Another annual cover from Kev O’Neill. Nice colours though I’d have preferred it if he’d been working on more comic pages! I don’t think he’s got any more work on ABC Warriors, but it’s a long time ’til Comic Rock. The cover actually ties in to the first story, so I won’t go into detail.
The contents pages has a still from a sci-fi film or TV series (though nothing I recognise – something like Space 1999 or Blakes 7). As with the 2000AD annual, the only credits in this annual are those that the artists put on their own work – if I spot any signatures (or recognise art styles) I’ll mention it.
The Dan Dare story ties in to the cover. This is set before the Lost Worlds mission, and was probably written and drawn shortly after Belardinelli’s run on Dare in the weekly progs. The artwork doesn’t have the assuredness of pre-2000AD artists or the excitement of the punk generation artists and the best parts of the art are very derivative of other artwork – such as the appearance of Rok, which is very obviously copied directly from Belardinelli’s rendition, or some of hte spaceships, which look like they’re copied from Kevin O’Neill’s design which appeared on the cover. The story itself has Dare taking a break between SASA commissions where he encounters a captain who breaks under pressure and turns to piracy after gaining a reputation as unreliable. That’s about all you need to know – the cover is about Dare making a solo run on the pirate ship, which Rok ignores by gaining access to the ship and saving Dare’s life.
Towering Inferno – For Real! is an article inspired by the release of the film and opens with the poster artwork (without blurb, flipped). Well, maybe not by the release of the film as it came out in 1974 – five years before this annual. It runs down a few features of then-modern buildings such as fireproof lift shafts, escape stairs and hoses with independent water supplies built into high-rise offices. Interestingly there’s no mention of sprinkler systems. Two photos show Tharg in front of King’s Reach Tower and the Occidental Tower in Los Angeles ablaze (the fire was contained to lower floors – in this case ‘lower floors’ is around the 15th storey).
From text feature to reprint, this one of U.F.O. Agent. I don’t know what it’s called that as we’re immediately introduced to two U.F.O. Agents – Major Grant and Boffin Bailey. The pair are assigned to protect the ruby fangs of a statue in Taipan from E.O.S. (Enemies of Society). Having said that, Boffin doesn’t do much, while the Major goes to the pagoda where the statue stands. E.O.S. turn up and gas everyone, including Major Grant. As he wasn’t there officially he isn’t with the rest of the guards and doesn’t get a full dose. Recovering first he follows a trail of water from the SCUBA-wearing thieves and uses a bola on them. Taking back the rubies he returns them to the statue before the local guards awake. Returning to the U.F.O. they sink the getaway E.O.S. boat. Maybe I’ve just answered my own question – the Major does stuff and is the Agent, while Boffin is just along for moral support or something? This is four pages long, so at least it doesn’t take up as much space as Guinea Pig or Phantom Patrol over in the 2000AD annual.
Big Eye in the Sky – a text feature on an optical telescope in Russia. When the mirror was cast it took 700 days to cool naturally and the glass took a year to grind to perfection. The project director has a quote: “We will, beyond doubt, make new totally unpredictable discoveries.” Doing a little research with 40 years hindsight and the internet at my disposal the telescope is the BTA-6 Large Altazimuth Telescope and was the largest telescope in the world from 1975 to 1990. Turns out that 700 day cooling period may not have been enough, and it could have had imperfections (which were suppressed at the time and would have only been rumours in the scientific community in the West). Something like that anyway – there’s been three or four replacement mirrors since it was first opened but no record of any major achievements…
Finally! Some art I recognise – Belardinelli draws Programmed to Destroy. With elements of background not unlike The Angry Planet, this tells the tale of prospectors in the Asteroid Belt. The history is that it was once a planet, Jumar – between Jupiter and Mars – which was destroyed in a massive intergalactic war billions of years ago. There was one survivor in our solar system – the computer brain of one of the spaceships, the spaceship which destroyed Jumar, in fact. The moment the first of the excavation equipment is being unloaded the computer brain starts to take control of them, the prospectors initially putting down any ‘accidents’ to human error or mechanical malfunctions. The rest of the story reads like a cross between Christine (the film came out in 1984, not sure when the Stephen King book was first released), Maximum Overdrive (1986 film, but also based on a Stephen King story) and that scene from Supergirl where a possessed digger goes on the rampage (also released in 1984). The best story in this annual so far, and judging by previous annuals that opinion isn’t likely to change before the back page…
Pedal Power is a one-page feature on a covered tricycle in Switzerland.
