Programme 21 (16-July-77)


Way to drop the ball there, Supercovers. You weren’t a great idea in the first place, but at least the questionable concept was propped up by the brilliant renditions wrought by the greatest comic book artist to have ever lived, Brian Bolland. So what do you go and do? You got someone else to draw the cover.


Thrill 1 – Invasion!

Things sure have changed under the Volgan rule. Now the great country estates, instead of sitting idle waiting for royalty to swing by for a visit, are occupied by sadistic Volgan generals. This episode takes place at Sandringham, which, according to the webternet, is a real place. Now occupied by one ‘General Rostov’, who lives there in a cruel parody of the British gentry, executing prisoners as a form of ‘skeet shooting’.

Bill is naturally having none of that, and after defeating the estate’s security cameras with a simple thrown glob of mud, the Mad Dogs hide inside the grounds with an insidious plan: strip down to their underwear, slather themselves in mud, then pose in the place of a group of marble statues all night, holding their guns.

Wait, hold on a second… You know, I’ve put up with a lot of nonsense from Bill Savage over the past twenty issues, but this is too far. Take a look:

That’s the real statue. Simple enough affair involving naked guys looking into a fountain, right? Now here’s what it looks like the next morning:

Yup, now it’s five guys, all wearing shorts, facing out, and holding rifles, which are not covered in mud. You can’t expect me to believe no one noticed the difference. Also, how on earth did the Mad Dogs manage this? Even if I give them that the Mad Dogs were able to sneak onto the well-guarded grounds, how on earth did they tear down those statues without anyone noticing? And where did the statues go?

The Mad Dogs open fire, killing most of the Volgan guards. Then it’s simply a matter of chasing the general into the manor house, and killing him with a morning star. Well, at least the story had something I can’t complain about. With the general and his surprisingly small protective detail dead, Bill and the Mad Dogs head off – this episode took them to Norfolk, next time they’ll be in the Southwest!

I don’t know what that means! I should really learn more about UK geography!

Scotland’s in the North, right?

Thrill 2 - Shako

Following the format of Flesh pretty closely (not the plot stuff, the ‘nature’ interludes), this episode opens with Shako brutalizing a walrus, but it doesn’t turn into animal snuff, since Shako is distracted by a low-flying plane long enough for the wobbly mammal to slip into the water. And who’s on that plane? Jake and Buck! Now that they’ve spotted Shako they land and commandeer a boat. The plan is to capture the big bear and retrieve that capsule inside, although they’re still being really cagey about just what that capsule contains. Is it microfilm? I hope it’s microfilm.

The plan goes amazingly well – despite the fact that the boat captain is a bit of a drunk, he manages to quickly find Shako and snag him with a chain. The chain just isn’t up to the job, however, with predictable results.

I think that guy’s probably dead, right? Yeah, I’m counting that one. Anyhow, Shako grabs the drunken captain by the leg and dives into the water, then swims to a nearby iceberg – the crew is too afraid to fire, as they might hit their captain.

This leads to another murderous interlude, with Jimbo attempting to placate Shako by offering some of his booze. Proving himself to be quite a lightweight, Shako gets drunk off just a few laps of booze and starts seeing double. Which proves to be quite an unfortunate turn of events for the captain-

Damn it, Jimbo! Didn’t you understand that Shako wanted to make you ‘die real slow’? Why did you have to go and confuse him like that? Because now we’re at the end of a second episode, and no one has died even a little slowly yet! Yup, the ‘die real slow’ count is still stalled at 0 of 8 (0%).

On the upside, when Buck suggests they just quit chasing the bear before anyone else dies, Jake reminds him just how important the capsule inside him is. Why is that an upside? Well, even though Jake is still tight-lipped on the subject, the next-episode ad promises that we’re just a week away from learning the terrible secret of the capsule! Yay!

Thrill 3 – Harlem Heroes (?/Gibbons)

The threat of Artie’s grenade fizzles quickly, when a aeroball bounced off his head distracts him enough to make him drop the thing. While Giant catches the grenade and hands it over to the police, everyone else is distracted by the rubber peeling off of Artie’s face, revealing the cyborg skull beneath.

