2000AD Prog 181: “It’s taken my best shot… and it still won’t die!”

I’ve never realised just how many covers King Carlos drew in 1980, but there’s no avoiding it now – other than the Stainless Steel Rat covers (obviously wanting to get their money’s worth with a licensed adaptation) he’s done a load of Tharg covers though this week he’s back on Strontium Dog. I barely remember what the undead-looking thing attacking Johnny is, and as I had the preceding progs for purposes of collecting early Nemesis stories it would have been some time since I first got this prog.

There’s no let-up from the King’s artwork as we launch right in to Strontium Dog written by A. A. Grant (according to the credits): Death’s Head. The shadow alien creature gets another mention, so they’d better be a pay-off. There is, though it relates to something I don’t remember having been set-up earlier. Willy Blanko is an alien as well – a morph which goes through 15-year shape-change cycles. Johnny knows all about this, so while it was a surprise to us, it wasn’t to him. Everything up to this point is revealed to have been stalling for time so that the alien Blanko can complete his regeneration cycle, complete with hundreds of decoy cocoons. This is where the pay-off from the Gronk’s shadow creature comes in, for it takes this moment to disattach from the Gronk and attach to the living creature that is Willy Blanko (apparently it’s much better at detecting life than Johnny’s Alpha eyes). This episode is entertaining enough, but it relies not just on that bit of information but also a new time weapon we haven’t seen before – the Time Shrinker, which accelerates time within its field. Johnny then uses the electronux to bash the larval form of Blanko to pieces. In my opinion the secret to the series is to use one alpha ability and one piece of technology per episode and optionally a twist (we’ve had a second face, extra arms and the old decoy enemy). In this single episode we’ve had Willy being an animated sloughed skin, his new form being an impervious skeleton, the time shrinker and the electronux. It seems like there’s too much striving for attention in the six pages. It’s rescued by the last page where Alpha buries Blanko in the grave which was dug for Johnny, and Wulf muses that the police will think they skinned Blanko when they claim the reward. The next prog box: “The million credit bounty!” I’m thinking that this is going to be the Shicklgruber Grab, so looking forward to that.

It’s in 2000AD, it’s in a comic format, though it’s an advert by an unknown artist (probably not an art droid). The Gumfighter hits! Town (strange place to put the exclamation mark). It’s for Hubba Bubba and makes much of a pun on ‘gunfight’ / ‘gumfight’.

The Tidy-Up Droid by G.P. Rice and Dave Gibbons is introduced by Ro-Jaws. Looks like Tharg’s Future-Shocks are a thing of the past (for the time being at least). Ethel and Norbert are married, though since Norbert lost his job to a robot he has become a slob. Ethel is not happy about this and gets a cleaning robot, which just increases tensions between the couple. Eventually Norbert attacks the robot, damaging its disintegration unit and later the same day kills Ethel. Trusting the robot to clean up the remains of his wife, the damage does, of course, mean that Ethel’s remains are not properly disposed of. Interesting the ‘police’ that take Norbert away are wearing what looks like a proto-judge uniform, complete with lawgiver-looking gun and small eagle on the right shoulder pad. I’d like to think that this story takes place some time between the current Judges novels (harking back to the beginning of the judge system) and the Judge Dredd stories we’ve seen running from 2099.

After a week off, Dash Decent by Angus and Kevin O’Neill is back in Chapter 3: The Death of a Thousand Blinks! The three are taken to meet Emperor Pong the Preposterous, though as they are improperly dressed they get taken to the court tailor to strip off and get in to new clothing (Dash is ready for action, though on first attempt dresses in the skimpy leotard picked out for Dale). As ever, there are tonnes of sight gags in the O’Neill’s backgrounds, including a panoply of space-themed chocolate bars (Space Dust, Galaxy, Milky Way, etc). This being just an excuse for as many jokes as possible, the fact that Dash ends the episode having dropped in to a monster pit with Pong is of little cause for concern.

