Like MACH 1, Harlem Heroes had it's roots in Hollywoodland. The movie 'Rollerball' was very popular at the time and Mills had decided to include a Future Sport strip in 2000ad. So, Harlem Heroes was born!
Sports strips were always popular in the UK, In fact 'Roy of the Rovers'...a strip following a soccer players career from his teenage days all the way up to fatherhood and onwards was really popular. The strip ran from 1954 to 1995 and even was given it's own title.
Mills had a bit of a tough time writing the script for this and even tougher time finding an appropriate artist. One of the early drafts of the script had spectators hurling bottles at the players and one player bursting into flames. Those scenes were taken out so they wouldn't cause any controversy, especially after the Action witchhunt. (More on Action in a later post!)
So, Mills handed the writing chores over to Tom Tully. Tully was the perfect choice to write the strip as he was a comics veteran and he wrote a lot of sports stories...heck, he was the writer of Roy of the Rovers for most of 'Roys' career.
The original art for the strip was drawn by an artist called Trigo. His artwork wasn't what Mills wanted and he was taken off the strip. Another artist Barry Mitchell had a go and, again, it still wasn't what Mills had in mind. So, in stepped a young Dave Gibbons to save the day. You can see the sheer energy and fantastic layouts that Gibbons brought to the strip. Below I've posted a the splash page for comparison between Trigos effort and Gibbons published page. The only Trigo art to make the cut into the first issue was the last page of the strip.
The story starts right in the thick of the action as the Heroes are beating their opponents, The Greek City Gladiators 7 - 2 in the preliminary round of the World Aeroball Championships.
On the second page of the strip, the rules are briefly explained.
After a 80mph, Kung-Fu drop kick! (yes, you read that right!)The Heroes get another strike and it's game over. The Heroes are on their way to the first round of the World Championship.
They're optimistic that they can win the championship and are on their way in their Hover powered road-liner when the controls go haywire and they skid off the road.
All are dead save four!
Three of the remaining heroes go to visit the fourth member in hospital. It seems that the three escaped the crash without even a scratch but the driver and team-mate, Louis Mayer, wasn't so lucky. He survived the crash, but he's in a bad way. Bad way as in...he's got no body...only a brain! And thanks to the miracles of 'modern' medicine, he can still communicate with his fellow Aeroball players. The three remaining members have come to tell Louis that it's over. That the team is disbanding. But in true Heroes fashion, Louis wants them to continue on and win the World Championship!
And so the journey to the World Championship Final begins!
What's interesting about the 'Heroes' strip is, that I think it was the first UK strip ever to have it's main characters be all black. Also, later, the main Hero is revealed to be the father of Judge Giant in the Dredd strip. It was Mills way of trying to have a 2000ad shared Universe.
Also of note is that, on rereading the strip, it reminds me of the Munich Air Disaster.
In that disaster, a few of the players survived as well as the manager, Matt Busby. Busby rebuilt the team with the survivors and they went on to win the European Cup.
Coincidence, probably, but I reckon that the trajedy was still fresh in peoples minds back in the late 70's. That's how much of an impact it had at the time.