Worst Story: The Visible Man – Yes, Invasion’s been bad lately, but the surprise Beatle Cameo kept it form occupying the bottom slot. I was just flat-out unimpressed by VM’s debut.
Look, it’s another story page put on the cover? You know, this kind of defeats the purpose of having a cover to draw people’s attention. “Look!” It screams, “You have no idea what’s going on here!” It’s nice that they try to explain what’s going on and get people up to speed, but it almost seems like it would have been a better move to just come up with a visually dynamic cover, and eat the missing page.
Especially since nothing of note happens here.
Thrill 1 – Dan Dare (Finley-Day/Gibbons)
The Dark Lord’s plan to space-crucify Dan’s crew is thrown for a loop by Dan’s clever ‘dress up like a Starslayer and hope no one notices’ plan. Dan fiddles with the airlock in the execution room, so that all the guards are killed by sudden decompression, while the crew is safe because they’ve got helmets on. Part of the space crucifixion, it seems, is to allow the victims to slowly suffocate while hanging on a metal cross in orbit of the planet StarSlay.
The Dark Lord doesn’t keep close contact with his execution squads, it seems, because minutes after Dan has freed most of his crew the DL is touring the captured space fortress. This provides Dan with a chance to do some capturing of his own, after gunning down the DL’s guards! Then, with the Dark Lord under his power, Dan is able to quickly retake the ship and turn its cannons on the StarSlayer pursuit craft.
Things are looking good for Dan, almost suspiciously good… which means it’s time for the twist, which, according to a thought bubble in the final panel, will involve a backup plan the Dark Lord is working on!
Thrill 2 – The Visible Man (Mills/Trigo/Potter)
What is a ‘visible man’, you ask? We’ll find out in four short pages, after seeing the setup involving Frank Hart, an ex-soldier involved in a high-speed chase with the police. Oddly, he doesn’t seem to be a criminal of any kind, just one of those guys who cranks his car up to a hundred and thirty miles an hour for the hell of it on Sunday afternoons. Sadly, on this particular Sunday someone else is out on the road:
Frank is carted away from the accident site by radioactive containment technicians, who lock him up in the power plant’s medical wing, while being suspiciously coy about why he can’t leave, and is being kept in a completely dark room.
So coy, in fact, that you’d almost think that they didn’t realize that the readers already knew that the strip shared a title with a perennially popular model kit-
So it’s not exactly a shocker when, on the last page of the story, they flip the lights on in Frank’s room, and-
Click to bigify. If you enjoy disgust.
So that’s it for the first installment of the visible man. Which is kind of a disappointment, I mean – doesn’t it seem like they could have gotten this reveal out of the way on page two, and get started on the plot right away? Because the promise of action next week just isn’t the same.
Thrill 3 – Future Shock
This week’s future shock starts off on an oddly ill-informed note. Check this out:
So I’ll give them ‘Whitehall’ – 10 Downing Street isn’t actually on Whitehall, hence the name, but it’s a popular term to use for the seat of British government. Likewise the Kremlin is perfectly accurate. I’m not sure where someone would get the idea that the President’s Oval Office is in the Pentagon, though, so it’s weird how that managed to get through writing, editing, and lettering without anyone noticing. Sure, it’s being written by British people, but haven’t they heard of the White House?
Anyhow, the plot of the story is that the UK government has caught a spy in the ‘Secret Sector’, but before he can be questioned his handler (a mysterious alien) presses a button which causes him to melt! The government dismisses this as one of those one-time flukes. You know, how people just melt sometimes. It’s a thing.
Rogue spy Mike Walsh isn’t letting it go, however, and flies to Australia so that he can look into the spy’s background. There he finds an army of identical clones, all working for an Alien who crashed in the Outback years ago – he claims that he’s used his superior technology to infiltrate human society, and he’s just months away from completely taking over!
Of course, all of his planning and future tech apparently can’t keep Mike from just lunging across the alien’s desk and pressing the ‘destroy entire plan’ button. Because it’s completely logical to have a button on your desk that melts all of your clones and causes all your technology to malfunction. That’s a thing it makes sense to build into your lair.
No it’s time for twist ending: get ready, because it’s a picture, so you’ll have to lock in your guesses now!
Yeah, I saw that one coming too.
THARG’S NERVE CENTRE
Well, now that the Supercovers are over with I suppose there’s precious little reason to keep addressing this section of the comic – there’s a ‘Kevin O’Neill’s Bonjo’ comic about him eating ‘MACH Aardvark’, and a contest where you can win a copy of the Star Wars album if you spot the correct number of X-Wings that have been hidden throughout the issue. Not sure what a ‘Star Wars Album’ is, but if it’s anything like the Empire Strikes Back album I had where the story of the movie was told with sound clips and narration, then it would be an entirely worthwhile that any entrant would be proud to win.
Thrill 4 – Judge Dredd (Howard/Bolland/Jacob)
Ah, thank god. Brian Bolland’s back. Fans of ‘The Killing Joke’ will recognize him as the world’s greatest living comic book artist. In addition to covering his stories here, I’ll also be posting the original covers he drew for the Eagle comics collections of colourized Judge Dredd stories, because they tend to be even more detailed and beautiful versions of his already fantastic art. Eventually we’re even going to get to my all-time favorite cover, my copy of which I was lucky enough to have Bolland sign for me a few years back.
For now let’s just concentrate on the story at hand, which centres around a ‘land race’, where people race to reach plots of newly-developed land that they claim by placing their hands on a pole. You may remember this premise from the film ‘Far and Away’ – I’d never heard of it myself, but now that I’ve seen the idea in two separate pieces of fiction, I guess that counts as confirmation that it actually existed, right?
