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Comic Book / Harlem Heroes

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Harlem Heroes is a comic strip run in 2000 AD, created by Tom Tully and Dave Gibbons with the basic concept thought up by Pat Mills. One of the title's launch strips, it focused on an African-American Aeroball team and their quest for the world title in the year 2050. A combination of American Football, Basketball, Boxing, Professional Wrestling and Kung Fu with jetpacks, the sport is quite brutal, with fatalities common.

When the Heroes suffer a road accident, they must recruit new players and continue the season.

A more violent sequel, known as Inferno, had the Heroes renamed the Harlem Hellcats and participating in the titular Blood Sport.

In 1990, Michael Fleisher scripted an In Name Only revival set in an Alternate Continuity (the original is set in the same 'verse as Judge Dredd) focused on a gang of convicts who are nicknamed The Harlem Heroes in prison due to their skill at Aeroball. Because of the sheer number of strips he scripted for 2000 AD (particularly Rogue Trooper), some of his later Harlem Heroes strips appeared years after he left the comic.


The original strip provides examples of:

  • Armor Is Useless: The Heroes don't wear armour, unlike other teams. At one point, they use this to their advantage on the ground, as they use their speed on the ground to dodge past the other team.
  • Blood Sport: Aeroball is quite a rough game, with fatalities fairly common, as it expected where jetpacks are involved. Inferno cranks this Up to Eleven.
  • Brain in a Jar: Louis Mayer survives the team's bus crash, but his body is damaged beyond healing. His brain is extracted and survives in a jar, which is later given thrusters with which he can move around. He gets smarter as a result of being only a brain. In Inferno, he's given a new robotic body.
  • Calvinball: Aeroball consists of American Football, Basketball, Boxing, Kung Fu and Pro Wrestling all with jetpacks.
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  • Canon Welding: John "Giant" Clay is the father of the original Judge Giant from Judge Dredd and the references to Mega City One are made.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Ulysses Cord is initially warm to the Heroes, even sponsoring them by getting them new vehicles and equipment after their bus crash. His motivation is purely for ratings, however, as he doesn't like the Heroes' method of fair play.
  • Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: Artie Gruber was injured in a match with the Heroes and is rebuilt as a Cyborg. He is insane and obsessed with revenge.
  • Distant Finale: Whatever Happened to John "Giant" Clay? establishes that Giant lived in Mega City One until 2126, where he has one final conversation with his grandson before he passes on.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Hairy and Conrad are killed on one of the last panels of the original strip.
  • Fragile Speedster: The Heroes decline to wear armor, making them more frail than other teams, but quicker especially on the ground.
  • The Gimmick: Each team has a specific hat; For example, the Heroes are based on the Harlem Globetrotters, Gorgon's Gargoyles are all cyborgs, the Teutonic Titans are dressed as knights, the Baltimore Bulls are all cops, the Bushido Blades wear Samurai armour and so forth.
  • Graceful Loser: In spite of their pre-game clashes, the Scottish team takes their loss to the Heroes quite well, as the Scots take a liking to the Heroes' determination and toughness.
  • The Great Politics Mess-Up: The Soviet Union still exists in 2050 here.
  • Ironic Nickname: "Hairy" is, in fact, bald.
  • Jet Pack: An integral part of Aeroball. Players fly around the arena in order to score Air Strikes. Zack Harper has an improvised gas powered version when the Heroes first meet him.
  • Jive Turkey: It's a strip from The '70s with an African-American cast, so this kind of dialogue is to be expected. It's lampshaded with the phrase "Cut the jive talk and let's play Aeroball."
  • Meaningful Rename: The Harlem Heroes become the Harlem Hellcats during the events of Inferno.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted. Two characters named Sam appear as Red Shirts on the team and there are two characters named Artie; Artie Gruber and the pilot of the Heroes' roadliner.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Gruber disguises himself as a member of the Gorgon's Gargoyles. The guy looks very similar to Gruber already. Giant works it out pretty quickly, especially seeing as Gruber still uses his distinctive pattern of speech.
  • Post-Peak Oil: Scotland apparently had an oil boom in The '80s. The oil didn't last long and the towns that sprung up to cater for the industry quickly became ghost towns. The abandoned oil rigs were dismantled by locals to make Aeroball arenas.
  • Power Limiter: Cyborgs are allowed to play Aeroball, but the rules of the game state that their cybernetics have to be powered down to keep their abilities the same as those of regular humans.
  • Rag Tag Bunch Of Misfits: After their bus accident, the surviving Heroes must reform the team and pull together enough players to compete again. Their initial lineout against the Baltimore Bulls consist of the three survivors, one older player out of retirement due to a new bone grafting technique, a hotshot rookie kid drafted from the skyslums of Harlem and two reserve players that had been loaned out to another team.
  • Red Shirt: Many of the new players and the reserves die over the course of the strip during matches.
  • Retired Badass: Conrad King, a retired former player, rejoins the Heroes after a new medical procedure is able to heal his previously Game-Breaking Injury. He shows off his skills by scoring an Air Strike without a jetpack.
  • Shield Bash: Sam Mason gets decapitated when two of the Teutonic Titans sandwich him with their shields.
  • Spiritual Successor: Second City Blues is a similar strip with a very similar future sport, except that the team was more of a Rag Tag Bunch Of Misfits than the Heroes ever were.
  • We Can Rebuild Him: Artie Gruber is rebuilt as a Cyborg, but the process drives him insane and he seeks revenge on the Heroes.
  • We Have Reserves: The Siberian Wolves are suicidal in their gameplay tactics. It's telling that, in a sport requiring a minimum of seven players, with subs, they have over thirty.
  • Wooden Katanas Are Even Better: The Bushido Blades use them in gameplay.
  • Zeerust: A trip to a sports museum showed that a car used to win a world championship race in 1993 was a car that was typical looking of 1970s sci-fi.

