In addition to the regular weekly issues, IPC magazines also published a few annuals and specials each year featuring the 2000AD characters. Because these British publishers are maddeningly vague about the publication dates they put on these things I’m not sure exactly where in the order of issues to drop them, so from here on out, unless I get specific information that suggests a better way of doing this, I’ll just be covering each annual at the beginning of the year it’s numbered as belonging to, and summer specials at the beginning of June. Hopefully the stories inside aren’t going to belong to the strict continuity of the series, and I won’t spoil anything early by covering it here, or miss out on part of a story in the main comic by not getting to it quickly enough.
Some nice Kevin O’Neill art here – even if the action is maddeningly unclear (just what is happening to that spaceman on the right?), I love the lines of his robot designs so much that I’m happy to overlook any flaws.
Thrill 1 – Harlem Heroes
In this story the Heroes are headed to the Seattle Stadium to face off against that city’s ‘Sluggers’. In an odd note, the narrative text goes out of its way to refer to the Heroes as the famous team of ‘All-Black Superstars’! It seems like this is the sort of thing that the readers would see for themselves? Does it have to be pointed out to them? Or is it necessary to mention because this episode is going to be themed around racial intolerance?
The second strange thing is that the ‘Seattle Sluggers’ aren’t actually in the Aeroball league yet. So why, exactly, are the heroes playing against them? Aren’t they in the playoffs at the moment? It’s not like this is a flashback – Zack is already on the team. Do they really have the time to be wasting on exhibition games?
Giant and Zack head back to the locker room area to meet their competition, and they’re rebuffed by a bodyguard who won’t let anyone in to the changing areas.
Boy? Seriously? Wow, this might actually be a story about racial intolerance in the future!
Half an hour later the game begins, and the Heroes quickly find themselves outmatched by their mysterious, face-masked opposition. The Sluggers power through any block with ease, and punching them is like hitting a brick wall!
At halftime, Giant gathers the team together to outline his suspicions about the Sluggers. He suggests a new game plan that starts with Slim grabbing the ball and afterburning towards the pitch. The Sluggers aren’t great at turning, so when Slim pulls up at the last minute, the two men on his tail slam into the ground and explode. It seems they weren’t men at all, but robots!
The referee offers to call the game for the Heroes – while there’s nothing in the rules that says you can’t field a team of robots (really? There’s no ‘the players must be human’ rule? I thought after the whole football-playing donkey of the 20th century fiasco that would have been the first rule in every sport.) it simply wasn’t fair not to tell the Heroes. Giant declines – he wants to beat the Sluggers, despite their disadvantage.
And beat the robots they do, by simply using their agility against the raw strength of the machines. Come to think of it, that’s exactly how they beat the Scotsmen, isn’t it? At the end of the game it’s revealed that the Sluggers’ sponsors, ‘International Robots’, were using the team as a publicity stunt to market their wares, and now that it’s over, they’re pulling out of the sport. So this wasn’t a story about racism at all, and it’s cool to call a black guy ‘Boy’ in the mid-21st century. Good to know.
Also, I can’t stress how weird it is to see a Heroes story that isn’t drawn by Dave Gibbons. And by weird, I mean terrible. It looks terrible.
Thrill 2 – Judge Dredd
The story opens in medias res, with Dredd having been the victim of a terrorist bomb! His hand has been shattered, and the Chief Judge (not grand judge any more, I see) gets the bad news: Dredd’s trigger finger may only be 99% effective – which would make him useless as a judge! (What, really?) Upon getting the news, Dredd demands to be let back on the streets immediately. Take a look at Dredd here:
Is this whole story a flashback? Is this bombing how he got disfigured in the first place? Also note the arrogance. The city will fall apart without him on the streets? Who does he think he is, Horatio Caine? The chief judge agrees, but only if Dredd can pass the Judge Assessment test in ‘Washington Sector’. I guess since old Washington is now part of Mega-City 1, some people still call it by that name. Although I assume at some point it will be assigned a sector number, like the rest of the city.
