Programme 9 (23-April-77)

Cover: Was that so hard, Harlem Heroes? All I’ve been asking for for nearly ten issues is for a killer cyborg to try and shoot you with a rifle. Thanks for finally getting the memo. Also, the likelihood of this actually happening in the issue is pretty good – after all, he’s not actually shooting Giant, just planning to at this point. But why is he referring to himself as 'Mad'? That suggests a level of self-awareness that I doubt Gruber is capable of.

Thrill 1 – Invasion!

The story opens with a flashback to the invasion – it seems that with their forces utterly outnumbered, the British Navy attempted to surrender. The Volgans were having none of it, and they sink the entire British Fleet, with most of the heavy lifting being done by their flagship, the Volga!

Cut to three months later, as the Volga is sailing down the Thames – a perfect opportunity for the Mad Dogs to get a little payback! Or not. Silk announces that he’s going to lead a team of Navy Frogmen to swim under the battleship and plant limpet charges all over its hull.

Things quickly go sideways, as the Volga’s SONAR is so sensitive that it’s able to detect the frogmen coming. It deploys a sonic generator that sends out a pulse, killing all the frogmen except for Silk. Silk is dragged aboard for interrogation, and, as usual, it’s up to Savage to save the day.

He does this, as you might expect, by waiting until the Volga passes under some loading cranes, and then having his men slide down a chain onto the deck.

The Volgan admiral disappears below deck and locks all the doors, forcing Bill to improvise – he pours dozens of gallons of oil down an air vent, then sets it on fire. The mad dogs make their escape back onto the loading crane (apparently the ship hadn’t been moving this entire time), and the Volga heads for the bottom of the Thames, proving once again that the British fighting spirit is indomitable.

Also, that trained military men suck in comparison to a bloke with a shotty.

Thrill 2 – Flesh

It seems that dinosaur flesh isn’t the only reason people go back in time – this episode opens with the image of a holiday train making its way across the countryside, full of vacationers. And where there are vacationers, there are spoiled, unpleasant children, in this case represented by a singularly vile child named Orville, who’d rather have gone to the moon for a holiday than go to the past and see a god-damned dinosaur!

Wow, apparently this kid is really pissing me off.

The train’s courier, one Slick Parsons, shows up and tries to calm Orville down by taking him on a tour of the engine. There he employs the dino horn, a fake Tyrannosaur bellow that scares off all the plant eaters that wander around the tracks.

Also alarmed by the horn is Earl Reagan, who instantly recognizes it as belonging to the train. He knows full well that while the horn can scare away smaller dinosaurs, it can also attract rival Tyrannosaurs, so he races towards the train to warn them.

It’s too late, though – Old One-Eye has already heard the screech, and identifying it as a rival Rex, she’s motivated to struggle her way out of the spike pit she was trapped in last time.

Seeing the dinosaurs approach, the holidayers rush onto the train and try to make their escape. Things go well for a little while, as the train-top guns are able to blast a few of the Rexes to pieces. But One-Eye is too clever for the humans. Employing a tactic she no doubt developed for hobbling herds of Triceratopses, she knocks a rockslide down in front of the train, crushing the engine.

Suddenly all the people inside are trapped, and with the guns damaged, One-Eye is free to give the reader exactly what they want, by devouring little Orville.

Thrill 3 – Harlem Heroes (?/Gibbons)

Artie Gruber, the killer cyborg, has been activated, and he’s out to murder the heroes! Elsewhere in the Big Meg the people of Harlem are having a parade for the heroes' triumphant return from the Moscow game!

It turns out the parade, including amateur ghetto jetpackers flying rings around the super-liner, was all paid for by Ulysses Cord, television network chief who, as ever, is 100% supportive of the Heroes, this time going so far as to bet ten million dollars on their next game!

Of course, all of this support makes Giant suspicious, and causes him to wonder what Cord’s angle is. Well, here at issue 9, I’m ready to call that he’s the guy who’s trying to kill the Harlem Heroes. This theory is based entirely on the fact that here, almost ten issues and forty pages into the run of the strip, we haven’t met a single named character who isn’t a member of the Heroes other than Cord. Or the killer cyborg that Cord had rebuilt, who obviously can’t be the string-puller.

So unless all dramatic convention is thrown out the window, it’s fairly clear that either Cord or one of the Heroes has to turn out to be the villain. Since one of the Heroes being the killer makes absolutely no sense at all, it’s definitely Cord. Now all that’s left is to try to figure out his motive – he’s making huge amounts of money airing the Heroes’ games… why would he want to kill them?

Their next game is against an Aztec-themed team, who has fashioned the stadium into a replica of an Aztec Temple, complete with stone escalators running up the front. Supporters of the team go so far as to wear Aztec face masks, which allows Artie to hide among the crowd, unnoticed. Seriously, couldn’t the surgeons have put some kind of a fake face on this guy?

Isn’t leaving him like that just asking for attention? On an unrelated side note, isn’t Dave Gibbons a fantastic artist? Look at the detail on that freak! This is 1977! Take a look at what Batman looked like at that time:

As the teams take the field, Artie hides in the rafters, assembling a rifle, and thinking about how great his revenge is going to be. Just as the Aeroball is blasted into the air to start the game Artie aims his rifle - the crosshairs find Giant… how’s he going to get out of this one?

Thrill 4 – Dan Dare (?/Belardinelli)

Dan has betrayed the team! Or has he? He attacks Monday, having accepted the Biog ship’s terms. Now all he has to do is take Monday in a fight and convince the human ship’s crew to surrender themselves and be devoured by the Biogs. There’s actually no part of his plan that’s going to be easy.