The Nerve Centre once again is one and a half pages (despite those earlier claims of spreading to two pages) and the half page (sharing a page with a Judge Dredd annual advert) is the rules for entering that free T-shirt draw. Letters reveal that every boy in one reader’s class reads 2000AD (30 boys, so either that’s a really big class or it’s a single-sex class or school). Someone called Irene objects to an earlier reader complaining about the lack of heroines – I have to wonder whether it was written by a boy pretending to be a girl… Another reader reckons Dredd should have taken the Oracle Spice, and that judges should be able to grow moustaches without being executed for it (I’m paraphrasing heavily there). Picture-wise, somebody copies the cover of Métal Hurlant N°8 (painted by Jean-Michel Nicollet) and submits it as their own work, getting £5 for it – sent to BFPO 30 – so either the family of somebody in the armed forces or a squaddie. If it is the family then they’re accessing comics aimed at a much older demographic than themselves – I wouldn’t follow this link to the original if you’re at work – let’s just say that in the 1970s, French comics aimed at adults got away with far more than UK comics aimed at children!

Judge Dredd: The Judge Child Part 26: Judgement on Fire Mountain! by John Howard and Ron Smith (and surely a pun on Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain). After yesterday’s blog post was published, I had worried I hadn’t made it quite clear enough that Junior got killed at the end of the last episode. Not too worry, the entire scene of Dredd tossing Junior off of the bridge in to the lava is recreated, along with a reaction shot from Pa. From there things take an unexpected turn. Owen Krysler saves Pa Angel from being killed by Dredd in order for the boy to kill Pa himself. This does not go unnoticed by Dredd. Then the pivotal moment comes – something barely any reader would suspect. Dredd has the chance to succeed in the Judge Child quest. The child is literally in his hands, all he has to do is take Owen back to Justice One. Instead he judges the boy evil and returns alone. Hershey and Larter are not best pleased, Hershey particularly at traipsing across the galaxy and ‘losing’ Lopez.

From the end of a Dredd tale that ran for half a year to the early episodes of the longest-running tale to grace the pages of 2000AD, Meltdown Man by Alan Hebden and Massimo Belardinelli (longest-running single story from the same creative team every week, for fifty weeks, I believe). The cliffhanger that Stone, Gruff and Leanna are to die in the vats at the hands of T-Bone lasts precisely until the very first piece of dialogue in the first panel, where T-Bone explains that he was joking that he was going to kill a human master – explaining the threat away as a joke – I’m thinking that’s the kind of joke that would have gotten T-Bone recycled. Speaking of which, the Recycling Vats are their route to escape, Stone causing his trademark havok and putting T-Bone out of a job. Though fortunately T-Bone appears to know where Kineta can be found, so all is good. Defeated and desperate, Leeshar pays a visit on King Seth – a cobra with psychic powers as powerful as Kineta.

Not content with the cover and first pages, King Carlos also takes the last story, continuing on to the colour back cover. This is a tale of why 2000AD took a break for about a month. The cause (in both the real world and the story) was industrial action, though in the real world I believe it was down to the Union of Journalists and led to both the firing and re-hiring of Steve McManus (unless that was the next strike along) though in this story it’s all down to the Hag of Zrag (mother of the Dictators). She casts a spell that causes the droids to go on strike until they start getting paid. Tharg fires them all (guess this was the time that McManus got fired then) and produces the prog on his own. The unintended consequence of this is that the prog is too brilliant and would blow the minds of anybody who should read it, or even glimpse it. Gobb, a Zragian we were introduced to on the first page and secret 2000AD-reader informs Tharg of the spell who immediately teleports to Zrag and unleashes the Rigelian Hotshot. The script, art and lettering droids are re-hired, on condition that they accept a pay cut (initially being paid nothing). Next prog: even more Tharg – too early for Croydon being stolen, I think, so I’ve no idea what this one will be.

Grailpage: Massimo Belardinelli’s page introducing King Seth is gorgeous and reminds me of the dragons he’ll be drawing in about four or five years.

Grailquote: John Howard, Pa Angel: “That boy was full o’ the milk o’ human kindess! Why, I ‘member one time he worse slippers to kick a man to detah – jus’ so’s it wouldn’t hurt so bad!” for humour, and Judge Dredd: “Let me see whether I find a misguided child… or a creature of malice – I see only… evil!” for echoing down the years.

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