This annual’s cover character montage comes courtesy of Dave Gibbons – showing Tharg in between Judge Dredd (in his own and Bolland’s style) and Johnny Alpha (looking pretty faithful to an Ezquerra picture).
This is promising – following that Gibbons’ cover the inside starts with a star pin-up of Deadlock (“They mystic A.B.C. Warrior) by O’Neill, wielding a scythe. This faces the contents page, showing Tharg (by Robin Smith?) holding up a data file containing the contents. Guinea Pig and Phantom Patrol jump out, so we haven’t left out-dated reprint territory yet.
Uh-oh – next up is a double-page spread of an airbrushed picture of the Space Shuttle. Trying to put myself in the mindset when the re-usable space craft was new and exciting, it’s still a bad sign that we’ve gotten the contents page out of the way and aren’t on a comics page with a recognised character yet.
This is a bit more promising – a double-page spread of Strontium Dog in a fist-fight with assorted aliens and/or mutants and the title Night of the Blood-Freaks. Except… it isn’t a comic story. I’ve no objection to text stories in a comic, but they shouldn’t lead! The text story itself is partially illustrated by a reprint of an Ezquerra picture – the same picture which Dave Gibbons copied for the cover. I knew the depictino on the cover was faithful to Ezquerra’s design – I didn’t realise it was a direct copy! This is a four-page text story with annoying chapter headings which look like they’re part of the prose to me. The story has the duo looking for the killers of six Strontium Dogs which turn out to be (spoiler) some norms on the run who went through a medical procedure which basically turned them into (composite? It’s not entirely clear) mutants who need to drink mutant blood to survive. The nicest touch is that “the top button on every S/D battle jacket had an inbuilt titanium cutting edge” – never stay tied-up again! There’s an interesting idea about interplanetary circuses wintering on the world this takes place on, which I’m not sure stands up to scrutiny. If you can take your circus to different planets then surely you can find a market for the profitable summer season all the time? I’m sure that if Earth circuses in our era could have travelled internationally with ease then they’d follow the sun – it’s always spring or summer in some part of the world! Another thing that stood out in this one was the High Mountain dog-eagles – any relation to dog-vultures?
After the text story comes more text in the form of Special Effect in Sci-Fi Movies, split into sections on Monsters/Aliens and Small Sets, Gigantic Effects, illustrated with pictures from various sci-fi films. Not particularly relevant pictures from sci-fi films, it should be said. It talks about specific effects used in some films but then just puts a picture of a stormtrooper helmet or chewie (not mentioned in the text). Also they slag off one of my favourite scenes from Forbidden Planet. p.s. if you follow that film clip – you know that’s Leslie Neilsen, right? As in Frank Drebin, Police Squad?
The Mekon has a page to himself next, with 10 Ways to Destroy the World. And yes, it does sound like a list you’d get on buzzfeed or a similar click-bait site. The last way to destroy the world is to “leave Man to his own devices. Nuclear war, famine, over-pollution”, man…
Tharg’s Future-Shocks: The Mumps from Beyond the Moon is by Staccato (a few minute’s research reveals this is Alan Grant) and Robin Smith. I don’t know what’s happening with Robin’s artwork on this one, but it looks like it came from a period before his Klep work. Some people don’t like Robin’s art style and I’d agree it isn’t fan-favourite stuff, but there are one or two images of his coming up in the next ten years that I can envisage winning the grailpage slot. On with the story itself, and it’s not un-Klep like in scope in some ways. A space disease has gripped humanity and looks set to wipe out the human race. ‘The computer’ analyses the situation and concludes that somebody must be sent to the past to immunise humanity using the Gene Machine. Bob is selected and, of course, travels to the year 1980 (from 2500) but wanders past Forbidden Planet (the comic shop, not the film I mentioned earlier) and buys a clutch of progs. Overloaded by thrill-power, he falls asleep until an alarm tells him to activate the Gene Machine. In his thrill-power fatigued state he accidentally feeds half a prog in before realising his mistake and putting the Gene Modification programme in. As an aside, the prog that was half fed in was the one with a gigantic Tharg towering over London. Can you guess what the full-page reveal is going to show? That’s right – everybody looks like Tharg (as well as being immune).
The Mighty Tharg’s Cosmic Puzzle Pages has anagrams, a ‘match the book to it’s writer’ and a Cosmic Chainword (we’ve had one of these before – in the quiz book I think – like a crossword but the last letter of one answer is the first letter of the next). By the way, a previous owner of my copy of this annual filled in the chainword, in pen!
