12.1.19

Programme 42 (10-December-77)

Cover:

Alien zoo? Alien casino? Shrunken-down people? Who can say?

Programme 41 (3-December-77)

Cover:

Ah, monsters who enjoy humans as food. Does a more solid sci-fi premise exist anywhere?

Programme 40 (26-November-77)

Cover:
I know what the secret of the Microverse is. It’s that it was drawn by Kevin O’Neill. And then ripped off by Marvel.

Thrill 1 – Judge
Dredd (Wagner/Ward/Jacob)

There’s an annual tradition in the future – a deadly Motorcycle race spanning the entire length of the super-sized city. That race? The Mega-City 5000, so called because five thousand bikers take part, vying to deliver honor to their gang for the rest of the year.

The two gangs are led by
Zoot Smiley and Spikes ‘Harvey’ Rotten. Oh, cool – that’s going to be an important name soon. Although he’s going to be drawn differently.

Really, really differently.

The bikers don’t care who they run over or off the road, which means the Judges have to do their best to stop the race by setting up roadblocks. Which the bikers believe they can cut through like it was ‘
Synth-Marge’, which is I guess what they call margarine in the future.

How do they manage it? A rookie judge hopes over the barricade because he’s so excited to beat up some bikers, and winds up knocked unconscious – this leaves his riot shield perched at just the right angle to use as a ramp!

The judges manage to stop a large portion of the bikers, but the leaders and a few of their men make it through – they won’t be stopped until the next installment!

Despite the vicious
clubbings, we don’t actually see Dredd kill anyone, so the kill count remains at 42.

Thrill 2 – Future Shock (Lock/Goring/Knight)

In deep space a group of miners are looking for the rock full of gold or lead that will make them rich enough to retire in luxury. They’
ve got to be careful, though, because old space legends tell of asteroids that turn out to be giant space-eggs!

So guess what they run into just moments after the story opens?
And that’s not the worst of it – the ‘SKRAA’ is the space monster calling for its mother… but does it want its real mother, or has it imprinted on the mining ship?

Find out next time!

Thrill 3 – Invasion (Finley-Day/Dorey/
Nuttal)

The boys have been running for weeks, and things are getting desperate. They’ll only be able to stay under the radar for so long before the
Volgs catch up with them. Luckily the exiled Brits have a plan – use the Canadian navy to draw the Nazi fleet away while sending a single warship to pick up the Prince.

Their plan left one thing out of the equation – that there was a
possibility that planes as well as other boats can attack Canadian vessels.



The people in the Nazi jet eject, but that
doesn’t save them, as Savage is waiting below to blast them like clay pigeons. Savage then sends a message back to Canada – he’ll be handling the escape plans from now on.
THARG’S NERVE CENTER

Ah, the fantastic journey. Although that
doesn’t make a lot of sense – I mean, what, they didn’t understand it was a possibility that the guy could have died during the operation? Isn’t that a planned-for expectation in every surgical procedure?

Thrill 4 – Dan Dare (Finley-Day/Gibbons/Gibbons)

It seems that the Dark Lord we met last time has an incongruous ultimate power (based on the name) – he plans to subdue the uprising on planet
Minia with a ‘Shining Star’, an impossibly bright and hypnotic light that renders resistance fighters unable to defend themselves from the attacking StarSlayers!

Other than Bear, who was still hanging out with the slaves, the rest of Dan’s crew are busy repairing the space fort, well out of the Shining Star’s range. This allows them to beat back the attacking
Starslayers rather easily – they’d assumed that they were going to be dealing with club-wielding miners, not a state-of-the-art attack craft.

Dan and company grab Bear from out of the crowd of hypnotized criminals, then blast off, making good their escape. One problem – they don’t know how the rebellion was stopped so abruptly. Which means their next goal is to figure out why Bear is suddenly an SS-loving zombie, because if they can’t stop the technology, there’ll never be any chance of overthrowing the Empire!


Thrill 5 – MACH 1 (
Hebden/Lozano/Canos/Potter)

There’s trouble up in space – American satellites are being shot out of the sky by a mysterious satellite killer! In a seemingly unconnected mystery, John Probe is telling him to be at a
rendez-vous that very afternoon.

