Kevin O’Neill provides the cover featuring two green aliens one threatening a woman in a skin-tight spacesuit and another being shot by some kind of cyborg. Thankfully the image stands on its own – i.e. there’s no Supercover Saga copy inside the annual to detail what’s going on.
On the contents page is what might be another commissioned cover featuring a manually-controlled giant robot scooping up cavemen.
The first story is The Biggest Game of All! written by an unknown writer and drawn by Marzal Canos, according to Barney. Ray Bradbury wrote A Sound of Thunder in 1952 (and popularised the concept ‘butterfly effect’ though that term isn’t introduced until the following decade). The set-up is similar and has been used in many short stories and even Future-Shocks down the years. A big game hunter travels to the past in order to bag a dinosaur. The narrative points out that in some universes (such as the ours, where Trans-Time go back to farm dinosaurs) you can mess about in pre-history as much as you wish without any ill-effect in the present, but in other universes any change will have repurcussions down the ages. The dinosaur the big game hunter has gone to kill has been seen in the time-viewer to fall off of a cliff and die in ten minutes time, so what happens to it before will have minimal effects. The big game hunter Kirst quickly shows that he doesn’t want to kill a brontosaurus that was going to die anyway, but instead kill a tyrannosaur – more than that, he attacks the Time Safaris guide and kills a tree lizard, just to make a point. In the best tradition of Flesh he quickly gets killed by a tyrannosaur while the others on the safari manage to escape back to their time machine. They don’t manage to escape successfully though, as the slaughtered tree lizard was the ancestor of apes and thus the human race. I first read this story when I was about eleven or twelve (managed to get the annual from a car boot sale with my dad on a summer’s day).
Part of what paused this prog slog blog for a few years was long-winded and now out-of-date articles on the space race a decade prior to the release of the 1978 annual. My thoughts are that somebody in IPC/Fleetway management thought that sci-fi = space, so added loads of text and library photos of real-world astronauts to fill the pages. The next page is an article on time-keeping on the moon. This does not bode well.
Acutal comics next, in the shape of M.A.C.H.1 where Probe is going to Canada. Not only is Probe undercover as a Canadian ice hockey player, but the Russian team leader is a Mongolian K.G.B. spy. He’s there to get a message to a Russian player to help him defect and join his scientist brother (who has already defected). Obviously in the prog Probe is already dead, but there’s no real clue when it would be set – there’s the usual antagonism between Probe and his computer but is pretty non-notable. The K.G.B. spy delivers a blow six times a normal man’s strength – there is no explanation of where this strength comes from…
There’s a brief biography of Nazi scientist turned American space director Wernher von Braun on the next page, plus a cut-away of the V2 rocket.
Final Vision next – a text story and a pretty silly one. Text stories in annuals have a bit of a reputation as being filler and not worth reading – Final Vision does nothing to improve that reputation. A spaceship engineer has had bad dreams that he will die in space, and that his death will involve an insect. At the end of the story he notices that the ship he’s worked on for the past fifteen years looks like an insect and, paralysed by fear, gets himself killed. There’s some hand-waving that he somehow hasn’t seen the spaceship with the wings and grabbers in quite the right configuration to look like an insect before, but the accompanying picture shows a spaceship that very obviously looks like an insect. As I said, silly.
Food! next. A non-branded Future-Shock called Food! that is. Art by Brett Ewins, script by who knows? Probably should have mentioned – while the regular prog has credit cards, this annual doesn’t credit its creators – many of whom never see the pages of the weekly. This one has four people in a post-apocalyptic wasteland fighting it out for some food – this type a mutated form of fresh flora rather than something in a tin (as was the setup for a Future-Shock not so long ago). The twist is that the mutated fruit or veg is actually protruding from the head of a Swamp Thing-esque creature buried beneath the ground, who lets starving survivors fight each other for food, then harvests them once they’re all dead. Brett Ewins artwork has definitely come along since his earlier work.
Next up, another article, this time on Jules Verne. Its interesting enough, not too long and has slightly dated illustrations no doubt re-used from a previous IPC publication.