The annual makes a change of pace now as we head in to Ro-Jaws (and Hammer-Stein’s) Mini Annual. You can guess that the first up is Ro-Jaws and Hammer-Stein’s Laugh In! featuring artwork from ‘Sutherland 79′ – looking like early Kev Sutherland work to me – though I can’t tell whether it’s as reader’s art or paid art droid work. Also culled from the prog is Ro-Jaws’ Robo-Round-Up reader’s art page (I quite like Street Fighting Droid, though previous copyists mean I have the nagging suspicion that it’s been lifted from another comic somewhere – if so it’s be US underground or European).
Ro-Busters has an untitled story by Chris Stevens and Dave Harwood, which reads like a story from a fanzine. Los Angelese in 2180 (2080, surely?) has been hit by an earthquake. That’s the disaster, here come the disaster droids. After saving some humans from a dangerously tilting tower, Ro-Jaws discovers and a robot abandoned by the family. It’s an army surplus robot called Lucifer. Turns out he was in the army with Hammerstein, and once the three are free they resume saving humans, including ‘two old biddies’ getting rescued by Lucifer (incidentally, you may expect that name gets mentioned – it doesn’t). A background cameo by Dr Feeley-Good later and Howard Quartz is claiming Lucifer as ‘salvage’ because it had to replace it’s leg with that of a smashed robot. The ex-war robot is saved from a fate worse than death (being in Ro-Busters) by one of the saved biddies, who turns out to be Quartz’s aunt Lizzie. We’re used to stories in annuals not being as good as those in the prog, and on that measure this is better than most stories we’ve seen so far (that should change with the post after this one, by the way – but unfortunately not for 2000AD annuals for the next few years).
Ro-Jaws’ Robo-Facts has explanations of where the word robot came from (Czech, by way of Karel Capek), a definition for android which seems to have shifted in the intervening decades and other similar facts.
Ro-Jaws presents a text story, Human on my Back, as told to his nephews and nieces, the Robettes. It uses unpublished artwork from one of those Warriors of the Future series of posters that ran around the time that The V.C.s started, featuring a human who gets carried around on the back of a robot. The story itself has a thug use a robot to extort money from people to carry them over a stream. Not being waterproof he encounters trouble in the stream, but is ordered by the thug to ‘lift me up’ so as not to drown. Once the water gets into the droid’s head it malfunctions and continues obeying the last command – though once it’s submerged ‘lifting up’ results in ‘being pinned down underwater’.
The next page has a full page pic of the A.B.C. Warriors by ‘Moran’ followed by Data-Files on the Meknificent Seven. They’re one-paragraph descriptions but won’t be anything you won’t already know if you’ve read the first book of ABC Warriors. In fact, I’m pretty sure these have been copied directly from previous features. That’s the end of the mini-annual within an annual, and while some of it may have been a bit ropey I think I’d have preferred it to the 2000AD annual we got.
The Man from 2000 is a Future-Shock style tale from Oleh Stepanuk and D. Hine. This was a complete surprise to me – I had no idea David Hine had work published in 2000AD so early on. Four warriors from different time periods (Greek, Roman, Viking and – well, you can read the title of this story) are transported to an alien spaceship, Blackhawk arena-style. The titular character stuns two and convinces the third not to fight to the death and they work together. After the entertainer-stand-ins adapt the rules to last-one-standing by chucking prehistoric beasts at them, the futuristic trooper manages to follow the wires from the cameras to the viewing room and tricks one of the aliens into reversing the controls to save themselves from the prehistoric beasts, leading to everybody being returned to their own times. I’ve got a pet hate of gladiator / zoo collection stories – I only liked aspects of Blackhawk due to Belardinelli’s art, so this is not an easy sell for me. The final four panels describe the warriors back in their own time – they have no memory of the events of the story and it says something nonsensical about how it was as if they’ve been gone for just one second (though is unclear about whether this is from the point of view of those who were surrounding them, or the warrior/time-travellers themselves). The first three have no problems getting back in to the battles they were in, going on to great things. The viking (despite not having any memory of it) uses the Roman interlocking shields tactic. The punchline of the story is that the warrior from 2000 was made late for roll-call and is put on a charge.
The first 2000 A.D. Heroes Fact-File (I know how these things work – if there’s one, there’s going to be more) is for Ursa and Zog – I wonder if this was put here due to the preceding gladiatorial story? Surprisingly it doesn’t recycle any of the facts that Thargian robot came out with (home planet, species) instead going for age (Ursa is 22 Earth years, Zog is 8 centuries old), height, weight and the like.
I’m sensing a pattern here – another of those unpublished Star Trooper pictures is allied with a text story – this one for Blackhawk and Death-Dive. It’s a simple story, an exile on a water planet makes the challenge to the entertainers, Blackhawk takes the place of an aquatic champion and after about a page of fighting, wins. Though the exile also wins, by escaping from their exile (through death instead of riches, or whatever the entertainers would have paid them). p.s. just remembered the name of the artist – Bill leFevre.
