Programme 2 (5-Mar-1977)

Prog 2 (5-March-77)

Cover: The free giveaways just keep on coming. I don't know a whole lot about the way new comics were marketed at the end of the '70s, but if these two issues can act as a representative sample, cheap toys were an draw for the young teens of the day. This time it's stickers that are meant to be attached to skin. Presumably hair-free skin, although the 1970s seem to have been a less litigious time, because there aren't any 'proper use' warnings to go along with it. As for the content it promises, apparently at some point this issue a hysterical woman will cry out in fear of a monster from the 'Hell Planet'. I'm going to out on a limb and assume this has something to do with Dan Dare's trip to Jupiter, but only time will tell.

Thrill 1: INVASION! (No Credits Listed)

Invasion opens with a spash page for the second issue in a row, this time depicting the last British Battle Group being slaughtered on Salisbury Plain. For the second time in a row, I'm wondering if that location has some significance to the audience. If I remember correctly, it was in a battle on Salisbury Plain that King Arthur died, but beyond that, I've got no clue what it could mean. (One quick trip to the webternet later) Oh, it turns out that Stonehenge is also on Salisbury Plain. Huh.

There's a brief intro featuring more Volgan atrocities, such as hanging every member of parliament from lamp posts, and an introduction to Marshal Vashkov, leader of the Volgan occupational forces. He doesn't do anything this issue but gloat at one of the hangings, but I assume he'll be important later on.

The story is another brief, action-packed one. A number of tank crews are relaxing down at the local, and Savage bursts in, gunning them all down with a shotgun. He's aided in this feat by some really unclear action art. After all, the eight soldiers have pistols and assault rifles, while he's just carrying a shotgun. It really shouldn't go as well as it does:

Having executed all the Volgs, Savage walks outside and sets their tanks on fire. Strangely here, his narration suggests that he now believes he's gotten revenge for his wife and kids. Not in the abstract, a tank crew killed them, so now he's killed a tank crew way, either. No, his comments seem to suggest that he believes that he's killed the specific tank crew responsible for his family's death. How he could possibly know that for a fact is left up to the reader's imagination. So here goes: The old man who witnessed the tank blow up Savage's house told Bill that it had been painted with custom markings by the tank crew. So when Savage saw those markings on one of the tanks outside of the pub, he knew that his family's killers must logically be among the men inside. Actually, you know what? That was a pretty satisfying explanation. The story ends with a bespectacled man (who had been in the pub earlier) watching Savage walk away.

While I'm not normally someone who goes looking for gay subtext in everything, it's a little hard to look at that last panel without feeling like implications are being made beyond the obvious one. Although, to be fair, the teaser for next week's prog announces that Savage joins the resistance, so four-eyes is probably their recruiter.

Thrill 2: FLESH (No Credits Listed)

Once again Flesh opens with a bang. We're introduced to the 'Fleshdozer', a giant machine that picks up entire dinosaurs and drops them onto a bed of rotating knives. Of course, since this comic is being written by people obviously have issues with capitalism, industrialization, and probably eating meat, in its very first appearance, the Fleshdozer is already malfunctioning. It drops a styracosaur on a Ranger named Huck who happened to be walking by (not that he's utterly blamless. After all, he walked under a machine called a Fleshdozer). Another Ranger runs up to help the clearly splattered Huck, then finds himself scooped up as the automated Fleshdozer retrieves the dinosaur it dropped. The Ranger is dropped in along with the dinosaur, to be turned into meat for the future. Beyond feeling sorry for the Ranger, no one seems particularly bothered by the fact that the people of the future are being turned into into cannibals as well as environmental ravagers.

A conversation about the situation outlines what I assume will go on to be the main interpersonal conflict of the story, as Joe, the new Ranger, worries about the consequences of hunting the dinosaurs to extinction, while Reagan, the grizzled veteran, argues that the nature of life is that one creature eats another, and who are they to fight against it? Of course, I don't remember the part in that 'Circle of Life' about hunting animals to extinction, then building a time machine so you could go back into the past and hunt different animals to extiction. Although it might be in one of the later verses, I tend to tune out after the first chorus.

After an introduction to the mechanics of time-travel ranching (dinos are processed into huge containers of raw meat, which are beamed into the future) Joe and Earl head out on another drive, this time finding a herd of Alamosaurs to drive to their doom. I'm not familiar with this particular plant eater. I wonder if it's one of those dinosaurs that turned out not to be real, like the Brontosaurus?

Before they can secure the herd the Rangers' hovercars are attacked by a flock of Pteranodons, forcing Joe to grapple with one hand-to-hand! The story stops there, demonstrating that they learned their lesson after the first issue, and know to leave the audience wondering whether Joe is going to be torn apart by a dino-beak!

