Where to start? Firstly, this was supposed to be the next prog, but a few pages in I noticed that there was an ad for the first 2000 A.D. Annual and after a quick search to try to find out what date it was published it looks like it was after the last prog I did a post on and before the one I was working on now (that post currently in drafts). I’ve just thought – does that mean the first Dan Dare Annual came out at the same time? Shall have to try to find out before going on to the next weekly.
Quite a few things have interrupted the Back Prog Hack since I wrote the previous paragraph. The most significant is that I moved house. It’s interrupted the reading, but I now have the possibility of access to all of my progs with the minimum of fuss (not quite yet, but it’s within sight). The second snag is the nature of IPC annuals in the late 1970s. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this somewhere before, but at the time the weekly prog cost 9p, i.e. a child’s pocket money, along with a pack of crisps and a few penny sweets. The annual cost £1.00, a veritable fortune, and would be bought by parents or grandparents. A weekly comic has to have some care put in to it as the person buying it would be reading it. An annual is not read by the person paying for it, so as long as it’s thick and has a shiny hardback cover the quality of writing and art doesn’t have to be up to scratch. There would also be a fairly hefty chunk would be reprint material. They weren’t entirely mercenary though, as IPC had a policy of not reprinting material less than five years old. This presented its own problem though, as the pre-2000AD British comics had been in a bit of a stylistic stasis for decades (with notable exceptions for Action, Battle and other comics that had involvement from Pat Mills, John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra). The lower standard of content has led to this blog hitting a bit of a wall – 2000AD was created in part as a reaction against the kinds of stories that are in this first annual. If you’re reading this then I managed to get through it, so here goes.
We have an inauspicious start, with a generic space hero cover that almost appears to have had a DD added at the last minute to tie it in to Dan Dare (though the presence of a green winged demonic alien suggests it was at least commissioned with the opening story in mind). The contents page has a photo of the Earth from the moon – hopefully it won’t be too many years before well-known 2000AD artists are hired to provide content page art.
The first story pages are a Massimo Belardinelli-drawn DD strip in full colour. There are no credits, so I’m not sure who wrote this Star Trek knock-off and who added colour to Belardinelli’s art. Dan and Wally Carter get transported through a custom-made black hole where they encounter a criminal executed six months earlier, who has teamed up with a child who possesses god-like powers. Worth looking at for the art, though not MB’s best.
The annual takes a break from comic strip pages for an article on the space shuttle, a puzzle page showing close-ups of everyday objects, a small Betelgeusian vocabulary, a few paragraphs speculating on submarine oil tankers and a more in-depth article about the space race.
Back to comic pages for Tank Trap, an unbranded Invasion story. It seems very similar to Ships from Prog 9, though instead of being detected by defensive technology, a Volg somehow manages to see bubbles on the surface of the sea in the middle of the night. I’m not sure, but I think this story represents Jim Baikie’s first work for 2000AD. If so, his work on established characters (Bill, Silk and the Brigadier) are not his strong point here, though incidental characters are what lead me to believe that Jim has provided the art.
Kevin O’Neill provides Hunted, a Future Shock style short, possibly both written and drawn by Kevin. A primitive alien, cross between a monkey and something with striped Nemesis-style legs awakens in an unfamiliar environment and spends the strip being hunted by various predators. The splash page reveal on the final page shows a space station used for safari tourism. The space station shares the design of many 1970s and 1980s concept art images of space colonies.
It looks like John Richardson draws the next strip up, a M.A.C.H. 1 tale opening with Probe jumping from a plane into a restricted military area on Salisbury plain. Again, it’s only one or two faces which look like they could be by Richardson.
A Harlem Heroes story next – don’t know who the writer was, but they seem to be fresh (or stale) from putting out thirty-years out-of-date racist tripe equating all Germans (even future ones) with Nazis – in story this would be around 105 years after the end of World War Two. The captain of the Berlin Blitzkriegs (really) refers to Giant as ‘black boy’, which might paint him as an evil racist if the rest of the strip wasn’t filled with stereotypes.