The '90s revival provides examples of:

  • The Alcatraz: Subterranean Penal Colony 14, where all prisoners are in for life. The Heroes try to escape and almost make it too. They only get out when The Office offers them a job.
  • Alternate Continuity: This version clearly takes place in a 'verse where World War 3 didn't happen and the judge system never took over.
  • Anti-Hero: The Heroes are this on paper: Each of them has a shady past with a particular specialisation and a criminal conviction to match. In practice, Slice is the only one who embodies this trope in any way with his Combat Pragmatist tendencies, psychotic behaviour and his use of an EMP on an old man with a pacemaker.
  • Appropriated Appellation: The Heroes are given the nickname in prison by the other inmates because they get good at Aeroball.
  • The Big Rotten Apple: New York is pretty much a war zone in 2109.
  • Blood Sport: Slice participates in combat tournaments for extra money, where the combatants attempt to take each other out non-lethally. One of his opponents, sore from the loss, switches out his tranq darts for magnesium rounds.
  • Borrowed Biometric Bypass: Subverted. Patrice copies a guard's fingerprints onto a latex glove and his retina onto a blank contact lens to compliment the guard's keycard. Unfortunately, that's not enough for the door in question, which also requires a chromosomal sample to open. Deacon simply blows the door open instead.
  • Boxed Crook: The Heroes are pulled out of SPC-14 to disrupt Mega-Corp drug operations in exchange for their freedom.
  • Clear My Name: The Harlem Heroes are framed for killing the president and a large proportion of the original story's latter half is trying to find a way to broadcast the evidence that exonerates them. This is kind of a moot point, since the lot of them escaped from prison for crimes that at least some of them were guilty of in the first place; Slice and Deacon are in for murder, while Silver is a Bomb Throwing Anarchist. Even Trips and Patrice, while in for "lesser" crimes (grand theft auto and cybercrime respectively), still go along for the ride.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder:
  • Conspicuously Public Assassination: The President is killed by a group posing as the Harlem Heroes under the auspices of the Office, who plan to have the Mega Corps under their control and take over the country. The largest of these, Mercury National, takes over in the interim when the Office members are assassinated.
  • Continuity Nod: In spite of the In Name Only nature of the revival, Artie Gruber appears as the Big Bad of Cyborg Death Trip.
  • Cyberpunk: The setting is a distinctively cyberpunk dystopia. Mega Corps appear as antagonists (though not the main villains), one of the main characters is a hacker, the assassin sent to kill the Heroes has Electronic Eyes, and many characters dress as punks.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Slice and Silver got solo stories in Death Sport and Grey Ghost Overflight respectively.
  • Extended Disarming: The Heroes are cornered by a rival gang, who order them to drop their weapons. Slice empties an unholy number of knives out of his pockets in the process and even then he isn't finished.
  • Fallen States of America: The U.S. government's power has waned to the point where five Mega Corps rival them for control of the country.
  • Flat Character: Trips doesn't get as much characterisation as the rest of the Heroes, apart from the fact that he is the team's original pilot, is constantly listening to music on a headset, is implied to be a stoner and seems to be The Load, given that he has the lowest killcount and nearly gets the Heroes killed because he crashes their vehicle into the river and almost drowns himself.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Trips dies keeping a squadron of Air Force planes off the rest of the Heroes.
