2000AD Sci-Fi Special 1979: Mek-Wars Pull-out colour poster that doesn’t pull its punches!

IPC may be pretending that the weekly 2000AD is actually 2000AD and Starlord, but the same cannot be said of the Sci-Fi Special, and so there is no ‘and Starlord’ above Brian Bolland’s picture of Judge Dredd and the Ape Gang. There’s a strip with a few promo pictures from within messing up the bottom of the cover.

The contents page has a good picture of the Space Fortress approaching an inhabited asteroid. Unfortunately it’s a reprint, though still better than some contents pages we’ve had previously.

Judge Dredd is brought to us by A. A. Grant and B. Ewins – Alan Grant’s first time on the lawman, in a story called The Billion Credit Caper. We already know who the antagonists are going to be though, ‘coz they’re plastered across the cover. Which is a shame as the mystery of Dredd’s would be assassin is kept until the end of the third page where we get our first clues (small like an animal, and Dredd hasn’t seen a tommy-gun used for years – not true – he saw them in Las Vegas last year). On the next page are Future-Shock style mysteries of people talking in shadow or viewed from behind so that we assume they’re humans. This page also has bananas strewn around the table… An accusation sometimes levelled at new Dredd scribes these days is that their stories tend to be based too much in continuity – rather than being entirely fresh tales they read like the author (sorry, script droid) has based their story entirely on older stories, so it’s interesting that Grant’s first story directly references an earlier story. There’s an interesting scene where Walter gives Dredd a massage, which may make it to the grailquote section at the end of this post…

With a special or annual comes special features, and the first one is ‘You are a Judge’. I was not a fan of the three-option quizes that have appeared so far (mainly in Starlord) but I do appreciate the ones based around characters and stories more. Having said that, I don’t agree with some of the scores on this one – as an example, one question gives you two points for “Shake your head and admire the view”. Still better than those Starlord quizes though.

Tharg’s Future-Shocks: First Encounter – two pages from O.A. Stepaniuk and A. Craddock with S. Richards lettering. The artwork is repeated though the lettering is different on each page – page one shows the first encounter from the human’s point of view, ending in their deaths while the facing page shows exactly the same images with alien dialogue – as with Earth canines, smiling can be taken as baring teeth rather than a friendly gesture. It’s a nice take on things, and the repeated artwork is a technique we haven’t seen in 2000AD before.

Second feature: Meteor (the Sean Connery film). I’m sure I saw this at some point, but can’t remember anything about it. It’s a 1970s disaster film, still in production at the time the special was prepared/published about a meteor striking near New York.

Dan Dare’s ship features on the contents page, but what about his story? It’s a text story – The Planet of Frozen Fear. As is typical for text stories, there are no credits for this one (I don’t recognise the art style). There are some parts of this story which are acceptable – Dare goes down to an alien planet and finds that the planet and/or ice storms are alive (like the desert planet he travelled to in an earlier Legion story). The Problems with the story start with a contrived conflict between Dare and the head of the scientific research group which has chartered the space craft Agamemnon. Despite pre-dating the Legion mission to the Lost Worlds, there’s an appearance by an Eagle scout craft in one of the spot illustrations. Once Dare has lost a crew member and escaped the living planet/storm, he destroys some of the moons which cause freak gravitational effects, leading to the planet heading to the sun and being destroyed. Or something. Pretty nonsensical, huh? About a quarter of the story was worth reading (after the conflict between Captain Dare and Professor Kirsan and before Dare figured out the snow storm was alive), the rest was time I’ll never get back.

Another Future-Shock, this one is The Last Jungle in the World by Staccato (pen-name for Alan Grant) and N. Neocleous (not a name or art style I recognise). Two city kids have seen Tarzan at a cinema (vid palace) and make a wager that one of them (Rob-N) can’t survive the night in the last remaining jungle. Rob-N encounters all the things you might expect in a fictional jungle – piranhas, snakes and lions. Though also Tarzan, who ‘rescues’ Rob-N from the lion. It turns out that all the animals – and Tarzan – are robots. This isn’t even the main twist (good job, as we’ve seen that kind of thing before) – the twist is that his friend arrives in the morning to meet him but the robotic Tarzan has been working on making jungle souvenirs all night, including ‘head-shrinking’ Rob-N.

The Kids from Kosma next. No credits and presumably reprinted from some pre-2000AD comic. The art style seems 1950s or 1960s to me, though I’m not an expert. Contrasted with the Marshies from The Angry Planet currently running in Tornado, this reprint features the children of colonists to Kosma who display great strength on Earth. The plot involves trying to prove that the two children can be considered British citizens so that they can enter an Inter-Continental Athletics competion (the Olympics, from what I can tell). There’s a few other bits about being banished from Kosma for being a bit of a handful, and escaping from some kind of custody in South America so that they could travel to London, but it’s not really explained. It takes a break at what I can only hope is the half-way stage for…

…a fantastic centre-spread colour poster by Kevin O’Neill called Mek wars. I gather that this image actually pre-dates not only ABC Warriors (which hasn’t appeared yet) but also Ro-Busters. It’s has the retrospective sub-title “illustration from Hammer-Stein’s war memoirs volume 3”. I am wondering whether the Volgan logo on the enemy robot’s helmets is a later addition. The most interesting aspect (other than no sight of the war droid’s hammer arm) is the appearance of Mek-Quake, due to disembark from a D-Day style landing craft in the background.