When he arrives out in the field it turns out to be a
meeting that only the MACH Man could attend – a helicopter that comes zooming by with its ladder hanging down, and he has to jump into the air to grab on.

It seems that the American Air Force needs Probe’s help. They think the Russians have developed a ‘death ray’ that can fire through vacuum, destroying spacecraft! So why the hush-hush grabbing of Probe? It seems both the CIA and MI6 don’t believe the theory, and don’t want to both with the expense of checking it out. So the RAF and NASA are recruiting the best spy/pilot they can find for the job. And in a cutaway we learn that Sharpe
isn’t at all happy with that particular development.

He
expresses this displeasure by having an operative drug Probe and his rogue CIA liaison on the way to the shuttle. This doesn’t phase Probe, of course, who’s still aware enough to break a window, sucking the gun out, disarming the agent and putting Probe back in control.
After arriving safely in America Probe climbs into the experimental one-man jet and blasts into low orbit. Up there he finds the satellite wreckage, and it was clearly destroyed by something nastier than a meteorite. But were the Russians responsible? Probe sees a Russian space capsule floating through space, about to be shot by what’s clearly the death ray device! Can he save the day? Let’s find out next week!

Thrill 6 – Inferno (Tully/
Belardinelli/Nuttall)

Things are going badly for the Washington Wolves. Now that they’
ve been drugged with LSD all the bikers have crashed and the Cave Man is trapped in a killing frenzy. According to the commentators this means that the team is going to have to forfeit.

I’m not sure about that rule –
shouldn’t the fact that half of the team has been drugged lead the refs to stop the game and begin an investigation? Thus voiding all bets on the game?

That’s one of the reasons that people fixing games tend not to poison entire teams.

Apparently rules are stupider in the future, though, and the Wolves have lost the game. The Heroes
aren’t taking it lying down, though – they rush into the locker room area to confront their manager, Charlie Vance with the chewing gum theory. He reacts in a predictable fashion:

Vance rushes out to the parking lot and jumps into his hovercraft, but when he turns it on the ship immediately explodes!

Yeah, because that’s not suspicious at all. Everyone on one team winds up drugged and incapacitated, and their manager is blown up. What bookie on earth would ever pay off that bet?

Of course, there’s still the matter of the five thousand dollars that have been secreted away in the Heroes’ possessions. You know, if Charlie
hadn’t pulled a gun he could have just told the cops that the Heroes spiked the gum – he freaked out because he was confronted with the idea of it being turned over to the cops – but wasn’t his plan to frame them? Shouldn’t he have just had the cops search the place, and let the cops come to their own conclusion?

Which is what happens – so how are the Heroes going to get out of this one?

More importantly, though, why would a single bookie ever pay off a bet made on this game? You know the term ‘All bets are off’? It was invented to deal with situations exactly like this one.

Final Thoughts

Best Story: Judge
Dredd – It was the first appearance of Spikes ‘Harvey’ Rotten. If you don’t know why he’s important right now, believe me, you will soon enough. (Actually I have no idea when the story that features him is going to come up.)

Worst Story: Weirdly, I
didn’t actually have a particular problem with any of this week’s episodes! Great work, 2000AD!

9.1.19

Programme 39 (19-November-77)

Cover:
Is it just me, or are the SuperCovers quickly becoming the best part of this comic? Not their stories of course, which invariably disappoint, but the covers themselves are just wonderful.

Although I’ve got to ask – just what is that Alien looking at?

Thrill 1 – Judge Dredd (Wagner/McMahon/Jacob)

It’s kind of a big deal when Judge Dredd is moved up to first story status, and on the very first page of this story I can already tell that the placement is entirely justified.

I’m going to present three separate images from the first page that conspire to make it my favorite Dredd story to date:

Dredd has an office. With a glass window and a stencilled name. And a secretary who tells mugs that they can’t go in to see him when he’s busy.

None of those things can possibly be true, and yet there they are.