Let the reprints begin – hot on the heels of whatever was reprinted in the Sci-Fi Special (I’ve tried to block it from my mind) comes Guinea Pig. These stories haven’t been given titles, so let’s name this ‘Kangaroo’, after the experimental vertical take off and landing craft that Mike Lane is testing this time. Which I think looks vaguely like an original-series Cylon Raider. While on the test flight it gets caught in an electromagnetic disruptor ray by a foreign government. Mike suggests they use the vertical part of the craft to crash into the helicopter operating the ray. They do, it works, they capture the crew (and the secret of the ray) and then return them to a foreign vessel off the Scottish coast. Next feature!
2000 A.D. Hall of Villains. You know how these things work – editorial put together some pictures taken from the weekly progs, write a few words to accompany them and – hey presto – you’ve got some filler. Covered are Brian Bolland’s Alien Catcher General and The Kleggs, Mike McMahon’s Rico, Dave Gibbons The Snappers (the underwater aliens which lived inside the Slurrgs), Belardinelli’s Shepherd and his Living Axe, McMahon’s Mutie the Pig, Gibbons’ Mekon and Sleetha (the worms that could Cast Illusion), Ezquerra’s Sergeant Kark and back to Bolland for Fergee. All covered in a wash of pink ink.
More Pink Ink washes for the second Tharg’s Future-Shock, Duel in the Dunes written by Oleh and Rob Moran on art. Kain is in a desert, not knowing how he got there or where ‘there’ is. While trying to gain his bearings he is attacked by a knight on horseback as a gun appears (literally, from no-where). At this point I thought it was going to be yet another snatched warriors forced to become gladiators story. The gun disappears after ten minutes, then after another ten minutes without any weapons a grenade appears. This continues, but with an army of robots as opponents and a tank as a weapon. Before the next ten minutes are up, Kain manages to vanquish his foes, all of which are robots, but then Kain here’s a buzzing, because (shock!) he is a robot, but that’s not all! It’s time for dinner, because the two sides have been played by a son and his daddy in a game of Robo-Battle! Also, mum wears a tight red leotard and elbow-length matching gloves while making dinner. Son and daddy get to wear leg coverings though, so the future isn’t all about exposed flesh.
The Being from Betelgeuse Six! Annuals had a long lead time in production – much longer than that of the progs, so Tharg’s home planet is still ‘Betelgeuse Six’ in this time-warp, instead of Quaxxann, as it is in the progs. There’s a little bit of science stuff about Betelgeuse, then the rest of this page is culled from the pages of 2000AD (mainly answers to reader’s letters).
Brendan McCarthy takes another stab at illustrating The Retreat from Volgow in a double-page spread (unfortunately in black and white plus pink wash again). This is to introduce a two-page text story about a Volgan baker droid who gets enlisted (essentially reprogrammed in a torture device) in the lead-up to the end of the Volgan Wars, as shown in the Steelhorn chapters of the weekly strip. There is an element of it that reads like a school assignment – “write 2000 words from the viewpoint of a baker enlisted to the Russian Army in 1916” but it’s well done and evocative of Stalingrad / Moscow campaigns.
A Thargian Vocabulary is as you expect and is almost entirely reprinted from previous Tharg glossaries. New to this annual is Tharg’s Favourite Recipe (it features “3 large cups ordinary flour” – I can’t help thinking that the cups are the important bit there, not the flour).
Smokeman – this is a UFO Agents story and I think I read an artist’s signature as Jose Ortiz ’67. The aliens who have given the pair their powers have decided that whatever war inspired them to do so is in its closing stages and are taking the powers away. They’re also reassigning them to a post-industrial town into the non-bargain. This is too many pages of clunky dialogue and uninteresting situations stretched out over how ever many episodes it originally would have run for in whichever weekly comic it was originally printed in. We are told over and over and over again that the inspector wouldn’t believe the latest thing that they’ve seen. This goes on for almost twenty pages! When they were actual sci-fi UFO agents they had a four page story in a previous annual – why has it expanded so much now that they’re pretty much normal police.
The next feature is much better – Tharg’s Guide to how 2000 A.D. is Produced, featuring a few Ezquerra panels to help the narrative along. This is surely the first instance of a 2000AD script being printed (albeit just the first page of Father Earth), along with pencils of the top of the page. The Tom Frame robot makes an appearance, though unfortunately doesn’t look like the version I’m more familiar with from the Starscan in 1983 (which was on the back of one of the first progs I owned).