Thrill 3: MACH 1 (No Credits Listed)

MACH 1 opens bizarrely. The top half is a teaser for something that happens later in the story, while the bottom half is a recap of the last issue's ending. While I have no problem with the recap (although they're usually relegated to narration, after all, this isn't like a TV show – essentially the paid the artist and writer to do the same panel twice), the teaser is completely baffling to me. As a frequent reader of comic books, I'm fully aware of the practice of using splash pages to fill out a story, but this is just insane. It's only a five-page story, and the first one has just been thrown away by depicting something that's going to happen in three pages. What possible purpose can it serve? Were they worried that the reader would get bored ten pages in and give up, rather than read the rest of the comic?

Picking up where the last issue left off, John Probe quickly figures out a way around his little 'nerve gas is about to be dropped on London' problem. He has the RAF start up a faster jet so that he can chase down the terrorists' plane, then be lowered by a rope onto the jet. Everything goes off without a hitch, allowing Probe to tear his way into the plane:

(do narrators get jealous when villains edge in on their territory?)

Probe kills two of the terrorist and grabs the controls. Suddenly he thinks that he's being attacked by monsters, explaining the existence of the splash page, if not justifying it. The computer explains that while the nerve gas is instantly fatal to normal people, all it can do to those imbued with compu-hyperpower is cause hallucinations. One more knocked-out terrorist later, and Probe is able to land the jet safely, ending his first adventure. Of course, it's not all sunshine and kickboxing for John Probe, no, he has a boss to report to. So after typing a report on his all his amazing action, Probe has to wait around while Sharpe, the aforementioned Boss, passive-aggressively downplays his achievements. Apparently compared to his next mission, saving the entire population of London from a nerve-gas attack is just a cakewalk.

We'll see about that, Sharpe. We'll see.

Thrill 4: Dan Dare (No Credits Listed)

Dan Dare also picks up just where it left off, with the hero in a much worse situation it had seemed at the end of the last issue. It turns out that the security guards all over the ship have standing orders to disintegrate Dare on sight! Naturally, this leads to a fistfight with one of the guards, whose gun goes off, disintegrating two random guards who had turned up to help. In a flashback to Flesh's blasé attitude about life and death, Dan Dare doesn't give much thought to the innocent lives he's just taken. Sure, he believes that he's on an important mission, and given the fact that the strip is named after him, he's probably right, but still, those are two of your fellow SASA employees you just killed, Dan. Would a moment of silence be too much to ask for? Perhaps in the future life is just incredibly cheap.

Dan fights his way to the Bridge and meets Monday, the ship's Martian captain. A caption helpfully explains that the descendants of Mars' human settlers have been changed by that planet's low gravity, growing much taller and thinner than normal humans. I'm not sure if that science works, but I'm always happy to see a little pseudoscience turn up.

Revealing himself to be a reasonable sort, the captain allows Dan to explain himself before being executed. His story isn't persuasive, but luckily, just as he finishes telling it, the ship floats in front of Jupiter's red spot, and is attacked, just like Dan's ship had been a week earlier. Everything warps and shifts, and a horrible monster appears, justifying the prog's cover. Of course, it's Dan Dare who gets the line about the creature from hell planet, and not the unnamed blonde woman. To the artist's credit, though, a blonde woman does show up a few panels earlier. She gets one line, where she wonders just what's happening to the ship. And she still made it to the cover. Ah, the lowest common denominator. How I've missed you.

Speaking of artist's credits, although there still aren't any credits on the stories, a little strip of text on the first page of this story identifies the art as being done by “Bellardinelli”. I have no idea who that is, but it's nice to see him get a little recognition. Now if the rest of the artists and writers could get some as well, we'd really be somewhere!

Tharg's Nerve Centre:

The combined editor's note and letters page, Tharg's Nerve Centre made its inaugural appearance here in the second prog, along with Tharg himself, the affable alien editor in chief. There's little to mention here except the announcement that he would be accepting art and letters from fans, who could win money if their creations saw print. The prizes are offered in either Pounds Sterling or Galactic Groats, with an exchange rate set at 1 Pound = 10 Groats. Is Groat a silly name for a currency? Sure. But at this point, I'll take absolutely anything over the omnipresent 'credits'. One of the fun things about 2000AD is that all of the prices for various places are listed on the cover – the one that really sticks out is “Mercury: 17g”. Assuming that “g” is the short form for Galactic Groats, and giving the exchange rate stated here, that means on Mercury children would be paying one pound seventy for an issue of 2000AD, compared to the eight pence it costs in the UK. I'm going to go ahead and guess that interplanetary shipping has one heck of a profit margin.

Thrill 5: HARLEM HEROES (No Credits Listed)

After the team was halved last time, it's time to go through the long, arduous process of putting a team back together to continue on to the next championship match. The process takes all of four pages. You can't fault the pace, anyways. The first new member literally just wanders into the stadium. He's Conrad King, a forty-year old veteran of the Heroes, who was sidelined by an injury years earlier. Interestingly, this establishes that Aeroball has been a popular sport for at least twenty years.