It’s a story about genetically-engineered gangster monkeys. For the first time I’m really going to question the primacy of Supercovers, because damn, did these guys need to be on the front of the comic.

And, why, may you ask, are they visiting Dredd? Because they want to him to stop a rival gang (of not-apes) from muscling in on their territory. How does Dredd respond to the threat?

He called them Hyper-Hoods. Because he knows that they’re all living in the future, and must be differentiated from the common ‘hoods’ that people a hundred and twenty-two years earlier are more familiar with.

God, this is a great comic.

Now it’s time for a little background. It seems that the ‘Great Holocaust’, which I assume is the nuclear war that wiped out most of America, wiped out all normal animals, leaving only those who were confined to zoos alive. Some years later humans developed the technology to super-evolve animal brains, making them capable of speaking and wearing clothes. This new condition made leaving them in captivity seem barbaric, so all the apes were moved into simian slums, where, naturally, they formed criminal gangs.

You know, I’m suddenly uncomfortable with the fact that this issue seems to be drawing a straight line of comparison between apes and Italians.

Anyhoo, the gang wars naturally followed the formation of gangs-

Yeah, there’s nothing that’s not wonderful about this story. Other than the racism. Which gets worse in the next scene, when Dredd visits Uggie’s mother, hoping to get her to testify against him:

Dredd gets the information somehow, and when the ape gang stages their next raid on the east-side mob, Dredd and a whole passel of Judges are ready and waiting to stop them:

Things don’t go well for the apes, what with them being a gang of simians up against the best-trained law-enforcement officers in the history of the world. Once the gang has been subdued Uggie makes the most insane claim I’ve ever read-

Really? This is a police state. Making a new law is no more complicated then typing a few lines into a computer. We’re expected to believe that the judges would make Apes citizens with all the rights and privileges that entails, but not bother to include them in the legal system? It may be a little stupid, but at least the stupidity is in service of a twist ending:

Yup, the survivng ape criminals are thrown back in the zoo. Ah, irony. We love you so.

Judge Dredd Kill Count (42)+0=42 (Yeah, he killed a few criminals this time, but they were apes, but I’m not counting them, as I won’t kill aliens when Dredd gets around to killing some. I will, however, count Mutants when they appear).

Thrill 2 – Invasion (Finley-Day/Pino/Nuttall)

Bill, Silk, and Prince John are still on the lam, desperately trying to make it out of the country before the Volgs catch them and gain a vital propaganda coup. Ducking through the streets of Dundee they come across a boarding house – at first the old ladies that run the place refuse to let them in, but after noticing the Prince they change their tune.

No sooner have the boys gotten settled into the inn then a group of Volgs turn up, demanding billets for the night. They start pushing around the ‘civillians’ who are already staying there, and the old ladies can’t contain themselves at the sight of their soverign being insulted. A fracas quickly begins, but Silk and Savage manage to dispatch the Volgs quietly, but not before their leader gets a call off to headquarters.

The boys hie to the rooftops, and see the old ladies packed into a van because HQ heard that ‘women’ were somehow involved in the Prince’s escape. Bill decides to make good on the old women’s sacrifice – they dress up in drag and walk up to a checkpoint at the edge of the city, then gun down all the Volgs operating it, then flee into the countryside.

Wait, what about the old women? Ah, well it seems that Bill has thought of that – he assumes that when the Volgs hear that they blew apart the checkpoint in drag, they’ll figure that’s what the ‘women’ comment was related to, and let the old gals go.

Two problems with that logic – A: They killed everyone at the checkpoint, so who’s going to report on how they were dressed, and 2: Since when did the Nazis need an excuse to kill Brits?

But I’m guessing we’re not supposed to be thinking about any of that…

THARG’S NERVE CENTRE

Have I ever told you the story of Rocket Robin Hood? He stole from the Cosmic rich, to give to the Astral poor.

Don’t know what made me think of that just now.

