Prog 61: Judge Dredd brings law to the… Cursed Earth!

Two lawmasters and the land raider come blazing out of the cover, rocks flying in the air above them in the iconic Mike McMahon cover.

There is an oblique mention of the land raider in the Nerve Centre, with news that Matchbox have produced three vehicles in their Adventure 2000 series. The news flash goes on to say there will be more detail in Earth’s most advanced comic, and that Death Planet begins in Prog 62. Death Planet isn’t my go-to story for re-reading, so I’m not sure if one of the other toys in the range appears in its pages. The ones I had were the landraider, a missile carrier and a car with flip-out wings – I don’t remember seeing anything other than the landraider in 2000AD (other than in adverts).

Dare starts a named story , Nightmare Planet in this prog (for the first time in 2000AD? Seems like every story so far has been “Dan Dare (unnamed story)”). Jack Adrian is joined by Brian Lewis (I’m going to guess this is the only appearance this art droid makes). As well as stories whose first scene starts half-way through, then immediately goes back to scenes that take place earlier, I’m also not a huge fan of ‘everything is an illusion’ or ‘they woke up and it was all a dream’ (exceptions made for Neil Gaiman’s Sandman). The Space Fort encounters some giant monsters which the computer says are really there and aren’t illusions, but then it appears that they are actually an illusion after all. Shortly after, on the planet Dare was heading to, a giant Mekon picks up Dare, but is easily beaten and drops Dare into a soft sponge vegetation (or whatever the fungal version of vegetation is). I’m not getting any sense of peril yet.

Inferno appears next – the closest to the front of the prog since the first three episodes. For a moment I thought I’d missed an episode – last prog had a single page match followed by the return of Artie Gruber (currently dead and/or in suspended animation), this episode starts with what could be the second half of a cliffhanger. Game won, the Hellcats are now at the top of the fourth division and it’s been a year since Hairy’s death in the last episode of Harlem Heroes. The dialogue doesn’t specify which anniversary it ws, so I have to assume that aeroball waned in popularity, Inferno arose, the Heroes converted the Harlem stadium, became the Hellcats, then rose from the bottom of the division to the top of the fourth within one year. Things sure do move fast in future sport! Also, the reason they were talking about Hairy was so that they could talk about how he’d been cryogenically frozen as the drive past the Hall of Future Life (which we glimpsed on the last page of last prog), just as the Syndicate have sent people to steal Gruber’s corpse, killing the undertakers in the funeral home. Surely it would have been easier to just sneak in at night? If I was playing grail panel instead of grail pages, the first page this prog of the skull-like head of frozen Gruber would win, Belardinelli is in his element when drawing the grotesque.

The last episode of Colony Earth! recaps the story so far – this is the last-chance attempt to destroy the alien orbital platform (have I missed something? I thought this was the first thing they’d tried – it’s been a pretty linear story). The seeds of destruction are by overloading the solar reactors attached to but separated from the main ship. It’s been two days since I read the prog where they approached the ship and one day since I read the prog where they’ve been running around the ship, and I can’t say I noticed solar spheres before. There may or may not be a better story lurking here, but the rushed storytelling leads much to be desired.

On to The Cursed Earth next. I’ll give this episode a free pass as the opening scene is more like a starscan (sorry, still called postergraph at this point) than an episode from the main story (we’ll get the same when the Apocalypse War starts in four years’ time), the real story starts over the page, and Dredd has gone from nameless stories to a named epic “The Cursed Earth” and numbered chapter titles: “Forbidden Fruit”. Weirdly, Dredd is in the company of Assistant Grand Judge Fodder (a week after the top Judge was referred to as Chief Judge). By the time Dredd returns from his mission Fodder’s job title will be Deputy Chief Judge. Or at least it would, if somebody else isn’t in the position by then… Some people say that incongruous aspects of Dredd in the first year a merely false starts with the worldbuilding that should be ignored in light of the world we’ll see in later stories. This is obviously true (with never-again-mentioned police, Grand Judges, etc) but I prefer to think that there were changes at the turn of the century. Just as the world of the 1970s is different to the world of the 2010s, pre-Cal Mega-City One is different to post-Cal Mega-City One (maybe Cal got rid of the last vestiges of the police system while he was Deputy Chief Judge?) It’s not quite so easy to explain the absence of the Death Belt in the Judge Child epic, which will appear about a year or two after The Cursed Earth ends, though as a by-product of the Atomic War (and/or possibly the Great Germ War) perhaps it just took a while to settle down, which just happened to coincide with Cal’s reign? Yes, I’m sure if Cal hadn’t been Chief Judge at the time we’d have been told all about it.

Dredd showed how a story could open with a flash-forward scene, while MACH1: The Final Encounter shows how not to do it. We see Probe’s death report in the first panel with his funeral rounding off the first page and the enquiry into his death on the next page. All before the actual story starts! This is the story where Probe dies, but that won’t be any surprise as everything that takes place will be leading up to that! Aldershot miltary base has been affected by some sort of paralysis, knocking out every soldier on the base. Probe is sent in, and attaches a gadget to deliver an electric shock to revive a Sergeant who very obviously is based on Windsor Davies (nice touch, Pat). Oh yes, forgot to mention, this is written by Pat Mills, who seems to have a long-standing regard for super-powered secret agents, though sometimes with long gaps between stories (I’m referring to Grey Suit, for those in the know). This also means that half of the entire prog is written by Pat (and not even editorially re-written, like programme 1).

Walter’s one-pager this week goes slapstick. Bolland’s later style (Mr Mamallian) might be suited to this kind of story, but his more realistic detailed style certainly isn’t. In later years, Kev O’Neill, Brendan McCarthy or Belardinelli might have been able to get away with it, at this point I think the only art droid who might have been able to do it justice was Ian Gibson, or maybe Mike McMahon. Or better yet, not run it at all and just have a starscan.

Between Dredd and MACH 1 was an advert page, which also had a preview of the next prog’s cover, introducing Death Planet. Some people think it’s bad, some will think it’s so bad it’s good (I think there’s enough badly conceived and executed stories in the world that I’d rather concentrate on better quality works). I can’t remember it being particularly good and can only really remember the first episode.

Grailpage: so many options this prog. I know some will think it heresy, but McMahon’s Cursed Earth cover isn’t on my shortlist, though our glimpse of the wasteland from above the Death Belt and our first view of MC2 is. I liked one page from the Dare story – or at least the top half of it, with a portrait of Dare and an establishing shot of the dream fungus plant planet, but it lost points when giant fake Mekon made his appearance. Since starting with the grailpages on this blog it’s mostly been Dredd and I’m afraid the other stories aren’t getting a look in this time either – so it’s the afore-mentioned page.

Grailquote: runners-up (as ever, the actual lines may actually have been written by editorial, but I’m going to go by what’s on the credit card)

  • Tom Tully, Tee-Jay Cash: If I swerve around those burning bikes, I’ll never make it in time..! …so I’ll have to go straight over ’em!
  • Pat Mills, un-named sergeant (this absolutely has to be read in Windsor Davies voice): What you looking up in the sky for, Wilkins..? Eh? Flyin’ saucers… Haw! I’ll give you flyin’ flippin’ saucers!

The winner!

  • Jack Adrian, Dan Dare: I don’t play on anyone else’s hunches, Bear. In fact, the more warnings I get… the more curious I get!

One thought on “Prog 61: Judge Dredd brings law to the… Cursed Earth!

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