2000AD and Tornado Prog 144: Super cover poster with this week’s issue!

Brian Bolland turns in a 2000AD take on Close Encounters of the Third Kind, featuring Tharg’s head flanked by Ro-Jaws and Walter on the front and the Gronk, Jim diGriz, Blackhawk, Mongrol, Hammerstein and Dredd on the back (it’s a wraparound cover – or as Tharg puts it – a pull-out poster).

Tharg’s Nerve Centre has a distinctly medical feel – with one earthlet writing in suffering the effects of thrill-starvation (they read a prog or two while in Britain but can’t get it in Canada) and another being cheered up while having a broken collar bone.

But who cares about the Nerve Centre? This prog has a classic in the form of Judge Dredd: Christmas Comes Early to the Des O’Connor Block from John Howard and Mike McMahon. Barney the city computer has developed a fault, and has taken seriously whatever part of its programming makes it want to help people – mainly in the form of presents and letters that tell people what they want to hear. But people can’t always be helped, as Dredd predicts. Human nature leads to jealousy, greed and all the usual – this being Mega-City One, that means murder, theft and incidental deaths. This is a much more entertaining ‘all powerful computer goes haywire’ story than Compu-tel was way back in the early days of the strip.

Ro-Jaws has his own strip next (though it does feature Hammerstein heavily) in The Inside Story! by P Mills, K O’Neill and Aldrich II (the second Aldrich droid still making the credits). Trademark Millsian puns appear with Ro-Jaws’ G.U.T.S. (Garbage and Useless Trash Scruncher). O’Neill’s artwork is much looser than it has been in preceding stories as Ro-Jaws suffers from the effects of something he ate stuck in his hatch. The robo-garage sends in the Thunder-Bots to clear the blockage and finds that Ro-Jaws has swallowed Hammerstein’s war medals (turns out he’d been fed up of hearing old war stories). This is a filler story, but amusing filler and it’s nice to see the Mills and O’Neill pairing, between Deadlock’s debut prog and Comic Rock some time in the future.

Alien Design Winners up next, with nine contributions from readers, the first of which is Adrian Salmon – isn’t this the second appearance of this art droid to be?

The Stainless Steel Rat by Kelvin Gosnell (adapted from Harry Harrison’s book) and Carlos Ezquerra. Inspired by this adaptation I dug out my copy of the book it was based on (it wasn’t difficult, I just had to turn around from reading my comic and reach for the bookshelf – didn’t even have to stand up). The slim volume (about 150 pages) make a nice change from doorstopper novels that are popular these days – much easier to carry around on public transport or while having lunch at work! Anyway, it’s interesting to see which bits have changed. diGriz didn’t handcuff Inslip, as in the comic the other week. The ‘papers’ in the prog are on screens (like current tablet computers) rather than actual paper, as in the book. Instead of talking while secretly gaining access to the battleship, in the comic the spiele is pre-recorded. Angelina and Pepe are pretty much as appears in the source material, though in the comic Jim discovers what Angelina gets up to after escaping almost immediately, while in the book it takes about ten days to piece it all together. All that and I didn’t even mention the ‘flash-forward’ that opened this episode.

The Mind of Wolfie Smith by Tom Tully and M White. If it hadn’t said that in the credit card, I’d have assumed it was Vañó illustrating this episode. Wolfie runs from the Wendigore and encounters (psychically) the guardians of the stones, who have predicted that the blood beast would one day be freed, and that a youth with ‘the power’ would be around to do something about it. Wolfie ends up in a cul-de-sac (well, trapped in an enclosed tunnel).

Captain Klep by creators unknown – some of the earlier ones were definitely by Robin Smith, but I’m not sure about the last two weeks. Klep goes to a stately home to learn how to be a lord, encountering Lord Greystoke (a chimp), Lurch (a murderous butler) and many victims of murders. Klep manages to guess whodunnit (the butler) but as help is so difficult to come by, murder isn’t a sacking offence among the English nobility…

Alvin Gaunt’s Black Hawk is again illustrated by Sola. This has been a weird two episdoes – note only are they not be Belardinelli, but they don’t feature Blackhawk – focused solely on Ursa and Zog, who have been captured by creatures similar to the trolls in The Hobbit. Zog is apparently killed, and Ursa outwits what we’ll call the trolls. Macmac explodes when it reaches boiling point, and Silversun is full of holes in space, meaning it’s actually pretty easy to get to the castle a billion miles away…

Grailpage: Mike McMahon, opening page of Des O’Connor block showing Dredd astride a lawmaster in the foreground.

Grailquote: 1st Citizen: “That big ape killed Mr Gregori from 32-112!” Hunk Smythe: “It’s okay, I got a permit!” 2nd Citizen: “Let me stamp your permit, pal!”

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