It turns out that the testing centre is run by a mister Dimitrov, who has a bone to pick with Dredd. A few years back Dredd was involved in a shootout in a crowded public area, and one of his heat-seeking bullets accidentally blew Dimitrov’s arm off. Dimitrov claims there aren’t any hard feelings, then he heads back to the control center to control the carious traps and dangers manually so that he can ensure Dredd is killed.
Interestingly, he doesn’t have to add special traps to the range – it turns out the obstacle course is already using live ammunition. All Dimitrov does is turn up the difficulty level to 11.
It’s to no avail, though – Dredd blasts all the robots quickly, then pulls off some amazing bike stunts, and finally escapes a high-pressure chamber by making an impossible sniper shot.
Frustrated by his inability to kill Dredd, Dimitrov heads down to handle the job himself – there’s a gun in his fake right hand! Dredd is too observant to be tricked, though – he remembers that Dimitrov normally shakes with his left hand! Dredd snaps Dimitrov’s fake hand, bending the arm back so that when the gun goes off, it shoots Dimitrov in the head!
Another case closed, and the Judge Dredd Death count is raised to 20! Even though Dredd claims that Dimitrov did it to himself, he really could have pointed that gun arm anywhere.
THRILL 3 – Invasion!
All over England the Volgs are randomly rounding up whole neighbourhoods, hoping to come across resistance sympathizers or personnel. On one raid they come across a Brigadier (the same one responsible for the Canadian fiasco in issue 14 – I guess this takes place earlier?) and spirit him away to an old Roman fortress they’re using as a prisoner of war facility.
Disguising their truck as a food delivery vehicle, the Mad Dogs rush into the castle and start searching for the Brigadier, leading to the following confusing image:
The volgs overreact to the assault, and decide to execute the Brigadier before the Mad Dogs can get to him. Savage is having none of it, though. He runs into the hollow roman wall and sticks a pistol through a hole in it to kill the firing squad. In an even more confusing series of images, the remaining volgs fire on the wall, hoping to hit Savage, and then when it’s weakened enough, he pushes it down, killing all of them.
Seriously, how can you cause a wall to collapse so that it hurts the guys on the other side, but not you? Also, where was the general during all this? Last we saw, he was right in front of the wall. And why did the Volgs get so close?
Anyhow, with all the Naz- um, Volgans dead, Bill runs the Brig back to their van and make a quick getaway. The Brigadier is happy to have been rescued, but Bill reminds him that two Mad Dogs were killed in the rescue, so he shouldn’t be too gleeful. Which, I think, makes this only the second time Mad Dogs have ever been killed.
Ah, he’s probably just crabby because he couldn’t find his shotgun this morning.
THRILL 4 – Dan Dare: Space Hyper-Hero!
Wow, first a non-Gibbons Heroes, and now a non-Belardinelli Dan Dare. What is the world coming to? Actually, those guys were probably busy on the weekly strip, so this isn’t much of a mystery at all. The story, which doesn’t fit anywhere into the continuity as we know it, involves Dan being put in charge of a ship sent out to collect dust particles from around Pluto to bring back to earth for study. While they’re out at the rim the ship stumbles across a bizarre spacial anomaly that sucks all of them into an alternate universe!
They close in on an anti-matter planet, and are pulled down to a landing by a tractor beam. Dan’s terrified that his ship (which is made of matter) will explode when it hits the anti-atmosphere, but the ring of energy protects them as it drags them to the surface. Who’s responsible for the energy?
I’ll be honest. I did not see that coming.
After peacefully escorting Dan back to their council chamber, the frogmen explain that their planet is actually a giant spaceship that wanders through the universe without the benefit of a sun. How do they manage it? By sending anti-matter particles through to our dimension, where it hits a planet, causing the planet to explode. They catch the resultant shockwave in their dimensional bridge, and use that force to propel their planet through space. And also warm it, I assume.
So what do they want from Dan? Why the location of Earth, of course! So they can blow it up and use the energy!
