2000AD and Tornado Prog 152: Fiends of the Eastern Front! Not the horror of war – the war of horrors! Robo-Hunter returns! Sam Slade in Day of the Droids. Judge Dredd’s Hall of Heroes

A composite cover featuring panels from Fiends of the Eastern Front, Robo-Hunter and the entire four-part centrefold poster that starts this prog. I’m not a fan of cut and pasted jobs for covers (even though one of the first ‘classic’ progs I ever bought had one).

Tharg’s Nerve Centre has a run down of the four new thrills (it counts Judge Dredd as one of them).

Sam Slade Robo-Hunter is back, and this time the logo consists of his business card! Day of the Droids begins this prog, in a similar way to the first Slade strip began, with our Sam bursting through a doorway and shooting droids – why mess with the formula? Especially as some of those reading this will be new readers – Tornado acquirees. In a departure from having John Howard provide stories to open the prog, we’ve now got T.B. Grover doing the same (in-joke – both are actually John Wagner). On this one ‘Grover’ is joined by Ian Gibson and we find out that things haven’t gone well for Sam since the Verdus fiasco. The two strains of the story are introduced straight away – the first is a robot revolution, lead by a cocktail shaked called Molotov (geddit? I wouldn’t have when I first read it), the second is a case from a councillor who has discovered he’s actually an incredibly lifelike robot. Next prog: The March of the Teeny-Meks! Now, the story that was running in the very first progs I bought was The Slaying of Slade, so the first appearance of the Teeny-Meks is pretty important for my history with the strip, and 2000AD. I’m sure I made loads of Teeny-Meks out of plasticine at some point. Oh, also Hoagy gets introduced, so Stogie probably isn’t too far behind.

After a half-page reservation coupon flanked by a McMahon Dredd, it’s on to Judge Dredd: The Blood of Satanus by Pat Mills and Ron Smith. If Satanus is the reincarnated son of Old One Eye and Golgotha is the grandson of the Hag Queen, I’ve no idea what relation the lead character of this one is… Before we get in to it – apparently the female lead was meant to be an ex of Dredd. Yes, that’s right, an ex-girlfriend of Judge Joe Dredd. Wagner and/or McManus put a stop to Mills’ plan there and she became just another mega-citizen. After a one-page prologue introducing Cyril J Ratfinkle, general dogsbody in a Mega-City One genetic research laboratory (which just happens to have a plasma-based secretion from Satanus from before the black tyrannosaur’s escape) we get in to the story proper. It being illustrated by Ron Smith, that means the logo and title share space with a moody portrait of the lawman. Cyril wants to make his name, and thinks he can do so by finding out what happens when somebody drinks the plasma solution. The victims of his experiment are the downstairs neighbours, Rex and Linsey Peters. After the preliminary dose, Cyril pretends to help Rex but instead gives him further doses of the solution. Rex starts growing black scales, develops a taste for raw meat and starts building a nest from the furniture in the Peters’ apartment. Linsey contacts her ‘ex’ (Dredd) who is in the middle of breaking a hostage situation and doesn’t have time for her. Linsey’s life expectancy looks very short as she returns to the apartment, behind the door of which a now fully-were-dinosaured Rex is lurking.

Captain Klep misses the Earth and goes through the time barrier, but then still lands on Earth, in prehistoric times. He discovers that dinosaurs (no sign of Old One Eye) could talk and were more intelligent than him (not difficult) but that some great catastropher must have wiped them out – we’ll find out how the great catastrophe (also known as Klep) did such a thing next prog.

It’s appeared on the cover, it’s appeared in the Nerve Centre and now appears again just before the centre pages where the first part of Judge Dredd’s Hall of Heroes is printed. Printed across four centrespreads, this is probably the largest picture of Dredd to have been published at the time (I remember seeing door-sized portraits of Dredd and Death, but that’d be years later). The first two entries in the Hall are Blackhawk and the Harlem Heroes – and this is the first time I can recall Blackhawk actually looking like a black man – most of the colouring from his Tornado centrespread days and the times he’s appeared on covers have put his skin tone around the same as all the other (white) characters. Apparently Blackhawk had quickly risen to ecome the second most popular character in 2000AD in his short time since the Tornado merger. The centre pages are flanked by a next prog advert, featuring the first appearance of the Teeny-Meks!