Also interrupting parts one and two of the Kids from Kosma is a (mostly 2000AD-related) wordsearch…

…and a text story, A Breath of Fresh Air. In search of any credits (or clues to the artist) I accidentally saw the second of two images which almost certainly gives away the ‘shock’ in this Future-Shock-alike. Oh well, I’ll read it anyway. A citizen in Brit-City suffers from the world’s worst halitosis, has tried every treatment available and ends up going to a robo-doc trying out a new technique. The technique works, though at the cost of the lower half of the citizen’s face, which is replaced by metal filters. An average ‘shock’ story, though the picture taking up the last half of the page 3 doesn’t help maintain the suspense…

Back to the Kosma Kids. They had apparently been banished from Kosma (or is it Distaff 7?) and found themselves on Earth. They had British accents and so the British government were trying to prove they were British citizens, so that they could win some sports medals (for the first time in 70 years). But Distaff 7 / Kosma wanted them back. Or something. They win a race, the rest of the athletes retire as the kids come up to the tape (even the person who would have won third place?) and then somebody from the other planet tries to take them into custody. Then (in the last three panels of the entire story) the grandfather from Kosma turns up, reveals that he had regained his British citizenship (because Kosma doesn’t go in for sport and so is of no use to him) and that the kids had run away from home. Does that sound confused? Does it also sound like the story, such as it was, could have been told better? Do you think they may make an appearance in future specials or annuals? I’ve read this special in decades past but don’t remember this story at all, so only time will tell.

Ro-Jaws and Hammer-Stein’s Laugh In! It’s the usual – In the prog I prefer this to the other formats of letters pages we’ve seen in 2000AD, Starlord and Tornado, but I’d rather not see it in a special. Four out of five pictures are direct copies of pictures from the stories, a fifth is probably an original robot drawing and the sixth is the best – a photograph of a home-made Ro-Jaws made from rubbish (cardboard boxes, some sort of plastic tube, possibly from a vacuum cleaner, from the looks of it). Oh, and the pair had a disagreement on the first of two pages, so technically the second page is Ro-Jaws Laugh In! and Hammer-Stein’s Laugh In!

The Dredd Interview with John Howard (John Wagner) and Brian Bolland has been trailed a few times in the weekly progs. Wagner reveals a few favourite books: Dune and Philip Bedford Robinson’s Masque of a Savage Mandarin (not currently in print?) and casting choices for a Dredd film: Clint Eastwood, John Travolta or Charles Bronson! As for Bolland, his favourite (sci-fi) novel is John Sladek’s The Mueller-Fokker Effect (looks like it’s currently only available as part of a Sladek omnibus) and he also likes Kurt Vonnegut books. These are interesting interviews, as much for a snapshot of thoughts in the late 1970s than from the creators involved. Also notable are a couple of illos of AALN-1 – is this the first droid caricature of a 2000AD creator?

One more editorial page before we get back to the stories – this time is a collection of reader’s art of Dredd. Nine pictures, four of which are copies of panels (to the extent that I can tell which story they originally appeared in and which artist was originally responsible). Two or three of the others may be copies but I can’t identify the source. Nice to see a few contributions from female readers (in the very polarised boys/girls markets of 1970s British comics) and cross-cultural appeal too.

Ian Rogan, Rob Moran and Aldrich on letters bring us Assault on Trigol 3! a Strontium Dog story. It’s not awful, but it’s not good either. Our trio are going to a ‘wild frontier’ planet to hunt a fugitive (Harry the Horse) and drop by an old friend of Johnny’s. Too old in fact, he’s a marshal who can’t keep control of his town on his own, especially since his action-loving son ran off. Alpha appoints himself a new deputy and before long the worst offenders are in the single jail cell, including the son of Harry, now a posse leader. Predictably, Harry has captured the marshal’s missing son though as Johnny brings out Harry’s son, shoots through him and kills Harry. It has been said that the secret to a good Strontium Dog story (and any other story that relies on a few notable characteristics or signature weapons) is not to throw all the gimmicks into every story. In eight pages, Johnny uses his alpha vision (page 3), a time trap (page 5), the electronux (also page 5), the beam-that-passes-harmlessly-through-one-person-to-explode-at-a-set-range (page 7) and a time bomb (page 8). It gets a bit too busy for my taste.

You are a Strontium Dog. Marginally better than the Judge quiz, still tonnes better than the Starlord quizzes. As ever, a few incomprehensible choices – why do you get 2 points for being shot in the arm but 5 for the leg?

An untitled M.A.C.H.1 story from Gary’s Rice and Leach closes the prog, story-wise. It’s always good to see Gary Leach’s work, though something about this seems a little rushed to me – it’s certainly not up to the standard of his self-penned Dan Dare story from last year’s special, or some of the work forthcoming on V.C.s, Marvelman and related stories. Terrorists have taken over an oil rig and killed a few defenceless divers in a decompression chamber, threatening to blow up the rig and kill five hostages if the British government doesn’t pay a ten million pounds ransom. So why did they kill the divers in the decompression chamber? They’d have had more hostages, none of whom could have fought back. The rest is a typical Probe story so I won’t go in to details. The art is good, it’s just that we’ve seen Leach do better.

The inside back cover plugs the current line-up in the weekly prog, and gives answers to the wordsearch.

The back cover is a colour photograph of the Hammer-stein model we’ve seen a few times, along with labels of components. Anything of particular interest? This is his ‘Ro-Busters’ head – the main red eye is a daylight eye with a smaller infra-red night eye above it. His three belly buttons flash for motor damage, weapon damage and neuro damage. If I ever put together a roleplaying game scenario, or wargame scenario – both have active games in publication then the rest of the facts and figures would come in handy.

Grailpage: Kevin O’Neill, Mek Wars – the picture that inspired both Ro-Busters and ABC Warriors.

Grailquote: Alan A Grant, Walter: “Dwink up, master, and Walter will give you an invigowating massage.” Dredd: “Up and to the left a bit, Walter.” Walter: “Sowwy, master! Was – was Walter too wough with you?” Dredd: “Walt, right now I need you wough – I mean, rough!”

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