2000AD Prog 178: Britain’s No 1 Sci-Fi Hero!

What can I say? Everything in place. The comic’s not called 2000AD and Tornado any more (or even 2000AD and Starlord) – it’s back to being plain old 2000AD for the first time in years. What’s more, the logo has changed to the classic 1980s ‘chrome’ style. For me, and many others who are still reading to this day (but were too young to read from prog 1) this is the logo we started with. Oh, also Mike McMahon sticks a pic of Dredd on the cover. For the last half year every picture we’ve seen of Mega-City one has been on a cover or pin-up! Due to this prog featuring the second appearance of Nemesis (in Comic Rock) this was another prog I bought long before those preceding it and after (except for the one immediately after, as that also features Nemesis).

Technically there’s no Tharg’s Nerve Centre as it’s a jump-on prog so we get Tharg telling everybody (new readers) who he is and what 2000AD (the galaxy’s top comic), and the usual Tharg data file and Betelgeusian phrases.

Strontium Dog by A. A. Grant and Ezquerra: Death’s Head. I’m pretty much convinced that both Strontium Dog and Judge Dredd are written by what Steve McManus calls the Wagner Grant Combine. To diguise just how much of IPC’s output was written by the pair they would credit (and the cheque paid to) just one writer, as well as using a host of pseudonyms. This is just one reason I’m generally sticking to names as credited. As with many Stront stories, this one starts with Johnny Alpha confronting his quarry, or should that be bounty? This particular bounty has four arms (as well as forearms) yet is not an alien or mutant. Big Dunky has been given a hand by his friend Willy Blanko. Two hands actually. And he’s not really a friend, as they’re booby trapped to ignite when Alpha uses his alpha vision to read Big Dunky’s mind. As well as the explosive result, there’s a message for Alpha – a spooky face and Alpha’s tombstone. My favourite bit of this episode is the next prog tag – showing a non-verbal picture of the Gronk.

The Mean Arena by Tom Tully and John Richardson. A new thrill! Some people have opinions about this, but I’ll try to ignore them until the end of the run. I seem to remember it started well but tailed off, but I’ll find out in the next month or so (2020 month where I’m reading a prog a day, not 1980 month where one prog gets published each week). I’m not a fan of spectator sports, though do like the concept of Street Football – somewhere between Bloodbowl and Necromunda (both skirmish games which came out years after Mean Arena was published). Like Inferno, this story is written by Tom Tully, and like Inferno, has a character whose surname is Venner (!) Street Football is the most popular game in the world in that far future year of 2021. It consists of cordoning off a sector of a town or city and getting a ball to the opposing team’s goal. Everybody has weapons. Slater’s Slayers is a team who are on their last legs but a new player looks promising. He has to look promising because when I said ‘last legs’ I meant that if they don’t do well in this match then this is their last game. Unfortunately that promising new player keels over from an internal haemorrhage. Nearby Matt Tallon is unhappy at the way that the media report on the death (mid-match – the game goes on) and chucks a stool at the TV screen. In case you don’t know who Matt Tallon is (and there’s no reason any of us would, as this is his very first appearance or mention) some fellow patrons in the bar exposite that he’s the greatest street footballer the states ever produced. As I say, I remember liking the early episodes, but the presence of Tom Tully and a vague knowledge of where this is going to end up mean I wonder how close it is to the Harlem Heroes / Inferno formula. We’ve already seen the media figure who revels in blood spilled in the game, if we see a gambling syndicate in the near future, seen only by their villainous hands as they watch vid screens then it may dent my enjoyment of the story a little. Actually, scrub that – I’m looking forward to the villainous hands – it wouldn’t be a Tully story without them!

Another one that some don’t like, though I’m looking forward to this one and am pretty sure I’m still going to enjoy it this time around. Dash Decent by Angus and Kevin O’Neill. Flash Gordon is one of my favourite sci-fi films – doesn’t take itself too seriously, mixes 1930s and 1940s aesthetics with 1980s special effects and has some great actors chewing the scenery. This shares much in common with the earlier Bonjo and Captain Klep (the creative team for one) and yet I know I’m going to like this more than I did those – is it because it’s parodying something I really like? Is it because it doesn’t have Bonjo’s overt racism? Though having mentioned it, it’s been a while since I last read it – perhaps I’ll notice things which were ‘okay in the eighties’ but are decidedly un-okay now? Originally proposed to be called flush Gordon, Dash Decent is the janitor at the police precinct who gets called upon by Doctor Zellamy (looking vaguely like David Bellamy , with whom he shares a speech impediment, though it comes acxross more like Walter the Wobot). If you’ve seen Flash Gordon then you know the rest of the set-up – Dash and an as-yet-unnamed taxi driver (who I think will be revealed as Dale Ardent?) end up joining Zellamy on a journey to the planet of Pongo, which is all set to collide with Earth. Almost every panel has a sight gag in addition to any humorous dialogue, mixed with breaking the fourth wall constantly (Klep appears in the first row of panels, pointing out the cheap special effects by lifting the curtain, Zellamy’s space rocket tears through the gutter between two panels as it almost crashes). This first episode was a two-pager, I think every other episode will be one page. Also, the dramatic cliffs which the rocket almost crashes into remind me of the rocks on World’s End, coming in Book I of Nemesis the Warlock.