…That Magnificent Museum with those Flying Machines… is another text feature on a visit to the National Air and Space Museum which is in full colour and has photos of the museum. It doesn’t say where exactly it is, just somewhere in America – I’m going to guess near Cape Canaveral / Cape Kennedy.
3000 A D The Traveller is the story of a traveller post-apocalyptic landscape. Art is by Mike McMahon and is presented in colour (it doesn’t look like his fully painted ABC Warriors artwork, so I’ll assume it was coloured in afterwards by somebody else). There are gas grenades, boot jets, mini-nukes, blasters, choppers, shields, missiles, tanks and another nuclear bomb. It’s four pages long but functions as a three-page Future-Shock – the last two panels reveal this is a normal commute home from an office job by a bowler hat wearing accountant. This is a close second to Belardinelli’s Programmed to Destroy.
From 3000 AD to 3001 – A Space Poem with an illustration by Ewins and McCarthy. The poem starts as a spider-centric parody of Blake’s The Tiger and has a monstrous space spider approaching human visitors to its planet. The unresolved twist is that the spider only wants a friend, not food.
Killer in Space. It’s a reprint. It’s a Rick Random reprint. It’s a very densely-packed 4 pages to a page, 16 page long chunk of the annual. I may be some time… I doubt that I’ll be recapping the whole story, but the basics are that a mysterious figure (the black glove) is seeking revenge for the death of ‘Anna’. The first step is to identify those responsible through an intermediary, the second is to collect them all together in one place. That place happens to be a spaceship to Venus, piloted by an old friend of Rick Random. Through convoluted means involving the murder of one of the passengers before take-off, Rick is put on board just as it’s leaving and starts his investigation. There’s a few more murders, lots of talking, no clues for the reader to work out who the murderer is and the protagonist, Rick Random, has no effect on the result of the story. If he wasn’t there things would have ended up pretty much the same way as the murderer is killed by a giant puffball. Yes, you did read that right… The beginning would have been more enjoyable if I hadn’t had the suspicion that the whodunnit format would be pointless. If a detective story doesn’t present us with clues for us to attempt to work out who the culprit is (Miss Marple, Poirot), then it had better be really entertaining to make up for it (Sherlock Holmes). Even at the end, when the antagonist has met his death by natural forces we still don’t know why three of the prospective murder victims were on the list – and neither do they!
Sandwiched between reprints, after Rick Random comes Judge Dredd. That’s got to be an improvement, right? Well, yes, but not much of one… For no clear reason (one suspects because it’s about a year and a half but nobody could bear to publish it before now) this story is set during the time that Dredd is Marshal of Luna City One. The appearance of Sam Slade means the story must have been created after Dredd had gone to the Cursed Earth. That sentence may seem a little incongruous if you aren’t already aware of this story… It’s christmas day and Dredd notices that there are lights on in his apartment and he thinks this is strange. Despite having a droid who could reasonably be expected to be in the apartment (though Walter isn’t in this story). Anyway, he roars up the stairs on his lawmaster – yes, the type of lawmaster he rides on Earth, not the zipper bike he used when on the moon. Crashing through the door Tharg greets him, along with the following: Wulf Sternhammer; Hammer-Stein; Ardeni Lakam; Johnny Alpha; Howard Quartz; Mek-Quake; The Mekon; Starlord; Digby; The Gronk; MACH Zero; Dan Dare; James Blocker and, um, the princess from Time Quake  Suzie Cho [/edit]; Ro-Jaws; The Gronk; plus a few others. That’s all on one page, Slade turns up on the next. The page after that along comes the droid Pat Mills (well, the nameplate says “Mills Roboscript Inc.”, an unidentifiable artist robot and a lettering robot. Along with a bunch more creative droids outside they demand robot rights – maintenance breaks and good quality oil. Dredd and Dare lead a charge to smash up the striking droids. One of the art droids has “Kaypee Art Droids Inc” on their nameplate – this should be a clue to who it is, but I’m drawing a blank. I do spot “Call me Kelvin” on one of the following pages of robot destruction though… After a complaint about all the noise from a neighbour, Dredd arrests all of those involved (including himself) and puts them all into custody for seven days, taking them off the streets until the new year. From a continuity point of view (on top of everything else about this story) that’ll put Dredd in custody on New Years Eve, when he’s supposed to be overseeing celebrations as we saw in 22nd Century Futsie. The police officer handling their incarceration is O’Gosnell, by the way…
Back to the reprint with U.F.O. Agent. The E.O.S. stage a train heist, it’s foiled, the Major gets out of the way when the police turn up. Next!