The Gargoyles jump to the correct conclusion that Artie killed their captain, and they all tackle him at once. The big ball of metal drops quickly and slams into the stands, although, thankfully, they’re stands that have been vacated, so no one is harmed. The umpire gives the game to the Heroes, and Artie’s body is carted off by the authorities.

So anyhow, in the future they’ve given up on things like criminal investigations, autopsies, or even checking to make sure someone is dead, so Artie’s taken straight to a crematorium. Does he not have any family who might want a proper burial? It’s a moot question, anyhow, as Artie’s not dead, and his cyber-surgeons are able to reactivate his heart, leading to another dynamic piece of Dave Gibbons art.

Oh, David Gibbons, why can’t you draw every story? Because your art is good, and therefore requires time. Right. Sorry.

The news of Artie’s escape has reached the Heroes on their huge luxury-liner, but they’re too focused on their next game to worry about the unstoppable cyborg killing machine who lives only to see them suffer in agony. Their next game? It’s against another themed outfit…

Those swords had better be decorative, because if they’re not, Aeroball officially doesn’t have rules any more.

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

It seems this is a week of cliffhangers turning out to be significantly less cliffhangy than we’d expected. First the grenade is an utter no-go, and now the Crematorobots prove far less effective than you’d expect a twenty-foot-tall robotic flamethrower monster would be.

It seems that when they designed the killbots they forgot to account for one possibility – that their opponents would be armed with an “it-not-legally-a” lightsaber “(so please don’t sue)”. The robots are chopped to pieces, allowing Dan and Rok to approach the council chambers. They’re greeted by Lo-Han, the head of the galactic governing council.

He has quite a surprise for Dan in store – it seems that he’s every bit as psychically powerful as the Mekon, if not more so. The council have already discovered the Mekon’s plan and mentally reprogrammed the Two – they even describe the Mekon’s entire plan as utterly ridiculous, since the entire Council have transformed themselves into beings of pure energy, which by its nature, cannot be created or destroyed. Making them almost entirely bomb-proof.

Frustrated that he’s just wasted absurd amounts of time and energy on a pointless cause, Dan storms off to the ship that’s waiting to take him back to earth. Just as he arrives the Two blasts their way out of the prison cell and commandeers the ship. Despite Tremayne’s protestations, Dan and Rok rush onto the ship as well, hoping to recapture them. But Dan has once again made a tactical error – the escape was all part of Lo-Han’s plan! He’s sending the revenge-mad Two back to attack the Mekon with a bomb in their chest!

How’s Dan going to get out of this one?


Yup, it’s time for another short story. And this one’s so questionable that in addition to presenting it, I actually want to type part of it out for myself.

That’s right. Who cares when an anti-missile missile missiles a missile out of Earth’s orbit? There’s more missiles where that missile comes from, perhaps at the missile dealership, where missiles are always half off! 75% on missile Mondays!

Thrill 5 – MACH 1

When I turned the page after that last short story and saw the splash half-page setting up the MACH 1 story my mouth literally dropped open. I’m not exaggerating or being hyperbolic. I was dumbfoiled. See for yourself.

Yup, he’s going after Howard Hughes. But what could bring these two titans into conflict? It seems that four top athletes had recently been invited to visit Howard’s estate – and they haven’t been seen since!

Probe leaps over the wall of the guarded estate, coming face to face with Howard’s niece, who doesn’t believe her uncle is up to any funny business. After dismissing his computer’s suggestion that he murder her, Probe goes on to severely beat her attendant guards until Howard rolls up in a buggy. He invites Probe inside the house, where he reveals all of his secrets. In his attempts to cheat death he’s paid scientists to create a device that will drain the ‘life energy’ from healthy people and give it to him. The treatments have extended his life by a few years, but left the athletes as functionally lobotomized husks.

