2000AD and Star Lord Prog 86: This is it! The big one! Two sci-fi greats unite in a giant leap for mankind! Join them and smash the thrill barrier!

Dave Gibbons is cover artist for the ‘new’ comic of 2000AD and Starlord, with an ensemble of Big Hungry, Johnny Alpha, Judge Dredd, Hammerstein and Ro-Jaws.

p.s. I couldn’t find a ‘clean’ copy of the original 2000AD and Starlord logo (where both comics got equal billing), so I’m using the interim logo where Starlord starts to dwindle.

We have previously seen Judge Dredd quit the force and on another occassion declared dead, this time he’s under trial in Crime and Punishment. John Wagner’s pseudonym T.B. Grover is busy with Strontium Dog this prog, so John Howard takes over the writing duties while Brian Bolland does the best art of his career at the time this was originally published. The episode/mega-epic starts with a pet hate of mine – a flash-forward. I like an in media res as much as the next person, but not so much a single frame showing a scene from later in the story, then carrying on ab initio as if nothing had happened. Back in the 1980s the collected edition of this story was the first Titan collection I ever got, so I have read this story many, many times (at least the bits collected in Judge Caligula Book One – I didn’t get Book Two for some years afterwards). So what I’m saying is this story has nostalgia on its side for me, as well as great familiarity. If there wasn’t the flash-forward of the trial we could have had an even bigger splash page of Dredd’s return to Mega-City One and the welcome home parade. That’s my moan over – everything else about this episode is fantastic. The MC-1 that Dredd returns to is much more fully-formed than the one he left (either before he went to the moon or before he went on the Cursed Earth mission, seeing as he didn’t spend long in the city between the two). In the first panel of the story proper we’re introduced to Chief Judge Clarence Goodman (we’d met him before, but this was the first time the Chief Judge was actually named – remember, in the early days he was called the Grand Judge, and nothing more). We also meet Judge Cal and hear about the “feared SJS squad”. Dredd goes to sleep the moment he gets home (missing out on a party from Maria and Walter). That night Dredd is seen killing reporters at the Mega-Times for not giving his return to MC-1 enough prominence on the front page. Where a lesser story would fill the front page with lorem ipsum text, this goes into the details of how an A-list film star has married an alien who he met on the set of a remake of The Blob. It is left as an exercise for the reader to guess who the alien plays in the film… The Grand Judge might have been re-named the Chief Judge, but Justice Central is not the Grand Hall of Justice (yet). With Cal offering ‘advice’ to Goodman it isn’t long before Dredd is led on to the shuttle to Titan by SJS Judges Quincy and Schultz.

Ro-Busters: Death on the Orient Express! The generic logo for Starlord Ro-busters has been replaced by the inspired invoice-stylings of the classic Ro-Busters logo. Not only that, but Pat Mills is joined by Dave Gibbons on art as an avalanche buries the Orient Express monorail on the splash page. The next page condenses the ‘Day of the Robot’ prologue from Starlord No 1 along with a little of the other background that was put in place in the 22 Starlord episodes before getting stuck in to the week’s story. Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein manage to get to an isolated carriage though a further landslide means there is no way back for them. Unfortunately the nine oxygen cylinders are not enough for the ten humes in the carriage and so Hammerstein exorts one of the humes to volunteer their life in a heroic sacrifice (this ain’t gonna happen). We meet a few of the passengers, including Mike Morgan (who has a pencil moustache, with all that that entails in fiction) and his poorly son Tim. Our droid duo go down to the luggage compartment to fetch Harold, Mike and Tim’s robot, where other robots are playing cards (except for a Rolls Royce Robot, reading the Tatler magazine). By the time they return with Harold in tow the humes have come to a decision – in that they can’t come to a decision and so Ro-Jaws is to judge which of them is to die, unimpeded by feelings or emotion. Nice touches on this episode – other than the continuing paralells of 20th century car manufacturers with 21st century robotics companies there’s the usual interplay between war robot Hammerstein and sewer robot Ro-Jaws, and little details like the Dame Edna-esque glasses on the Australian sheep farmer Pru Foster (because what other surname would an Australian have? Castlemaine, perhaps?) Mr Foster’s first name is Rolf – he wouldn’t have been given that name now! Up there with the best of the Starlord stories and a great introduction for 2000AD readers.