That’s kind of a dickish move, isn’t it? I mean, why does it have to be Dan’s homeworld? Couldn’t they have asked for the location of an uninhabited hunk of rock first? Or do they just love evil?
Dan’s not waiting around to find out. He punches out a few of the frogs and runs for the dock. Because of the energy field surrounding him, the frogs can’t stop the spaceman! In minutes Dan is back on his ship, plotting his next move.
He uses something called a ‘mole gun’ to break a hole in the ship’s energy shield, then fires a missile through the hole. The matter/anti-matter explosion detonates THE ENTIRE PLANET, while Dan’s ship is protected by the energy shield. Fortunately the explosion also knocks Dan’s ship back into his own dimension… for some reason… and we’ve got a happy ending. Having just murdered an entire planet’s worth of people, Dan is free to get back to his day job – collecting dust!
I really don’t know what to say about this one. If ever there was a situation you’d think a hero could have noodled a peaceful solution to, this is it. And Dan’s response was genocide. Yikes.
Thrill 5 – MACH 1
The Probe story opens with action – specifically Probe using an M16 to shoot down a fighter jet, Golgo 13-style! It seems that he’s an a war-torn African republic that’s besieged by a group of Russian-backed rebels and their MIG-23s.
Probe’s got a plan to defeat the enemy air force, but first he stops by a hospital to rescue the men inside after it’s set afire by a rebel missile. Over at the national air strip the RAF’s last local pilot is taking off in their last remaining plane, a two-seat training model armed only with a cannon!
John sprints up the runway, smashes into the cockpit, and forces the pilot to eject – it’s going to be too dangerous a mission for a normal man to take part! Finding the enemy airstrip, Proble blocks it by destroying a MIG on the runway – but not before two other jets take off!
They fire heat-seeking missiles at him, but Probe’s too good! He stalls out to put some space between his jet and the rockets, then speeds down to ground level and buzzes the air traffic control tower, tricking the missiles into destroying it!
Then it’s simply a matter of luring the MIGs into the nearby city, where Probe’s reflexes will allow him to make turns that leave them smashing into buildings! The enemy air force destroyed, Probe heads home, radioing their ground troops to let them know they can start their attack!
Thrill 6 – The Phantom Patrol?
That’s right, the sixth Thrill in this comic, instead of being a Flesh story, is about a British infantry patrol in Greece during the second world war. Taking refuge from German shelling inside a cave, the troops find a bizarre machine full of futuristic technology. After grabbing what looks like a radio, the troop heads out of the cave and onto their landing craft, hoping to make a quick getaway. When a Stuka spots them the soldiers dive for cover, and Joe (the one who found the ‘radio’) accidentally presses a button on it – sending them all far back in time!
Well, they don’t know they’re back in time immediately, and don’t even catch on when they see two ancient ships fighting each other. Their theory? That Mussolini is making some kind of a propaganda film about ancient Italian history. It’s only when they sink the galleys and pick up one of the survivors that they learn the truth – the ‘radio’ is actually a time machine!
When more Galleys arrive, Joe has their Greek soldier translate a message – he explains that they’re soldiers from the future, and don’t want a fight. The captain of the Greek ship agrees to escort the troop to Egypt, but only if they assist in retaking the island of Lemnos from the Trojans along the way. They consider just spinning the dial on the time machine and seeing what happens, but Joe says they’d better play it safe and figure out how the thing works before risking it. How they plan on discovering that is unclear, what with it being technology from the future with no markings on it.
The next day they arrive at Lemnos, and the writers officially stop caring about the fact that the British characters should have no idea what anyone else is saying, and vice-versa. At first it looks like it’s going to be an easy win, with the tank they brought along scaring off most of the soldiers, but it turns out the Trojans are craftier than anticipated, and they manage to use a battering ram to knock the tank on its side. I’m not sure how the physics of that work, but let’s continue.
