Prog 54: We’re under attack! Can’t see — can’t *gasp* even think! Aargh!

Dan Dare sees the alien vegetable doppelganger process applied to a spaceship. The previous episode we found out that while the aliens can replicate a living person (Invasion of the Body Snatchers style), including weapons such as guns, they can’t replicate the working mechanisms. You might wonder how the vegetable changelins can duplicate an Eagle scout craft then? Apparently “It’s nothing more than a vegetable glider”. Oooo-kay. Let’s skip any further comment on that encounter and go on to the next one, which promises to be much more interesting. Bear wanders off to look at the ruin of a ship and in doing so is separated from Dare. In that time Bear is targetted by the scanner lights from not just one but five plant pods. So the cliffhanger is Dare facing six Bears, all of which will have Bear’s memories (and Bear’s greatest weapon is his strength, so hopefully there won’t be anything about ‘the real Bear is the one with the gun that has a working firing mechanism’).

You know last prog I said how I generally dislike episodes which start with a dramatic situation, then spend the rest of the episode in flashback, leading up to that situation? So, MACH 1 starts in the middle of Probe’s latest mission (being overloaded by information), before taking us back to his journey to get to this point. The Dolphin Tapes contain a project undertaken by the government of the USA. Who better to send as an undercover spy to steal secrets from the USA than a British secret agent who has worked with US intelligent multiple times, including being borrowed by the US military on official and unofficial missions? He’s travelling under an assumed name. He’s not secret agent John Probe. He’s delphinologist Probe. Throw in some Mafioso also trying to steal the tapes and all it takes to put a MACHman’s life at risk is a knife (while Probe is suffering from that memory circuit overload). As if dying from a throwing knife isn’t bad enough, the next prog tag is ‘Frozen death!’ so it looks like things are going to go from bad to worse for probe (though there was that time Probe went on a murder spree and froze some scientists using liquid nitrogen).

From Florida we go down to Peru for Colony Earth! I must have misread the previous episode – I thought Hunter and Vandenberg were in an unarmed helicopter which got destroyed just after they’d gotten out of it, and had been accompanied by two helicopter gunships, both of which were destroyed while the pair watched from the ground. Apparently they aren’t as stranded as I assumed, as here they get back into the chopper. The pair go back to the base-ship then head back out almost immediately to check out another ruined site. Just after they get there an entrance to an underground installation is discovered. Not wasting time with atmosphere building or pacing, an alien ship and robot-looking-guy appear while the two are underground, with r-l-g on the stairs blocking their escape.

Judge Dredd, Elvis the killer car has sent reprogrammed computer-controlled cars to distract the judges while he continues to rampage around Luna-City. I noticed that Dredd’s lawgiver handily has ‘lawgiver’ and ‘Dredd’ written on it. I’d understand the latter, particularly as you don’t want to pick up the wrong gun when they have handprint-activated explosive charges primed to explode, but the Lawgiver is pretty distinctive – unless someone has gone overkill with a label maker I can’t imagine why this would be part of the standard design! Nice to see HE on one of the magazine cases (the code for High Explosive from prog 34’s diagram).

Over the page is a new series. Along the lines of FutureFocus postergrams and Supercover Saga covers comes Encounter. At least this is an occasional series, so hopefully there won’t be the pressure to just bung something on the page because it has to be in the prog every week. The first in the occasional series is called The Mess, and the Goring-illustrated title creature looks not unlike another character we’ll meet in about two year’s time. This is a Future-Shock-style tale, with the shock being that the protagonist is an interplanetary dust-man, which would have carried a little more weight if Trev Goring’s last Future-Shock hadn’t also been about a space waste disposal company.

Speaking of Future-Shocks, the next story is a McCarthy / Ewins one and a half pager. In latter years this would have been presented as a Time Twister, but as it is I think it’s the first example of Ewins using copies of an image (though his later works will use gradual close-ups of the original image, resulting in an almost cinematic storyboard zoom effect). That doesn’t happen in this story though – it’s a straight-forward copy, including dialogue. In fact, having said all that, perhaps it wasn’t even Ewins who did the copying, as it would need to have been done post-lettering, perhaps by an art editor or bodger? So far, none of the Future-Shocks have had titles – the next prog tag here says “Space Bug” so is the next Shock going to be the first one which had a title at the time it was printed?

The Hellcats are headed to the bottom of the sea in Inferno. With a little time bought by Moody Bloo (sealing a door against the water-pressure) they quickly manage to escape using the hover-liner’s ejector-cabin. Rather than forfeit the match, the Hellcats are willing to play without equipment until Jaws Jessel lends them some outmoded Long Island Sharks antiques. The only team member with modern equipment is Hale Eegle, who roars into the stadium on the latest Inferno-Bike.

Just Walter the Wobot left in this prog, and we finally meet Walter’s brother Gus, as teased at the end of the previous serial, three weeks earlier. It’s not exactly deep fare, as Gus takes Walter prisoner.

I’ll go for Belardinelli’s splash page for Inferno for this prog’s grailpage – not only is there a literal splash as the hover-liner drops into the water but once it sinks to the bottom we get a great view of the seabed wildlife, with a circling shark adding menace (not that being in a deadweight hover-liner at the bottom of the sea isn’t menacing enough) but also a school of fish. I would have said it was a shoal of fish, but I had lack of confidence in how to spell shoal. While checking I verified that I’d spelt it correctly, but it turns out that a shoal is a gathering of fish while a school is a gathering of fish that is travelling in one direction – so this page has a school, not a shoal. Always good to learn something each day, though I don’t think I could have predicted this is what I’d learn today.

Quote of the prog: Elvis the car – “You can’t stop me! Nobody can catch me – I’m the gingerbread car!”

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