The reason I bring this up is that Giant, the team captain, wonders where else they'll be able to find the other three players they need to bring the team up to the minimum seven players they need to field. Should that really be an issue? If it's such a popular sport, wouldn't there be hundreds of players desperately trying to get on to a team at all times? Aren't there amateur leagues, and semi-prop Aeroball farm teams? The fact that they can just sign up a forty-year old man who hasn't played the game in years, it seems like there isn't a strong governing body determining who they're able to put on a team, so couldn't they just hold a quick tryout session?

Instead, they head to the worst part of Harlem, which, despite the fact that it's the year 2050, is made up of decrepit, crumbling, graffiti-covered buildings. Although, in deference to the futuristic setting, all of the slums tower hundreds of stories into the sky. Which means the people who live there must have been very diligent about trashing them as quickly as possible. At the top of one of the sky-slums a team of street aeroballers are playing a game with home-made jetpacks. They recruit Zack, the most reckless show-off of the amateur players, because even though he almost killed himself scoring a goal, he's got heart. And he did score the goal, after all.

Recruiting those two players took nearly five pages, and, fearing that readers won't put up with another issue without an actual aeroball game, another two players conveniently turn up. It turns out that two reserve Harlem players has been lent to another team, and, in the wake of the tragedy, Chico and Sammy are on their way back to Harlem to rejoin the team. My prediction? Despite being given names, they'll get just as much face time as all those unnamed players that died in the bus crash. Well, not that little, but I'm guessing no more than ten lines between them over the next five issues.

The story ends with the beginning of their next match, against the Baltimore Bulls, which, according to the caption, is being watched by sixty million people on future-television. I know that they're supposed to be bitter rivals, but I have a hard time believing people would be dicks of this magnitude just a week after a team was mostly wiped out in an accident:

Of course, this is written by people from the UK, who regularly beat each other to death over 'footie', so who knows?

I'm not great with art styles, but there's something familiar about the way Harlem Heroes is drawn. I'm going to guess that the artist is Dave Gibbons (of Watchmen fame). Hopefully art and writer credits will start up soon and I'll be able to check if I was right.

Thrill 6: JUDGE DREDD! (No Credits Listed)

Finally the comic's most famous character turns up. And man, is it terrible! Okay, that's an exaggeration, but given how good Judge Dredd seems in my memories, seeing it handled this awkwardly is just embarrassing.

It's not the story that's the problem, it's the simplest enough tale of a Judge being murdered by a crook, and then Judge Dredd being sent out to remind the criminals of the city who's in chrage. Even the art is acceptible, if a little rough. No, my problem here is the captions. Then endless, endless captions. When used correctly, captions can bridge an awkward gap between scenes, give valuable information, or, in the case of Swamp Thing, serve as stand-alone poetry. At their worst, they simply describe what's happening in the panel, making the reader feel like an idiot for bothering to read them. These are some of the worst I've ever seen:

(somehow I don't think “Well, duh.” is strong enough)

Then, at the end of the story, Dredd sentences Whitey to the escape-proof Devil's Island, where only the worst criminals serve time. It's a pretty harsh sentence, since apparently, on Devil's Island, there's nowhere to sleep, eat, or sit down. Back at Justice Headquarters, Judge Dredd add's the deceased judge's badge to a display of those who have fallen defending the law. Amazingly, considering the kind of wanton violence that series would come to feature, I can't believe how few badges there are here. Twelve, by my count. If I remember correctly, something like twelve judges are killed every week in Mega-City 1. More whenever there's a war on.


Best Story: Flesh – Again, this is by far the best story in the comic. The fantastic setting, the plot moving forward, decent art, and massive amounts of gore conspire to make this a great ride.

Worst Story: Judge Dredd – Sinking below Dan Dare, where very little continued to happen this week, Judge Dredd was the weakest entry this issue, through sheer weight of its poor scripting and art.

Biggest surprise: Just how fundamentally weak the first appearance of Judge Dredd was. Given the character's level of importance, it seems like there should have been more here. Batman got a great first story, so did Superman. Even the X-Men's first issue wasn't bad. Between the shoddy writing and the fact that it's buried at the back of the comic, it seems like no one was expecting Judge Dredd to do much for the comic. Live and learn, huh?

Best Panel of the Week:

It's nice to see that Bill Savage remembers a 28-year-old movie well enough to reference it while killing someone. Also notable is the fact that “UNLUCKY!” seems to be a sound effect.

1 comment:

Tilting at Windmills said...

maybe that's what Stallone based his !@#$%^&*()(*&^%$#@! Judge Dread on - or maybe this all the movie writers read!!