2000AD and Tornado Prog 133: Zorgon – Wanted Zapped or Alive!

Carlos Ezquerra provides a generic alien cover. I’m pleased to say there’s no text story to accompany it inside, though Tharg mentions it in the…

…Nerve Centre, which is dominated by reader’s letters regarding the recent merger, illustrated by three Tharg’s heads.

Judge Dredd: The Great Muldoon from John Howard and seeing the return of Barry Mitchell. He’s been responsible for two of the most notable covers in early 2000AD’s history – the first ever appearance of Dredd on a cover (admittedly you can barely see him as the main focus is robot ape Krong) and the Flesh cover featuring dinosaurs, pteranodons and spiders, in that order. This story has a performance magician pulling stupid tricks – the latest involving diving through a steel plate into a water barrel with the aid of an untested particle converter. He has a permit from Deputy Chief Judge Pepper, and so Dredd can’t do anything to stop the unintentional suicide. After the non-speaking Judge Kelly, this is the first appearance of a female judge who speaks (depending on whether that person on the end of a justice department line in The Return of Rico is a judge or just a justice department employee). This is mainly a humour episode, though I don’t think Wagner’s humour (as applied to Dredd) is quite there on this one, though Mega-City craziness is well depicted. There’s a few un-Dredd like lines in there: “We can’t have that!” and “not a bad act, though” – since when does Dredd give critical appraisal of performance arts? So, entertaining though not a classic (Sob Story is a touch act to follow). There’s a first appearance of the Birdie lie detector, which can be used at quite a range. The same pages also shows Dredd ‘walking between panels’ as three panels line up to show his progress towards the perp. I did try to look up if there was any special terminology for this about a hundred progs ago, but I can’t remember if I found succeeded. I’ve got another two thousand progs, four hundred megs and numerous specials, annuals, poster progs, spin-offs and comics from other companies so I should probably make some notes on the correct words and phrases to use (though the study of comics isn’t as well developed as it should be for an art form in at least its third century). There’s multiple terminology for some of the very basic elements – just to mix it up I’ll list some of those I’ll try to keep to: narration boxes, speech balloons and thought bubbles.

Belardinelli’s still not back on Black Hawk, with art robot Joe Staton joining Alvin Gaunt for this episode. I hope it doesn’t seem like I’m down on these other fill-in artists, but I’ve been looking forward to Belardinelli’s return since I feel his talents weren’t allowed to bloom on The Angry Planet. Anyway – a story which first appeared in Tornado opens with a creature which first appeared in a circus in Starlord, this one in the gladiatorial arena – don’t Smiling Chukwalla’s ever appear in the wild? On a similar vein – Ursa offers Blackhawk a drink of macmac – a drink I always associated with Ace Trucking Co and Massimo, so I’m surprised that its first appearance is in this story! Another first – the Director decides that the victorious gladiator needs to learn humility, and so subjects him to Zog. Zog is a dwarf, compared to Blackhawk, though the 1970s publication of this episode shows itself through the use of the word ‘midget’, which, as well as being offensive, is a very 19th century freak show word.

Next up – a page of reader’s art and competition results. One of the pictures is a recreation of the splash page of Dan Dare featuring the Guardian, as the Mekon breaks into the crystal chamber while the other two are original pieces, one of Dredd, the other of Tharg and Starlord. Tharg is in a spacesuit for some reason, which makes me think the picture may have been traced from somewhere, but with Starlord and Tharg’s faces replacing whatever was originally there. If I’m wrong, please don’t sue me for defamation of character!

The A.B.C. Warriors: The Red Death part two. As with the Cursed Earth, ABC Warriors is a series of two-parters, to allow for a changing roster of artists. This episode is in two parts – the first showing the effects of the red plague in Viking City, with robots acting like plague carts during the black death before switching to Death Valley where the robots are immune to the effects of the plague until they start to feel fear. Mongrol’s fear is for Lara (or at least a mirage of her) while Hammerstein’s is for a small boy, apparently playing sandcastles in the valley. Mirages don’t fool Deadlock though, and he reveals that the boy is actually the physical manifestation of the Red Death and that Hammerstein has to execute the boy using the Ace of Swords. No explanation is given for why Deadlock can’t perform this act. Hammerstein has a moment of doubt but sees through the illusion just in time – with a shout that I’m sure Terminators will be using within the next couple of years: “Die, alien spawn!” This is a great story, and even the next prog tag is tantalising: “Meet Golgotha!”