Thrill 3 – Dan Dare (Finley-Day/Gibbons)

It’s step one of Dan’s undercover trip to the heart of the Starslayer empire: Pretend to be slaves, and hope the fact that one of you has a gun for a hand doesn’t tip off your captors that something’s awry. They witness a mining accident, and rush to help out, then see there was no point, when the SS enacts their policy of executing wounded slaves!

They bide their time and wait for night, then Hitman subtly shoots out the floodlights, and they go searching around the compound. Dan is spotted by a guard and attacked, but Dan manages to use science to short-circuit his electro-whip, killing him. Apparently he was the only guard at the entire site, and they’re able to put together all the parts they need to repair their ship.

In addition, the example they set by killing the guard has inspired the Minian miners to join the resistance! Which is news that doesn’t sit to well with the Not-Vader who sits upon his throne on the planet Starslay.

Hold on a minute… the planet StarSlay? That can’t be right, can it?

Thrill 4 – MACH 1 (Hebden/Lozano/Potter)

Mach Man and Mach Woman have arrived at the lab of the Eastern scientists who are perverting the MACH process. They’ve also come across the scientist’s latest creation – MACH Children of the Damned! The Hyper-kids easily take down the two MACH agents, and the scientist begins his gloating.

While the scientist explains his scheme to dissect Tanya in hopes of figuring out why she turned traitor to the cause, one of the MACH-tots loosens his grip on Probe, giving him a chance to get free!

MACH 1 races to the room where Tanya is being held and breaks her chains, then sends her down to the record room to destroy all of the scientist’s research. Meanwhile Probe has to buy her some time… by killing dozens of Hyper-children with a titanium chain!

When Tanya gets back from destroying the tapes she sees that Probe is just moments from being overrun. There’s only one way to save him – by using all her strength to shove a defunct tank into the scientist’s lab, destroying all the machinery that allows him to control the MACHKids!

All of the kids instantly go blank, and MACH Man is saved, but Tanya isn’t so lucky. The force rquired to move the tank burnt her out compeltely and she tragically dies after bidding Probe a tearful farewell.

This pisses off Probe something fierce, and he races back to Sharpe’s office, demanding an explanation for how Sharpe seems to know so much about the enemy’s MACH program… Sharpe refuses to answer, leaving Probe angry, and determined to uncover his secrets, but it will have to wait until next week…

Thrill 5 – Inferno (Tully/Belardinelli/Nuttall)

With half the team tripping on LSD and one of the bikers burned alive, the remaining Wolves (or as we know them, the Harlem Heroes) have their work cut out for them. ‘Moody’ Bloo, the team’s ‘cave-man’ can’t even see the ball to block a shot on goal, and collapses into the cinders a moment later. ‘Junk’, the team leader, who still hasn’t fallen victim to the drugs, calls a time out and has his fallen players replaced.

That doesn’t do much good, though, as the rest of the team continues to fall victim to their poisoning – which allows the Heroes to figure out the common factor. Everyone chewed the gum provided by the manager other than them!

But that’s not the end of Charlie Vance’s (because that’s his name, apparently) plan. No, he proceeds to plant cash into the Heroes’ lockers so it looks like they sabotaged their own team for the cash!

Given their reputations, I don’t see this going well for ‘ol Charlie.

Final Thoughts

Best Story: Judge Dredd – Yeah, this wasn’t merely the best story this week, it might be the best Dredd story ever. If there’s two things I love it’s monkey stories and hilariously over-the-top racism, and this combined the two into a delicious stew of insulting craziness. I wonder how long it’s going to take before they top this one? I’m guessing not until Brian Bolland starts drawing Dredd.

Worst Story: Everything other than Dredd. The apes owned this week. I can barely remember anything else that happened, and I’ve just finished reading the stories.

Programme 38 (12-November-77)

Programme 38 (12-Nov-77)

Cover:

It’s a rock that’s also a dragon. In space. If you don’t understand why that’s great, then what the hell are you doing here? There aren’t any words you could have mistyped that would have brought you to ‘Vardulon.com’.

