Looking at the two comics which were released on Saturday 6th of May, 1978, 2000AD has black and white dominating (and tells us to Watch the Skies) while the other is a fully painted colour montage of the stories inside (and tells us to Watch the Stars).
Once we get past the cover, however, our introduction to the new comic is a little disappointing. Planet of the Damned part 1 appeared in the same week as Death Planet part 3. What’s more one of the first things to occur is that a plane passenger drinks poisoned water – last week’s Death Planet cliffhanger, resolved this week in the pages of 2000AD by eating berries. I should probably have said – the story is about the passengers of a jet which has gone missing in the Bermuda Triangle (after one page description of the Triangle, rather similar to the beginning of that MACH One story where people have failed to climb Everest over the last century). If you want to buy this story collected, then it is actually combined with Death Planet – remember – for Death Planet you have to go on to an interstellar colony ship to crash land on an alien planet, for Planet of the Damned you need to get caught up in some sort of dimensional warp in a plane.
Time Quake does not have a direct parallel in 2000AD, though James Blocker does have a working class, cockney feel about him. Blocker is kidnapped by time agents working for an organisation from the 40th century two seconds before the world is destroyed in a nuclear holocaust. It’s an exposition-heavy episode, though justified in that the time agents literally have about five minutes to convince Blocker that he has to travel to a time about two months before the end of the world to stop himself ferrying an assassin who causes the third world war. Got that? Just in case you weren’t reading all the exposition, there’s dinosaurs and aliens with four arms and lasers to wake you up again. I said earlier there’s no direct parallel in 2000AD but it is sort of like Bill Savage meets Flesh, though with aliens instead of dinosaurs (though there are dinosaurs as well, but there’s no sense of threat from them yet). The special thing about Time Quake is the opening pages. Like the cover, they’re full-painted colour, this time from Ian Kennedy- what’s more they aren’t going to be the only colour pages within this comic. The extra 3p really shows (Star Lord costs 12p per issue, compared to the 9p you had to fork over for 2000AD).
We finally meet our human-looking but apparently alien host, Starlord. Apparently he’s on the run from the Intergalactic Federation, henceforth known as Int-Stell-Fed, newspeak-style. He goes on about how this isn’t just a comic, the stories are designed to train legions of children to resist the Int-Stell-Fed. Starlord is designed (or at least illustrated) by Ian Gibson, and facing him are shown the six badges designed by Kevin O’Neill – one of which would have been fixed to the cover of the issue when first bought (mine was ten to fifteen years old when I bought it and had no free gift). There’s a brief mention of the Gronks swarming which caught me by surprise, as Gronks haven’t appeared in Strontium Dog yet.
The most historically significant story comes next, from ‘T.B. Grover’ (pseudonym for John Wagner for those not in the know) and Ezquerra. Unlike Judge Dredd, early stories of Strontium Dog start off in a fully-realised milieu – no false starts or inconsistent world-building features here. Wagner and Ezquerra waste no time in showing us their toybox – Happy-Sticks, Alpha-Ray vision, the attitude of local police patrols to mutant bounty hunters, Wulf being a norm, time drogues, alpha-ray mind-reading all get a show within the five pages of the first episode.
There are four stories in this issue but next week there will be five, with a trail for Mind Wars (as I write this just re-printed in the floppies with the last two month’s Judge Dredd Megazine).
Last up is Day of the Droid, a two-page prologue leading in to the first, nine-page episode of Ro-Busters from Pat Mills and Carlos Pino. As with Strontium Dog, we’re introduced to all the characters and situations we’ll need for years to come – robots are treated with the same disdain as mutants in the former story, we meet Ro-Jaws, Hammerstein, Mek-Quake, Howard Quartz and Chatterbox in the prologue, and get some world-building in the form of the tunnel from Newcastle-on-Tyne to Stavanger in Norway. We’ll pretend that the racist stereotype of a Japanese robot doesn’t exist, shall we?
Grailpage: there’s a lot to choose from, but I’m a sucker for Carlos Pino’s full-colour double page spread of a BP submarine oil tanker crashing in to the North Sea Tunnel.
Grailquote: Pat Mills, Sarah: “You’re much nicer than your friend!” Ro-Jaws: “What a pleasant child! You go in there, little girl… where you’ll be safe from all those flames and that ugly war-droid.” Hammerstein: “Huh!”