The third article about the space race before a Future Shock style story called End of Voyage. No surprises – a schooner sailor gets caught in an H-bomb test, a year later he has nightmares about a nuclear holocaust and resolves to keep away from land and people. As he nears the end of the Trans-Atlantic Race and sees New York still standing he thinks everything is going to be all right, just as the bombs start landing.
A typical children’s annual humour and quiz page before yet another article about space travel, this time supporting all those adverts for stamps that we get in the weekly.
On to another Future Shock style short, this time with art by Belardinelli. The art for The Dream Machine is much better than the Dan Dare story in this annual, but unfortunately it’s black and white with orange colouring-in. No idea why IPC thought it was a good idea to do this – it’s not colour and it’s not black and white, looks terrible and spoils the artwork. The story itself is shows the first test of a machine that reads people’s dreams. One of the laboratory technicians is furious that the test shows the dreamer teaching a neanderthal how to create fire, so much so that they try to smash the machine while the test subject is still inside. How they got that job I don’t know. The next test shows the dreamer flying beyond either our universe or our galaxy (the scientist observing doesn’t appear to know the difference). The dreamer flies beyond anything humanity has ever seen, then fades from view while one of the technicians is blinded. The main scientist continues to watch the screen, hoping to find out the secret of the universe (or galaxy, or something) and in the final panel is shown dead on the floor while the blinded technician asks what he saw, in vain. Pretty pointless altogether, Belardinelli’s talents could have been put to much better use.
Now we come to Judge Dredd. The story is untitled, though has since been named Videophones.
It opens with the much-lampooned splash page with the Chief Judge declaring that they have called a meeting of all the judges of Mega-City One. This has two issues. First, if all the judges are there, who’s keeping an eye on the perps? Secondly, they all fit around one table – there’s space for ten or eleven, tops. A judge must police roughly 90 million citizens each. In the midst of the meeting, one of the judges goes berzerk, shooting four of those others (or ‘rubbing out’, as one of the survivors declares) before being taken down by Dredd. So if there were ten before the meeting, there are only five judges in the Mega-City now. Hmm… Anyway, logistics aside, those present get a call from Videophone Security, who inform them of that a ‘deep psyche hypnosis’ message had been made to Steele (the affected judge). What would have been really great would have been for them to have contacted this meeting before half the city’s judges had been rubbed out, but you can’t have everything. As there is no way to stop or cure this hypnotic programming, the Chief Judge orders all judges not to use videophones to avoid a repeat attack, so Dredd almost immediately makes a call to the operator, who is caught in flagrante with another operator. There is absolutely no point to this – the operator begs Dredd not to report them, and Dredd agrees. This is all in the space of one panel. Later that night, Dredd receives a call. We switch viewpoints to the caller, a scientist called Igor Sansky and see Dredd fall victim to the hypnosis. Except then we find out (on the same page) that Dredd’s side of the call was pre-recorded and while Igor was watching, the operator traced the call and Dredd had raced across to the caller (a few miles), has a short fight, then kills Igor. There’s almost a good story in there somewhere (a scientist, believed dead by the judges, who gets revenge by using hypnosis to force judges to kill others) but the lack of consistency, storytelling that goes nowhere (those canoodling operators) and uncharacteristic behaviour (there’s no way Dredd wouldn’t have reported those operators) spoil the realisation of the tale. It’s obvious that the world of Judge Dredd hasn’t been solidified yet – we’ve still got those police control cameras, which I actually quite like – the idea of two concurrent systems of law-keeping, which will get re-organised sometime between Dredd going to the moon, crossing the Cursed Earth and the reign of Judge Cal. Blocks haven’t been named after people yet, so Dredd lives in Complex Omega, sounding rather like a dietary supplement. Maria fusses over him, though Walter is nowhere to be seen, so possibly this is supposed to take place before the Robot Wars. The chamber that all of the cities judges meet in also has a stars and stripes motif around the walls, which we don’t tend to see elsewhere.
