A nice Kevin O’Neill cover opens up the first non-weekly publication from the House of Tharg, depicting some sort of war robot with a back-mounted flamethrower. Nice piece and totally unrelated to anything of the regular strips appearing within the pages of the first Sci-Fi Special (not that it’s called a Sci-Fi special for this first summer). Cover price is 30p, compared to the usual 8p, and tough luck, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Asteroid Belt and Saturn – there’s no Galactic Groat price, so presumably (unlike the weekly Prog) it wasn’t available outside of Earth’s atmosphere.
Nestling between Progs 19 and 20, the splash pages are pretty similar to the first Prog of the main comic itself, with introductions to Flesh (the first book of which ended the same week this was published), Invasion!, Harlem Heroes, Dan Dare, M.A.C.H.1 and Judge Dredd.
The first actual comic story pages go to the Harlem Heroes, who are on their way to Seattle. Despite the Seattle Swifts making their appearance in the second prog of 2000AD, there is now mention of them, with the Sluggers taking the limelight. They’re sponsored by a robotics company, have no visible faces and it comes us no surprise when they turn out to be robots. The six-page story can’t finish soon enough.
Next is a text piece, attempting to answer the question “what will we look like in 52,000 A.D.?” which displays lack of understanding of natural selection, biology, genetics. Well, either a lack of understanding or just outdated theories – I’m not going to delve too far to figure out which this two-page article is a victim of.
Judge Dredd makes an appearance next, and this is the earliest actual comic story I’ve seen to be illustrated by Kevin O’Neill. I’ve got to be honest, the only elements which show Kev’s spark are the robots, the detailing of the ‘lawgiver’ (which looks more like the lawrod) and the writing in the background of the first frame. His figure work betrays that this is his early work, though even this isn’t as bad as the script. The still unnamed Chief Judge considers that if Dredd is only at 99% fitness then he may as well have been killed in a terrorist bomb blast. As we will see again in the first batch of 2000AD/Dan Dare annuals, Dredd is happy in these early days of 2000AD to falsify the paperwork from those he kills…
Invasion! tells the tale of the Brigadier’s capture by the Volgs. In the first story of this special which actually feels like it’s part of the series it purports to be from, Savage manages to kick through Roman walls to save the Brig from a firing squad. Not the most creative of tales, though Savage’s attitude towards the Brig and the last-panel monologue about kicking the Volgs out of the country is just like a number of the regular episodes.
Another text feature in the form of a question, “Will They Believe Their Eyes?” concerns itself with how tricks of the light might affect astronauts and takes this as an excuse to print a few well-known optical illusions.
Dan Dare went on a lacklustre 8-page trip to the Anti-Universe (composed of Anti-Matter). The art is atrocious and the story is only slightly better. Dan Dare and company (pre-dating his expulsion from S.A.S.A.) are dragged to said universe by the People of the Wa where he is told a couple of times that he shall be told why he has been brought to the universe, which they won’t do until they’ve taken him to their huge city. We’re told it’s a city a couple of times, but there’s no sign of this on the page. Once they do get around to telling him it turns out they want to know where his home planet is so that they can a matter/anti-matter explosion to create an energy-wave to propel their planet. There seems to be no reason that they should use a populated planet for this. Rather than suggest they use an unpopulated planet, Dare destroys their planet in a Starquake instead, presumably genocidally wiping out their species. The only points of interest in this story were the watery speech bubbles that Ranunculus (leader of the People of the Wa) used, and the portrait-shaped double-splash page which we’ve seen a few times in Dan Dare.
The centre pages are given to a cut-and-paste picture of various 2000AD characters from the past nineteen weeks. I don’t think there’s any original artwork on display here, we just get coloured pictures of a Heavy Metal Kid, Judge Dredd, Dan Dare, the Biog, the Mekon, Harlem Heroes, Bill Savage, John Probe, Reagan and Old One Eye.
M.A.C.H.1 goes off on a possibly illegal mission to a third world country on behalf of the British government. A so-so episode of Probe dabbling in West African affairs with quite murky artwork from an artist I didn’t recognise.
The next section sees the 2000 A.D. Crossword, the cover story, putting words to Kevin O’Neill’s cover artwork in The Thing From Nowhere! and What’s Your Space IQ? quiz Before the format was formally created, this was basically a Future Shock but presented in a Supercover Saga style (which had just started running in the weekly). It had a twist ending in the last three paragraphs (of 18). Pretty good dialogue, especially compared to just about everything else in this special.
The Phantom Patrol is up next, and was reprinted from a previous IPC comic, Swift. IPC policy was that any reprint had to be older than five years. As 2000AD was only nineteen weeks old at the time, this meant that the editor (Mills, Gosnell?) had to look to older comics to plunder for filler material. I wont say much about Phantom Patrol, as it wasn’t produced by the House of Tharg, though will note that art was provided by Gerry Embleton, brother of Ron Embleton, a bone fide art droid. The story is reasonable enough, and the craftsmanship from Gerry may not be as inspiring as some art droids, but it stands out above the other art displayed in this special.
The next two pages are given to photos from forthcoming (!) film Star Wars. To highlight this, the copy shows a picture of Han Solo but captions it ‘Luke Skywalker takes a break with one of his friends’. The text that accompanies the photos makes the most of the fairly obvious lack of information they had about the film, being reminiscent of some of the speculation surrounding The Force Awakens before it was released a few weeks ago (but with even less idea of the content of the film).
Almost rounding off the special we get a Flesh story, and what a strangely-paced story it is. A rival corporation to Trans-Time plans to assassinate Reagan through the use of a bounty hunter. So far, so much like the Invasion! story Quarry from a month or two earlier. In a six-page story, the bounty hunter doesn’t even get near Reagan until the penultimate page, in the last panel of which he makes his move. In the very next panel, one of Reagan’s men lassos the bounty hunter. Trans-Time gets a much-needed rival corporation, but that’s about the only high-point of this story. I can only presume this marked the debut of the writer and artist involved. If so, then I hope they improved drastically by the time they got their next work.
Actually rounding off this special is the back page feature on stamps featuring real-life space exploits, to match all those adverts we’ve been getting in the weeklies.
I may have mentioned in an earlier post that the cheaper weekly had to have higher production standards so that children would continue to buy them, while more expensive annuals just had to be in colour so that parents and other older relatives would buy them as presents. This is also pretty apparent in the 30p Summer Supercomic, versus the 8p weekly programmes.