Bang! Bang! said the Green Cheese Man! is an eight-page text story with a few panels of comic strip on half of the pages, similar to the Strontium Dog story in the Sci-Fi Special. The story itself reads like a Future-Shock, though one that hasn’t been edited for brevity. It features a ‘salesman’ who seems a bit more of a spiv, who has been personally hired by the president of one of the four corporations which own the world. The thing this president wants the salesman – Harlan – to sell is the moon, which was acquired by the previous president (father of the current one). Harlan heads up to the moon to view the goods before trying to sell them. On his first night there he encounters a massacre and then gets kidnapped by a resistance movement, called the Klan. Distinctive spelling there – there’s only one group I know of that spells the word clan/klan in that manner… Is it explained at any point? Nope! The resistance group ‘convince’ Harlan to assassinate (or aid in the assassination of) the president. It’s all a bit silly but gets sillier when Harlan turns on the leader of the Klan as they enter the office of the president, killing him. The silliest bit is when it turns out that the moon resistance leader is the brother of the president… This story should either be much longer, taking time to examine Earth in thrall to four corporations, the domed city on the moon. There’s some nice ideas in here but they’ve not been used that well.
Starlord gets a star pin-up plus a few paragraphs about the mission against the Int Stell Fed.
Judge Dredd in The Case of the Urban Gorillas! by A A Grant and Brett Ewins (in painted colour). Big Zak leads a gang of apes to take over Mickey Dolenz Block (geddit? Because he’s famous for being a singer and drummer with The Monkees). Big Zak is not happy at the lot of apes in the Mega-City, being consigned to the ghetto of Ape Town, and has taken of the block to lead apes in revolt for better living conditions. Brett’s work is a bit stiff, and there’s a few pics of Dredd which look very derivative of Bolland’s work – so much so that the pictures that inspired them are easily identifiable. Dredd takes out the apes, with the help of the flying squad (on zipper bikes, previously only seen on the moon) and then sentences Big Zak to death – a bit out of character for Dredd. The judge tends to execute in the heat of the moment, but not after all the action has finished.
Back to the reprint with Phantom Patrol, and this time they’re in the ice age from the looks of the first page (there’s a mammoth) – here we go. So, the Patrol arrive in the ice age, decide that they aren’t dressed for it and are going to leave. But instead of leaving they hang around so that the landing craft can get damaged by that mammoth, and once the mammoth runs off they get herded into a trap by the local primitive tribe. I’m assuming that the time machine takes a bit of time to warm up again after being used, but there’s nothing in the text on this story that says that. The lettering on this story is awful – the actual words and letters themselves are neat and legible, but their placement in panels leads the reader to read the text in the wrong order – the English language reads from left to right – how difficult is that concept to grasp? Despite liking ice age and prehistorical stories, and perhaps weakened by the UFO Agents story, I stalled here and had to start listening to the Space Spinner 2000 coverage of this annual – which I’m listening to right now – wonder if I’ll manage to finish the annual before Conrad and Fox do? Back to this story – the Patrol use the translator to make friends with the prehistoric tribe, go back to their city (which the Patrol calls a village) and get attacked by that mammoth again – which is both bullet proof and highly resistant to grenades. Because it’s the prehistoric version of an elephant they end up going to a cave which is effectively the elephant’s graveyard. One of the interchangeable members of the patrol is afraid that the mammoths frozen in blocks of ice for centuries will thaw out and attack them – which is implausible if not impossible because they would only remain alive if they had been instantly frozen, otherwise crystals in the blood of the mammoths would have killed them. I’m trying to apply logic and realism to this story, but neither belong for the mammoths do thaw out and attack. And then some huge yeti-type creature pops up out of nowhere and starts giving the mammoths orders. It’s as stupid as it sounds. This would probably play much better as a role-playing game than read as a story. The sergeant has the bright idea to use the translator to speak to the mammoth he’s riding on (oh, did I forget to mention that he’d climbed on to the back of a mammoth?) – I wonder if this will be followed up in any subsequent stories? Hopefully we won’t get any further Phantom Patrol reprints in future annuals, so I won’t find out! The giant cave-man and his mammoth are defeated by stumbling across an ancient pit trap constructed by the ancestors of the local tribe. The Patrol head back to the landing craft and activate the time machine, going as far into the future as they can. A contemporary hand has written in some new dialogue for Sarge: “Looks like home to me!” Looks like there’s not going to be any more reprint of this story to me!
In all, this annual is getting better than some previous efforts, with occasional flashes of brilliance (like the guide to making 2000AD). Recognisable names are more interesting as examples of early work, rather than being all that good in themselves.
Grailpage: Brendan McCarthy’s double-page spread of The Retreat from Volgow – which would be even better if it hadn’t been coloured in the single colour pink that these annuals have.
Grailquote: A. A. Grant, Judge Dredd: “Eat judge boot, lawbreaker!” I feel that this line must have been used by Wagner at some point, but whether it’s original to this story or not, the annual is pretty short on quotable lines.