2000AD Sci-Fi Special 1980: Judge Dredd – he ain’t heavy, he’s the law! Tharg meets Harry Harrison!

In the regular prog there have been a few teasers for the Sci-Fi Special – one saying it’ll be along in about ten weeks, another three weeks. I’m around that point now but the adverts have dried up – the latest one on my too-read pile has plenty of ads for other IPC summer specials though, so I’ll read the 1980 Sci-Fi Special now. The cover is fully painted by Mike McMahon and features a fair amount of explosive fire between Dredd in the foreground and Mega-City One in the background.

The Thrill-Power Starts Here! is the contents page, with one of those photos of some poor soul in 2000AD editor dressed up as Tharg.

Judge Dredd: The Greatest Story Ever Told – the first credited 2000AD work by A A Grant (though he’d worked on Blackhawk under the joint pseudonym Alvin Gaunt) and the first actual 2000AD work by Steve Dillon. If my assumption about the original publication date of this special is correct then it’s all in the same week that Alan Moore also made his debut. Taking place almost a year after the end of Cal’s reign, the Fergites have arisen, a new religion worshipping The Ferg. Judges Dredd and Kray watch on, only getting involved when the high priest (wearing a Ferg mask) prepares to carry out a violent sentence on a citizen. Things escalate as the statue of Fergee in Memorial Square comes to (robotic) life. Dredd’s there, so it’s not long before the giant robot is hi-explosived to pieces. Things escalate further as another 19 robo-statues are activated in other sectors, three of which converge on Dredd’s location. Even this judge would have issues dealing with three giant robots, so he catches one of giant-robo-Ferg’s flies (turns out to be a flying camera) and orders a nearby H-Wagon to trace the signals being output from the flies, leading them to Cecil B. De Mille block (which we’re told is home to the Meg’s film community). Giant robots, loads of flying cameras – you know how the rest of this story pans out already – the only partial surprise is that the mastermind is a robot assistant to a noted film director who was declared insane (rather than the film director themselves). There’s a little fudging of the plot when the H-wagon was shot down but Dredd and Kray managed to crash through the exact correct window to find the director, rather than the many other windows belonging to uninvolved residents of the block. Grant generally hits the ground running with this first story, and there could be a reason for this – the first is that you can’t trust the credit card! From what I can gather, Grant already knew Wagner and Mills from DC Thompson days and had come to London where (in 1980) he lived with John Wagner. The two often spoke about the stories Wagner was working on, using Grant as a sounding board. Grant has also found himself unexpectedly forced into doing freelance work and when his housemate fell ill, Wagner asked Grant to help him meet his obligations. It will become common for the two to work on stories but only credit one of the two – famously it would be ‘the one who typed it up’ who got the credit and pay cheque. We know the exact moments they finished their regular working partnership (the end of Oz in 2000AD and the Last American in USA comics) but I’ve not been able to identify exactly when it began, so for all I know, TB Grover on Robo-Hunter for the past few weeks and John Howard on Judge Dredd might be the writing partnership – and A. A. Grant on this story might also involve Wagner. Strontium Dog’s on his way back too as well – is that going to be Wagner or Wagner and Grant? I’ll have to try to remember to ask either of them if I see them at a convention soon.

Tharg Meets Harry Harrison next – used in the advertising it isn’t presented as a standard interview, instead the section opens with ‘South Galaxy Echo’ (editorial filler), continues with ‘What Made Harry Famous?’ (The Stainless Steel Rat, Bill the Galactic Hero, Make Room! Make Room! (filmed as Soylent Green) and a host of other books) and concludes with ‘Ode to the Stainless Steel Rat’ (a poem by author Sansoucy Kathernor).

The Empire Strikes Back! Colour Film Report (as named on the contents page) or ‘A 2000 A.D. Photo Special’ has pictures of Hoth, Chewie, Leia, Boba Fett, Darth Vader (in the carbon chamber), R2 and C3PO on Hoth and Han Solo on Hoth.

Ro-Jaws’ Robo-Tales: The Robot Revolution is by G.P. Rice and Trev Goring. Someone who looks like a robot is running through a metropolis at night, avoiding the security patrols (in tanks) on their way to a meeting of the robot resistance. They are, of course, a human – in this case a security agent gathering evidence to arrest robots in the resistance. This is all by the end of the second page and not a shock. On the last panel of the second page we find out one of the other ‘robots’ present is also a human intelligence agent, with a third piping up. The final twist in this story is that the security patrol tanks in the first panel of the story are actually robot revolunaries which open fire on all the human agents. It doesn’t really make narrative sense as the robot tanks looked like robot tanks in the first panel and their reveal as robot tanks isn’t a surprise.

