Programme 4 (19-March-77)

Cover: I've always been a fan of covers with dialogue on them, because every now and then it gives someone the chance to exclaim that the gold is theirs. This caption is a little on the odd side though, because it's so overwritten. It's just Dan Dare explaining what we're seeing, but he doesn't just state the obvious, but explain the backstory. Does finding out about the weight somehow make the comic more appealing than just telling us that Jupiter's Gravity is crushing him to a Dot?

As for the pitches the cover makes, there's a pretty good chance of everything happening in the issue. Dan Dare's crashing on Jupiter, so that's doubtless going to be part of the payoff in that storyline. As for the other two lines, there's one good – I fully expect to find out who runs Dinosaur City (Carver City, actually, according to the last issue), but MACH 1 was not trained to kill by a computer. He's a secret agent, so we can be pretty darn sure that he already knew how to kill people before the entire hyperpower thing got started.

Thrill 1: INVASION! (No Credits Listed)

This Invasion story opens with Bill Savage arriving at the British Resistance Headquarters, a secret underground supply base. Interestingly this isn't just a random schematic or blueprint that Savage is looking at, since Bill and the Brigadier (commander of the base) are chatting in the descending elevator, all of this is literally happening. Which means that the resistance has twenty harrier jets, 150 armored vehicles, and a supply of cruise missiles. Making it one of the best-equipped resistances in the history of warfare.

At the bottom of the page is a note announcing that this particular page has a special purpose, and should be torn out and kept in the security wallet that readers received last week. What's that purpose? It's hidden in a message that must be decoded with the wheel included in the last issue. Since it's a simple substitution code, you don't actually need the wheel, and I'm including the it here, in case you'd like to solve it yourself (I'll put the answer at the bottom of this post): NBLF EGTI LF NPIGNIZ NV ZINIHN G SIPKI TGF GNNGHC. LQ NBI EGTI NUPSF PIZ, EUN VS PIFELPGNVP GSZ PIEVPN NV BY LJJIZLGNIMW.

If you need help to get started, the first word is (THIS).

Back in the story, the Brigadier escorts Savage to the area where they're holding all the other volunteers, mostly working class blokes like Bill. Being a suspicious sort, Bill demands to examine all of their hands. One of the men, claiming to be a coal worker, has clean, uncalloused hands. Revealed as a Volgan Spy, the coal miner grabs the Brigadier and escapes in an elevator. This makes Savage mad. How mad?

How fighting mad? He climbs into the elevator and murders the Volgan with a stevedore's hook. That's just great. Impressed by Savage's, well, savageness, the Brigadier puts him in charge of all the working class blokes: They're going to have their own resistance group: The Mad Dogs! The issue ends with the Mad Dogs announcing their presence by stopping a van at a checkpoint and gunning down all the Volgan guards. This should really play as a dramatic moment: Savage leading other resistance fighters to murder a bunch of Volgs, but it doesn't. He's been successfully killing Volgs for the last three issues, so this is just another day at the office.

Thrill 2: FLESH (No Credits Listed)

Flesh opens with Old One-Eye roaring. Fully establishing her as the Moby Dick of the story, the narration assures us that she's desperate to get revenge on Reagan for gouging out her eye. As the 120-year old leader of a pack, she's got dozens of dinosaurs backing her up as well.

The rangers, unaware that they're being tracked by dinosaurs, have arrived at Carver City, a trading post run by a former trail boss named Claw Carver. Why's he called that? His hand was bitten off by a velociraptor (called 'terrible claws' here), so he killed it, cut off its claw, and had it surgically attached to his stump. Now that's an origin.

It seems that Joe wasn't just injured by the Tyrannosaur's bite, he also got a disease from the unsanitary conditions inside its mouth. The town doctor says the only way the Tyrannosaur's infection can be cured is by cutting a gland out of the dino's neck and using the fluid within as a treatment. Before Earl Reagan can figure out how to get the gland, he's attacked by Carver – who'd hated Earl ever since they worked together at the trans-time agency. Also, he doesn't like the way Ealr brought a diseased man into his town. Fighting in the street leads the local robo-marshal to try and stop the fight, but he winds up accidentally shooting a crack in the protective dome that surrounds the city.

