2000AD and Starlord Prog 104: Death on the Mutant Express!

Strontium Dog is back, and hopefully with some of the equipment that makes the story distinctive! The cover is by King Carlos and shows Johnny fighting Fly’s-Eyes Wagner atop a train (or what passes for a train in the future on an alien planet).

In the Nerve Centre we find out that 2000AD (10p in the UK) costs 60c in the USA, with the exchange rate that’s roughly 30p. Exchange rates have changed – it’s closer to 60c/50p nowadays.

Never mind all that though – something major has happened in Judge Dredd: The Day the Law Died! It’s a shame to say goodbye to Gary Leach on art duties, but this week’s art droid is Ron Smith, making his 2000AD debut! He gets off to a great start, firstly with Dredd and Fergee dispatching the Kleggs, then with Walter doing double-takes when he sees Fergee’s flies, and takes matters into his own hands. Claws. Pincers. Whatever you call the things on the end of Walter’s arms. While this is going on, Dredd carries out a recce to make sure reinforcements aren’t going to investigate the sounds of gunfire. After a chase through the streets of MC-1 (to make sure that the judges see his face), Dredd escapes to the Undercity with Fergee while Walter goes to the Hall of Justice to face Cal.

Robo-Hunter kills his way through Big Brain’s HQ, tallying seventeen robots – I’m not sure how that was a good idea – shooting and crawling through maintenance ducts to keep a low profile don’t really go together. Anyway, one way or another he gets to Big Brain, the sole Class 9 robot on Verdus (remember, the higher the number, the more intelligent – the brushes on legs are Class 1, forklifts are Class 2 and I think Boots is Class 3). Smokin’ Joe and Slade’s other companions are brought to Class 9 and Big Brain is convinced. Though the implication of this is that not only has he ordered humes killed, but has used their ‘Sim’ brains to augment his own. He finds this difficult to cope with, to say the least. Now incapacitated, many of the Class 7 robots present swear allegiance to Slade, though General 2 thinks differently. This means war! A new catchphrase is introduced for Sam C Slade – the C stands for Crafty, Chirpy, Courage and Ch-ch-chicken.

Walt Wemembers a picture of John Probe but this shares a page with the first advert for Tornado No 1 – unlike Starlord, this is priced the same as 2000AD – 10p (Starlord was 12p at a time when the prog was 9p). It will be starring Victor Drago, The Angry Planet and Benkei, and features a Turbo Flyer (not like the Space Spinner – this is like a three-pronged boomerang).

Strontium Dog is back with Journey Into Hell! It starts off low-key enough, with a run-in with local law enforcement before the chase hunt down their bounty, Fly’s-Eyes Wagner. We only get four pages this prog and by the end Wagner has de-coupled the road train and the part that Johnny is on (unconscious?) is toppling…

Dave Gibbons takes us to the swamp in Dan Dare: Servant of Evil! Part 5 (no chapter title this time). Apparently Treens have hydrophobia and as Lystria is a swamp planet the Mekon cannot invade the world with his forces. Hmmm. About a minute’s investigation (in the age of the internet) has revealed to me that the Treens capital city, Mekonta, is built on many islands in a lake so I’m not sure that Treen hydrophobia would be cannon. After an encounter with The Toadmen of Lystria, Dare gets the truth of the Crystal of Life from Mekon (or a truth, anyways – who can tell whether it’s the real truth). Cast out from the heart of an exploding star, the crystal shone on planets it passed, including ours 2000 years ago, being followed across a desert by three people riding camels… Eventually it landed on Lystria where a shrine has been built around it. We don’t get to see it yet, but some part of the crystal and/or shrine gives off a blood-red light.

Ro-Busters: The Fall & Rise of Ro-Jaws & Hammer-Stein, Part 2: Robocide! The end of Ro-Busters (Disasters) Ltd won’t mean the end of Howard Quartz’ business empire though, as we see from a wall of other companies – 134 of them, to be exact, all starting with ‘Ro-Busters’, ‘Quartz’ or ‘Howard’. As the bomb is placed in the Preying Mantis, Ro-Jaws introduces Ginger to other robots, including Little Mo and X27? (who appeared in the background listening to the memoirs) and Casey – an imitation human for medical treatments testing and Doctor Feeley Good – a robodoc that was struck off. The robots are summoned to the Preying Mantis. My copy of this prog has a touch of faded printing, so some letters are difficult to make out, but from what I can tell, the designations are as follows: FRED 2L (Ro-Jaws); War Droid Mk3 (Hammer-Stein); X27?; TX1/J (Ginger); Robo-Doc F.G. (Doctor Feeley-Good); KC1 (Casey); L/Mo (Little Mo). There’s actually a lot more robots entering the pod, but those are the ones we’re going to be following. For the time being we get a ‘slave song’ to the tune Where Have All the Flowers Gone? – a much-covered anti-war folk revival song by Pete Seeger. Pat Mills’ Tharg Note on this is great world-building: “this illegal song was popular amongst robots at this stage in their history.” especially in light of later developments involving robot-dominated planets in the far future. Before the droids depart, Miss Marilyn manages to pull Ro-Jaws aside to warn him about the bomb.

The inside back cover is a full-page teaser for next prog, with three frames from Dredd.

On the back cover Dan Dare features in a star pin-up by Dave Gibbons – the other returnee after last prog’s Slade poster. This one is in the fake Galactic Law Enforcement office costume – I mean ‘uniform’.

Grailpage: So many to choose from – will it be Ron Smith’s first splash of the Mega-City streets? Gibson’s Slade looking askance at the viewer? O’Neill’s Howard Quartz pointing at this listing of companies? Nah – it’s Kevin O’Neill showing Miss Marilyn saying goodbye to the Ro-busters robots. I think there’s another view of her by Mike McMahon, but this is going to be the more poignant.

Grailquote: T.B. Grover, Verdus robots: “Hail King Sam!” Sam Slade: “King Sam… I kinda like the sound of that.” – I knew this quote first from a partwork poster presented years later.

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