Flesh Book II. Everything about this is superlative. Geoffrey Miller writes the words and Belardinelli introduces us to the Triassic. Four panels of the natural order of things (with only a few mistakes – Pangaea was not surrounded by the ocean Tethys – Tethys was an inland sea surrounded on three sides by Pangaea – the world-spanning ocean that surrounded Pangaea was Panthalassa) before 23rd century manking arrives on the scene. Then you turn the page to see a single panel centrespread, showing mankind’s effect on Tethys, above and below the waves. Massimo depicts black smoke belching into the Triassic sky, ocean liner sized fishing ships dwarfed by Atlantis Station, a fish-farming rig and below the waves in the same image is a huge submarine with two-man subs and cybosaurs (genetically engineered ichtyosaurs controlled by radio signals) and nets containing a thousand tons of aquatic life. As you’d expect from Flesh – in the normal course of a day one of the workers gets himself killed through carelessness. Belardinelli shows shows a flashback to the earlier story, possibly showing Old One Eye (but if it is her we see her ‘good’ side, so it might be any random tyrannosaur). The last panel shows one of the time shuttles that escaped from the Cretaceous Era Trans-Time Base materialising…

Tharg presents a competition to win a Sinclair Microvision (portable black and white TV) and runner up prize of 500 badge sets, featuring Judge Dredd, Satanus and ‘Ro-busters do… Big Jobs!’ – all by Mike McMahon – I’d prefer the runner-up prize personally!

Strontium Dog starts an untitled story which I think has since been retro-titled The Galaxy Killers. We get a clearer introduction to the late 22nd century than in the Starlord episodes, outling the Great War of 2150 on Earth, anti-mutant prejudice, the Search Destroy Agency and then showing a standard capture by Johnny and Wulf. On their long space haul back to Earth, the astroliner gets captured by a two mile long warship, bristling with armaments – outside and in the hangar. Not too much to write about this one – split into thirds, the first part is the intro for new readers, the second is a standard job and the third is a space voyage and capture, without any details of who has captured them.

Facing that are is a Brian Bolland advert for Forbidden Planet showing (what I can recognise, not being a fan of superhero comics): Ben Grimm, Dredd, Red Sonja, Howard the Duck, Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman, Conan, Robbie the Robot, Vampirella, Asterix, Spikes, The Joker and The Gronk. This was when Forbidden Planet was a single shop in Denmark Street and not an international franchise, or however the business is set up now. There’s also an advert for (air-propelled) model rockets. I mention this because it’s in the form of a comic strip. Unlike a previous advert for another company (might have been Action Man, can’t remember) a few months earlier, you can read the text on this one. Useful tip for advertisers – you may get used to impossible-to-read text for the small print, but make sure the actual message you want to convey can be read, huh?

Over the page is a new feature: Ro-Jaws and Hammer-Stein’s Laugh In! Apparently this mixes references from Rogers and Hammerstein (the team who wrote musicals) and Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, a 1960s and 1970s USA sketch show. I’m going to guess that the 8-year olds reading this at the time would have got the reference as much as I did when I first read these comics – i.e. not at all. Remember that time that the pair of Starlord robots guested on the Nerve Centre? It’s like that, but as a regular feature. I’m happy enough with it – I think I prefer Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein to answer reader’s letters than Tharg, to be honest, but don’t tell Tharg that I said that! One reader thinks that robots in the 21st century wouldn’t be able to talk as it would be impossible for all words to be programmed into a robots’ systems. I’m not sure if that was even impossible in the late 1970s (though the computer that could hold the dictionary may have been rather large compared to modern computers, of course). This gets short shrift from both robot respondents!

In all, this is the prog where 2000AD became the comic it is now. The agency artists have been lost (well, technically Massimo may count as ‘agency’) – four stories running, collectively by John Wagner (sorry, John Howard/T.B. Grover), Brian Bolland, Pat Mills, Dave Gibbons, Geoffrey Miller (who hasn’t written much for 2000AD – I’m wondering if this is another pseudonym), Massimo Belardinelli, Carlos Ezquerra, Tomas Frame, Jack Potter and Pete Knight. Most progs to date have had some filler, a few mis-steps or even excellent stories that haven’t quite found their way yet. 70+ Dredds, around 20 Strontium Dogs, 22 Ro-Busters and 19 episodes of Flesh (more if you count the annual and special stories – though that may not be an entirely wise idea) mean that every story appearing in this prog knows where it’s at. For somebody who started reading 2000AD in the early 1980s, this really feels like the modern comic I began with rather than the misch-masch of elements in earlier progs. As Great News pointed out a few years ago, every story in this prog has continued to the present day, in some way or other. I wonder what the end of the first century of progs would have been like without Starlord to develop the other half of this classic line-up?

Grailpage: there have been a few occassions when I’ve had a choice of grailpages between an artist who I know won’t appear very often in the pages of 2000AD and a page by Belardinelli. Knowing that Belardinelli will contribute a great amount of artwork over the next decade I’ve sometimes forsaken his work for the other artist. I’d been looking forward to this centre-spread, but I forgot thar Bolland was illustrating Crime and Punishment. Every page of this Dredd strip is great and the classic Bolland style is now firmly in place. But… I’m going to go for Belardinelli’s single-panel centrespread of the Atlantis Station above the waves and in the same image a (suitably huge and sci-fi) fishing submarine below the waves.

Grailquote: Pat Mills, Hammerstein: “Be brave, humans! This is your chance to die a hero’s death! I want one volunteer…” Hume 1: “Well…” Hume 2: “Er…” Narration: “One by one, the humans made excuses…”

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