At last! Britain’s top two papers join forces! 2000AD and Tornado Prog 127: I, Tharg, welcome the Tornado heroes!

A new title, a new logo.

Dave Gibbons paints the first cover for 2000AD and Tornado. Those readers arriving from Tornado must have been pleased at the better quality paper and printing after putting up with toilet paper-quality Tornado for the past 22 weeks. This won’t last. Seven days, in fact – then the brief period where 2000AD (and/or Starlord/Tornado) had decent presentation will be over.

As you’d expect, the inside front cover acts as a jump-on point for new readers, introducing Tharg and Mek-Quake. There’s the usual profile of Tharg, including his planet of origin (Betelgeuse 6 – it hasn’t been named Quaxxan yet) and a few Betelgeusian phrases – most of which still get used in the prog to this day. Haven’t seen Thrashoruns lately though. There’s also the obligatory run down of the characters that will be appearing, but most interesting is the ‘coming soon’ box – as well as (at least) the third trail for A Day in the Life of the Mighty Tharg – just print it already – there’s Starlord’s Guide to the Galaxy (don’t remember what this is). That’s all par for the course – the really exciting bits are the two new series: The Stainless Steel Rat and The V.C.s. Without the benefits of nostalgie (I was already getting in to my teens by the time my back prog collection had reached back as the 100s) the childish aspects of the progs detracted. Sometime in the next year I’m thinking the line-up will be solid enough that it can be considered a golden age, even by people who weren’t there at the time. Not to detract from the series bequeathed to 2000AD by Tornado (none of which will last as long as those that it inherited from Starlord), but perhaps the biggest contribution that Tornado made to 2000AD was to run the unused filler that would surely have run in 2000AD if it hadn’t been printed in those pages. I am speaking as somebody who likes Black Hawk, Disaster 1990 and Wolfie Smith – all series in this prog which aren’t as universally regarded as Judge Dredd and ABC Warriors. Captain Klep is on his own though.

Judge Dredd: an untitled one-shot from John Howard and Brian Bolland. Fog is shrouding weather district 6 of Mega-City One. I’m wondering if this ties in to the more familiar sectors or not. Judge Kelly (a female judge – and the first female character who is unequivacably shown to be a judge – with a badge on her right breast instead of left, as Dredd’s is) looks after a witness while Dredd follows the infra-red footprints of Sweeney Tood, who has snatched a mega-citizen off of the streets. (Sweeney is a robot, from the local futuristic waxworks equivalent).

The competition is for Corgi James Bond toys – the Aston Martin, the Moonraker Space Shuttle, DRAX helicopter and the Lotus Esprit. I actually had the latter – it had flip out fins when it turned into a submarine, and fired rockets (which, of course, got lost pretty quickly). Thankfully there’s no hidden pictures scattered around the prog (you can tell how much this scarred me) – just some jumbled letters which make the names of three James Bond films: “bell and ruth”, “gold ringed” and “koran more”. So (spoiler): “thunderball“, “goldfinger” and “moonraker“. Thunderball took me the longest to get!

As mentioned in my blog post on the last issue of Tornado, I didn’t realise that the beginning of the 2000AD (and Tornado) run of Blackhawk actually tied in to the end of the Tornado run. It doesn’t actually tie in that well – there’s no feeling that Blackhawk has just saved Emperor Nero, killed the tribune and is appointing his successor centurion as he gets teleported. By the way, that episode was written by Gerry Finley-Day, this is by ‘Alvin Gaunt’ (Alan Grant), with artwork by Belardinelli (I think that even now, three years in, Massimo’s first name hasn’t been published yet). To make it more ‘sci-fi comic’ Blackhawk has been teleported into a starship to act as a gladiator. I’m not a fan of ‘kidnap the character and put them in an arena’ stories, but as this gives Belardinelli a chance to draw lots of aliens, I’ll give it a pass. He gets off to a slow start – ‘The Entertainers’ (the alien race who snatched Blackhawk), a centaur, the ‘primeval one’ (something that looks a bit like a yeti) plus a few spaceships, but after the human-centric Angry Planet it’s good to see the artistic muscles being flexed. The Starship is called ‘Stadium’ and the head honcho is ‘Director’ – Alvin Gaunt has been more creative with his own pseudonym than with naming things featured in this story! Blackhawk is all set to fall on his sword rather than become a slave again, until challenged with the Primeval One – he has to know whether he could best it in combat.