I’m not really sure what they mean by ‘life energy’, but let’s assume the scientists discovered something revolutionary and just move on from there. When Probe tries to bust the place up he’s conked in the head by a pistol – it doesn’t hurt, but Probe plays dead so he can get a better look at Howard’s evil machinery.

Once Probe is hooked up to the machines Howard discovers that he’s hyperpowered and demands the secret of this limitless energy. Probe refuses the bribes he’s offered and wrecks the energy transfer machine, which Hughes announces is tantamount to a death sentence. Um, can’t you just build a new one?

Then Probe makes a run for it with gunmen hot on his tail. He jumps into the buggy and, despite the niece’s warnings that it’s too dangerous (wait, what is she doing in this story at all?), he uses two other sports cars as ramps and leaps over the wall, narrowly avoiding the electrified gate.

This doesn’t stop the gun-toting henchmen, though, who charge after Probe and, according to the comic, ‘(forget) the precautions against intruders’ and run right into the electrified gate, killing themselves.

How is that even possible – even if the guys could possibly forget that the gate was electrified, which is a stretch, why on earth would they touch it? They live at this facility and see people coming and going all the time, so they know it’s an automatic gate. So why grab the gate instead of running for the controls? That’s like chasing someone out of a building by leaping through a closed window rather than following them through the open door.

Amazingly, that’s the end of the story. Probe escaped, Howard wasn’t brought to justice in any meaningful way, and his niece’s role in the plot is as inexplicable as it was two pages ago when she was introduced.

We’re coming back to this story, right? This isn’t the end, is it?

Thrill 6 – Judge Dredd

We’re introduced to a new kind of future crime in this week’s Judge Dredd – Hit Men who want to kill Judges just for the hell of it! I’m specifically talking about ‘Gorilla’, a mook with a solar-powered laser cannon and a gang of goons who introduces himself by blasting Judge Carter!

After the bike and Judge have been reduced to a pile of ash the Grand Judge arrives at the crime scene to talk to Dredd. It seems that Gorilla has been killing Judges in alphabetical order! First Abel, then Baker, then Carter, and now Dredd has received a note announce that he’ll be killed at noon, when the sun is at its peak!

Dredd’s having none of that, of course, and after getting a warrant from the Grand Judge he drives for the weather control offices (last seen creating the thunderstorm that took down the Heavy Metal Kids during the robot revolution) with Gorilla’s gang tailing him from a discrete distance.

With the time closing in on noon, they resolve to blast Dredd as soon as he walks out of the offices. But when he does, he’s accompanied by a cloud bank that blots out the sun! It was a weather warrant he got from the Grand Judge! Oh, that crafty Dredd, what won’t you think of?

With the solar cannon (which has no internal batteries, it seems) functionally useless, the Gorilla gang make a run for it with Dredd in hot pursuit. Dredd guns two of them down before they make it more than a few meters, forcing Gorilla to flee into weather control. Taking an elevator to the upper levels, the sniper comes across a scientist holding a monkey-

Poor Gorilla. He didn’t stop to wonder just why the scientist was carrying a monkey. No, it wasn’t a ‘dark room’ at all. It was the passenger chamber of a rocket – a rocket aimed straight at the sun!

Yes, the sun. The monkey was going to presumably be put in stasis for the three year trip to the sun and back. The idea, according to an automated voice, is that if the test subject returns alive, then it will be safe to set up a sun-monitoring space station in solar orbit. Naturally Dredd takes this opportunity to point out the irony inherent in Gorilla’s fate:

It’s weird, I don’t really remember Dredd being this quippy. Is this going to stop at some point, or am I just remembering it wrong?

Judge Dredd Kill Count (23)+2=25

Final Thoughts

Best Story: Shako – I don’t know what it is about that monstrous polar bear, but I sure am enjoying all his murderin’. Even if it is a little quick for my tastes.

Worst Story: MACH 1 – A frequent resident of the worst story slot, I don’t know what the hell was going on with MACH 1 this week. The story wasn’t resolved in any way, shape, or form, but it didn’t end with a cliffhanger either. I do reserve the right to take this back if next week’s issue picks up where this one left off, though.

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