2000AD and Star Lord Prog 90: Galaxy-crunching atom-splitting Sci-Fi!

The fledgling merged comic gets its second ensemble cover, with cut and pasted images cobbled from Strontium Dog, Flesh and Ro-Busters. This is common with jumping-on progs but is out of place when all stories are mid-run (also, where’s Dredd?)

The Nerve Centre has letters provoking Tharg to offer Galactic Groats for readers to write in with 250-word stories. Can’t say I recall this bearing fruit but maybe it will. Another reader ‘casts’ a perfect prog, along with art droids (but completely ignores the script robots) while another complains that the Earth price of the prog has risen even though other planets in the solar system haven’t.

The Tyrant’s Grip! takes hold over Mega-City One. A newsreader informs the public about the raft of new measures that Cal is bringing in, and as it customary in such circumstances, gets arrested by enforcers in the studio while live broadcasting. Citizens are pilloried in mobile wagons, a curfew is brought in, most new laws seemingly punishable by death. Meanwhile, the robodocs have finished operating on Dredd, removing the bullet and regenerating damaged brain tissue. Before he can undergo further treatments, judges break into the recovery room and snatch Dredd (against robodoc’s orders). That place where the judges are based gets called both Justice Central and the Great Hall of Justice – not quite the Grand Hall, but getting there! As Cal is now Chief Judge, he now appoints a successor in the role he previously filled, infamously installing Deputy Chief Judge Fish (in a panel which Mike McMahon hates – though the fish is well drawn). Cal says that Fish has been a faithful friend for many years. As goldfish have a reputation for a short lifespan I looked into it – apparently most goldfish in captivity just aren’t cared for very well – if looked after they should last ten years. I also found out they have better memories than folk wisdom would suggest – also my ten-minute research suggests that Deputy Chief Judge Fish is a lionhead goldfish. Or, y’know, some new breed that arises in the next seventy-something years. Dredd is brought before the new Chief Judge and his initial outburst gives Cal an excuse to execute Dredd, personally. Judge Giant pipes up that shooting Dredd at such close range would spatter blood over his uniform and requests to deal with Dredd personally as revenge for his rookie days. While on their way down to the holding cells, Giant takes care of their accompanying guard and starts an escape attempt.

In Ro-Busters, Hammerstein recounts that after reporting the Volgan offensive he was put into ‘Country’ Joe Farmer’s squadron. The story revolves around ‘Bomber’ Harrison (not unlike the later Mad Tommy from Bad Company) and ‘Baby Face’ Brannigan. Bomber thinks he’s a plane and Baby Face has not seen action yet and is scared, both of dying and of being scared. After freezing, leading to Hammerstein being damaged/injured, Baby Face is overtaken by a rage and aquits himself in battle. As an aside, I just found out that the centrespread from next year’s Sci-Fi Special (1979, that is, not 2020) predates Ro-Busters, and goes some way to explain why Hammerstein has a more ‘human’ head as well as his Ro-Busters head. Mek-Quake – or another bulldozer robot of the same model – also appears rolling off of a landing craft. I should really wait until the 1979 special, but no doubt I’ll completely forget about it by then – the events depicted actually do get told, in the Invasion episode printed in Prog 1641.

The rear section of the Preying Mantis cut-away next – apparently the bit optimised for sea and space use. Not as interesting as the command module cut-away, mainly because it’s a lot more technical (so if you like technical diagrams with made-up technology then this is more to your taste than the one with Howard Quartz’s private quarters and Marilyn’s office).

Big Hungry is accompanied by a nature-documentary type narration as he smashes apart a submarine in Flesh, then returns to the sea surface for fresh air. Svenson, lusting for gold, damages the subs and leaves the way open for Carver to betray him – leaving him to drown – and take over the sub. Hearing the truth from the drowning Svenson, another crewman, Peters, uses a harpoon to smash his way out of the sub and enter the dry section through an airlock. The stage is set for a confrontation between Peters and Carver (though the next prog tag says “Island of Dreams” so Big Hungry shouldn’t be too far away).

Kid’s Stuff is this prog’s Future-Shock by ‘B. Clements’ and Carlos Pino. In the best tradition of an early Future-Shock, there are two facing pages of setup then the surprise comes as you turn the page. So far the Chief Engineer of a starship is the only survivor of a crash when he’s rescued by children. He wakes up in a hospital with somebody shaking a baby’s rattle at him. My guess is that the residents of the alien planet grow younger as they age, so those children who rescued him were actually elders and that a middle-aged human Chief Engineer would look like a youngster to them. Turn – the – page – yep, called it! I can’t be too proud of myself though, it wasn’t exactly subtle (especially if you’ve read every other Future-Shock up to this point).

In Strontium Dog the war begins in earnest, complete with patent Ezquerra stripy spaceships! Johnny, Wulf and the Gronk are sent down into tunnels (think Viet Minh underground network). Johnny shoots too fellow conscripts who have taken to murder a little too readily and befriends the native Sandorians. As they are led to a place of safety the two natives are shot, though one manages to pass on blueprints of a plan (in Sandorian script, which Johnny can’t read). With no way to find the Sandorian High Command, Johnny declares that they trio must rejoin the Wolrogs, as this will be the quickest way to the High Command. I can’t remember the slightest detail of how this is going to work, but I’m along for the ride!

In Hammer-Stein’s Laugh-In! somebody has been busy making a model of Hammerstein, the photograph taking up the top half of the page. Ro-Jaws is not impressed and makes his feelings towards the Great Nerk clear.

The back page is given to a cut-away of a Zander Hunter-Killer Submarine. I don’t think this relates to anything we’ve seen, though it looks like it should belong in Flesh. The sub very vaguely looks like one of the spaceships we’ll be seeing in The V.C.s in a few years. Like last prog’s Lawmaster, and this prog’s rear section of the Preying Mantis, the text is technical in nature. Unlike either example, this doesn’t tie in to any story which is a shame as it has a good look to it and I could easily imagine Belardinelli including it’s organic lines as a Trans-Time vehicle.

Grailpage: Massimo Belardinelli, page three of Flesh, featuring Big Hungry swimming around submarine rock formations and into a cave – I love the look on the nothosaur’s face as he recalls his younger days with the pack while heading for home!

Grailquote: John Howard, a judge: “Hail Deputy Chief Judge Fish! May your lawgiver always fire true!” just for the image that inspires of a goldfish firing a gun.

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