly becomes more and more reckless with lives as his hunt for the bear becomes more personal and more desperate.

We also see a tense period between the CIA and KGB during the story. This was set and written during the cold war it must be remembered so it is an obvious detail that would probably have seemed strange if it hadn’t happened. Remember that 2000AD doesn’t have a unified universe with all its stories connected, in many others the Russians are replaced by Volgans, not so here. So we know that Shako has no connection to what some people refer to as Millsverse.

If either writer were to write this now, assuming it were for the first time, I think it would be a very different approach. The story telling is dated, as is most writing from 2000AD in the 70s. For one thing it was aimed at children then and a mature audience (basically the same audience that grew with the publication). But the story is still interesting, unless that is my fond recollections of youth speaking. I certainly enjoyed reading this graphic novel.

The art is consistently good throughout. I’m not convinced Shako’s neck is thick enough, I didn’t know that in 1977 either. Male Polar Bears are all neck, their heads are much smaller than their necks, that said in other ways I am still happy with the way the bear is drawn. You may see what I mean about the neck though if you compare the story art to Jock’s cover, Jock has the neck definitely broader.

Very enjoyable, try it out.

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