The A.B.C. Warriors: Steelhorn’s recruitment story from Pat Mills and Brendan (McCarthy). The Romans were ruled by the Caesar. The Russians were ruled by the Czar or Tsar. The Germans were ruled by the Kaiser. The Volgs are ruled by the Zarr – his name is Marshal Volgod and he’s making his last stand, surrounded by a ring of fire. The indestructible robot Steelhorn walks through the inferno that surrounds the Marshal and executes him, calling an end to the Volgan War. I seem to remember mentioning that this war began on the first page of the first prog, though thinking about it, the invasion was a different war. The Volgan war was reclaiming Europe from the Volgans. Now that the ABC Warriors are not needed, they are secretly being disposed of. Steelhorn wants to be become a firefighter, though is sent to the furnace instead (which is pretty short-sighted of the humans, as ABC Warriors would be perfect for sending into disaster zones, an idea which Howard Quartz will realise with the Ro-Busters). Steelhorn as a character doesn’t last long, for what emerges from the furnace is The Mess.

The Mind of Wolfie Smith has a one page recap (basically a condensed version of the first Tornado episode) from Tom Tully and Ian Gibson. Still a runaway, still having to move on when he gives people ‘the creeps’, Wolfie’s latest job looks to be ‘general duties’ at Moldark Manor in Rawlton Marsh near Redford, East Anglia (all made-up names, I’m sure). Just after having seen the advert for this job, Wolfie is jostled by the occupant of a car that has just crashed, and as he watches the police chase him intercepts messages from a powerful telepath, ordering the jostler to kill himself. Despite being about somebody with psychic powers, this is the first time Wolfie has encountered a genuine psychic or anything else supernatural. Funny it should happen in the very first appearance in a sci-fi comic…

Disaster 1990 doesn’t get any introduction for new readers, with just the usual narration box to accompany the latest episode from G. Finlay-Day and Carlos Pino (first mention of Pino’s given name?) and the DUK-W duo encounter first a whirlpool (caused by a London Underground tunnel – so the zoo wasn’t at Windsor the other week) and then a spiv on what gets called a barge (looks more like a fishing boat). Slick Sam is fleecing the locals for all their remaining prized possessions in order for them to eat, and has a secret storehouse… somewhere. Bamber notices turf on the bottom of package that Sam gives them (in exchange for Bill’s shooter) and they realise the storehouse is Wembley Stadium (so that ‘zoo in the west’ must have been London Zoo, which in no way is west of Harrods). When Pat Mills wanted Dredd to visit Mount Rushmore he made something up to explain why it was on his route – not playing fast and loose with geography like in Disaster 1990! Bill leads a group on his Duck to claim food and provisions, and also rescues Slick Sam from a lynching. Just then Wembley Stadium starts to fall apart, creating a massive whirlpool which destroys the ‘barge’ and threatens to drown everybody else.

The inside back cover has a portrait half-page stamp advert, a sweet advert and a trail for the next week’s prog (using a Bolland Dredd head, an Azpiri Blackhawk and a McMahon Hammerstein head).

…and so we come to the back page, and Captain Klep. Tharg makes an appearance (calling Klep a Kleplet instead of an Earthlet – a nice touch). It’s not awful for what it is, but what it is is a one-page humour strip that belongs in comics like the Beano, Dandy, (keeping it IPC) Whizzer and Chips or whatever other comics were around at that time. I do like the last panel: “Can Klep fail where others have succeeded? Read on next prog!” and I’m not entirely against cartoonish humour shorts in the prog – I like Dash Decent, Sooner or Later and Droid Life, but not Bonjo or Captain Klep. I seem to recall that Robin Smith will get his first strip work on Klep in the future, so let’s see if I like that any more.

Grailpage: up against a Brian Bolland Dredd, Brendan McCarthy just inches ahead with the last full-colour painted centrefold for many years. David Bishop interivewed Steve McManus about the temporary switch to (good quality) litho printing amidst the standard (rubbish) letterpress printing. It’ll be seven years until the prog is so good to look at again (from a prodcution perspective – obviously there’s going to be stunning artwork in the meantime).

Grailquote: John Howard, mega-citizen: “You don’t pay your way when you’re Chamber of Horrors dummies and you don’t pay your way now!” Judge Dredd: “Crime never pays, citizen! You’re under arrest!”

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