The fully-painted cover shows a huge squiddy-crustacean-thing attacking a few spaceships, one of which has ditched in a sea. It’s along the same lines as the propaganda-themed covers of the weekly Starlord, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the artist worked on those.
The contents page makes a refreshing change from the grainy photograph contents of the other annuals – though it’s the same picture of Starlord by Ian Gibson that we’ve seen many, many times before – so it’s not that refreshing. Just a note, I’m generally writing these things as I read through, so when I write the first few words on a story (or feature) it’ll be before I’ve read the whole story. Otherwise I’d have to read the comic, then flip back through and with an annual with this many different sections that could take a long time – too long if I have any hope of keeping up the one-post-a-day schedule.
On to the comics – McCarthy puts in a colourful rendition of Strontium Dog for Funfair of Fear. The story itself concerns a bounty who hides out in a deserted funfair (you might well have guessed that already). The funfair was built to attract holidaymakers, until the spacelanes were routed away from the planet it sits on. Johnny Alpha accidentally shoots Wulf in a Hall of Mirrors and goes it alone, putting himself into a position where he can easily be shot. He’s shot but Wulf recovers enough to save his life. The art is far better than the story on this one.
Ro-Jaws introduces a story about his days working as a sewer robot, before he was enlisted into Ro-Busters. It’s entertaining enough. Ro-Jaws’ character is captured well, and the treatment of robots at the hands of humans. There’s some children skateboarding around in the sewers which appears to serve no purpose until the end of the story. The artwork is adequate but not inspiring and there’s perhaps three strands of plot where there should be two (the three are a pile-up, the kids on the skateboards and a bank robbery – perhaps the robbers should have been looting cars in the pile-up instead?)
When Nature Blows its Top! is the annual’s first text feature, and it’s about volcanoes. The third page has a picture of a tidal wave, which isn’t mentioned in the text at all.
Captain Condor and the Forbidden Planet, part 1. It’s reprint time. This looks ‘strongly influenced’ by Dan Dare, with perhaps a bit of Buck Rogers / Flash Gordon thrown in. That’ll be the pre-2000AD Dan Dare, not the one many of us are more familiar with. A starship is headed for a supposedly haunted star on a scientific research mission. Some of the crew see a giant flat octopus-like alien in space, which has no problems getting in to the starship. They petition the captain to turn the starship around and start a mutiny when he refuses. The captain calls for Captain Condor and the mere mention of his name causes the mutineers to try to get away from the ship in the escape boats. Condor turns up just as the mutineers are on the verge of escaping the ship. Instead of arresting the mutineers, Condor offers to let them use his ship to avoid carrying out their mission, and to replace the mutineers / deserters with his own crew. Not long after a giant snake-like alien wraps itself around the ship, but it turns out both giant aliens were just illusions. Meanwhile, on the planet of their destination (or possibly a planet circling the star that the mission is headed for) we find out that an old wizardly guy was responsible for the illusions, but it looks like he’s not happy about where he’s living and was just trying to ward off other people to save them from sharing his misery. Or something. We’ll find out in part 2, later this annual. Oh, there was a white space between two panels on one of the pages, half-filled with much more modern looking lettering – either this story was even longer than it already is, or was broken by half-pages and recaps, so had to be edited for reprinting.
More reprint with Jimmi From Jupiter. The super-powered alien exposes a crooked fairground owner but said owner suspects Jimmi’s powers in the process. The fair owner kidnaps Jimmi and his friend George, threatening to harm George if Jimmi doesn’t sign a contract to work at the fair. Jimmi convinces the fair owner that the powers have been transferred to George and George demonstrates his powers, in much the same way that Luke uses the force to make it look like C3PO has god-like powers (even this reprint was published four years before Return of the Jedi came out). George pretends that he has transferred ‘his’ powers to the fairground owner, who promptly gets himself arrested as he tries to rob a bank.