The Phantom Patrol returns next – continuing from the previous year’s Summer Supercomic and most definitely reprinted from a previous publication (Swift). The next two year’s worth of annuals will also be continuing the reprint. The first installment was better than I was expecting (as was Rick Random) but then most things printed in the progs are a bit dated at this point in its history – it’s just a question of how dated! This story is so-so – it seems to have missed out some stories, or maybe I’m forgetting the end of the first story – the second world war squad have picked up some futuristic equipment (as well as having travelled back in time) and are busying themselves in the Roman-Carthaginian war. The story continues after…
A weird article about Cruise missiles – I did actually find it useful, as we’re going to see Cruise missiles in Meltdown Man in a few years, and probably a few other stories too. It does have a weird paragraph at the end which reads like a sales brochure or propaganda and says how it might be a weapon of war but it keeps the peace and also its development has helped civil aviation.
In the second half of Phantom Patrol we’re told three times in three panels how bad it’ll be for Rome if the port of Ostia is taken by the Carthaginians. We’re also told that the Phantom Patrol has weapons that will make short work of any opposition if the Romans can’t land at the docks, the next panel we’re told that the tank (which is short on fuel anyway) can’t be used until it’s landed as the recoil might capsize the ship it’s on. Once all that conflict is resolved a Nazi U-boat commander who has been following (and has possession of the time machine that got them all here in the first place) basically makes it obvious that he’s around then gets caught without next to no effort as he was unarmed. In this way the tank is refuelled and everybody starts off to Britain so that they can activate the time machine and return to 1941.
An article goes through the Apollo 13 emergency from eight years earlier, followed by a profile on Yuri Gagarin.
Doctor Sin appears next – not a reprint but probably put together from scraps by Pat Mills and Horacio Lalia. It has the typeset style of lettering, which dates it more than anything else. The story revolves around Satanists trying to stop a motorway being built and should probably have been focused around atmosphere-building – as it is it goes through the motions showing a series of events. The last panel has a few dialogue balloons, one of which has been left largely blank apart from a few scribbled letters (obviously notation to put some actual text in before publication). The entire story is available on Barney.
As well as typeset word balloons, another thing that dates certain 1970s stories in annuals is black and white with a single colour added. In Dan Dare’s case the colour is a kind of orangey-pink. The story starts off like somebody who has read the first few episodes of The Lost Worlds stories in the weekly and then has a few pages to fill. A crewman gets blinded while dealing with (space) barnacles on the outside of the Space Fortress. Not long afterwards he joins an away team on an asteroid who it turns out is populated by blind aliens. Anybody who guessed that the crewman will end up staying with the aliens gets kudos. Anybody who predicts that the term ‘Kingdom of the Blind’ gets used also gets kudos.
You know how I said at the beginning of this post how great it was that there wasn’t a Supercover Saga-style explanation of what was happening on the cover? Over half way through this annual and I’m now proved wrong. Oh well, at least it has further Kevin O’Neill artwork of the aliens. The story has aliens called Lizardoreli – they’ve been genetically engineered from native aliens and turned into slaves. They’re the villains because they don’t want to be slaves any more. There’s also a space horse named Carmichael. I have no idea whether this is a parody of Champion the Wonder Horse, or something else that may have made some sense in popular culture of 1978. At least there’s some Kevin O’Neill art. At least there’s some Kevin O’Neill art. I keep telling myself this.
A joke page next, Watch this Space… for Laughs! containing six spot cartoons almost certainly culled from other publications.
I think the next story, Guinea Pig, is reprinted from Eagle but can’t find any details about it. The set up is that Mike Lane gets in trouble at work because he has a hot temper and argues with his bosses. This makes him suitable for accepting tasks without question, no matter how potentially life-threatening they are. Hmmm… The first experiment is for Mike to write his name while in a centrifuge. The second is to take a pill which makes him ghostly and able to walk through walls (though for an unpredictable amount of time) – as his body isn’t subject to the usual physical constraints, he can’t hear (as vibrations in the air don’t reach his ears). There’s some strange inconsistencies in this comic – the lettering changes style and size mid-way through one page, and a close-up of Mike in an anti-gravity suit shows a man in his late twenties or early thirties. Two pages later (five to ten hours in the story) the same man looks like a fifty year old, at the least (he actually reminds me of James Stewart in his fifties or sixties). At this point the story pauses to make way for…
The Last Lonely Man – a Future-Shock title if I ever saw one. We’re told that one human remains on Earth (others have scattered throughout the galaxy), surrounded by robots who keep him alive through replacement surgery. We see the feet of the last human in a wheelchair. We see the silhouette of the last human in said wheelchair. Other than keeping the last human alive, the robots main task is communication. The signal that they are communicating is to other humans to return to the home planet so that the last human can pass on all the records of Earth, all its history and knowledge. A spaceship that flew straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey responds to the signal and lands. The twist is that a robot kills all of the crew of said ship as they did not match the “pattern of humanity as we know it”. This would be a better twist if any of the robots had been depicted as being armed or trying to protect him earlier. It also has similarities to the Robo-Hunter storyline which also features robots who don’t recognise humans when they see them. There’s not much more to say about this story, other than that some of the panels had a very Jack Kirby feel to them.