The Trojans take the tank crew hostage in hopes of learning how the tank works. If this seems reminiscent of any historical incident, it’s supposed to. In fact, the tank crew wants to make sure we get it by saying the exact same thing twice:
You know, there really is a Simpsons quote for every situation, isn't there? There is a special prize for the first person to mention it in the comments! (disclaimer: No such prize exists)
The crew is tossed down a prison-hole for the night, but they quickly use their hidden commando grappling hooks to escape. Then it’s a simple matter of gunning down the soldiers guarding the tank, and driving it away to safety!
On their way out of the camp they break down the front gates of the fortress, allowing the Greeks to pour in and attack the Trojans head-on. The battle calls to mind Leonidas and the 300 Spartans to one of the troop, but another points out that that battle won’t happen for another five hundred years! Which seems like an amazingly specific thing to say, after all, do they have any idea what specific year they’re in? I can’t imagine the Greeks are using a system of dates that the soldiers would recognize, and unless they knew when the famous ‘occupation of Lemnos by the Trojans’ happened, you’d think they would still be completely in the dark as to their specific location in time.
With the battle won, the Troop bid their Greek friends ado and head off to Egypt, after explaining that yes, before we ask, they do have enough petrol to get them there. Although I assume that their landing craft has a diesel engine, so they won’t have too much trouble finding fuel for it, even in the distant past. That’s where the story winds up, with the troop planning to adventure through the ancient world, trying to find a way home. Well, a way home other than actually using the time machine they’ve got in their hands, of course.
Does this become a recurring story? Because this is the first time I’ve ever heard of it.
Thrill 7 – Flesh
In a first for the series, the story opens in the future where the board of Advanced Protein Incorporated is fuming about the low prices that Trans-Time charges for its dino steaks! They just can’t compete! Although I don’t know what they’re competing with. Do they also have time-traveling dinosaur herding operations, or do they just grow meat? In any event, they establish that the only way TT can charge such low prices is because Earl Reagan is such an exceptionally good trail boss. You know, they have a point – sure, Earl loses like fifty Rangers every time he goes out, but with anyone else they’d lose a hundred, shooting the profit margins all to hell! The API board dispatches an assassin back in time with one mission – kill Earl Reagan!
Back in the cretaceous we get a look at some standard dino-herding action. Things start out looking good, but then the heard is attacked by a giant python… look, if you’ve been reading Flesh along with me you know where this is going – there’s a stampede, 20 rangers are killed, let’s move along to the good stuff.
Back at base Earl demands more replacement rangers so that they can get the meat yields higher. I don’t actually know why this is an issue – they’re sending the meat through TIME, after all, can’t they decide when it arrives? However long it takes them to round up the meat, can’t all of it be sent to a single fixed point in the future? Too many time travel stories treat the past like it’s a different country, and it’s becoming clearer and clearer that Flesh is one of them.
Anyhow, the assassin Skerrett comes back with the other reinforcement rangers, and he tries to shoot Earl in the back! Earl is saved at the last moment when his sidekick… Jim(? – did no one know that the character’s name was Joe?)… lassos him from a hoverbike and pulls him into mid-air. How did he know to catch the killer? It seems Skerrett talked out loud to himself about his murdering scheme. While sneaking up on Earl. With his two-way radio switched on.
Then Skerrett is packed into a box and sent to the future, where he’s delivered to the president of API. The story then ends, never having explained precisely what was going on with the corporate intrigue.
Best Story: Judge Dredd – Unless an alternate story is offered later, I’m going to assume this is how Dredd got horribly disfigured, and the cool-factor of an origin story easily wins the title this week.
Worst Story: Flesh – It was tough to pick a winner (loser?) here. The Heroes’ robot nonsense, Dan Dare’s adventure in mass-murder – they’re all bad. But the way the Flesh story sets aside the entire environmental message of the strip and gives us dull corporate ‘intrigue’ instead is just inexcusable. Add to that the utterly reprehensible art:
And you’ve got a recipe for a terrible special edition comic. Seriously, this whole thing is a pretty big disaster, especially when you consider how competent-to-great the normal comic is. Hopefully these specials will pick up in the future.