Time for the text pages, starting with a story I, Mutant! It’s an unbranded Future-Shock, and as such when their is mention early on that the imprisoned mutant of the title is ugly you know that when he escapes he’s going to look like a human being and the ‘norms’ he encounters are going to look like aliens and / or Cursed Earth / Strontium Dog style mutants.
Our Amazing World is a feature presented by a Dan Dare head. It’s nothing you won’t find in an encyclopaedia entry, though does feature a United Nations estimate on what the world population will be in the year 2000 – 6,000 million, which is roughly what it was (we’re believed to have passed the 6 billion mark in 1999).
Stone Me! is a text feature about large statues, the first one of which is the Statue of Liberty (hint – it’s not made of stone). The text about that one is black on a dark grey background – almost, but not quite, impossible to read. The other ‘real’ statue is Mount Rushmore. Fictional (or debatable) statues include the Colossus of Rhodes, Fergee, the Statue of Judgement (above a picture of Mr Monday) and Mr Monday (above a picture of the Statue of Judgement).
Real Flying Saucers is the last text feature in this batch, over a picture of experimental 1940s aircraft.
Next up, more reprint with ‘UFO’ – though has the same characters as U.F.O. Agent. The Major and Boffin cause chaos at a waxworks in order to steal a lifelike waxwork of General Redas. There is absolutely no reason they couldn’t have stolen the waxwork without causing the disruption. They trap the general, who is on safari, and use alien technology to make the waxwork move in a lifelike manner. Assassins from the E.O.S. set fire to the fake General, though additional alien technology acts as a propellant and causes the fire to blowback on the assassins, killing them. We’re not told why it’s important to save the General’s life, other than that E.O.S. want to kill him.
More text with “You called, sir?” is a more in-depth feature on the ‘robot inventor’ who appeared in the Book of Robots recently – one Ben Skora who created the famous-at-the-time Arok robot. Just checking up on him, and Ben died last year (2018).
Call Me Wheelbarrow! Along with Marauder, Wheelbarrow is an anti-bomb device, designed to check out suspect packages by remote control.
Another page, another text story The Man From the Ministry. Will it be Future-Shock-like in scope? Joe X works for the Ministry in Hive-City. Weren’t Hive City robocops the enforcers in Mega-City Four? There’s a few food-related 2000AD in-jokes scattered throughout this story of a robot-hating inspector from the Ministry of Eats. It’s not exactly a twist ending, inspector Joe fakes bad inspections to get robot-run Eateries closed down but falls foul of his own deception (literally) when he slips on some insects that he planted in a kitchen and a vat full of boiling hot custard topples on top of him. Tharg helpfully points out he got his just desserts, in case we hadn’t thought of that by ourselves.
…Garbage closes the annual, nearly. Dual-tone in green, this could be a reprint. Alvin and Harry work for the Ministry of Garbage. Humanity is swamped by its own waste. There have been attempts to get rid of rubbish on other planets in the past, but Friends of the Galaxy (a parody of Friends of the Earth, established in 1969, so possibly not a reprint) protested and so the search continued for a planet where a matter transference gate could be set up without any protests. Then a planet is found, the name of which translates as ‘Purgatory’. The residents are starving but find waste from Earth edible. A gate is set up, the residents of Purgatory like it and Harry ruminates on buying a couple of hundred acres of the land underneath the mounds of rubbish as, once it’s cleared, it will be worth millions. That’s it. There’s no conflict, there’s no twist. There are piles of rubbish, they’re looking for somewhere to put it, they find somewhere, the end. Weird.
The true close of the annual is Tomorrow Today! A feature on a Ford Transit (that’s right, the van) and a prototype Stardust Rover – a moon buggy.
Grailpage: I thought it was going to be on Belardinelli’s pages from Programmed to Destroy, but the most memorable page of the annual is McMahon’s opener for 3000AD The Traveller – the accountant in his commuter battle-suit crashing through a door, both guns ready.
Grailquote: Rick Random: “I am the law”