The profiles of space-related people continues with John Glenn. Did we get Neil Armstrong yet?
An un-named Invasion story by two un-named creators features the Clifton Suspension Bridge. The brigadier sends some commandoes up the Avon though Savage (with Silk in tow) goes off on his own mission. The story is about the same standard as some of the encounters in the progs. Familiar elements are there, such as Savage being the only one who has any hope of acting tactically and ends up in the destruction of the bridge. Some strange elements creep in though – a Volgan guard is speaking and laughing with a truck driver which looks like it should lead somewhere but doesn’t (Savage doesn’t even stab the collaborator) and there are a few unusual Volgan words in this episode: “scuntripp” and “neechar” don’t seem very Volg-ish to me, though I think we’ve seen “staga” before.
After a crossword Brett Ewins and Brendan McCarthy bring the Judge Dredd story, starting with a full-length pic of Dredd in front of numbered Blocs and a Synthi Caf (being a cafe, not a cup of coffee). On the next page, Walter is serving Dredd a cup of synthi-caf (coffee) and is castigated for breaking the anti-caffeine laws (but not arrested – Dredd always does give Walter a lot of leeway in lawbreaking). A few of the panels are trademark Ewins but McCarthy’s style isn’t so obvious. After a tip from Max Normal, the story itself features a robot and a cyborg both failing to shoot Dredd. It’s not a great story – considering that we’re most of the way through the Cursed Earth in the weekly, this seems like a not-so-great episode from a year earlier, before Dredd was finding its feet.
Although Inferno has finished in the prog, a flashback Harlem Heroes story appears next. The Heroes face the Apache Demons who are referred to as “Indian trash” by Hairy. Similar racist stereotypes permeate this episode – players have horned headresses and spectators use lassoes against the Heroes. A smiling Giant dismisses the death of an opposing player, Chief Crazy Dog while the Heroes have an after-match shower.
On the next page is a cut-away of Dan Dare’s Eagle Craft with an introduction by Dare: “Here’s another chance for an inside look at my Eagle craft.” Yes, that’s right – it’s a reprint of the postergraph from a few months ago.
The last (?) of the profiles of figures in space exploration puts all Apollo 11 astronauts – Armstrong, Aldrin & Collins – in one profile (with a picture confusingly depicting Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin, in that order).
Speaking of visitors to the moon, Guinea Pig continues with Mike Lane being electrocuted by a moon monster. The monster is brought to Earth where it disguises itself as a building (though everybody sees it do this, so nobody is fooled). The building grows more and more buildings as it catches more and more soldiers. Mike takes another of the discorporation pills and points out that he can’t carry a weapon as it only affects him and his clothes. Should have kept quiet about that, as the fact that his clothes are affected by a pill he’s taken makes even less sense than the pill itself. Through means I don’t entirely follow, Mike points out where the heart of the creature is and the military outside the creature somehow manage to see him pointing and attack the target. The creature dies, Mike is unconscious, takes ages to wake up and I hope this doesn’t return in the next annual (or special).
Finishing the annual are two ‘mini-stories’. I strongly suspect these are previously unused Supercover Saga stories – the first Jump Into Hell! has Baker matter transmitting into a giant game of pinball while the second The First Fatal Blow looks like it was inspired by the monoliths from 2001: A Space Oddity with two cavemen fighting each other (using axes, not bones).
Grailpage: the contents page image by an unknown artist showing a giant robot and cavemen.
Grailquote: unknown author, Captain Davies: “Two of my crew need help – and help they’ll get from me and CARMICHAEL THE SPACE HORSE. Prepare to beam us down!” (capitalisation preserved from A Serious Case for Treatment!). Also later on in the same story, Lorna Vine: ‘”Carmichael, you wonderful Space Horse,” cried Lorna hugging the computerised machine.’