Programme 13 (21-May-77)

Cover: Wow, nothing says ‘Quality’ like colourizing old images from the first couple of issues of the comic. And what does it say about Tharg that the ‘future’ spilling out of his head consists entirely of things we’ve already seen in the comic? Weak work, Betelgeuesian.

Thrill 1 – Invasion!

It’s 1999, and King Charles the 3rd is broadcasting a secret message from his home-in-exile, Canada. Ah, the beautiful, dystopian future where Elisabeth actually gave up being Queen after a reasonable amount of time. If only.

It seems that watching the broadcast, which informs Britons to stay strong, because Canada will soon be there to help, is illegal to watch, and Volgan troops roam the suburbs with radio signal detectors. They notice suspcious signals inside one home, but when they rush in it turns out to be a trap lain by Bill Savage!

Not the Mad Dogs, mind you. Just Bill. It seems that after a long day of running a resistance cell he likes to spend his evenings constructing elaborate traps and murdering Volgans all on his own. Good for him.

When he gets back to base, Bill discovers a brigadier general waiting for him. I’m pretty sure this is a high rank in the English Armed forces, because that guy in the Doctor Who episodes from my childhood seemed to be in charge of an awful lot. The Brig brings an ultra-secret order. The King is sending a message in the form of a commando courier, and Bill is to escort the Brig to the drop zone the next night.

The drop isn’t as secret as the team might have hoped, though, and a surface-to-air missile takes out the commando’s plane. The messenger lives just long enough to inform the Brig and Bill about a planned Canadian Armed Forces attack on a nuclear power plant in Doomsdale. The Brig thinks they should get the troops ready to assist in the raid, and Bill’s determined to attend the attack himself – to make sure nothing goes ‘pear-shaped’.

Thrill 2 – Flesh

Can’t write too coherently. Still find the spiders too creepy.

This image is one of the prime reasons I could never sleep in a bunkhouse.

And this one is basically a precis of all of my nightmares.

Reagan and company wake up to see the slaughter all around them, and start blasting away immediately. They retreat for the door, hoping the steel will hold the spiders until their nest can be located. Claw closes the door a little early, though, stranding Earl with the spiders. It’s left up to our imagination whether he was genuinely terrified, or if he just took a convenient opportunity to get rid of his enemy.

Claw takes command, and obtains some rocket launchers from the Flesh Controller’s office. The FC fills the cast in on what we already knew – the spiders must have been feeding on blood sluice overflow, which has dried up during the siege. Joe and Claw find the spider hole, which happens to be right in the middle of a plant-eater pen. The spiders and dinos are blasted to pieces, temporarily ending the threat.

Back in the bunkhouse, Reagan is, amazingly, not dead! He was absolutely still after the door shut, and it seems that the spiders are blind, and attack based on sound, rather than sight! I suppose there’s some basis for this, what with spiders reacting to vibrations in their webs – but these dinosaurs have been feeding off a river of blood for generations. Is that something one really “hears”?

Reagan spots a tape recorder nearby, turns it on, and tosses it across the room. While the spiders are distracted by a voice singing ‘Yellow Rose of Texas’, Reagan makes good his escape through the surprisingly-not-locked door. Well, I guess it’s not that surprising, after all, it’s not like spiders can turn a knob.

He rushes to the FC’s office to I get even with Carver once and for all, but their fight is interrupted by something that feels like an earthquake. They quickly realize it’s not a natural phenomenon at all – the spider problem isn’t over! There are thousands more under the base, and they’ve all started hammering at the floors and foundations!

You know, at some point in my life I hope to have a dream so good that I can loudly talk about it while remaining asleep.

Thrill 3 – Harlem Heroes (?/Gibbons)

It’s the second round of the Aeroball world championships, and the Flying Scotsmen are heading out onto the pitch. Annoyed by the Scotsmen’s showing off, Slim grabs two fire extinguishers and sprays foam all over the jet-powered opposition. Thus proving that it’s basically impossible to get thrown out of a game of Aeroball.

The game proper begins, and the Scotsmen immediately prove to be both tougher and more skilled than the heroes. Not only do they score the first goal, but their leader, last issue’s ‘Red’ MacArdle, proves strong enough to block a goal-shot without slamming into the post and incurring a penalty.

I’d actually forgotten that part of the rules.

Giant is so busy arguing with the ref over whether MacArdle actually touched the electified metal post that he doesn’t notice the Scots team flying over and scoring a second goal. They’re really going to have to bear down if they want to pull this game out next week! And as usual, I don’t care at all!

Seriously, I’d like to give a damn about the sports part of this strip, but the utter failure to give each game any stakes is hurting the comic an awful lot. The real device driving the plot is the mystery of who tried to kill the Heroes, and all of these games have absolutely nothing to do with that storyline. If they made some connection between winning the world championship and identifying the killer, that would give these sections at least some stakes, which they completely lack right now.

What’s going to happen to the Heroes if they lose this game? Sure, they’re out of the championship, but there’s always next year, right? It’s not like the team is going to fold if they lose – hell, people would have a lot of sympathy for the team that lost its starting line up – no one’s expecting them to win anything. Huge crowds come out for every game, and they get parades thrown for them in the street. All of those people will be back next year. Hell, if they’re out of the series then they’d even have more time to investigate the mass-murder of their team, which they seem to forget about whenever there isn’t a cyborg shooting at them.

