2000AD Sci-Fi Special 1978

There’s no snappy tag-line on this cover, just a Kev O’Neill piccy of a reptilian cowboy shooting a robot dropping a bag full o’ groats. It does have a brief list of what’s inside: Judge Dredd – good; Mach Zero – hopefully good; Dan Dare – as we saw in previous non-prog stories – jury’s out until we’ve read it; Mach 1 – same as Dare; Rick Random – ? One of those stands out…

Uh-oh – the cover isn’t allowed to stand on its own – it has to have a back-story to accompany it – didn’t Tharg learn his lesson from the Supercover Sagas? Despite a good pun (Butch Cathoderay) and a not so good one (the Sundroid Kid) the story can be safely skipped (despite the reptilian cowboy and the robot on the cover, the short story talks about two robots). If the story came first at least it inspired Kev to create that cover – if the other way around, at least it only takes up half a page. Sorry, Rick Preston!

The Dare story is written and drawn by Gary Leach, so at least the artwork should be good. The story is better than has appeared in other non-prog stories (and some of the weekly stories) and the artwork stands up well next to Belardinelli and Gibbons. It’s not quite the Leach we’ll later see on V.C.s Marvelman and Warpsmith, but it’s much better than the agency artwork we’ve seen so much. The story is set on Mars and takes place sometime between the Biogs story and the Legion of Lost Worlds story, after Dare has been reinstated by S.A.S.A. It does remind me slightly of the Alan Moore ABC Warriors story, which is also set on Mars, though *spoiler* this scientist survives!

The next page is truly awful. It consists of a few photographs and I’ll just leave you with the title ‘Space Chicks’ – that’s about as much as you need to know.

Following that are a few stills from a couple of films out this year – Kingdom of the Spiders and Empire of the Ants. I’ve seen the latter a few times but not even heard of the former. The presence of Empire of the Ants explains Ant Wars – 20000AD was neer shy of jumping on the latest cultural bandwagon in its early days!

Another colour O’Neill picture next – this time of MACH Zero – possibly fighting next prog’s The Suit. My mistake – it’s a fairly light-weight story though stylishly told by Henry Miller (presumably not the novellist – I’m tempted to say this is O’Neill disguising a writing credit – apparently Miller will also provide a few one-offs in the prog in the coming months) and Kevin O’Neill, called Cyborg Express. As can be expected of MACH Zero tales (especially short one-offs) it reads like a pastiche of scenes from Frankenstein films – particularly the ones where the monster (Franky or Zero) finds friendship that quickly turns foul. Despite it’s name, there is no indication that the experimental train (the Express of the title) has any organic components – it seems entirely computer-controlled to me.

And now the Rick Random story – the inside front cover introduction introduced it as being from “an age on Earth far removed from your own time” and it means it – somebody at IPC has dredged this from a 1950s comic called Super Detective Library. Interestingly Tharg introduces two creators who have other connections to 2000AD… Ron Turner – first seen on the Judge Dredd Robot of the Year prologue to the Robot Wars – provides the art while Harry Harrison provides the words. Except… Apparently the real writer was Bob Kesten (sorry, never heard of him – apparently he was a Canadian journalist, so possibly the same person also responsible for some TV and film writing?) Bear Alley knows more about this than I do. Just did a little research on Ron – he fell in love with sci-fi at a young age and managed to get a job for a London publisher at the age of 14, providing art by the age of 16! He would have continued, but got draft during the second world war. When the war ended he got back into published sci-fi and had a pretty constant career up to the shrinking of the comics industry in the 1980s. Even after retiring he managed to provide book illustrations up to his death (and beyond – previously unpublished artwork was still finding its way onto book covers long after he had died!) Bizarrely, at the exact same time I was writing about Ron Turner, DownTheTubes published a post about some Ron Turner art going up for auction! Sorry for rambling (or preambling) on – on to the story. It’s better than I thought it would be and more enlightened than I’d have expected – the first character we meet is Lieutenant Brell Canto – a woman space-pilot with Space Patrol who has just discovered a glowing UFO. Rick Random is in the middle of conference discussing a hostile alien race when he and his boss are called out of the meeting. After trying a panoply of technological techniques on the UFO someone touches the thing with their bare hands, and discover it can communicate by tactile telepathic means, including a slide show on the history of their home planet. To cut a long(-ish) story short, Rick, Lt Brell and a few others end up going to the base planet of the hostile warmongering aliens in an effort to find Syzmanians, the natives of that planet, who sent the telepathic capsule 10,000 years earlier and have been hiding underground (possibly in suspended animation – it’s a long time to wait otherwise). Then the story pauses – it was originally published in (I think) a 64-page Starblazer/Commando-style book, printed in this special four pages to a page and split up in to chunks in an effort to disguise how much non-2000AD material is in this special (I’m speculating).

The first interruption to the Random tale is the full-colour centre-spread on another film – Warlords of Atlantis – weird that films like this came afterStar Wars – I wonder how dated it seemed at the time it came out?