Tharg’s Future-Shocks: A Holiday in Hell – Alan Moore is back, unless this was actually published before the prog I covered yesterday, in which case this is his first appearance and he’ll be back for that story… Pictures are by Dave Harwood. This is a five-page ‘shock’ and just about anybody would know how it’s going to end by the end of page 3. It’s the future – all humanity’s problems have been solved, so there’s no war, crime or bloodshed. The main threat facing humanity is now boredom. To this end, Mars has been renamed Murderworld and populated with androids designed to show emotions (that’s the wording, though it’s clear that they are actually experiencing emotions as well, not just showing them). By the end of the third page the ‘focus couple’ whom we’ve been following on their holiday are about to return to Earth and it’s unsubtley hinted that the wife is actually a victimatic robot who has killed and replaced the human holidaymaker. The closest the story gets to an actual twist is that she kills the husband then goes to the office of the travel agency / Murderworld owners, reveals that she is a victimatic, and that those other office workers who went on Murderworld holidays are also robots and the robot revolution begins. This story is one page longer and not as good as the Killer in the Cab story appearing in 2000AD around the same time.

The House of the Future is a series like the Holiday to Mars futuregraphs – and I’m sure I saw these mentioned somewhere in the progs. I guess they were due to run sometimes after the Holiday to Mars series and before the Warriors of the Future series, but got dropped and are being published here so as not to waste the content. As ever, Bill LeFevre’s illustrations are very competent, though his depictions of humans don’t match up to the inanimate objects. The house depicted is supposed to be from 20 years in the future, i.e. the year 2000, now 20 years in our past! It’s also supposed to cost 5,000,000 credits – considering the size of the house I’d say that if one credit = one pound and its within the commuter belt it wouldn’t be too far off (assuming all the technology shown was typical consumer technology and not prototypes). As with the Flying Mantis cut-away, the first futuregraph is of the entire house with following pages given to each module. Everyone in the future of 2000 appears to be an alcoholic as the main feature of the butler robot is to mix and serve 2,000 drinks from all over the galaxy. Meanwhile, the robo-chef in the Living Room has the built-in dinner table (so what does this mean – all courses must be served at the same time, as otherwise the table will walk off mid-meal?) The carpets and mobile furniture are all self-heating and colour changing – very psychedelic! After the living room come the Bedroom Bubble-Modules, featuring ultrasonic cleaners for people and clothes, so no baths. The Garden Unit has a ‘thrower’ garden robot – for those non-British or non-1970s/1980s readers, this is probably a reference to Blue Peter TV gardener Percy Thrower. In the Hologram Room, the family are watching Judge Dredd, on vid-teevee (if they didn’t want to watch a weekly serial, the family can watch things on cassette). The Games Room has half-size Hammerstein and Ro-Jaws toys, smaller robot tanks and roll-back floor with a swimming pool underneath (which actually is quite common in some areas of Kensington and Chelsea). On the middle pages of the special everything goes colour for a Learning Room, not dissimilar to the games room and everything is done with holograms or distance learning. Last up is the garage containing a tie-in to one of the Holiday to Mars vehicles from Prog 96. The Mega-City Triphon motorbike looks like the ancestor of the Lawmaster.

Ro-Jaws’ Robo-Tales: The Wanderer. This is a two-pager with no credit card. A robot appears, moving in a straight line around the world. It doesn’t speak or respond to any attempts to communicate and when it arrives back at its starting point it turns out it that it’s actually just the handle of a really big knife which has cut the Earth into two. Returning to its mother ship, ‘Excalibur’ reports that the planet has been chopped up, but that the ship really should learn how to steer around planets. Somebody should tell the writer that Earth would have moved out of the spaceship’s path in the time it took for the robot to slice up the planet. Silly, which of itself wasn’t too bad, but the punchline made no sense whatsoever.

Strontium Dog – Mutant Bounty Hunter! This has no credits, so I have no idea who the writer or artist are. It’s six pages long and consists roughly half and half of text story and comic panels – the first page starts with three panels on the top half then continues as text, but the other pages aren’t so neatly divided, with the panels splitting up text. They’re going after a fugitive named Kurtiz on a jungle planet. It feels like it’s going to turn very Apocalypse Now, and Kurtz would have been on the screen the previous year, so maybe that is the initial inspiration. Johnny and Wulf find their quarry (or he finds them) but he uses his psychic power to knock them out and chain them to a stone pillar. Johnny uses alpha-rays to weaken the chains so that Wulf can stretch and break them (we’ve never seen that before, and won’t be seeing it again), then reveals that he planted a miniature thermo-bomb on Kurtiz which he sets off with a micro-detonator hidden under a layer of synthi-skin. This feels like it’s going to be more interesting than it ends up, and the inclusion of a new ‘superpower’ for Johnny doesn’t help.

The Judge Dredd Data File is a double-page Bolland picture of Dredd (which should have been on the centre pages, which themselves were two separate futurefocus posters). This is a much-used pic of Dredd standing front on, Lawgiver pointing upwards. The most interesting fact is Dredd’s age, 33 – in 2102.

