2000AD and Tornado Prog 161: “Find the Judge Child or your city dies!”

This prog has an extreme close up of Dredd’s face by Brian Bolland, head-on, the image of Owen Krysler reflected in Dredd’s eyes (or what passes for his eyes on his visor). The cover date is 19 April 1980.

Tharg’s Nerve Centre confirms what we would have suspected, Blackhawk and Fiends of the Eastern Front are on their last episodes in this prog, to be replaced by new thrills next week. Bearing in mind how long it’s been since I read these (around three decades) here’s the new thrills and my initial reactions to them today. MACH Zero: looking forward to it, more so if Mike Dorey is drawing. Wolfie Smith: so-so – I don’t hate it as much as some do, though the repeated cliff-hangers of the last story put me off (in that multiple episodes had the same cliff-hanger – if you’re going to end every episode on a hanger, at least vary it from week to week). The Seven Wonders of the Galaxy: this is a Kevin O’Neill creation – similar to those postergraph series we’ve had, but showing situations that wouldn’t be out of place in Ro-Busters, ABC Warriors or Nemesis the Warlock. You can probably tell I’m looking forward to this one. In other news, Tharg reveals his Earth music tastes: The Selecter; Captain Beefheart; The Police; Scratch and the Upsetters, as well as his favourite non-Terran music – Big Lezz from Planet Nitten.

Sam Slade: Robo-Hunter Day of the Droids! TB Grover and Ian Gibson start where the last episode finished, Slade being thrown into a river, gagged, bound and wearing concrete boots. Fortunately it’s a particularly polluted part of the river and Slade is stood up waste-deep in water (if you can call it water). Unfortunately this lasts for one panel, as he starts sinking. Before turning the page, I can only guess in the three minutes left to him that Hoagy and Stogie are going to catch up (we last saw them about to follow him but haven’t seen them since). Yup! So, fortunately they turn up in the very next panel. Unfortunately Slade is still gagged and the pair of their combined brain power isn’t enough to work out that they need to rescue him. Fortunately they give up just before his head goes under. Unfortunately they try to rescue him using a rope around his neck. Fortunately he somehow manages to survive and is back in the game. The first play is to load up on heavy artillery – which he finds in his stash back at the office, full of souvenirs from the 2nd Robot War (it’s a passing mention, but will be used in about three years time). The interplay between Hoagy and Robostogie is a highlight of this episode.

As expected, the 2000AD Top Ten Sci-fi Movies No 10 is Star Wars. The only thing of interest in the blurb is that computers were used to calculate and keep track of some of the paths of spacecraft when creating special effects. I thought at this stage practical effects were created entirely manually – I wonder what kind of computer input was used?

The V.C.s from Finlay-Day and Gary Leach shows Smith and the others face the music with the Diplomatic high-up and get locked up until the next system. Dropping out of the light fantastic into an asteroid belt, the V.C.s are volunteered to go out to do repairs. Ringer attacks Smith, leading to the two of them being sentenced to death. The next prog tag plays coy on this one, not giving any clues away.

Ro-Jaws’ Robo-Tales is back, Gary Rice and Brett Ewins bringing us Droids Are Dispensable. In a crashed spaceship, the robot E/Z/1, EZ1 or Easy is running low on power before crawling to a power outlet, which incidentally looks rather a lot like a USB port! A lone human survivor of the crash is intensely robo-phobic though can’t put up a fight when Easy decides to pick him up and carry him to the nearest base. Over the course of freezing nights and baking days, Captain Nash getting over his bigotry towards robots and promises to get Easy a medal if they make it. Eventually making it, by the time Nash has regained consciousness, Easy has been *future-shock* turned into kitchen plates. Yeah, so it does read like a future-shock but because it involved robots had Ro-Jaws’ tag slapped on it. It’s not awful but does read like it may have been sitting on a shelf and would have been more suitable in the prog of a year or so earlier.

More up-to-date stylistically is Part 6 of Judge Dredd: The Judge Child from John Howard and Mike McMahon. Continuing from last week’s episode, this one opens with a view of the outside of The Jaws of Doom High Dive before switching to the insides – Dredd climbing the internal scaffolding after the Thing from the Pit. This is all a distraction, while Dredd fights the Thing and confronts ‘Brother Death’ the Angel Gang get away with Krysler. That night, they hijack a space craft and leave the planet on a direct course out of the system.

Here we go – the last episode of Fiends of the Eastern Front by Finlay-Day and Ezquerra. Hans does get killed, though impressed by his foe, Constanta makes the German soldier one of the undead. Before the morning the blood lust takes control of Hans and (after wiping out a squad of Russian soldiers) he retreats to Berlin, finding a cellar to block himself in to. Writing out the events that have befallen him for the previous three or four years, he finds two of the silver bullets that he and Karl had made and breaks Constanta’s curse upon him. Heading back to the (1980) present day, the German police detective confronts the colonel who takes off a mask to reveal he is (of course) Constanta. The last of Hans’ silver bullets goes wild though breaks the cellar roof, allowing in sunlight and giving the detective his chance to break the colonel’s swagger stick into a stake, the series ending with the burnt skeleton of the vampire in a spotlight of sunlight. This ten part series has been a good run, and it’s good that this horror / war / contemporary story made it into a sci-fi comic, as I wouldn’t be surprised if editorial had had to convince somebody in management to allow it in. It’ll be back – in the 1990s or 2000s and I think it will continue on, continuity-wise, so I imagine that incinerated skeleton isn’t incinerated enough…

Blackhawk: Warrior in search of his soul also reaches its climax from Alvin Gaunt and Belardinelli. I’d be sad at the forthcoming lack of Belardinelli art, but I know what the next major series he’ll be working on is (though I’d be happier if his work crops up in the meantime). Kwark’s Ark consists of logs tied together with vine, and resembles the frame of a geometric star lampshade. The ‘Thargian Infinity Principle’ guarantees that it survives the strongest of gravity storms, though once it enters the singularity of the black hole the molecular structure of the passengers is dissociated, leading to their fading away, from Silversun, this episode, this series and 2000AD. Other than a potential fourth-wall breaking cameo (which I half remember or maybe made up in Ace Trucking Co a long, long way from here) then that’s it for Blackhawk and friends. An ignoble end, but I guess it wasn’t popular enough to continue? Next prog it’ll be replaced by another of Tornado’s alumni, Wolfie Smith.

Grailpage: It’s tempting to pick the page of Robo-Hunter where Slade’s robotic assistants play guessing games while he sinks to a watery death, but Mike McMahon’s opener to this week’s Dredd wins – it has a head-start by being the centrespread, but the view of the Mutieworld death park has to take the grailpage spot.

Grailquote: There was a great interplay between Hoagy and Robostogie, but not pithy or short enough to quote here, so I’ll pick John Howard, Texas City Judge: “Y’all won’t leave our lil’ ol’ city empty handed! They sent this along from Mutieworld… it’s your prize for beating the Thing an’ doin’ the Jaws of Doom high dive!” Judge Dredd: “Where I’m going, Texas City money is no good to me” – Dredd really isn’t good with money – even if he wasn’t going to use it, it could surely do some good in the Mega-City One Justice Department coffers?

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