We’ve had all comic pages since the not-Nerve Centre – now it’s time for a change of pace with adverts and competitions. First up an Empire Strikes Back comic-style full-page advert, though Palitoy haven’t brought Brian Bolland back for this one. Mention is made of new characters, places and things Hoth, tauntauns, Bossk, I.G. 88, snowspeeders, Yoda, Lando Calrissian, cloudcars and skycity. Yes, not Bespin Cloud City but ‘skycity’. Not as bad as some of the mistakes made when reporting Star Wars before it came out, but it jumped out at me. This faces off against a three ad spit page with one column plugging that Boba Fett toy, the second a Dredd T-shirt giveaway (collect tokens, send a form and hope you’re one of the lucky 1,000) and a Forbidden Planet ad for door posters – I remember seeing these in shops in the 1980s – all by Brian Bolland, one is of Dredd, another Judge Death and the third is Walter.

Judge Dredd: The Judge Child Part 23: Fallen Angels! by John HOward and Mike McMahon. As Dredd enters Drybone he is set upon by some local thugs who have been sent by the Angel Gang, which he treats like an exercise in applied violence. Watching the attempt fail, Link and Mean dress up in bonnets and frocks to get close to Dredd and Old Joe though the prospector’s sixth sense of hatred detects them right away. To be fair to Mean, he might be ornery but he doesn’t flinch when his arm (the real one) gets blown off. In combat with Dredd, Mean’s dial gets stuck on 4½ – I won’t mention how many times this will happen as this one, at least, is the first time we’ve seen it. He might be a psychopath, but Link doesn’t hesitate in trying to help his brother get out of the butt frenzy he goes in, inevitably ending in one way for Link, before Mean butts a gas pump and gets killed in a fiery explosion. Despite Old Joe’s blind horse encountering Mean during the butt frenzy and Old Joe himself getting tortured by Link, his hatred of the two remaining Angels carries him forwards. This episode took seven pages and was over too quickly – should have been a two-parter.

Meltdown Man by Alan Hebden and Massimo Belardinelli. This is it – one of my favourite 2000AD series, certainly in this era of the comic! The title makes sense only if you’ve read the very first page (and gets mentioned in the last few pages in a year’s time!) but Nick Stone gets caught in a nuclear explosion and is catapulted into a strange world. I was put off by The Angry Planet (from the same creative team). Despite a few notable moments, the tiny panels crowded on the pages didn’t let it breathe, and when you have an artist like Massimo Bellardineli, you have to let the set piece images have enough space to shine. His boss at the S.A.S. introduces us to Stone’s pet cat and recaps a few of his missions to let us know how capable a fighter he is. We’re getting in to Future-Shock territory for the next page, as Stone awakes to the sound of helicopter gunships. The pilots’ features cannot be seen beneath their helmets and we only get to see the face of one of their quarry (after the other gets harpooned) when Stone saves her life. Diagonally opposite the pic of Stone’s cat in the present day, Stone sees that the person he has saved has a face which looks like a cat (personally I’ve always thought Liana looked like a human woman in heavy make-up). Now that the shock has been revealed we’re free to see who’s piloting the gunships – hyaenas and minks, ready to kill the cat as that other helicopter flies around with its victim swinging from the harpoon rope. Unimpressed by the casual attitude that new-on-the-scene Leeshar has to the lives of the predators (the hyaena), Stone grabs Leeshar’s snip gun and demands answers.

Comic Rock: Killer Watt by Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill. This is my high point of this prog – in fact I probably bought it to get this story. Sorry to refer to things which haven’t appeared yet (again) but this mixes what we’ve seen of Termight already with the kind of technological evolution of natural shapes that we’ll see in Metalzoic (with both the tube liner and the Concorde-inspired Gooney Bird having parallels in the metalzoic era). This takes place mainly in the ‘overland’ which we saw in just the first panel of Terror Tube as Torquemada’s train carriage gets snatched up to feed to the giant robo-bird’s young. Tomas callously sacrifices all the other passengers to save his own skin, though promises to meditate on their deaths – sometime… Following wires to a transporter station, Tomas gets behind the wheel of the Shockwave Express where he has to get past the Sea of Lost Souls (where a Gooney Bird incident damaged the wires) before he can beam the rest of the way to his destination in Necropolis. The teleporter at the transmitter station is an agent for Credo though, and informs Nemesis that Torquemada is alone on the wire. There’s a great panel of the various commuters using the surreal cable, sitting in typical train commuter positions though without any seats while a few vehicles speed past. This story was one which had been referenced in a few stories I’d read before purchasing this prog, usually in the form “Torquemada*” with a footnote “*shown here before his accident in the transporter” so I was looking forward to finding out what this was all about. Not that we find out in this episode of the two-parter. This story was supposedly inspired by the (compilation) album ‘Killer Watt’ though I think this is quite tenuous. They both feature pylons and that’s about where the similarity ends.

The inside back page has an advert for PG Tips tea, next prog – where it falsely claims that the big black building that Stone is being taken to is ‘The Fortress’ (it’s the human part of the city), a stamp quiz advert and a reservation coupon while the outside has a colour ad for Matchbox war toys.

Grailpage: there’s a page that I’ve been looking forward to declaring grailpage for some time – when there’s been a choice between two pages I’ve often ruled against the artist responsible as I knew the page I had in my mind would herald the start of a period with lots of opportunities to win. More recently I started having doubts over whether it would clash in this prog. Thankfully that page appears next week, so I can award this prog’s grailpage to Kevin O’Neill’s Gooney Bird without any qualms (I also like the small glimpse we get of the Petrified City on a cliff-edge).

Grailquote: John Howard: “It takes fifteen years to train a judge. Fifteen years in the toughest school on Earth – fifteen years of iron discipline… …rigid self-control… …concentrated aggression! By the time a judge hits the streets, he is no longer a man – he is a machine!”

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