The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Some Thoughts Not Directly Related To The Sparticle Mystery

Posted by BigWords on February 23, 2011

As BBC News poses the question of what a world without adults would be like (in anticipation of the CBBC series The Sparticle Mystery), I find myself wondering if such a premise hasn’t been tackled in enough forms to give an educated guess. It would be easy – and overly simplistic – to sneer that Hobbes was right (or, inversely, that Rousseau had a point) as the argument would hinge on the overall number of survivors and their alignments, which ignores individual choices and actions. So far, and without bothering to search for the material I haven’t yet encountered, there has been at least a dozen attempts to show how children would behave if adult supervision was removed. The most controversial may be Big Brother-esque Boys And Girls Alone, but of more interest is the classic novel Lord Of The Flies

With the necessary removal of the adults taken care of, Lord Of The Flies sets out to show how cliques and antagonisms can arise amongst a group of British schoolchildren (all, tellingly, male), which quickly descends into anarchy and murder. That schools across the world are now installing metal detectors at entrances is enough for anyone to see that such behavior is not merely in the realms of fiction, but is a danger which is taken very seriously by authorities. It should also be noted that the subsequent attempts to outline such an eventuality have managed, by and large, to steer as far from the darker elements as much as possible. William Golding knew better than to expect civilization to remain when all traces of civilization had ceased to be…

The specifics of the novel have been chewed over by so many people before, and in some cases very, very well, that there is little point in reiterating the plot or the themes, so I will leave this introduction to the book by Mr. Goldman lingering in your mind as I move on to an altogether less refined example of the sub-genre.

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYnfSV27vLY]

You may have heard of ACTION!, the late-seventies IPC/Fleetway comic which caused so much trouble that questions about its’ influence were raised in parliament (the resulting fuss leading to its’ cancellation), though the historical impact of those early issues were much wider than merely upsetting the same people who would go on to blame Child’s Play 3 and Grand Theft Auto for all the world’s ills. There were some fairly typical entries amongst the early strips – Dredger was a Dirty Harry clone, while Hook Jaw was… Well, Hook Jaw was Jaws ramped up to 11, and even had a couple of color pages every few issues. Appearing in the September 11th, 1976 issue (#32), with the unassuming title “Kids Rule O.K.!” (typical of the humor), we had our first look at how a comic-book would handle the situation…

The first appearance:

You can read the rest of the strip here.

For a weekly comic, there was little restraint in the depiction of the violence which would be unleashed if adults disappeared for whatever reason. Interestingly, the strip forgoes the usual hypothesizing and reels off a bunch of possible answer before moving on to the real reason of the strip’s existence – the uncontrolled anarchy. Setting the action in the far future of 1986 was a marvelous joke which was lost on most readers – with everyone over 16 in the strip dying dramatically, the kids who were reading it as it appeared on the shelves of their local newsagent would have been over sixteen by that point. Such subtlety was not evident elsewhere in the strip, and the excessive violence would eventually be the downfall of the comic itself.

The comic was, of course, pulled before the characters’ adventures had been resolved, and any lingering hope at learning the fates of the gangs was utterly vanquished when the title merged with Battle. Two entirely different scenarios, and one common theme prevails – children, left to their own devices, will end up killing, maiming and destroying property. And probably stealing sweets from shops as well… I haven’t even mentioned The Tribe yet.

The Tribe (not the series with Anna Friel) is basically Mad Max with children, as seen through the aesthetic values of Baz Luhrmann. It really is one of the most ridiculous television shows ever made, and has all the hallmarks of truly cult viewing. If it is remarkable for its’ gaudy visuals, it is truly groundbreaking in its’ tenacity. With seasons running to 52 episodes apiece, it is one of the longest sustained examples of the trope, though whether you think this is a good thing or not depends entirely upon your tolerance of child actors, warpaint as an everyday accessory, awful FX and dialogue so cheesy even George Hamilton would balk at delivering some of the lines.

Saying that Sparticle Mystery doesn’t inspire confidence is probably misleading, as the basic concept isn’t a bad one. The lack of bold programming for children is slowly being remedied – returning Doctor Who to television was the start of a trend which should see The Tripods recommissioned any day now… Any day… Hey, TV peeps, why the hell am I still waiting on season 3? C’mon already. Um. Yeah. I was talking about the Sparticle thingy, wasn’t I? Aside from the dumb name, I’m gonna make sure to record this, so a proper review, or mockery of, or dismissal (or whatever) is probably going to blight my blog at some point. I really would rather be watching the third series of The Tripods though…

There are more classic British strips at The Full Strip, which (especially for those outside of the UK) should be a great education in just how far the British market had come from the days of Miller’s Fawcett and Boardman’s Quality reprints.

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