Mixing things up a bit, we get Battle veteran King Carlos (who also did that space vampire Future-Shock in Starlord that time) and Gerry Finlay-Day on Fiends of the Eastern Front. The framing story involves Inspector Brandt showing Colonel Grant a grim underground room containing a skeleton wearing a German soldier’s uniform from 35 years previous. And also his journal… The main story starts with the journal-ist coming out of a showing of Amerikaner film Frankenstein in 1941. This confused me, until I double-checked and found that the USA had been shy of standing up to the Nazis until the end of 1941… So, Hans is on his way to the front lines and on his very first night on patrol his sergeant and a Russian mutually kills each other while Hans is snagged on barbed wire. It looks like he’s been hung out to dry as a Russian patrol arrives, but before they can shoot him shadowy shapes appear around the Russians. After his men unsnag Hans, Constanta sends him back to the German lines as the Romanian mountain troop check the trenches. The next day, Hans passes a trench full of Russian bodies, drained of blood and the same day sees a Romanian truck with a bat and triangle emblem – the same as Constanta’s men had. The truck is, of course, filled with coffins…

Black Hawk has Alvin Gaunt and Belardinelli showing the BBs celebrating the death of the Great Beast. A bad-tempered Blackhawk leaves the castle in the midst of a terrible storm on the back of the Kur-beast (eyeless horse thing). Within one page of leaving the castle they’ve fallen in to a pit trap laid by Captain Psyko’s Bully Boys (who appear to have lost their pirate captain). Good art from Belardinelli, but this is very much a intermediary episode between set-pieces.

The V.C.s has Gerry Finlay-Day (again) and Cam Kennedy showing the immediate aftermatch of the great city of Olympus Mons / New Peking being domed by the Geeks as those inside are sucked up through the great rift in the dome. Not sure why this would be – as we know from both The Angry Planet and ABC Warriors – Mars has an atmosphere – it may not be as thick as that on Earth, but it isn’t a vacuum! Disengaging logic, this is a great episode giving Cam the chance to provide some of his best art to date. The V.C.s lose their Martial Guard companions and manage to take out the Geek that killed them but ultimately are trapped on an increasingly dead planet. This is almost a perfect episode of The V.C.s except for one thing. Hen-Sho – the one Chinese character – is discribed as ‘inscrutable’. Thankfully these artefacts of 1970s / 1980s origins aren’t too frequent in the prog, but it still puts my teeth on edge.

On a happier note – when I first read these progs we didn’t have on-demand films and personally I only got to see films a) at the cinema or b) when they got scheduled on TV. So I read this article about Metropolis (at No 1 of the 2000AD Top Ten Sci-Fi Movies) long before I actually saw it – which might have been for the best as I think the only version available at that time would have been edited down from Fritz Lang’s original vision. Nowadays there are still some bits missing but a few old prints of the film have been found and footage has been restored. The picture used to illustrate the film is the naked Maria in the ‘copying’ machine as Rotwang looks on, the robot Maria in the background, just before she gets imprinted with human Maria’s image. Just checked up on later editions – in 2010 a complete (though heavily damaged) print was found in Argentina and restorers saw the full film for the first time since 1927. At least three different versions which were less complete but in better condition where augmented with the latest digital processing to produce what is probably the best we’ll be able to get. I’ll have to check it out… p.s. in my fantasy remake H. R. Giger would design the robot Maria and play Rotwang (no idea if Giger could act, but he’d look the part).

Grailpage: Ron Smith, the last page of The Blood of Satanus part one – Dredd punching a kidnapper (or whatever the perp’s doing) and the first view of the Rex Peters in Tyrannosaur form is a strong contender, but then I came to the page with Captain Constanta’s’ vamps surrounding the Russian troops as Hans watches on. Another strong contender was the Cam Kennedy page of the V.C.s and Martial Guards loping through the red desert beneath the erupting Olympus Mons.

Grailquote: Alvin Gaunt, Ursa: “Moan-groan, moan-groan! Maybe you should have let Great Best live – ’cause you worse boss than him was!”

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