Prog 66: I think I smell a rat!

Mike McMahon does the honours for the cover, with the Brotherhood of Darkness about to attack Dredd.

The Nerve Centre message from Tharg mentions a less-than-complimentary letter about Judge Dredd, and the three letters on this page are, in order: critical of the violence inherent in the 2000AD system, preferring explorers and more pacificistic heroes to the violent Dredd and blast-happy new Dare; pleading for the return of Bonjo (I have a vague memory of a full-page picture of Bonjo from a special or annual – though I believe Gregory Townsend, Pinner, will have a long wait); extolling the virtues of Dredd in response to the letter in a previous prog (and asking for a Walter poster – Tharg responds that there’s already been a cut-away in Prog 53, though it won’t be long before there’s a blown up and coloured copy of a Bolland panel printed in the prog).

Story pages – Gibbons is on Dan Dare and wastes no time in showing us the tentacular denizen of the huge ice pyramid (as big as Everest so said the previous episode) where the octopus-like alien was trapped in a freak ice age. As predicted, Wise is due to be left behind, keeping the huge alien company. Except Dare and Hitman manage to climb to the top of the ice pyramid, radio the Fortress and free the alien. I don’t remember Wise making any further appearances, but he managed to escape with his life. Just realised – more Dave Gibbons, more giant tentacled monsters (not that this one killed crewmen on purpose – it was accidental, so that’s alright then) – really getting that Watchmen practice in on Dare.

Death Planet: Part Five The Intruders sees Herschal (the crew member who we saw talking to the Commander’s chair in the first episode – before the reveal that the Commander was a woman) disarm Lorna. This is almost all we see of Lorna this episode with the focus on the days spent building a settlement from local resources (I guess the wood from the trees is acid-rain proof on this planet). Hmm, I think I’ve just genuinely mixed it up with Planet of the Damned – sorry! Anyway, after two nights without animal attacks the guards are restless and don’t see the point in staying on guard duty on an unknown planet with unspecified dangers. During the night in question the two guards get killed and the settlement is set alight. This episode’s cliff-hanger is tacked on at the last minute as Lorna makes a one-panel appearance to race into a burning hut to rescue a trapped child – its seems incongruous – just the settlement being set alight could have been cliff-hanger enough.

MACH Zero is lost in the fog of London’s docklands. This is the kind of scene that Mike Dorey’s art is perfect for – Zero stumbling through the grimy fog where the MACHman meets up with some friendly ‘vagrants and tramps‘. There’s been very little in MACH One and Zero to remind us that this is all supposed to be in the future but some bikers (intent on terrorising the homeless people) mention watching old holographic movies. Things change once Zero wakes up, though soon after Cousin George (evil Evel Knievel) manages to capture Zero in a net – which we’re told is strong enough as CG has hunted wild animals all over the world. I’m thinking Zero is as strong as any land animal…

A great opening centre spread for Judge Dredd, The Cursed Earth Chapter 6: Dark Autumn! There’s evidence of the pre-Atomic War landscape and random erupations of what looks like lava. Plus there’s Novar – the first person with psychic abilities to appear in the world of Judge Dredd, about 90 progs before we’ll meet Anderson. He displays telekinesis and mind-reading powers, saving Dredd, killing Brother Morgar and warding off the rest of the Brotherhood. Next prog: Night of the Vampire! (so the introduction of a character who has continued to feature in stories up to the present era).

Tharg’s Future-Shocks is brought to us by Philip Greenway and Ron Tiner set in the year 2000AD on the streets of London. The City Monorail – check (Docklands Light Railway). The new sky-scraper blocks – check. Regular hover bus service – hmm, don’t remember that, but then I wasn’t living in London at the beginning of the year. For those interested – London’s Docklands didn’t look very foggy when I was coming home from work this evening, unlike in MACH Zero, earlier. A fugitive dressed in contemporary clothing is trying to escape an armoured, robotic-looking pursuer, bemoaning how the armoured figure is heartless and must obey orders. Anybody who has read a few Future-Shocks can probably guess that the human-looking fugitive is actually a robot with synthi-skin while the armoured figure is a human in armour. Admittedly I have read all these progs before (the first new material to me will come when I get to Tornado) but it’s been long enough since I read these that I think my guesses are still pretty much guesses except for those stories I read and re-read as a child. This is not one of those stories. I turn the page – the pursuer kills the fugitive, raises his mask and tells us that the humanoid has escaped from a factory and looks, sounds and thinks like ‘us humans’. Called it!

Inferno finishes the prog with Artie Gruber crashing in to a transparent barrier (with a guest appearance by Massimo Belardinelli wondering “What am I doing here?“) There’s some great scenes – Belardinelli is always at his best drawing the weird and non-human, and is really making Artie Gruber his own (even disguised as Dimples Devine). Clay admits that he put Cindy on the squad because she wants to avenge the death of Eegle and is hoping she’ll get under ‘Dimples’ flesh – so purposefully putting her life on the line to satisfy his curiousity – nice! True to form, Torso and Chubb are changing their orders to Gruber to target Cindy Lamont.

Grailpage: it’s always tempting to go for Belardinelli, but I know there’s going to be so many more chances for him to grab the grailpage in future progs, so this time around I’m going for Mike Dorey’s opener for this week’s episode of MACH Zero with our titular hero lurching through the London fog.

Grailquote: Pat Mills: Novar: “I call on… the mind-force… to… drive the others out!” Brother(hood of Darkness): “No-ooo! The metal tree – it… it’s losing its leaves! A dark autumn, o my brothers! Retreat! Retreat! Flee! The day of atonement is postponed… indefinitely!”

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