How do you follow a double helping of reprints? In this case, with more reprint… The Metal Men looks to be part of a series, though it’s not clear what the series is actually called, as the metal men are apparently the foes in this story. The protagonists who fight the foes are Rollo Stones (other than the name, there doesn’t appear to be any connection / parody of the band The Rolling Stones) and Danny Charters. It’s a distraction but I had to look up whether it pre- or post- dated the band – the series is called Legend Testers. Lew Stringer knows more about this than me. I very quickly noticed there was a splash image on every second page, so this must have been published weekly in two-page installments. As such, there are a lot of cliffhangers! Basic premise – the two protagonists are researchers in the 40th century who use a time machine to check out the provenance of a piece of metal from the 12th century, which turned out to be an expeditionary invasion force from a metallic alien race. Most of the scrapes they get in are resolved by pretty unlikely coincidences, including a siege by a second metallic alien race. The most interesting thing is that the first race has a mohekhan a bit like Rogue Trooper. (The second race has two, one on each side of the head, vaguely like Keith Flint from the Prodigy, or Vyvyan from the Young Ones). After however many episodes they end up careering out of control towards the end but their lives are saved because they suddenly get pulled back to the 40th century. Note that their are still two warlike metallic alien races hungry to invade Earth for its metal and nobody is doing anything to stop it, and yet Earth civilisation is still there in the far future…
After three reprints in a row it’s time for text story, Day of the Droid. As I’ve said before, I’m not automatically against text stories in comics, in the same way that I’m not automatically against stories that start with a ‘flash-forward’ then head back to the beginning for the rest of the tale (though I have a strong preference against the latter). This story has both… A captain (Collins) arrives on Mars and meets the person in charge (Dawson), who very obviously is a robot in diguise. It’s so obvious that I can’t imagine many of the children reading didn’t work it out about half way through the story. There’s loads of stuff about a robot revolt and the day of the droid, but really the risk is that a rogue human (Carson) is taking control of the robots on Mars and is going to use them to kill the other humans. This isn’t commented on at all, it’s just played as if it’s a robot revolt. We ‘find out’ that the Dawson (the robot in disguise) is a robot when he sacrifices himself to save the real humans. We’re not told why the Dawson was in disiguise, or what the disagreement was that led the human Carson to try to kill all humans. There is zero reason for Collins to be in this story – all he does is get knocked unconscious about half-way through.
From Captain Collins to Captain Condor as we’re back to reprint – it’s been a long time since we had any original comic material in this annual! Condor doesn’t take the hint not to approach the alien world, even though it’s very clear that the residents don’t want visitors. I wonder if there are other Condor stories lurking in the archives about an alien race coming to Earth and still continuing to approach despite all warnings? I bet that Earth isn’t depicted as being ‘bad’ for trying to repel invaders… So, the psychic warnings are from a wizardly person (long white beard) who lives in a domed city. Once the invaders from Earth land on the planet, his son attempts to warn them the old-fashioned way, by actually telling them that they’re not safe on this planet. The thing that presents the danger is the race of shape-changing Doommes. A caption tells us that this isn’t the end, and that the reprint continues later in the annual.
To break up the reprint material of Captain Condor there’s some more reprint of Jimmi from Jupiter – at least last time this was only a few pages long. Right, this one is about a band (in the story called the Archers – presumably supposed to be like the Beatles, unless the Archers was actually a band in the sixties?) who are to play a concert at the school that Jimmi and his friend George attend. George seems to be in the habit of carrying around a large photo of said band (!), which he shows to Jimmi. The band are kidnapped on their way to the concert, and for some reason the kidnappers kidnap the band’s instruments as well as the band (the band’s van is left outside the place they’re keeping their hostages). Jimmi uses ‘gamma power’ to make the instruments come to life and uses the same power to make rope tie them up. It’s three pages long.
Other than two short stories at the beginning of this annual, it’s time for a new comic story, right? Wrong – another text story: The Midas Touch. Four pages, the illustrations – ‘colour’ in the one-tone applied to black and white art sense – at least it’s in orange, fitting with the theme, kinda. The lead character is called Midas, he’s a criminal mastermind who wants gold above all else and has heard of a project called The Golden Touch, kept in Fort Knox – though with no details on what form the project takes (notes on paper, a vial of chemicals, etc). I won’t dignify this story by explaining any more – it ends exactly how you’d expect it to end.
Also tinged with gold (well, orange) is Time Quake, which starts with a flash-forward of the main character (James Blocker) dying, then cuts to Suzi Cho pulls the ‘pretending to be a dinosaur that’s broken through the fence’ trick – didn’t she do that in one of the early stories? This story has some running around the wild west before we’re shown Blocker dying once again but if you didn’t think it was Suzi Cho doing the shooting then you haven’t been paying attention. Also it ends with Blocker talking to a large animal with big jaws as if it’s Suzi, but we all know it isn’t Suzi and it’s a real large, dangerous animal (never mind that mammals weren’t that large in the age of the dinosaurs). The most notable thing about this story is the appearance of a Judge Preston at the end – wearing the uniform of a North American judge (either Mega-City One or Two).
Text feature: Starlord’s Stargazers Showcase. This goes through all the planets in the solar system. If you’re interested in that then this is interesting, though if I had more time I’d be more interested in comparing the facts in this feature with what we know today.