  • Hollywood Hacking: Patrice's main skill is cracking into computer systems. He even manages to blow up Warden Offak's computer during the Heroes' escape.
  • I Know Madden Kombat: The Heroes use Aeroball jetpacks in battle. Slice even manages to take down a vehicle with a ball. It's subverted in Death Sport, where the jetpack Slice uses was designed for stadium use and is useless outdoors due to turbulence.
  • Improbable Weapon User: Slice manages to kill a guy with his prison ID card. According to his bio, he's also made use of a coffee cup as well.
  • In Name Only: None of the original main characters appear and the characters are only named the Harlem Heroes due to the fact that they're good at Aeroball.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Downplayed. Slice is, as of the original story, thirty years old. During Death Sport, he's shown in a flashback from his younger years minus the Perma-Stubble and scarring.
  • Knife Nut: Slice favours knives and carries a ridiculous number of them around at any one time.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Deacon is so-called because he's a clean liver. His original crime was a white-collar robbery which he may or may not have been covering for someone else. He's sent down to SPC-14 for strangling an assistant warden. Compared to the things his fellow teammates have done, this is actually quite tame.
    • Slice is an expert with knives. We even see how many of them he carries during an Extended Disarming.
  • Mega-Corp: The trope is actually referred to by name in this work. A group of them rival the US government in terms of influence and The Office tells the Heroes that their plan is to disrupt this. In reality, The Office overthrows the government and brings the Mega Corps under their influence. They assassinate The Office heads and the largest company, Mercury National, assumes control of the country.
  • Rag Tag Bunch Of Misfits: The Heroes consist of a former white-collar worker who strangled an assistant warden in a regular prison, an Axe-Crazy former mercenary with a penchant for knife play, a waif with a propensity for blowing stuff up, a genius hacker and a hover car thief with Improbable Piloting Skills who is constantly listening to music on a headset.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Silver Weir, the demolitions expert, is the token female.
  • Standardized Leader: This is about the only notable trait that Deacon has. Supposedly, he's morally the best of them, but in practice, barring Slice, they're all too upstanding for a bunch of people who got locked up for life. Slice even asks at one point "who died and anointed [Deacon] pope?" when Deacon makes a decision.
  • The Starscream: The Office, ostensibly working as a covert division of the U.S. government against the Mega Corps' drug operations, betrays the president and has him assassinated, and negotiate with the companies. The Mega Corps subsequently betray them and have their leaders blown up.
  • Token Evil Team Mate: Slice is a former mercenary who knocked over various third world leaders for the Mega Corps before he was considered uncontrollable. He uses an EMP device on an old man with a pacemaker and notes that his fellow heroes are do-gooders. He's also the most memorable member of the cast.
  • Token Minority: Unlike the original strip, which had an all African-American cast, Deacon is the only black character in the revival strip.
  • Universal Driver's License: Trips can drive or fly almost any vehicle. When he dies, Deacon takes over his role as pilot.
  • You Have Failed Me: Warden Offak gets sent to SPC-14 by the Office when he sends some thugs to kill the Heroes for ruining his perfect no-escape record. His assistant is given the role for ratting him out.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: The fake Heroes used to assassinate the president are implied to have been Killed Offscreen by The Office and the bodies buried to keep the real Heroes as a scapegoat.

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