Back in the days when I was on the hunt for back progs, this was one that I bought some time before those immediately before and after it – and this was largely due to the cover. As a fan of Nemesis the Warlock, I had to have the story which inspired it (though I can’t remember at the moment whether I’d have known at the time -this should become more clear when I get to the feature on the making of Nemesis that will appear in an annual in a few years). Kevin O’Neill exposes us to the travel tubes for the first time (in fact, if you were reading this for the first time you wouldn’t know it was a Ro-Busters cover, as we haven’t seen the Satan Dart yet, either).
The Nerve Centre is a models special – with a Lego Mek-Quake, an Action Man in Johnny Alpha garb and a plush Gronk. There’s also a model of Judge Dredd, though I can’t figure out what it’s made of – clay, plasticine or something else.
John Wagner as John Howard writes Judge Dredd, which has the surviving Exo-Man on the run with Blackshack. As expected, he was released by Blackshack in the mistaken belief that he would turn a new leaf (just before he gets back in his Exo-suit and kidnaps her). Taking her back to his hide-out, he contacts the CCCC with a ransom demand, though when he calls back later finds that they haven’t met his demand. So he halves it. They’re not interested – they don’t want her back at all – funds are short and they have another who can handle Blackshack’s duties. The kidnapper is about to cut off the call, but Blackshack has other thoughts and takes over the vidcall. Exo-man realises the call has gone on more than long enough for the judges to trace it and prepares to scarper, but not before attempting to kill Blackshack (to do “the world a favour”). All you need to know from this point on is that Dredd arrives and the two representatives end up with (a quite lenient) six months apiece. Though it is penal servitude. The dialogue between Blackshack and the CCCC call handler is priceless and would be the high point of many a prog.
John Wagner as T.B. Grover writes Robo-Hunter, who returns to Earth. The art is glorious – it looks like Ian Gibson either wanted to push the boat out, or for whatever reason had more time to draw this last episode of the Verdus storyline. Slade and Kidd get back to Earth. Rogers and Chan de-brief Slade (and the depiction of Chan is still woefully dated) but other than Chan’s dialogue it’s a great finale. There are a few Gibson stories where most of the art is in his usual, cartoonish-realist style, though with one frame, usually a close up of a main character, which is much more ‘illustrative’ in nature. This is probably the earliest example I’ve noticed, with the close-up of Kidd before he starts shooting the place up. I’m wondering if one of these pages will be my grailpage (trying to be objective, though I suspect it’ll be one of the Ro-Busters pages from later in the prog). There is one problem with this final episode – other than having to wait an unspecified amount of time for the next Slade story, there is a sinister message at the end – Rick Random is coming to the pages of the weekly!
John Wagner is back, again as T.B. Grover, this time for Strontium Dog, Journey Into Hell. As with Robo-Hunter, in any usual prog this would contain a prime candidate for grailpage. Story-wise, the horseman of the apocalypse is impervious to harm though the same cannot be said for his horse, which throws the horseman after Alpha throws desert sand into the steed’s face. In the end the four horsemen (Ky, the third horseman, calls the others) aren’t much of a threat, not managing to catch Alpha before he escapes the desert, arriving at Hate – second city of Hell.
Tom Tully, writing as Tom Tully, brings us Dan Dare: Servant of Evil with Dave Gibbons. The superheroics continue – Dare and Eternicus (the cosmic claw) join forces and Dare starts to refine his control of the claw – no montage for them, it’s all in one scene! Meanwhile the Mekon is getting closer to meeting the leader of the Thraxians, Hagnar. Unbeknownst to either of them, they both share the same plan – to meet and then kill the other.
Finally, the main attraction (for me), The Fall and Rise of Ro-Jaws and Hammer-stein Part 8 introduces the proto-Travel Tube. But first, Hammerstein brings his hammer down on the P.D. troopers, though they retaliate with an armour-piercing incendiary, opening up Hammerstein’s old war wound. Ro-Jaws draws the heat off him by starting a bar brawl and chaos overtakes the room. Led Belly and Sparko the Wonder Dog lead the fugitives down to the Satan Dart – Led Belly’s transport. As it enters the city’s travel tube system, a P.D. Shark Car gives chase. The Satan Dart is able to deal with it, though immediately two more Shark Cars appear, just in time to attempt an intercept at Carousel. That’s the plot, but this is my favourite story in this prog. I’d have ended up with this prog eventually, but I targeted this one as it inspired Terror Tube, which itself introduced Nemesis the Warlock – and that’s one of the stories that hooked me in my first few months of reading 2000AD.
Grailpage: am I going to pick Ian Gibson’s last page of Robo-Hunter? How about Carlos Ezquerra’s Horsemen of the Apocalypse? Nah – it’s got to be one of the Kevin O’Neill travel tube pages – but which one? It’d be tempting to pick the last page of the story, as it features the ‘Ro-Busters style tube’ and the ‘Nemesis style tube’ – but I like the page where the Satan Dart shoots out, our very first view of the travel tubes.
Grailquote: Pat Mills, P.D. Trooper: “I-I promise if you surrender we’ll go easy on you meks! You-you can’t shake off a P.D. Shark Car!” Led Belly: “You ain’t sseen my drivin’ yet, buddy! Hold on, everyone…”