More reprint by the looks of it, with Val Venture in Peril at the Centre of the Earth! Yes, it was reprint, and not very good reprint at that. I found myself flicking forward to see how many pages until the end – too many! Investigating a number of volcanoes, earthquakes and tidal waves, Commander Val Venture, his sidekick Andy Grainger and the Professor Eldon Martin use an Earthprobe to investigate the subterranean cause of all these unusual occurrences. It turns out that giant black ants which can fire electricity from their antennae have been building towers to escape from tentacled blobs that can emit sulpuric gas. The point at which I started flicking to the end to find out how much more of this was when it looked like it was heading to a resolution, until some flying ants turned up (which were basically wasps) and I started feeling that there would always be another element introduced to keep the story rolling out forever.
The reprints continue – even more Jimmi from Jupiter. Unlike the previous story, this is easy to read. It’s not necessarily good, but it’s easier to read. Most importantly, the maximum length of story so far has been three or four pages. To use the schoolboy comics lingo of the time, this has a maths swot being bullied for not being good at sports. Jimmi gives him a gamma blast (or however it’s supposed to work) and he becomes a soccer whiz. This is not good for Pringle (for that is the maths swot’s name – if we got told anything other than his surname then I missed it) as the powers-that-be at the school enroll him on to all the soccer teams resulting in no more time for differential calculus. The eventual solution is to overpower the gamma so that the ball injures the referee and other children, resulting in Pringle being banned from soccer for the safety of the school.
Even more reprint and it’s back to Captain Condor. This third installment is a bit better than the previous, and that’s down to a faster-moving sequence where Condor gets split from his companion and has the usual dilemma when surrounded by shape-changers. This happened with the Dan Dare episode with six Bears – five of which were bodysnatcher-style shape-changing plants – though as these aliens are actually projecting some kind of illusion the resolution in Condor’s case is to use an instant camera (think Polaroid) to work out who the real humans are. Also in shades of Dare, the end of this story sees Captain Condor responsible for the genocide of the species. Next time I see a friend of mine who’s a Dan Dare expert I’ll have to ask if this whole genocide thing is a 2000AD Dare thing or if it appeared in the original comics as well.
Fourth reprint in a row and Jimmi’s back for a few pages more. I’ll go off on a tangent and mention that all the Jimmi from Jupiter stories have taken place in Brookwood. The only Brookwood I know is the home of the United Kingdom’s largest burial place – Brookwood Cemetery. You can still see the remains of the old London Necropolis & National Mauseum Railway station near Waterloo. Back to this story – Jimmi and chums (this isn’t parody – the word ‘chums’ has been used in Jimmi from Jupiter, with a straight face) are learning about Greek mythology. Plummer – one of the chums and the son of a farmer – ruminates on how much a winged horse would fetch and is pilloried for it. Later on Plummer discovers Jimmi and George building a treehouse on his father’s land, who he tells and the two of them will inform the headmaster that Jimmi and George have been trespassing… in the morning. That night, Jimmi uses gamma power to turn the farm horse into a pegasus-a-like and creates a minotaur and a sheep with a golden fleece for good measure. Not that any of that matters as the real resolution to the story is that the horse (without wings) is deposited on top of a haystack and the farmer comes to an arrangement with the boys that they can build a treehouse as long as they don’t mention to anybody that they saw the farmer’s horse on the haystack. Pointless, but still more readable than the the other reprint material – as before I suspect this is because it’s much shorter. This has two advantages – firstly it’s over quicker so if I don’t like it then at least it’s less of a labour and secondly the story itself is more focused and not so prone to dragging on.
Starlord introduces the one-page Brain Drain. A picture with a minimal story in full colour. I wouldn’t usually rate it that much (the art is decent) but it’s pretty refreshing after forty pages of reprint and a text feature! Looks like one of the European agency artists though I couldn’t tell you which one.
More colour with the single page Starlord’s Sci-fi Smiles has five spot cartoons.
Tharg’s head introduces a Future-Shock: The Prisoner of Xendor. Pete Omega is a high security prisoner who has escaped from many prisons in the past. The latest one he’s put in is the highest security prisoner yet, though has a special time chair which can age the prisoner so that the sentence passes more quickly. This is fine (depending on your definition of fine) for a twenty year old with a fifty year sentence, though not so great for Pete, with a 200 year sentence. Instead of taking active steps to try to escape from this prison, Pete takes to reading books (under the constant surveillance of the guards). Some time later he opts for the time chair (even though it would kill him, but the guards are convinced he’s gone mad through isolation). He steals the keys, locks himself in with the time chair and uses his new-found book knowledge to adjust the chair so it becomes a space-time chair. The chair now takes him to the planet Xendor twenty years later, like Strontium Dog’s time bombs (so, uh, not a time and space chair – just a time chair but a different kind of time chair). Projecting forward a few years, I think Sam Slade will get up to the same kind of trick in The Slaying of Slade, but it’s been a while since I read that one. Back to this Future-Shock – Xendor smells bad, worse than prison. Pete takes off in a spaceship but finds out that having breathed in the air of this planet he can no longer live without it, and will be a prisoner there for the rest of his life. We all knew that he’d escape from the penal prison into some other kind of prison – it was just a question of what form the new prison would take.