The only thing they’re playing for is the bragging rights of being the team who overcame tragedy to win the cup anywyas, and I don’t find that to be an incredibly relatable motive. Which means that the only possible avenue of excitement to be gleaned from these sequences is the actual depiction of the game’s action itself.

And I just don’t find still images of incomprehensible futuresport all that compelling.

Thrill 4 – Dan Dare: Space Hyper-Hero (?/Belardinelli)

The Mekon has returned! He’s been rescued from his prsion ship by the nefarious Two of Verath, and the dumb half wants to kill him immediately. The Smart one overrules his brother when he hears the Mekon’s simple plan for galactiv domination. Disrupt trade lines badly enough that the various interplanetary governments have a meeting to discuss the problem, then blow that meeting up!

It’s a good scheme, and as they plot together, the two take the Mekon on a tour of their facilities, which inlcude a planet-smashing ray, an armada of attack ships, and playing the role of cannon-fodded, the Skash, race of aliens who love fighting so much that they graft laser rifles atop their heads! The Mekon sends the ships out to start wreaking havoc on the spacelines, which reminds me… didn’t Dan Dare just get a job navigating a cargo ship?

On that very ship, the TITAN I.C. (yikes), Dan meets the ship’s drunken lout of a captain, and his adorable pet, who is not at all similar to Proty.

I’m not sure how a single-celled organism can have eyes or teeth, but then again I’m no biologist.

After mentioning his misgivings about the state of the ship, Dan obeys the captain’s orders and brings her up to light speed. Dan is immediately proven right as the ship begins to tear itself apart, and the chief engineer is super-aged by a relativity-based anomaly!

Before we move on to the next story, something just occurred to me – it was pretty heavily implied that the Mekon must have pointed the biogs towards Earth, and now Dan’s search for the villain behind the attack will lead them into a meeting. But when did the Mekon do this? He was just now rescued from a prison ship by the two, and the Biogs had been on Jupiter for a while.

Thrill 5 – MACH 1

The title page gives the date as 1988, which, I’m pretty sure, is the first time we’ve been given concrete proof that this is a near-future strip. If the date wasn’t enough to cement the futuristic status of the store, the opening image is a splash page depicting a helicopter full of terrorists attacking a nuclear airship as it hovers over the statue of liberty.

In a lucky coincidence, Probe happened to be on this airship – that’s right, he’s on the plane as the bodyguard of a diplomat, but the diplomat is not the target of the attack, it’s all one big coincidence. The cowardly diplomat tells Probe to play along, but he’s having none of it. There’s only one way to deal with terrorists: Hyperpowered Kung-Fu!

He makes short work of most of the terrorists, but then has to stop when the leader, Marcos takes a child hostage. Probe computer brain yells at him to shoot through the kid, but Probe won’t risk it. He decides to play along with Marcos’ scheme.

Which is maybe the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of. You see, Marcos’ scheme is to attach a bomb to the airship’s mini-nuclear reactor, and then blow it up over New York, partially iradiating the city.

So, just to be clear, Probe doesn’t want to risk a child’s life, so he lets the terrorists attach a bomb to a nuclear reactor so that they can blow up the zeppelin that the child is on. Yeah, that doesn’t track so well, guy.

Fortunately for Probe Marcos is distracted long enough to let the kid flee, enabling the MACH MAN to kill the second-last terrorist, and chase their leader out onto the top of the airship.

His nuke plan having fallen apart, Marcos has one last, desperate scheme – he’s going to shoot the rear airfoils with a pistol! I’m also not an aeronautical engineer, but I can’t imagine that a pistol can do enough damage to an airship’s huge rudders to cripple them. Probe confirms the threat, though, announcing that if Marcos isn’t stopped, the zeppelin will crash into the empire state building!

So Probe stops him by throwing him into the zeppelin’s huge spinning rotor blades. The death is gruesome enough to win back most of the points lost by this story’s ridiculous contrivance and anti-climactic ending.

Thrill 6 – Judge Dredd

With the robot war raging on, Dredd needs to figure out a way to get into the robot-controlled section of the city so he can deal with Call-Me-Kenneth, in the hopes that the rebel army will fall apart without their leader.

The opportunity comes in the form of Walter, the vending machine robot! He’d been hiding inside justice central, not wanting to get involved in the whole ‘war’ thing. Dredd gives him a chance to prove himself – by acting as a guide behind evenmy lines! I’m not really sure why Walter, who’s been in justice central the whole time, would know just where to find Ken, but Dredd explains this with a thought-bubble laying out the fact that they already, somehow, know where Ken is held up.

Walter does prove useful by being able to ‘robo-sense’ when other robots are coming, and give Dredd a useful head’s up warning. Dredd hides from the armed troops, but he can’t escape the robot guard dogs, who maul his leg before he can destroy them.

Then it’s into the heart of the lab, where Dredd and Walter are confronted by weird metal tentacle guard things:

The robots don’t fall for the ruse, though, as they notice Dredd’s bleeding leg… and robots don’t bleed! Unless they’re terminators, of course.

Captured by the guards, Dredd and Walter are brought before Ken. Walter is sent to be reprogrammed, and Dredd has a much more terrifying fate awaiting him – he’s going to be turned into a living robot!

I’m going to retire the kill count until we actually get another human villain.

Final Thoughts

Best Story: Invasion! – Much as I’d like to give this one to Dredd and his ongoing robot war, this episode of Invasion! mentioned Canada, and apparently that’s all I need.

Worst Story: Harlem Heroes – I’m extremely close to not caring if we ever find out who the killer is. Although it’s obviously Ulysses Cord.

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