Old One-Eye and her dino-pack break into the dome, slaughtering all the humans they can. Sure, they'd be easy to kill, but the robo-marshal made sure that no one was allowed to carry a gun into the city, and now that he's out of commission, they're defenseless. Earl is less unhappy with the situation than you'd assume. He sees it as nothing more than an opportunity to grab one of those glands they need to cure Joe. How? By cutting it out of Old One-Eye's throat. So ends the issue on yet another of the strip's great cliff-hangers.

This issue brings us the biggest plot-holes yet, bigger even than the stealthy dinosaurs that plagued the first issue. While it's barely plausible that they're sending cowboys into the past to kill dinosaurs for meat, would they really risk contaminating the timestream further by letting someone set up a trading post back there? I know the strip is mostly an old-west monster story with a sci-fi twist, but this just doesn't make a lot of sense. In other holes, we're left wondering how the plastic shield intended to keep out dinosaurs could be broken by a single hand-laser blast, and why Carver City, being in the middle of dinosaur territory, doesn't have any kind of look-outs who keep an eye out for herds of murderous dinosaurs.

In fun language spotting, there's both an entry for the fake slang dictionary, as one of the rangers announces that they're going to “have a KRONJ time in Carver City!”. There's also an instance of British colloquialisms making it into the mouths of Non-Brits in the future (distant past): when Earl is talking about Old One-Eye, he finishes the thought, announcing “good job I killed her!”

Thrill 3: Harlem Heroes (No Credits Listed)

This week's tale picks up exactly where the last left off, with Zack plummeting towards the ground, felled by a faulty jetpack. Luckily Hairy and Giant are able to zoom down and catch him before he hits the ground, and fly him over to the repair pit. Sadly, while they were busy saving the life of Zack, the Baltimore Bulls were able to score a goal. Thus we find out about rule 16: The Squad Leader can call a two-minute time out if two or more players are sidelined by injury. So there's no manager or coach that can call the timeout? The game can only be stopped if at least two of the seven players are injured? Yikes. This really is a harsh game.

Down in the pit, Zack is okay because of his fireproof suit, but Giant grounds him anyway—he's just too irresponsible, and Giant would rather play with six on the team than risk letting him back in the air. No sooner does the team get back in the air then Chico finds himself sandwiched between two Bulls in a particularly brutal tackle. He's too injured to keep playing, and since they don't have any reserve players, it looks like it's game over for the heroes.

Just then Zack zooms back into the field, promising to follow orders and be a team player. This new spirit of teamsmanship leads the Heroes to score a goal just before the half-time whistle blows, bringing the up score to 1-All. During the break, Giant receives a call from Louis, the floating brain. He's had plenty of time to think, what with being a disembodied brain and all, and he remembers the accident that killed most of the team—the controls had been sabotaged! Louis remembers this, because he'd been driving the bus when it happened. Which leads me to wonder why he hadn't been blamed for the accident a little earlier in the story.

I would have thought that the middle of a game would be the worst time to be bringing this up, but apparently finding out that their teammates were likely murdered just aggravates the Heroes, and sends them flying back out into the stadium ready to win the game! Which I assume they'll do next issue. I mean, really, how many weeks can people be expected to read about one game for?

The Aeroball Rulebook:

16: Only a Squad Leader can call time out, and only if two or more players are sidelined by injury.
28 – Don't touch the score posts.
? - Don't kick (or punch?) people in the back of the head.
? - No sandwich tackles (?)

Chico finally got a line this week, but Sammy remains a mute. With four issues to go, the count is currently at 1 line of dialogue.

Thrill 4: Dan Dare (Art: Belardinelli)

Dan Dare is currently rocketing down to the surface of Jupiter, trapped in a spherical pressure capsule. According to the pilot, they're doomed, because the auto-controls aren't working! Dan asks why they can't use the manual controls, and he's told that here in the distant future, absolutely no one knows how to pilot a spaceship! Which makes me wonder exactly how one gets the job of being a spaceship pilot. Of course, in what can only be described as one of the most contrived attempts to show that people of the present are superior to people of the future, Dan is able to pilot the ship safely down to the planet, where they land on “An island of crystal titanium floating on a sea of boiling metal!” I'm not including a picture of this because, frankly, it's not rendered in an especially interesting manner, and your imagination will probably do a better job than Belardinelli did.

