2000AD Prog 187: In the Mean Arena you score first and check your wounds later!

Dave Gibbons does Mean Arena – on the cover, at least. Only fair that the guy who brought us (most of) Harlem Heroes gives us an illustration of the current future death sports story (even though it’s not technically supposed to be a death sport). I don’t recognise the team that Tallon’s racing against on the cover – they look like the aeroball Bushido Blades but with sci-fi lacrosse sticks. This prog had a cover date of 22 November 1980 and cost 14p (earth money) – it was 2g on Pluto and 99g on Venus (as Tharg replied to one reader – the ‘g’ stands for groat, of the galactic variety).

Strontium Dog: The Schicklgruber Grab Part 6, credited to Alan Grant and Carlos Ezquerra. I’ll say one thing about this story – it certainly improves my spelling of Schicklgruber (earlier attempts put an ‘e’ between the ‘l’ and ‘g’). Oh, and I did a bit of background reading for the episodes set in the bunker and found that Adolf Hitler was never named Schicklgruber at any point in his lifetime. His father changed name to Alois Hitler twelve years before Adolf’s birth, adopting (and also adapting) his step-father’s name of Hiedler (Hüttler was another variant of the family name). None of this has anything to do with this episode, which is set in the 23rd century as Comet Custer is on its way to collide with Planet Earth. The assault on Johnny and Wulf continues, Big Cynthia, Armstrong Jones (the mutie with an arm growing out of his head, naturally), Slabhead and the two dervish dog making for an uneven match, in the duo’s favour. Giro and Spiro really do act like Warhammer chaos units, ending up chopping their way through their supposed master when a die roll goes wrong, and then continuing through the wall (remember this is all happening in a penthouse hotel suite). All of which is a huge distraction as by the time the attackers have been dealt with they find the Gronk strung up by the nose and Hitler gone. Next prog: Stix and Stones! (as if there was any doubt who was responsible).

Jumping to the front half of the prog for its third episode is Return to Armageddon from Malcolm Shaw and Redondo. I’ll start off by saying I like this. I only point this out because now I’m going to list the faults and soap-opera style plot developments, many of which make no sense or have no explanation! As we know, Doctor Craven is going to clone live cells from the liver of the devil alien. The Wailers object to the very presence of the alien and threaten to tear the ship apart if it remains. Captain Atlanta Watts orders Selous to get D’estaing to copy the alien (who D’estaing is or how it will be copied is not remarked upon) and to do this within twelve hours. The Patriarch Elder of the Wailers agrees to allow Atlanta to run a battery of tests on the alien for twelve hours, with two Wailers present and for it to be broadcast throughout the ship for the entire time, after which the body will be ejected through an airlock / missile / waste tube. Atlanta’s real sneaky, so gets the fake body placed in tube two, the relays switched to the buttons and the real body (watched by the Patriarch) placed in tube one and invites the Patriarch to press the button. While this has been going on, Doctor Craven has been cloning away – there will be two twins, one good, one evil. This is not explained in any way. Not why there will be two twins, nor why one will be good and one evil. The next time we see Craven, he’s dead. Atlanta races down to the lab to find a baby with blond hair and a cute little baby with black hair, tiny stub horns (the alien devil had big curly horns, like an older goat), hairy legs and cloven hoofs. It’s all a bit like a blockbuster film which had all the set pieces and explosions left in but the explanatory scenes that would make it more satisfying to closer inspection cut out, only to be seen on the extras disc. Not that in the era of streaming downloads we have extras discs, so I’m wondering if the kind of featurettes found on such discs will exist in the future.

Angus and O’Neill’s Dash Decent Chapter 9: The Terror Top! Dale is still disinterested in the latest preparation for her execution, though does ask her would-be executioner, Slug, to turn the page of a book for her (her head is on the chopping block and her hands are tied behind her back). Zellamy, the Prince and Dash take to a giant spinning top to approach Pongopolis, though the Imperial Air Fleet is about to go on the offensive. Sight gags galore and I think the reason I like it more than previous one-or-less-page humour strips is that it has multiple cast members, some of whom are even interesting, or at least more amusing than Klep was.

A full two-page Nerve Centre (albeit with results from the Star Trek competition from a very long time ago at the bottom of the second page). There will be news of the Dan Dare TV series appearing soon, and Tharg (falsely) promises that he has plans for Dan Dare in 2000AD – or at least any plans either don’t come to fruition or get transferred to the re-launch of Eagle.