The Mind of Wolfie Smith from Tom Tully and Vañó continues. The stuntman falls and, despite Wolfie’s best efforts, hits the ground without an air-bed. The other stuntmen don’t appreciate Wolfie’s attempt to save Simon, merely suspicious that he started to push the air-bed before Simon started falling. Tara is still on friendly terms with Wolfie and the two go up to the stone circle. As Wolfie ruminates on one particular ancient stone the other stuntmen catch up with the pair, with ringleader Steve on the verge of beating the truth out of Wolfie. This isn’t sophisticated story-telling, but I still like it – it’s definitely a cliffhanger to cliffhanger story – read in a collected edition I suspect the predicament every four pages which is almost immediately resolved in time for the next predicament would get annoying fast, but it’s fine to read in weekly format.

Disaster 1990! sets up class warfare from G. Finlay-Day and Carlos Pino. The Oxford University survival squad (sorry, highly scientific survival programme) is led by the three dons who used to teach Bamber. The worst is Dr Sinclair, with Sims and Smith the voices of moderation in comparison. Forgetting that Savage had saved all their lives in the bird epidemic, Sinclair thinks that Bill is no use at all, so Bamber goes off to have a word with Mr Savage. After an altercation with a few punters, Savage reveals to the Oxford Dons that he’s discovered some freshly-shorn sheep wool. In a confusing panel with multiple issues a don points at the Cheviot Hills in Scotland while talking about the Pennines, which he claims are a hundred miles north of Oxford (more like 115). Which is all weird anyway, as the closest range of uplands to Oxford is the Chilterns, so why not have the sheep on dry land there? Savage’s suggesting that Bamber join Savage in investigating is ruled out by the dons and Bamber isn’t there to see him off the next morning (anybody see where this is heading?) As Bill is refuelling the Duck he’s attacked by a water snake, which is dealt with in the next panel by Bamber, who has stowed away… To the north a couple of watchers are debating whether to kill the two strangers approaching straight away, or wait until they land.

It’s not by a 2000AD art droid as far as I can tell, but I’ll just mention the half-page comic strip advert for the Genesis of the Daleks audio adventure. In this pre-Big Finish record (also available on cassette), Tom Baker, Elizabeth Sladen and Ian Marter lend their voices – presumably a re-edit from the soundtrack of the TV story, but possibly recorded especially.

Captain Klep is back, and this time he’s bringing Robin Smith with him – in his first published work for 2000AD? There’s a limit to how complex a story can get in a single page, and this episode doesn’t try to push it. It doesn’t seem quite as bad as some previous episodes, but maybe that’s because I’m just pre-disposed to Robin’s art. Clep initially fails to recognise that his editor is being robbed by The Beak but realises in time for Klep to quick-change and head back in to the office (though too slow for the Beak, who switches costumes with the editor and escapes while Klep deals with the disguised editor). Jack Daw (alter ego of the Beak) pays Clep’s rent one month in advance, so he’s not all bad – perhaps this is a hint at future character development of the complex interplay between Jack Daw / The Beak and Clark Clep / Captain Klep? Almost certainly not.

Grailpage: McMahon’s splash page of ABC Warriors features robots driving mork-like creatures as they pull plague carts. Pat Mill’s really likes the mediaeval aesthetic, even if it involves robots! Though I’m also tempted by a panel a few pages later, showing Hammerstein looming over Little Johnny as the sand storm whips up (showing the secondary arm sockets). And there’s another panel on the next page showing Deadlock looming over the both of them, wielding the Ace of Swords. And I like the next page that has Hammerstein about to use the same sword. Oh, let’s face it, the whole episode is great!

Grailquote: Pat Mills, Little Johnny / The Red Death: “Gosh! A flying castle! Did it have dungeons, Uncle Deadlock?” Deadlock: “Lots of them! Maybe when you grow up, Uncle Deadlock will tell you what he used to do to the prisoners in his dungeons!”

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