With the Supercover Sagas finished, the covers now have a less tenuous connection to the contents of the prog. This is the first Christmas prog. Thanks to the preculiarities of the British publishing industry, the cover date is Saturday 24 Dec 77 and is on the shelves every Monday (so released on the 19th). This week’s cover and first story feature plenty of snow, Judge Dredd, Walter and Geek Gordon. We get our best view of the hover bikes used on the Moon (basically a Lawmaster above foot level with more prominent foot rests and a cannon below the laser). Geek Gordon kidnaps Walter in the hope that Dredd will save the robot. As Gordon has a predictable modus operandi, Dredd wears some flexi-steel on his neek, so that when Gordon tries to decapitate him the blade of the axe is shattered. We get the more human side of Dredd, with him showing attachment to Walter, and not one but two panels of Dredd smiling!
The circus is closed up and quiet, so Bill Savage shouts that it’s time to get out of there. This episode features the ringmaster and owner of the circus, though Gerry Finley-Day appears to have forgotten he was given a name two progs earlier (Bertie Hill) as he’s only every referred to as ‘the circus owner’, ‘dirty collab(orator)’, ‘sunshine’ and ‘ringmaster’. Mike Dorey provides the art and the lettering droid chooses to remain anonymous (there’s a blank spot on the credit card – maybe they disagreed that Savage would shout while the plan is to quietly sneak out of the circus). In the time that it takes Silk, Savage and Nessie (carrying John) to sneak through the circus caravans, Bertie manages to spot them, reach the Volgs, tell them about Savage and lead the Volgs to the edge of the circus caravans…
Bonjo has gone full page and manages to keep the racist stereotypes low-key this week (even Chinese miners wear coolie hats, which are still widespread across the Asian subcontinent, but against sun and rain, not falling rocks in mines and quarries). As it’s the christmas prog, Bonjo listens to, then eats, then can’t stop listening to some carol singers. It’s not brilliant, but better than previous weeks and at least it’s giving O’Neill some practice for his future work. Despite what I’ve written about his early work he will develop into one of my favourite artists.
Over the page, Kev puts in some spot illos of Walter and Artoo. Yep, that’s right, this is the Star Wars photo review, and it’s much more accurate than previous reporting on Star Wars (which hasn’t been sub-headed A New Hope or given a number yet, so the sequel is assumed to be Star Wars 2).
Dare succeeds in leading the Grawls to win their world back from the Starslayers. As ever, the Starslayers send off the Shining Star to subjugate Grawl with hypnotic radiation. Dare and the Grawls protect themselves by wearing Starslayer helmets, but Dare’s space signal to warn the Space Fort to stay away is jammed. What’s more the Starslayers can duplicate his voice pattern, and within half an hour the Space Fort will travel the two light-years back to Grawl unprotected from the hypnotic Shining Star.
MACH Zero escapes and goes on a Frankenstein-like rampage (rescues a kid, who he mistakes for his son, is shunned by the boy’s mother, is attacked by the army). Probe continues to read the file and promises to rescue MACH Zero – exactly the same as the previous prog – he may as well not have appeared.
The Harlem Hellcats pull themselves together and beat the Sickles, just as we were expecting (though the fans think they must have cheated to win). Louis points out that the only way to truly clear their names is to track down the organisation who sabotaged the Wolves. Junk reveals a clue – Vance had a gambling chip in his office before the last game, for the Crystal Maze (no relation to the TV series, which didn’t appear for another thirteen years).
I was tempted to pick the page with a good view of the hover bike smashing through the window as my grail page this prog, but then realised I had to opt for a different page in Judge Dredd – the one where Old Stoney Face smiles!