Next is ‘The MACH-Man File from Mike Lake and Trev Goring. Trev’s art style and storytelling have much improved since his first forays in the prog, with Probe going to the moon and discovering aliens (not the ones we saw in stories in the prog). The story is fair enough, though mostly consists of Probe hitting robots – somehow without tearing his space suit and dying horribly…

More Rick Random and the S.O.S. from Space. Rick Random was introduced as a space detective, though his detecting seems to be from the ‘blunder around until coincidence gets you where you need to be’ school of adventuring. Random and a horny alien called Myla (she’s an alien with horns on her head) make planetfall and end up captured almost immediately by others of Myla’s race. Random speculates that they might be part of an underground movement. As luck would have it, they are. Even luckier, the main headquarters for the planet’s resistance is in the cellars of Myla’s old home. Their’s some generic Nazi imagery – an emblem that is almost but not quite the Parteiadler (the Party Eagle) and plenty of mention of superior and inferior races.

Another interruption, this time by a two-page feature on Frank Bellamy and (original, Eagle) Dan Dare. It’s looking like a full half of this comic is going to be reprints or articles about 1950s comics, rather than a (at the time) modern comic for the punk generation…

Rick Random Chapter 3. I’ve no idea if this is a normal Rick Random story or not (though the words “Rick Random will return!” in the last panel suggest I’ll get a chance to read another story in 52 progs time). The pair go searching for the mountain containing an underground base that Rick saw in the message in Chapter 1. Luckily the planet only has one mountain range, so a few weeks later they find it. In short order they find that an artefact has been taken from the mountain to the capital city, which is off-limits to all but Ebloni, unless blinded slaves, they go to the city, pretending to be slaves, gain access to the most holy temple, meet the emperor, kill the emperor, escape with the artefact, take it to Earth, conjecture that it could contain the 10,000 Syzmanians (there’s 10,000, and they’ve been hiding for 10,000 years – another coincidence) and take it to “the interplanetary sports arena West of London” – not named, but Wembley, surely? With three panels to go the Syzmanians (more than 10,000 now, so perhaps it wasn’t entirely suspended animation) are released and the secret of their ultimate weapon is now shared with the galaxy. If you wonder how that much can happen in one chapter, it’s largely because it reads like a summary of a novel with some pictures to accompany all the narration and stilted dialogue. I do have a few other comics like this, from eras before I was born (not entirely sure how I got them but I’ve had them a long time). Some reprint Flash Gordon comics, presumably from the 1930s and 1940s, plus whatever passes for Future-Shocks in 1950s US comics. I’ve also got a few Starblazers (which I’m guessing is the same format that Rick Random was originally published in, by the amount of pages that only have one to three panels). The style of this story is somewhere in between that lot, which is fine in its place (I’m not averse to re-reading said comics I’ve mentioned) but in the first 2000AD Sci-Fi Special (that other one was a Summer Supercomic) it seems out of place – like having Eric Clapton on stage at a punk gig – good guitarist, but not the right style for that venue!

Almost the end and we finally get some Dredd – this one brought to us by ‘William Nilly’ and ‘Subliminal Kid’. No clue who ‘Willy Nilly’ is, but the Subliminal Kid is Ewins and/or McCarthy. This is a weird one (though I guess the pseudonyms clued us in on that). The story is called the Purple People Breeder and features a delinquient android who has just been released from ten years in a rehabilitation centre. The android, X-13 likes to wear clothes, f’rinstance a Prisoner jacket (with penny farthing badge) or a hat (with 10/6 ticket) and has a plan to take revenge on Judge Dredd (who put him away for ten years, instead of having him destroyed or reprogrammed). Other than a tenuous connection to the song Purple People Eater, the plan seems to be to kill a number of presidential candidates (this is twenty years after the last President of the United States was put in suspended animation) with living bombs (which leave a purple tint on the skin of the victims). This plan has absolutely nothing at all to do with how X-13 traps Dredd (X-13 kidnaps Walter, fake Walter slips Dredd some dodgy synthi-caf). Walter escapes and in a city of 800,000,000 people, manages to find Fred right outside his place of captivity (Fred being the taxi company owner who Walter worked for when moonlighting as a taxi driver – Fred has lost weight while Walt was on the moon). This story is enjoyable enough, but I’m looking forward to the days I can just enjoy a Dredd special story without having to put my brain in low gear.

Two more pages – the first is an O’Neill parody of Flash Gordon which I’ll have to compare to Dash Decent, when it begins.

The next is a ‘2000AD star pin-up’ of the Mekon – except it’s actually the front cover of Eagle from 1963 with the logo replaced.

Grailpage: tricky this, there are some good artists at work, but they’re early on in their careers – this is not unlike the ‘new talent’ specials that 2000AD does every now and then in the present. Gary Leach – the last page of the Dan Dare story, a few good pics of Dr Ziggy Rodann, a psychic brain thing and a sunset at the end.

Grailquote: Gary Leach again, Dr Ziggy Rodann: “I’ve made the contact… all this time, it’s been playing! It’s beautiful, like a baby… and so terribly old… and alone. Come on, baby, don’t be afraid… I want to be your friend, you can sense that, can’t you?”

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