After donning space suits fitted with force fields to protect them from the heat, atmosphere, and gravity, Dan and company head out to look for the nearby power source that they assume must be the malicious aliens' base. Sadly, on the way there, Logan's suit power fails and this is the result:

I decided to check if this concept was at all scientifically accurate, so I went to the webternet, and apparently it's not. Supposedly it's way, way, way off, and in fact, Jupiter would actually have a completely survivable weight difference. Also notable is Dan Dare's use of the 'futureswear' (profanity of the future that, while incredibly offensive in their time, is meaningless in ours) term “Drokk”, which I had always assumed was exclusive to Judge Dredd, but apparently appeared first in Dan Dare.

There's no time to mourn Logan's death, though, just moments later the away team discovers the source of the power field on the planet's surface: a giant living insect-ship. Captain Monday is amazed by the biological functions of this previously undiscovered species, but Dan is far more pragmatic, wondering just what the 'Vile Bugs' have planned for them.

Meanwhile, back on the Odyssey, the sick bay proves to be unbelievably poorly designed, as the solar-powered monster, who hasn't been secured in anyway, despite the fact that they knew that it was unconscious, and not dead, is able to just lift the lid of its examination capsule. Naturally its first free move is to menace the ship's medic, one Ziggy Rodan, in a somewhat confusing panel:

He's more scared of you than you are of him

That's it for this week in the adventures of Dan Dare – and according to my prediction, there are only five issues left before the Martian Captain Monday heroically sacrifices himself to save Dan's life, as well as the universe, I assume.

Tharg's Nerve Centre: Only in its fourth week, there still hasn't been enough time for 'Earthlets' to write in to Thrag, so this week he offers us a glimpse of one of his amazing alien abilities. Apparently he can grow to enormous sizes solely through the use of mental power! Good for him.

Thrill 5: MACH 1 (No Credits Listed)

Once again MACH 1 wastes half a page on a teaser, this time announcing that “IN 24 HOURS, A PRESIDENT MUST DIE!” This teaser isn't being hyperbolic, either. John Probe, the MACH MAN, is being sent to assassinate the “power-mad” president of Irania, who's planning to invade Turkostan tomorrow. I've got to say this for MACH 1 – as the only strip set in the present day, it's not afraid of offering a fairly bleak and simple view of international politics. Other nations are bad, so it's up to John Probe to kill their leaders, theoretically bringing their policies in line with British governmental desires. It seems that Irania is a heavily fortified country, so Probe has to resort to cleverness, rather than brute force, to achieve his goals. This leads to him taking part in my new favorite scene to take place at a customs counter:

Now that's something to smirk about

Naturally, it's all part of an ingenious plan. Probe is gambling that instead of just summarily executing him, the evil government stormtroopers will want to viciously torture him, and then present his broken, but still technically alive, body to the President as a curiosity. Amazingly, this is exactly what happens, after a brief but not too graphic interlude where we discover that among other things, Probe can withstand having his fingernails torn out and his skin partially flayed off with blades. It still hurts him, but only 1/10th as much as it would a normal man.

Once the President calls to see this bold assassin, Probe is chained and brought to his office, where he's just about to order the paratroopers to attack Turkostan. Taking a page from Billy Jack, Probe taunts the President by explaining exactly how he's going to be murdered:


Probe breaks through the chains easily enough, but only after asking his on-board computer just how difficult it's going to be to do so. It's an awkward way to get a little exposition in there, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy Probe announcing that he can snap 2-ton test chains “like string!” He quickly kills everyone in the room, then dispatches the President with the promised Karate Death Chop, but before he can escape Probe is shot by the torturer, who was hanging out in the hall. There's something a little strange here as they describe the rifle bullet hitting at 750 Miles Per Hour – up until this point I've only ever heard of muzzle velocities referred to as feet per second, and a quick trip to the Webternet assured me that 750 MpH is 1100 FpS, which seems a little slow for a rifle, especially one the torturer describes as having 'stopped a charging rhino at ten paces'. The bullet doesn't do much more than slow Probe down, though, and he's able to tackle the torturer out the window, breaking his neck on the street below.

