2000AD and Tornado Prog 176: “Attention all staff droids! Next stop the planet of Zrag!”

King Carlos shows Kings Reach Tower blasting off on this cover. I think this is the first time we’ve seen it take off – if not I have a feeling the previous time may have been a badly doctored photo.

Tharg’s Nerve Centre kicks of the Great Helmet Puzzle – i.e. why Dredd never shows his face. The possible answers presented are that he might have strabismus or be shy – Tharg dismisses both. Next, another Earthlet asks what happened to the House of the Future advertisted in prog 102 – with the strike that occurred that’s about 85 weeks earlier! This is the one which was published in the sci-fi special not so long ago.

The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison, adapted by Kelvin Gosnell and Ezquerra. Slippery Jim attempt to shuttle in the Martian army (all eight of them, including Jim and Angelina) by attaching a rope ladder to a single grave-chute and carrying them to He’s Castle. This works fine, until the chute starts overheating. There’s not really a whole lot happening this episode, though it’s disguised by things seeming to happen. Rather than a silent entry to the castle, the team crash through a window, but meet with little resistance, and continue to explore the castle losing one or two members but still not meeting any effective resistance (though with Angelina on their side, the castle defence would need to be formidable). After some sightseeing they come to a thick, heavy wooden door which they blow up (as you do). He appears, though it’s only a hologram, ready to give us the cliffhanger which was the ‘next prog’ tag last prog.

Ro-Jaws’ Robo-Tales: The Robo-Shrink. I almost thought this story didn’t have a title as it was mentioned in Ro-Jaws’ introductory blurb, which is the smallest text on the page. G.P. Rice and John Higgins bring forth a tale of a robot psychiatrist which dispenses novel solutions to its patients problems – namely telling one to kill their neighbour and another (who just coincidentally is that neighbour) to smash up their neighbours hi-fi. The riot squad intervene before anybody dies or is seriously injured and they investigate the robot, finding nothing wrong. The last panel shows the robot being psycho-analysed by another robot. That’s the punchline – it seems lacking to me, like there should be something more.

The next story is a true story so has no script robot, but sees Carlos Ezquerra after taking a break while Higgins did that Robo-Tale. Tharg the Mighty stars in… The Great Human Rip-Off! I’m pretty sure that when I first read this I wouldn’t have known who Jimmy Carter was – it was all about Reagan by that point! I’d have known who the high-ranking Squaxx dek Thargo was (Thatcher) and may even have recognised one of the cabinet (thanks to Spitting Image) – Douglas Hurd. I don’t have the slightest clue who the others are supposed to be though, if they even are supposed to be specific people. Humans have gone missing (including Kevin Keegan, Carter and many other celebrities). When art robot McMahon disappears Tharg is hot on his (and the celebrities) trail – which leads to the cuboid planet of Zrag. As seen on the cover, Tharg engages the spaceship elements of Kings Reach Tower and moments later is taken through hyper-space to Zrag, where it’s promptly shot down by Zragian fighters. “Next week: the final prog?” We get to see the robot versions of AALN-1 (who we’ve seen before) and McMahon (who I think is new to this story). There only celebs I could recognise in backgrounds were Clint Eastwood and Linda Carter (while dressed as Wonder Woman). Oh, and there’s an Alec Trench poster – His spirit lingers!

Judge Dredd: The Judge Child Chapter 21 from John Howard and Mike McMahon. This is the first time we’ve seen the Angel Gang for quite some time, outside of a flashback or two. In fact I think this is our first sight of them ‘live’ since Texas City, and also the first time we’ve seen Owen Krysler for more than a panel or two in a row. This episode mainly showcases the vicious streak that runs through the Angel Gang – well, it’s not really a streak, that would suggest there’s anything about them that isn’t vicious. There’s a touch of The Golden Child about Owen showing his psychic form to Dredd as the lawman seeks him (though it should be noted that film came out six years after this prog was published). All the remaining characters are now in one place, that place being the ‘open planet’ of Xanadu. What exactly an open planet is isn’t defined, though it seems to include a disrespect for the law.

One advert for Super-Bazooka bubble gum, Raleigh bikes and roller skates later (that’s all in one advert, by the way, so you know it’s the eighties now) and there’s another appearance by Mike McMahon, illustrating a towering Dredd over Mega-City One with the caption “I will return!” – this is the kind of giant Dredd (no relation to Giant) that uses Mega-City One as furniture that we’ve seen on a cover or two.

Ro-Jaws’ Robo-Tales is back for another installment this prog with The Dating Game from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. I think that team might go on to do another comic at some point in the future… Myron is wealthy but lonely, and so fills in a computer dating form. Two days later he gets a response in the form of Saturnian Singing Orchids and soon discovers they were sent to him by the city computer. The city computer has no concept of boundaries, initially sending messages through the TV (tri-D, whatever) but going on to speaking through parking meters, bath taps and telephones. Myron is freaked out by this and spurns his unrequited lover. Making an enemy of a city computer is a bad idea and if the city Myron lives in is Mega-City One (there’s no suggestions it actually is, it’s a generic future city) then he takes refuge outside it’s walls in the Cursed Earth analogue, having gone from living in a well-appointed apartment to scavenging from bins by the side of the inter-city highway. The twist? One day he comes across a large litter bin and reaches inside, when it speaks to him in the city computer’s voice. Yes, the litter bins are now computerised, to Myron’s cost. I liked the trucker story from Moore which appeared a few progs ago though not the Westworld-style story in the sci-fi special, but this one’s better. I’m looking forward to the arrival of characters like Abelard Snazz and Moore’s run of Future-Shocks and Time Twisters.

After Gibbons’ clean lines on the Robo-Tale there’s an advert for Airfix which I can’t decide is by Brian Bolland or not – it has similar clean lines but also uses letratone, which I don’t associate with Bolland.

After a Tharg-related Carlos cover, the next prog trailer reveals that we’re going to get another Tharg-related Carlos cover. I like a lot of Tharg stories and Future-Shocks, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know they’re often saved as filler to plug gaps between the endings of stories and beginnings of new stories on jumping-on progs.

The third batch of pages for the Galactic Olympics booklet have (on the black and white pages) the Protogliggian Death-Jumping Event and Cosmic Wind Surfing Event, plus a signature by Steve Maher, so we know who’s behind all this (the pictures, at least). The former features six-legged horses and clones of 20th century show-jumper Harvey Smith while the latter has kind-of stand-up speeder bikes that break the time barrier. The colour side has High Speed Computer Powered Snooker Tornament and Heavyweight Android Boxing Event, both of which are self-explanatory – though an onlooking exclaiming “Splash it all over!” is a reference to Harry Cooper – a former boxer well-known at the time for advertising Brut after-shave (and who I just now found out was a completely differerent person to boxing commentator Harry Carpenter, immortalised in the words of Frank Bruno: “Know what I mean, ‘arry?”).

Grailpage: “I shall return!” Star Pin-Up of Dredd by Mike McMahon. I’d thought this was one of the giant versions of Dredd standing among cityblocks, but this could just be Dredd in the foreground looking at the city in the background. But it still looks like he’s giant and standing on a building while holding a pedway or something.

Grailquote: John Howard, Owen Krysler: “Death is coming – I have seen him! Death for all of you… Death in black!

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