M.A.C.H.1 next, in Operation Hercules. For some reason Probe is drafted in to sort out a problem the French government have. I’m not even sure why the French government knows that M.A.C.H.1 exists, though this blog has taken a bit of a break, so maybe it has appeared in the prog. Though considering the fairly slapdash attitude towards worldbuilding and consistency that other strips in this annual have shown, I doubt it. An Air-France plane is skyjacked and flown to the African state of Natanga. This country appears to be a terrorist state as the plane is expected and seems to be landed with the full co-operation and knowledge of the Natangan government. I take it back – Probe has had at least two contacts with the French government so far. The story itself is fairly straight-forward – pretty much what appears in the prog, possibly a page or two longer. One thing I will say – Probe does not understand Natangan. I’d have thought his computer should have been able to help out there (the computer doesn’t make its presence known at all in this story, which is a shame).
The next story is The Buffalo Hunt. Not content with stripping resources from the age of dinosaurs, Trans-Time are now testing their technology out in the year 1821. Earl Reagan expresses misgivings about travelling to a civilised time period. He gets sent there anyway, joined by Claw Carver. I’m not sure this makes any sense at all – Claw should be lost in a malfunctioning time pod at this point, though if this takes place before the events of Flesh Book One, perhaps it’s where Carver got the money to buy his domed city. The most notable thing about the story (other than Reagan being entirely wrong about his fears of history being changed) is the last line, where Reagan and Carver are called a ‘couple of scruffy herders’, about two years before the Empire Strikes Back coined the phrase ‘scruffy looking nerf herder’.
Keith Page manages to get his signature through the censor for The Monsters! – a Future Shock style story. It’s about a alien visitors to a planet. The aliens look like the residents of the planet, though contain sticky goo which leaks out when they’re shot. The ‘shock’ is that the visitors are humans while the residents of the planet are robots. Next!
White Fury is an origin tale of sorts for Shako. 2000AD wasn’t very creative with character names at this point in its history – one of the ‘alien humans’ from the previous stories shares his name with a mugger from Judge Dredd (Lou) and one of the crew of an icebreaker ship in this story shares their name with one of Dan Dare’s crew members earlier in this very annual (Chuck) – not forgetting the two Whitey’s in the very first two progs. This Chuck is Shako’s first victim (though really he’s shot by his friend Dave). Before the polar bear has grown to adulthood, he manages to kill a Killer Whale, a number of humans and sink the icebreaker. It’s the same kind of fun tale of a killer polar bear tearing their way from humans and other species that we get in the weekly (and about as plausible).
Like the first, Judge Dredd’s second story in this annual is untitled but has gained the name Whitey’s Brother, so three guesses for who the antagonist is going to be? This story is most notable for the destruction of the World Trade Centre towers by Whitey’s brother (in the year 2099 rather than 2001), though also for revealing Whitey’s full name – William ‘Whitey’ Logan (more about that later – possibly much later).
The story where we saw the World Trade Centre destroyed, the introduction of the first antagonist to appear in Judge Dredd, the introduction of his brother, the killing of his brother and the return of Whitey to Devil’s Island took 4 pages. Pages must be in short supply in this annual, right? Yet the next story, a simplistic future shock-style tale called The Symbiote has 8 pages devoted to it. This story has a criminal couple on the run who get caught and turned into cyborg space ships. The moment we see one being trained to use the onboard weaponry of the space ship he has become, we know they’re going to end up shooting the ship the other one will be by the end, so no surprises.
Finishing off the annual is Death Bug. Apparently it was proposed for the weekly, but didn’t make the grade. IPC had a policy that if something had been paid for it would be run, no matter the quality. Possibly this is what happened here. I’d thought it was a reprint from a comic from a previous generation, but perhaps that’s just the blocky lettering making it look even older than it is. The main characters are the Smith Family. Even though I only just finished reading it a couple of hours ago, I couldn’t tell you what part they actually had in defeating the giant mutated bed bugs, other than the father thinks it’s completely fine to leave the pet dog in the middle of the country during a holiday while the rest of the family goes on to a city. There’s a Claw Carver style villain, though with less charisma.
This annual cost £1. This would have bought eleven weeks of progs, and you’d still have had enough money left over for a penny sweet. The first annual is not the best and the worst thing is that I know there’s going to be a few years of mediocre annuals before they start getting good. At least I can return to the weekly progs now.