Judge Dredd: Otto Sump’s Ugly Clinic part 2 by T.B. Grover and Ron Smith opens with a famous advert on 9 Steps to Ugly – “Get wise! Get ugly! Get Otto Sump!” Things just get better, with Otto looking on Dredd as an old friend and founder of his business empire. The feelings are not reciprocated. Strongly – Dredd blasts a portrait of himself in Sump Tower using his lawgiver… Sump’s naivety knows no bounds, and having received a ransom note and had two ugly clinics bombed, he leaves everything up to the judges, whom he trusts implicitly – to the extent that he doesn’t even report any of it as he assumes the judges already know everything. This interaction is interrupted by a bomb blast from reception and Dredd gives chase. The story itself is interrupted by an advert for Sump Clinic. Interestingly drawn by Robin Smith – this either means it was an artistic decision to interrupt the flow of the story, and use a different artist, or that the original plan had been for there to be something else in this space but Robin Smith (art editor) rustled something up that was thematically appropriate. I’d tend towards the latter, having read something of the barely-concealed chaos that rules the publishing industry, except there’s another half-page ad later in the story… The bombers are killed while being pursued, though Dredd recognised the culprits and conceals that they have died so that their capture can be announced on the news. This is, of course, to draw out their employers, the Mantis Brothers. At the hospital, Dredd kills Con Mantis (to their credit, they may have been going to kill their own hoods, but at least they were doing it themselves and not leaving it up to others). In his death throes, Con’s bullets rip into a passing robosurgeon. This robodoc picture gets used in a few places – I’m sure I have cards from at least two different games which feature this artwork! The Dredd pages finish with a number of spot ads (once again by Robin Smith) for Flabbon, Odour Makers, Sumparin (lies in your stomach for months), Stick-on Ears (they’ll grow on you!) and a competition for a packet full of bellybutton fluff.

In The Mean Arena, Tallon finishes his flashback story, courtesy of Tom Tully and John Richardson. All the cliches/tropes are wheeled out. Subrue gloats over his victory, allowing Tallon time to recover. Tallon stops Subrue from scoring but, due to a malfunction, Subrue is electrocuted fatally on the Leopards’ goal (almost called it a score tank – didn’t something similar happen in Harlem Heroes?) Tallon is n a coma for days but a sliver of metal in his head threatens to cause brain damage if it moves. The hallucination a few episodes ago was caused by movement of this shard. One final trope – Paul Simpson in the first episode (or was it second?) was Tallon’s kid brother! All entertaining but not going to win any awards for originality. Slater isn’t happy about Tallon using the Slayers for revenge, but Tallon promises that he isn’t an assassin (it’s been a while since I read this, but I do seem to remember that everybody he’s gunning for does die). Mean Arena is going to take a break for three weeks, but when it returns it will involve Carl (Jaws) Jensen of the Southampton Sharks.

When re-reading stories I last read in full many years ago, it’s difficult to work out which plot elements I guessed and which I simply remembered. For this reason I can’t take any credit at predicting that Takka the yujee mongoose was actually still alive and so is ready to save Stone in Alan Hebden and Belardinelli’s Meltdown Man. Takka buys Stone time to race up some steps to be picked up by an eagle and a condor. Leeshar and Tiger Commando save Seth (finally properly killing Takka) and head after Stone. Shooting the eagle, the condor alone can’t take Stone’s weight and he crashes to the ground – seen by both Stone’s gang (Lianna, Gruff and T-Bone) and Leeshar. Despite saying a few progs ago how Stone always seems to survive, Leeshar assumes that Stone is now dead and heads back to the city to quell the rebellion – returning to a wonderful panel by Belardinelli showing the human city risen beyond the flaming ruins of the shanty town, a broken monorail hanging from its tracks in the foreground. T-Bone brings back Stone’s body – though after such a fall it can’t be a good idea to move somebody around (guess nobody taught T-Bone first aid, but then his job was more about killing yujees and recycling the dead than saving their lives).

The inside back cover contains a half-page ad for ordering the Judge Dredd Annual (it must have had really bad distribution in some areas). As an aside, the postal address to send your cheque or postal order is on Lavington Street, which as far as I can tell is now Mandela Way – I actually know this street near the Old Kent Road – it’s the one that the pink tank is on, less than a hundred metres away. It’s not always pink, as graffiti artists constantly repaint it, but it was pink the first time I saw it. That ad shares the page with a Roy of the Rovers advert featuring a football violence special issue.

Kevin O’Neill returns for the back cover, with a low res Blitzspear (it’s still details, but less so than that Torque pic a few progs back). For what it’s worth (as it was probably coloured by Tom Frame rather than O’Neill) it’s black and white with blue accents and a red ‘nose spike cross-section thing’.

Grailpage: Ron Smith’s centre pages don’t just have the famous 9 Steps to Ugly advert, but also some great interaction between Dredd and Otto. What a fantastic picture to frame next to a dressing table or make-up mirror!

Grailquote: it’s a tie, but they’re from the same story so… Alan Grant, Wulf Sternhammer: “Vere are you, Slabhead old cucumber? Come to Uncle Vulf!” Slabhead: “I’ll give you ‘Uncle Wulf’, you great balloon!” I’ve picked that because I’m clueless what ‘great balloon’ even means! Johnny Alpha: “Your time hop will come in real handy, Slabhead – it’s our ticket home!” Slabhead: “B-But what about me?” Wulf: “Is your problem!”

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