Amazingly the whole ‘land race’ is resolved in two pages and three panels, with the rest of the story concerning an old lady (The Widow Spock) who an evil corporation (called IPC which, not-coincidentally shares initials with the publisher of this comic…) wants to force into giving up her plot of land. Dredd discovers the scheme when Spock’s robot ‘Rowena’ comes to report the crime. He dismisses her out of hand, though, explaining that since robots don’t have legal standing as anything but property they can’t instigate judicial investigations either.
Walter comforts the robot, who, confirming my suspicion from the Robot Rebellion storyline, is not called ‘Call-Me-Rowena’ at all, while Dredd looks pointedly. No, Dredd isn’t the closed-minded bigot he pretends to be, and he just wanted the IPC goons to think there wasn’t an investigation on so that he could catch them in the act, then shoot them with a confusing cloud of hot energy.
Yeah, I have no idea what’s going on in that picture. Beautifully rendered though it may be. Anyhow, with all the crooks arrested all that’s left is to wrap up the robots’ section of the storyline. Rowena drops by Dredd’s tent bringing cookies that she claims the Widow Spock made to thank him. I’d expect Dredd to reject any form of remuneration for his services (and possibly arrest the cookie maker), but once again I find this early Dredd to be a much nicer character than the one I grew up with.
He’s immediately suspicious of Rowena’s story, however, when he tastes a cookie and realizes that it couldn’t have been made by anything but a robot. I don’t know exactly what that means, but I love the idea of robot-produced goods having a certain flavour.
Yup, the robots have fallen in love. And while I’m relatively sure that Rowena isn’t going to be a recurring presence in the strip, I absolutely love Dredd’s reaction to the prospect of robots dating. He, like all the other characters in the strip, totally acknowledge that the robots they’ve built are sentient, feeling creatures, but still have no hesitation about buy and selling them, treating them as things, and reacting to their feelings with barely-hidden contempt.
You know, maybe Call-Me-Kenneth had a point. If only he’d run for mayor instead of brutalizing the fleshy ones…
Judge Dredd Kill Count (42)+ 0 = 42
At this point I’m starting to suspect that someone told the writers that this was supposed to be a children’s comic, and asked them to tone the violence down in Dredd. Just a few weeks back CMK was bathing in the blood of the innocent, and now Dredd’s shooting people in the hands. Bizarre.
Thrill 5 – INVASION! (Finley-Day/Pino/Knight)
The continuing story here in Invasion seems to be coming to a head, as the Mad Dogs arrive in Liverpool looking for a Neutral ship that they can use to smuggle Prince John to Canada. This entire plan serves only to reinforce just how poorly-established the world of this entire Volgan invasion has been. There are Neutral ships bringing goods to Liverpool? Really? Why would the paranoid and security conscious Nazis allow this to happen? Are there any needs that can’t be met by Volgan-friendly nations, or goods that can’t be shipped there?
Of course we’re not here to talk about the relative realism of the invasion story, we’re here, as always, to take a violent tour of British landmarks. So what’s there to see in Liverpool? The Cavern club, naturally! And who happens to be running this historical landmark/resistance hideout?
Yup. It’s three of the Beatles. Sadly Ringo was executed for crimes against the Reich.
Also strange? The idea that the Volgs stole their ‘Royalties’ and not their ‘property’. That kind of gives the impression that the Volgs have continued marketing Beatles music around the world, and are now collecting cash every time one is used in an ad for cell phone providers or insurance brokers.
Naturally Volgan troops quickly show up to search the place, but Silk has a plan for dealing with them:
A gun that would be impossible to reload! Brilliant, right?
Joining them in their fight against the Volgs is a suspiciously helpful huge blond man in a buzz-cut.
Who might this portrait of Aryan superiority be, you ask? Why he’s Colonel Rosa’s secret weapon – a Volg spy pretending to be a sympathetic Southern sailor, who’ll no doubt lure Savage, Silk and the Prince onto a Volgan ship disguised as a neutral freighter!
How will the Mad Dogs get out of this one? I guess we’ll find out next week!
Other things we’ll hopefully find out next week? If anyone recognizes the Volg’s awful southern accent. Just check out the interchangable ‘Ah’ and ‘I’, the strange ‘You All’ instead of ‘Y’all’. Luckily for the Volg Savage has never met an actual American, so he’s able to get by with this dinner-theatre grade accent.
Thrill 6 – Inferno (Tully/Belardinelli/Nuttall)
The Hellcats have found a lead on the gambling syndicate that seems more interested in mass murder than fixing sporting events. But before they can talk to Nat Cullen, owner of the Crystal Maze amusement park, he releases his army of deathbots on them!
I’m still not entirely clear why someone would build Skateboard-Knight or Frankenstein Scissorhands, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and see out this all plays out.
Oh, they’re easily defeated, largely because one of the Hellcats brought his giant cave-man club to the casino. Lucky chance, that. They’re almost too successful, in fact – when giant uses electricity to short-circuit a pair of robot gunslingers it starts a fire that burns down the whole casino, cooking Cullen alive in his office!
With their one remaining lead dead, it seems the Hellcats have reached the end of their trail. Oh, except for one thing:
Okay, so the Hellcats have nowhere else to go – they have no clues, no leads, the investigation’s over. So the syndicate could just let it drop, and no one would ever expose their identity. Yet they decide to attack the Hellcats anyhow, even though that necessarily means exposing themselves further.
I’ve said it before, but heroes are really lucky to have such stupid villains to battle.
Best Story: Judge Dredd – Brian Bolland. ‘Nuff said.