Then it's just a simple matter of stealing an armored car and driving through a wooden gate. Seriously, that's all it takes for him to escape. He drove an armored car out of the Presidential palace, and then the story just cuts to his convalescence, 'some weeks later'. I'm not saying every episode has to be a two-parter, but it seems like they missed the boat by not covering Probe's amazing Great Escape-esque race for the border. Back in the hospital, Sharpe tells Probe not to get shot again, as the British Government can't afford to lose a MACH Man every week.

Oh, and for the record, their little escapade in regime change was a complete success. The execution of the President gave the liberal opposition the chance it needed to take over. Oh, those naive, optimistic days of the 70s, how I miss them so.

Thrill 6: JUDGE DREDD! (No Credits Listed)

Judge Dredd opens deep in medias res this week with the titular character gunning down hooded members of the “Brotherhood of Darkness” as they rampage through Mega-City 1. Almost as if the writers are trying to make it hard for me to keep track of how many people Judge Dredd kills, he kills four people in the first two panels and then announcing that he's run out of bullets—no doubt because he's already killed so many others. He immediately resorts to medieval techniques, grabbing a crossbow from a fallen member of the Brotherhood (who only use circa 13th century arms). He uses it first to beat two people to death and then spears a third with a bolt. I'm just going to count on-camera deaths so this is five so far.

As the carnage is winding down Judge Dredd is informed that the mayor's son has been kidnapped, so he quickly steals the robe from a fallen brotherhood member, then wheels his bike onto one of their trucks, pretending that he's captured it from a dead judge. During the trip out of the city Judge Dredd thinks a little exposition to himself, allowing the reader to learn that the Brotherhood of Darkness are a group of mutants from outside the city walls who have been changed by the radiation so that they can only see in the dark. Why this leads them to viciously raid the city is anyone's guess but at least they're not human in the conventional sense, and therefore more deserving of death. The comic then throws a little sci-fi wink at the audience: As the truck nears the Brotherhood's camp Judge Dredd sees a giant praying mantis eating someone. A forty meter tall mantis. Take that, Square-Cube law!

As the Brotherhood of Darkness roast a giant grasshopper over a spit and celebrate their victory Judge Dredd sneaks off to free the mayor's son. On the way he takes the time to stab three more members of the Brotherhood to death. Dredd quickly rounds up the rest of the prisoners and loads them into a truck, but by now the Brotherhood has tweaked that something's amiss. Having the foresight to bring along his a law master bike now pays off as Judge Dredd uses its headlights and flares to blind the Brotherhood so that he and the hostages can drive away to safety. Showing an uncharacteristic amount of restraint Judge Dredd does not use his bike's cannons to gun down all of the blinded members of the Brotherhood. Despite the fact that he had ten onscreen kills this week, Judge Dredd really was something of a softy at this point.

Judge Dredd kill count: 10 plus [2] equals 12.

Final thoughts:

Best story: FLESH! It seems like more than any of the other strips Flesh just keeps entertaining at a higher level. Week in and week out they deliver great sci-fi concepts, solid action, disturbing gore, and a story that motors along at a breakneck pace. I just hope they can keep this up for the rest of the story's run.

Worst story: Dan Dare - Once again Dan Dare is the weak link in the 2000 AD metaphorical chain. With Judge dread going on a killing spree and the mach man involved in a ludicrously entertaining presidential assassination, Dan Dare with his giant bug and poorly researched Jupetarian science just can't compete.

Best panel of the week:

This time I can't pick a single panel, instead I'm nominating the last page of the issue. It's a fake ad for the Trans-Time Corporation's most popular product: Dinosaur Meat! Even if he hadn't signed it, the art would instantly be recognizable as Kevin O'Neill's based on the second panel with its horrifying depiction of a Fleshdozer dining on a Triceratops. The whole thing looks so disturbing that it makes me wish Kevin O'Neill had been doing the art for Flesh all along. Especially unsettling is the depiction of an average Joe eating dinosaur steak in the future, using awful future utensils. It's interesting that the editors of 2000 AD felt the need to point out the subtext of the entire strip by flat out referring to him as "the biggest monster of them all". Ah, subtlety. Will you and 2000 AD will ever join forces?

And now, here at the bottom, is the solution to the cipher from the first Page: “THIS PAGE IS TREATED TO DETECT A NERVE GAS ATTACK IF THE PAGE TURNS RED PUT ON RESPIRATOR AND REPORT TO HQ IMMEDIATELY.

I know that isn't true, but wouldn't it be wonderful if it had been?

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