Thrill 1 – Inferno (Tully/Belardinelli/Nuttall)

With their first game won, the Washington Wolves, which now officially contains the remnants of the Harlem Heroes, are sharpening their skills in a practice game. The main thrust of the scene is that the Heroes’ love of showing off actually works as a viable tactic in Inferno as well. Far more importantly, though, we finally learn Slim’s last name. It’s Shafto. Slim Shafto.

How did I not know this already?

The manager compliments them on their new strategy, and mentions that they’re now the 20-1 favorites to win the next game! Which is just a crazy number on its face. No matter how well that one game went, this is still a low-ranked team with three key members that have only been playing for a week.

The crazy odds draw the attention of some mysterious figures, who threaten the manager’s life if they don’t cause the Heroes to lose their next game. Wait, the Wolves. I’ve got to get that into my head. The Washington Wolves.

Fearing for his life, the manager agrees to sabotage his own team. Well, at least this time around the motivation makes a little more sense. HH’s Ulysses Cord didn’t really work as a villain – wanted to make Aeroball more vicious? A cabal of evil gamblers looking to fix games, while entirely cliched, can at least be related to by the audience.

So how do they conspire to fix the game? By replacing the team’s medicinal gum with a hallucinogenic substitute!

Yeah, that’s some genuinely creepy stuff right there…

Anyhow, the Heroes aren’t affected, because they enjoy chewing old Heroes medicinal gum for luck. What a happy accident! But with one of their bikers already dead (yes, he was killed in an accident immediately, that’s what happens when you crash a gas vehicle onto a bed of hot coals), can they possibly win the game?

We’ll find out next week!

Thrill 2 – Judge Dredd (Wagner/Gibson/Jacob)

This week we get an interesting look into the mindset of the citizens of Mega-City 1, as a mother warns her child to be good, lest Judge Dredd burst into their home in the dead of night and drag him away. Which, naturally, is what happens a moment later. It’s not as bad as it sounds, though, as everyone learns when Dredd tears the child’s head from his body.

Yes, it seems that this is how industrial espionage works in the future. You kidnap a child and replace them with a robot which then overhears the domestic conversations of high-powered executives. Dredd’s got a plan though – he leaves the headless roboy on the floor of the bedroom, assuming that evil corporate henchmen will show up to repair their spy.

Luckily this is exactly what happens, giving Dredd someone who he can stick a gun in the face of and demand information from. It seems that he’s working for the eccentric trillionaire Hugh Howards! Yup, they’re going after Howard Hughes again. I never get tired of people taking shots at that guy.

Now we get a look inside of Howards’ facility, where, amazingly, the children haven’t been killed.

Although, really, isn’t being fed by a robot a fate worse than death?

Dredd and Giant, the blaxploitation Judge, show up a moment later and shoot the place up. Hugh runs off with Billy, but then trips and stumbles off the edge of a skyscraper, which, sadly, is not how the actual Howard Hughes died. Billy’s saved, though, and the story closes with another family watching the wrapup on the nightly news. And yes, because John Wagner has heard of bookending, the mother threatens the child with the wrath of Dredd is he misbehaves.

Judge Dredd Kill Count (41)+1=42 (Hugh’s death doesn’t count – while Dredd was chasing him, it’s not like he pushed the guy.)

Thrill 3 – Invasion (Finley-Day/Pino/Frame)

Picking right where the last story left off, Prince John is hiding in the mountains, lest the Volgs get a hold of him and score an amazing propaganda coup! Bill Savage is having none of that, though – his plan: smuggle John out of the country without letting anyone know he was ever there.

There’s a hitch, though – there’s yet another traitor in the midst of their resistance gang, and this time he’s an offensive racial charicature! Yup, ‘Gypsy Jake’ knows his way around jewelry, and is able to identify John’s royal ring, which Bill allowed him to continue wearing for some reason.

Naturally this leads to to Bill’s squad being attacked by Volg shock troopers as they flee. As usual there’s a low-tech solution to the problem, in this case axes! The resistance throws them at the shock troopers, miraculously cutting their ropes, sending them plummeting to their deaths.

You know, it might have been easier to just throw the axes at the soldiers themselves. Bigger target, and, last time I checked, axes are just as effective as cutting into flesh as they are slicing through ropes.