He may have a little help fighting Monday, though, in the shape of… his pet living axe!

How badly do you want one of those? Look at the way it's slithering towards its master, desperate to help out... poor little guy,

While wrestling with Monday, Dan explains that it’s all a trick, and he needs Monday to surrender so that they can foil the Biog ship once and for all. Proving that its psychic powers just aren’t very good, the Mind of the Ship can’t figure out that it’s a really rudimentary trick, and accepts the surrender, sending Dan and the crew back to the ship to get the rest of its dinner.

Arriving at the ship, Dan orders the crew to stop firing at the various Bigos and pseudopods that are attempting to tear the ship open like a tin of beef. The commander is confused at first, but then Dan explains the scheme – they’re going to fire the engines inside the ship, cooking the giant Biog alive!

They blast their way out of the biog ship, killing it – but it’s out of the frying ship into the fire, as they discover that the creature they just killed was only a scout and the whole Biog Ship fleet has shown up in Jupiter’s orbit!

It’s at this moment that I realized that Dan and company didn’t bring the living axe with them onto the ship!


Please, let this be an art oversight, and have it turn up next week. I don’t know what I’d do without my weekly fix of living axe.

AD – I’m going to present notable ads here when I come across them, and what’s more notable than this?

Thrill 5 – MACH 1

John Probe has been sent to Turkostan where a civil war is raging. After overturning an APC with his bare hands, Probe reveals why he’s in country. If he doesn’t rescue professor Nils Nansen, this civil war could escalate into World War 3!

It seems that Nils, nuclear advisor to the government, has been working on building a small nuclear weapon to use against the rebels, and the British government fears that a wartime use of an atomic bomb could leave other nations with no choice but to involve themselves in the conflict!

Raising the spectre of religious conflict, it turns out that Probe is in the capital of Turkostan, ‘Macca’, and the doctor is being held in… The Black Mosque!

Breaking in and finding the doctor isn’t much of a challenge, but the three tanks that show up blocking their exit is. Probe notices that the tanks are parked under a nearly-destroyed building with a weak central support column.

A plan quickly forms in his mind – drive two jeeps at once, slam one into the central column, bringing the building down on the tanks, then drive away in the other! Just how will he manage it?

Yeah, apparently the two random jeeps parked next to each other had completely different drive systems. What are the odds? On the upside, that little signature in the corner of the image finally let me find out the artist’s name “John Cooper”, so I’ll pop that in there starting next issue.

The building crumbles, the tanks are destroyed, and Probe rides off into the sunset with his hostage, bantering all the while with the computer in his head.

Thrill 6 – Judge Dredd

Wow does this story start with a disturbing setpiece. It’s the ‘robot of the year’ show, a trade event where manufacturers show off all their new inventions in the world of robotism.

How do they demonstrate this? By showing that their robots are so loyal that they’ll walk into a blast furnace if ordered to. They won’t do it happily, though. No, they’ll fall to their knees and beg for their lives first.

Sure, it’s obvious, but at least there’s a message here, and kind of a creepy, affecting one at that. Okay, maybe the panel of the robot’s melting glass eyes forming tears that run down his face is a little over the top, but they’re in the future shock comic business, not the subtlety industry.

Judges Diablo and Dredd are on the scene, watching the display. Diablo is impressed by the robot’s programming. Dredd’s a little wary. He thinks that giving robots the urge towards self-preservation while also treating them like slaves could lead to trouble. I concur. Also, why did you ever give robots sentience and the desire for self-preservation? I’m with Dredd – keep robots mindless lifting machines and we’ll be good.

Just in case you were worried that the whole issue was going to be about robot justice, a psycho shows up at the trade show – he’s crippled and has a flying robot chair! He starts shooting random people in the crowd for no good reason! The world of the future is scary and weird!

Dredd and Diablo open fire, but the hoverchair has a bulletproof dome! The psycho releases poison gas, killing Diablo and threatening the rest of the crowd. Dredd blows a hole in the roof to let the gas escape, but the hoverchair flies out of it!

There’s one thing the cripple wasn’t careful about, though – holding onto the blanket he uses to keep his legs warm! Dredd grabs it and holds it up to the nose of the new Police Bloodhound robot. Which is, and I can’t believe I get to write this, a flying robot dragon with a long sniffer nose.

The scent dragon flies Dredd after the cripple and his robo-chair, which demands constant praise for every little thing it does right. No wonder Dredd is skeptical of the things. They close on the robo-chair, and Dredd finally realizes what he’s been doing wrong. The shield protects the driver, but it doesn’t protect the chair. Dredd shoots it, and the chair flies off the roadway, killing the psycho.

Dredd is left conflicted about the situation. He couldn’t have caught the psycho without his dragon robot, but the crippled man wouldn’t have been able to rampage so effectively without his flying robot chair. It’s a thorny issue that proves to be resolved next issue, when Dredd faces his greatest fear… a robot that decides to break the law!

Also, this is the second named Judge we’ve met, and his name was Diablo. How great is that?

Judge Dredd Kill Count (18) + 1 = 19

Final Thoughts:

Best Story: Judge Dredd – Robot pathos, questions about the morality or sanity of artificial intelligence, and best of all, a crazy man in a flying wheelchair who shot up a trade show for no discernable reason. This is how you write a comic book, people.

Worst Story: No entry this week. Even Harlem Heroes, traditionally the weakest story, had significant plot movement and great art. Way to fire on all cylinders, 2000AD!

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