Whatever Happened to Colony 9? is written and drawn by Floyd Hughes and looks like a Future-Shock. David Ward, the commander of the Sirus 2 has been sent to investigate Colony 9, with which Earth has lost contact. Even before reaching the dome of the colony, Ward decides to split the party and one of them is killed. Inside the base, Ward and a few others encounter a child hiding in a cupboard. His father encountered a spore which made him violent but the boy has somehow managed to avoid being killed. It’s all looking rather like Aliens, though that film won’t be released for another six years after this was published. When the father turns up a few panels later, Ward and Wendy use napalm, then plasma shells to destroy what remains of the father, but have no issues in taking the child on board (so it’s no surprise that the boy changes in the last half-page). I’d love to say that the presence of crew member Wendy is a good example of female emancipation, but the tightness of her trousers and low-cut top suggest that isn’t the reason she’s been included in this story…

The other half of that page is taken up with an advert for 2000AD, using a sketched version of the Mick McMahon CRIME cover.

Rojaws’ Technicolour Book Review has quick run-downs of six books – in rough order of rating from poor to good, here’s the books covered: Spidey-Sense Number Puzzles by Ned Webster (2 out of 10 – 24 puzzles for 60p in 1980), Meteor (novelisation of the film, 3/10), Black Holes, an anthology edited by Jerry Pournelle (6½ out of 10), To Die In Italbar by Roger Zelazny (8 out of 10 – I also noticed that the cover art was by Christos Achilleos, who would paint Anderson on the cover of a Games Workshop Judge Dredd Companion by the end of the decade. There’s something else particularly interesting in that companion, but I’ll wait until I cover it before I mention it further) and finally, with 9 out of 10, Dinah L. Moche’s Life in Space and Jasia Reichardt’s Robots: Fact, Fiction + Prediction. Looks like there’s quite a few books you can get by Dinah L. Moché nowadays, but not that one.

Reprint time! I’ve read the four-part collected reprint series that Quality Comics published around the mid to late eighties, so I know what the background of Louis Crandell, The Steel Claw is. This reprint drops the reader in it though, leaving out the criminal escapades Crandell got up to and heading straight for the secret agent part of his stories. All you need to know is that if he receives an electric shock he temporarily turns invisible except for his artificial steel hand. This is pretty bad – Crandell is called to investigate an alien invasion off of the Orkneys. The giant furry alien is actually an alien spaceship and nothing that Randall does has any effect, until he slips over, hits his head and grabs at controls. While everybody gets thrown around during an unscheduled take-off, the eletric charge in the claw immobilises the aliens, the ship crashes and Crandell somehow manages to survive, even though a spaceship capable of surviving nuclear weapons is smashed to pieces. The rest of the alien invaders put the ‘flee’ into ‘fleet’.

Tharg’s Mighty Puzzle Pages. First up is ‘Hologram Quiz’ – a perception / memory puzzle where you spend five minutes looking at a large Dave Gibbons Dare comic panel (the one where Dare rememmbered who he was), cover it up and answer ten questions on it. Next up is The Cosmic Chain-Word – the last letter of one answer is the first letter of the next – I got 15 out of 15 on that one. The last is Spot the Difference, with changes made to a Brian Bolland Dredd punching Fergie panel. I like quizzes so only properly did the chain-word one.

2000AD News is two pages of adverts for 2000AD (Tornado notably not appearing on any logos), the answers to the puzzles, a plug for Prog 178 (to be dated 20th September 1980, featuring that McMahon giveaway badge) plus Judgement Day is revealed – it isn’t Prog 178 at all, it’s the 2000AD and Judge Dredd annuals, to be released on 21st August 1980.

The Final Secret is a T.M.O. written Tharg story drawn by Robin Smith. The two pages put forth a few suggestions to what makes Tharg mighty, the answers to all of which are ‘no’. In the end the thing that make Tharg mighty is that Tharg is mighty.

Better than that two page filler is the back page picture, also by Robin Smith, of Thargus Maximus – The Mighty One – this is Tharg wearing armour and a cloak, holding a sceptre and standing on a chessboard-style floor bordered by steps leading up to science-fantasy buildings, all of which kind of fades into a starfield in the background. We’re going to see the same armour in Smith pictures on the contents page of the 2000AD annuals for 1983 and 1984.

Grailpage: the choice was between three great Dredd artists – McMahon’s painted front cover, Bolland’s should-have-been-centrespread and the third choice, which features both Alan Grant and Steve Dillon’s first credited work, with lettering by Tom Frame – it’s the first page of the Judge Dredd story, for the panel showing Dredd and Kray looking down from a street above Aftermath Square.

Grailquote: A.A. Grant, Judge Kray: “Hey, ugly! Over here!” Robo-statue Fergie: “You not say that! Fergie not ugly! Fergie smash cheeky judge!”

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3 thoughts on “2000AD Sci-Fi Special 1980: Judge Dredd – he ain’t heavy, he’s the law! Tharg meets Harry Harrison!

  1. Ah yes, the classic “the goodies are the aliens/robots and the baddies are the humans!” Right up there the “the aliens are actually tiny” and “the video game is real.”

    I always assume that the Sci-Fi Specials are where they print an artist’s first work, or some kind of try-out. That’s also why you sometimes get one-off artists in them.


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