Starword (it’s a Starlord Crossword). There’s some dodgy clues and answers in there – “Adaptable Earth animal”. Give up? It’s “Otter”. “The nearest star to Earth.” “Proxima Centauri” – not Sol then?
Star Brains Forward! is a quiz, though many of the answers to the questions are either exactly the same as for the crossword on the other side of the paper or essentially the same but from a different angle (example: “________ Tereshkova was the first space woman.” and “Name the only women ever to have travelled in space.” The answer to both is Valentina Tereshkova).
Final story and it’s yet another reprint. Invaders From Jupiter is probably a single story from a series called Jet Ace Logan (that name isn’t in the title, but the term gets used a few times). This is utterly bizarre. It reads like a spoof, but now whenever I read, watch or hear a spoof of 1950s fiction I’ll always have in the back of my mind that it isn’t a parody, just a recreation of an ouvre. Down the Tubes tells me that some Jet-Ace Logan stories were reprinted by Rebellion earlier this year, so somebody must like it. As an aside, it also told me about some of the other stories in this annual – As Dan Dare was to Eagle, Captain Condor was to Lion and Jet-Ace Logan was to Comet (before following a merger with Tiger). A base on Jupiter gets flattened by a green mist. Logan and chums (yes, that word gets used in this strip as well) investigate and find a spaceship being recharged. They observe it as it takes off, heading for Earth and there’s probably something about them being too low on fuel to follow it, or something. On Earth an alien fleet arrives, flattening London, Paris, New York and no doubt other capital cities. Humanity (or at least Britishers) are made a slave race to mine Uranium for the aliens. Meanwhile – and I should point out here that he always has a crazed grin on his face – Logan comes up with a plan to pool everybody’s fuel from their spaceships so that he can indulge in some dog-fighting with the alien ships. He downs one of the ships and the crew scatter but Logan pins them down. It is discovered that they’re weak for their size. Outside of their ships and without weapons the average human would be able to incapacitate any of the aliens (who are now all loyal to Logan because he’s so brave). Logan and the others are taken back to Earth on an un-armed alien ship and deposited somewhere in Britain. He shows the humans the way to defeat the aliens (and how they’re as weak as kittens away from their home planet). They then all go to London (which I thought had been flattened – maybe I was paying more attention to the plot than the writer was) and find the alien ships being recharged in Hyde Park. One of the newly-loyal-to-Logan aliens tells him that the alien ships are defenceless while being recharged, and also that the recharging process can’t be halted once begun. One demi-genocide later the alien leader pops up to surrender and Logan and his chums are awarded medals for valour. This strip shows signs of either having been edited or having been reproduced from a damaged source – it looks like the person writing in the missing lettering is not a professional letterer. I wouldn’t be incredibly surprised if it was whoever was left in the office late at night a day or two before it went to the printers.
I don’t feel like I’ve read a Starlord annual. I feel like I’ve read a collection of 1950s and 1960s children’s sci-fi with three all-too-short Starlord stories thrown in. No doubt some of you reading this will be fans of that particular brand of sci-fi – that Rebellion collection of Jet-Ace Logan stories certainly suggests somebody still likes them. But… this isn’t for me – when 2000AD started part of the philosophy behind it was to apply a punk spirit of reaction against the status quo to children’s comics, so to fill up an annual with those comics smacks of a managerial (rather than editorial or authorial) decision. Rebellion – the modern day publishers of 2000AD – don’t reprint this as “2000AD presents” – they reprint it as “Treasury of British Comics” while the more contemporary original Scream and Misty specials did have the 2000AD logo on their covers. By my rough calculations I have seven more of these annuals (four 2000AD, two Starlord and one Tornado) before all of the annuals will get more fun and readable – Dan Dare will be replaced by the Judge Dredd annual, and my gut feeling is that Judge Dredd will be the best of the available annuals each year until 1985. All in my opinion, of course. If you disagree with this, and especially if you like the reprint material, please let me know what it is you like about them (preferably on this post, but failing that on the 2000AD forum). I still have the 1980 Tornado annual to go through – no doubt I’ll have more to write on the subject in the next post…
Grailpage: McCarthy’s atmospheric opening page of Strontium Dog: Funfair of Fear is the best thing about the story. In fact, the first page of the annual does not set the tone as it’s all downhill from there…
Grailquote: Mevro the Metalman: “I’ll use the vibrator upon them!” Mevro’s man: “No! No! Do not use that terrible thing upon us!” Other metalman: “Dismantle that vibrator! Malu will want it examined to discover the details of its construction!”