2000AD and Tornado Prog 140: Harry Harrison’s world famous super crook Slippery Jim di Griz bursts into strip in our adaptation of The Stainless Steel Rat plus! Great new story – the VC’s! Thrill to space war at its most savage as Earth star-troopers take on alien invaders!

Star Trek the Motion Picture just came out (or will be soon), so today’s cover is given over to the Enterprise (there’s a competition to win some toys inside as well). The rest of the cover is covered with blurb.

Being a virtual jump-on prog (Wolfie has a continuing story), the page where Tharg’s Nerve Centre would normally sit is introducing the new stories and continuing characters – though no more than four or five words on each. There’s also a trail for an appearance by Patrick Moore next prog.

Judge Dredd: The Black Plague! starts with a flash forward splash page. I’ll pretend it’s not really a splash page and it’s a cover or something (seeing as the Enterprise cover was so uninspiring. So… Ron Smith draws the cover to this prog, introducing John Howard’s tale of Cursed Earth mutated spiders. Now we’ve got my general hatred of flash-forward splash pages out of the way, on with the story. This is great. Writer and artist are both assured and confident, and the best new character since Otto Sump makes his debut – Henry Ford the talking, carnivorous horse. Dredd acts the hero, rather than fascist, checking out the muties cry for help from a plague of deadly spiders, and then sticking around when it’s clear that they the township won’t be able to escape.

The Star Trek competition page has Dinky toys to be won, and the film won’t be out until Christmas, so about a month away.

As if The Black Plague! isn’t enough, the V.C.s also make their debut in this prog. Just one week after bringing us the gestalt George/Mess gigantek, Mike McMahon is back and bringing us a tale of a more human future war – Finlay-Day provides the words. Steve Smith, from Earth, has become a star soldier in order to fight the Geeks, a mysterious alien race who came out of nowhere and started attackig humanity. Before Smith even boards the ship he’s been assigned to the supply ship he travelled there on is attacked. Without knowing if there are any survivors, his new comrades destroy the remnants of the supply ship to defeat the attackers. This story introduces a few catchphrases, “Suck it in, Smith” and “You’re hit, you’re dead”. Each of the crewmates comes from a different astral body (I’m thinking Loon is from the moon). Jupe is from Jupiter, Hen-Sho is from Mars, Dwarf Star – er not sure which planet he’s from and Ringer must be from one of the planets with rings…

Captain Klep has his first non-back cover story, and also his first continuing story. New to London, Clark Clep does some sight-seeing though when viewing the crown jewels discovers tiny fragments of gold kleptonite, which turn him in to a kleptomaniac. Stealing the jewels he flies off though as he isn’t looking where he’s going ends up flying into what looks suspicously like Kings Reach Tower, and Horse and Hounds magazine offices (I’m guessing they were published by IPC at the time).

I’ve lapsed slighly on my coverage of the adverts, as there’s a limit to how much you can say about stamps (unless you’re a philatelist) or football comics. This is different though, as the Palitoy advert for Mainline Railways, Big Loader and Action Man Space Ranger features something I used to own when I was a kid – it’s the middle one – Big Loader. I was going to try to explain what it is, but perhaps it’s easier just to watch a video instead.

A first for 2000AD – an adaptation of a story from another medium, this prog heralds the debut of Harry Harrison’s The Stainless Steel Rat – this adapted by Kelvin Gosnell and Carlos Ezquerra – though no credits so I could be wrong about Kelvin. I just checked the next prog – I was right – and Carlos is credited simply as ‘Ezqerra’ – no ‘Carlos’ but no ‘L John Silver’ either. For those not familiar (and the rights involved means that while this does get reprinted, it isn’t as often as wholly Rebellion-owned IP)… In the distant past (i.e. our time) buildings were made of bricks and wood, and cities were infested with rats. In Slippery Jim Di’Griz’ time, cities are made from plastic, ferrocrete and stainless steel, and so Jim considers himself a stainless steel rat. Just comparing the first page from the book to the first (double) page of the comic adaptation, and it’s pretty close – it does remind me that I need to complete my collection of Stainless Steel Rat books though – there’s at least ten, apparently – I have four, five if the gamebook is counted in that ten. Jim gets a visit from a police robot and this episode show firstly his escape from the robot, secondly his recapturing the gold which he had been stealing and thirdly a (strainless steel rat) trap closing it’s jaws on him in the form of the Special Corps. The books these stories are based on are a great example of sci-fi humour and this is a great example of how to adapt to comics.

The Mind of Wolfie Smith by Tom Tully and Vañó. Wolfie tries to convince the director not to carry on shooting the film. The director storms off, threatening to replace all the crew and cast. Wolfie follows, trying to reason with him, but the director tips a column over on to Wolfie, he crashes through a thin wooden floor into a pit while the director looms above him and starts pouring special effect swamp mud into the pit. In general I like Wolfie Smith, though it pails into insignificance next to The Black Plague!, The V.C.s and the Stainless Steel Rat.

Harry Harrison takes up half a page – I suspect lifted from a foreword in a book, but it gives a neat genesis of the story. Harry was staring at a blank page in New York City when he noticed a mouse chewing on a piece of toast. This got the writer thinking to how rodents had followed humanity throughout history, and how this could continue into the future. Then he got thinking about those who don’t fit in to wider society, who like to play by their own rules, and thus the Stainless Steel Rat was born.

Black Hawk from Alvin Gaunt and Belardinelli. If the story changed when it moved over to 2000AD (and Tornado), taking the centurion from the streets of Rome to a starship gladiatorial stadium, then it has changed once more as Ursa, Zog, Blackhawk and Battak find themselves in the event horizon of a black hole. Blackhawk awakes, finding his soul gone but is interrupted by the D’jinn, servant of the Great Beast. The rest sounds like a cross between the Strontium Dog Journey to Hell story and the Wizard of Oz – though it’s lusciously illustrated with Belardinelli art, so I’m not complaining.

Star Lord’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s actually more like a bestiary, with the first entry being the Kleggs (and Klegg-hounds) ably drawn by Brian Bolland. It’s a good presentation, with Dave Gibbon’s covers to this ‘micro-data prog’. Starlord introduces the ‘danger-ratings’ ranging from one to five skulls. I can remember the rating that Gronks get – I’ll be sure to mention it when we get to it!

Grailpage: I’m tempted by one of the Ron Smith spider pages, though think we’ve got better coming up in the coming weeks, so I’ll go for the iconic opening page of The V.C.s – all of the classic line up (behind their helmets), a vaguely Klingon Bird of Prey-shaped Earth ship and an attack by Geeks. All from Mick McMahon.

Grailquote: Harry Harrison / Kelvin Gosnell, George: “James Bolivar di Griz, I arrest you on the charge — of illegal entry — criminal damage — fraud –” SKRUUNNG! (as part of the ceiling falls on the police robot’s head) “— and assaulting a police robot!”

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