The axes, along with a few molotov cocktails, manage to bring down the helicopters, saving the day. Out of the burning wreck crawls Gypsy Jake, who was stupid enough to come on the attack with his Nazi partners. He’s still a little alive, and begs John for a pardon over the whole ‘treason’ thing, but Bill Savage shoots him in the back, mid-conversation. As usual Bill was right to execute the guy, though, since he had a concealed knife that he’d planned to use on Prince John when he got close enough.

Thrill 4 – Dan Dare (?/Gibbons)

Quite recently Dan Dare made the ill-considered decision to wage war on the Starslayer empire. This could cause a few problems because Dan just has the one ship, while the Starslayers have a dozen slave worlds devoted to producing their weapons.

There’s one thing the Starslayers don’t have, though – a pilot who’s a vetran of the ‘Solar Wars’, which I’m sure bore no legal similarities to a cetain series of movies.

Through a series of clever techniques Dan’s ship destroys his two pursuers, then sets down on the closest slave world they can find to do a little recon about the starslayers’ operation. How are they going to do this? By landing their huge space fortress out of sight of the mining facility and covering their stupidly gigantic ship with tarps. Then Dan, Bear, and Hitman strip off their shirts and decide to go undercover as slaves, hoping to pull a Spartacus and destroy the Starslayer Empire from the ground up.

That’s how the Spartacus story ended, right? With him destroying the Roman empire?

Also, didn’t it occur to them that a guy with a gun welded to his hand might not be able to blend seamlessly into a group of slaves?

Actually, rapping your suspiciously long and pointy hand in a rag will actually serve to draw more attention to it.

THARG’S NERVE CENTRE

I know I’ve already chided this comic time and again for its overly-optimistic guesses about the speed at which technology advances, but wow, is this one just ridiculous. Galactic tourism by the late 90s? Compared to that the concept of a giant living space rock monster is entirely believable.

Thrill 5 – MACH 1 (Hebden/Lozano&Canos/Potter)

So MACH Man and MACH Woman are on a train, faced with the worst choice of their lives – jump out of it to the city a hundred feet below, or get shot! Obviously they decide to jump, and it goes amazingly well.

They crash through the roof of a family’s house, destroying both their dinner and shelter. After ruining the family’s chances of surviving the winter, MACH 1 and 2 sprint through the woods towards their objective, the MACH research facility, pausing only to lament the fact that they’re no longer able to sleep. Did we already know this?

The MACHs pole-vault over the fence into the vacility, and it’s here that we finally learn the difference between the two kinds of MACH people:

Yup – they’re exactly as strong as one another, but one uses dashes, while the other employs astrices. Devious.

They beat a few people up and make their way into the surprisingly poorly-guarded facility, only to find that the inner sanctum is protected by a Hyper-hound. While a terrifying concept – a dog with all the power of a MACH Man, it proves to be something of an anti-climax, and is beaten to death with an iron pipe moments after its first appearance.

The defeat of the hound doesn’t phase Doctor Horowitz, who reveals himself as the mastermined of the MACH 2 project. And he’s just developed a new product in the line:

Yikes! Children of the Damned!

Thrill 6 – Future Shock

It’s time for part 2 of Robot Repairs, in which Zak and Daryl, the shirtless leathermen who repair robots for a living, endeavour to sabotage the production of a new line of self-fixing robots. When we last saw them they were being attacked by that selfsame robot. Can they escape this terrible fate?

So, is everybody ready for the big twist?
Yes, the gay mechanics are actually self-repairing robots themselves! And they were so determined to remain the only self-repairing robots in existence that they murdered their own inventor as well!

Final Thoughts

Best Story: Judge Dredd – I’ve got to say, anything that grows the mythology of Dredd’s world is my cup of tea.

Worst Story: Future Shock – Um, what the hell was that? Let’s say the gay robots for some reason wanted to remain the only self-repairing robots in existence. Why did they also become robot repairmen? And why don’t they wear shirts?

To cleanse your palette, here’s a diagram of Dan Dare’s awesome landing craft!