2000AD Prog 199: “Time to die, matey! Zzzz!”

2000AD Prog 199 cover, art by Brian Bolland

This prog has a Valentine’s Day cover date, and Captain Skank is the personage getting close and person with Dredd, or at least his cyber-hair-snakes are as they get to work strangling Judge Dredd in a fantastic cover by Brian Bolland. Now’s as good a time as ever to recount my early memories of this cover. My dad took me to the local comic (and games and general pop cultural) shop, Fantasy World where I eventually bought this comic. My dad worked near to Fantasy World at the time and must have visited during his lunch hour during the week, because a few days later he brought home another copy of the same prog! I’ve still got both copies… Completely by coincidence, this blog post is being written on the same date (9th February) that this prog would have been put on the shelves, but is due to be published on the same date (14th February) on the cover. More about shelving dates versus cover dates at the end of this post.

Tharg in the Revenge of the Thrill-Suckers Part Two by Q. Twerk (as with the previous episode – there’s no script droid as it’s all a true story, isn’t it?) This is another of those progs where I read (and re-read) half the story without having read the other half, so the attack of the thrill-suckers on Tharg the Mighty is familiar to me. The Thrill-Sucker General manages to survive the assault, though sees wave upon wave die of thrill-power overload. His second attempt is more successful and he grows from microscopic to gargantuan size. Being swallowed / sucked up, TMO fails to punch his way out of the stomach of the thrill-power glutted creature. Luckily, TMO can still create a duplicate of himself to work away in the command module laboratory as the General goes on the rampage. With two progs build-up the whole story is concluded in one page as we see the lab-created Fast-Breeding Microbes take down the Thrill-Sucker General.

Tom Tully is back with The Mean Arena but John Richardson is nowhere to be seen, as Steve Dillon takes to his first serial. The intermittent appearances seem to have given Tom a chance to focus the storytelling more, or maybe Steve is just more suited to this kind of story (I still love John’s atmospheric and horror-themed work though). This is great work, but amazing considering that Steve was still 18 years old at the time it was published (and presumably when he drew it all too). The beginning page is in the ‘present’ of 2021 while the rest takes place in flashback, harking back two years to give J.T. Venner some backstory. He used to be a happy-go-lucky player, or at least less grouchy until his death-mate (substitute player) gets upset at never being picked for the team. And in the cut-throat world of street football, ‘upset’ translates to ‘willing to kill’ but also ‘accidentally kills two girls in an attempt on J.T.’s life’.

Alien Watch is a two-page reader’s art page – you can probably guess the theme. I don’t detect any copies among the seven pictures on display (though one could be from an early Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual, but I’ll reserve judgement unless I can find a pic of a Bullywug that looks like it in the next minute). Back from my search – didn’t see anything that looked like the pic in this prog. The second page shares space with another four 1980 Readers Profiles, just to remind everybody to fill in last week’s survey. Half of them like Strontium Dog, one rates their favourite villain as Slippery Jim diGriz and another Judge Dredd as best supporting character!

The editorial pages continue in the Nerve Centre. First step is to plug Prog 200, next to run a few letters defending Meltdown Man from accusations of plagiarism on Planet of the Apes (a film series I also love – though the third and fifth are the weakest entries in the original series). Another writer argues that T.B. Grover is as good a writer as John Howard – Tharg doesn’t point out they’re the same person…

Taking the centre pages, Judge Dredd: Pirates of the Black Atlantic Part Three: Aftermath by T.B. Grover and Ron Smith. I hadn’t realised up ’til this episode that the sea fortress Carib was mobile – it was always curious to me why the judges couldn’t locate it when (I thought) it was fixed in one geographical location. Now the judges know where the pirates are based, they attack with a vengeance. They may be in a sea fortress, but the pirates don’t have the training or discipline to make full use of its capabilities, something demonstrated when the invading judges use the fortress’ weapons to take care of fleeing pirates. Another ‘pirate’ who flees is Skank’s second-in-command, Tuskarosa – but more about that in the next post. The pirates routed, it’s up to Dredd to take care of Skank – though Skank finds the lawman first. Not that the pirate captain lasts long, though he has an ace up his sleeve – the giant mutated sea creature he regards as his mother! A nice touch is the next prog box: using the baby-centred shop logo for mothercare.

The same creative team as ever for Meltdown Man: Alan Hebden and Belardinelli. Gruff’s subconscious reminds him of his misgivings about Pole-Axe just in time to wake him up to find Tusk-Tusk and Tricky about to assassinate him in his sleep. As a lasso heads in their direction, Tusk-Tusk tells Gruff that they’re their to prevent him reaching the other brigands instead of protecting him from Billy the Pup. The lasso is, of course, being cast by the Pup himself. I’m still not sure what exactly Tricky is supposed to be, but Tusk-Tusk calls him a rat. Gruff takes advantage of the confusion to steal Billy’s horse and escape. Billy the Pup gets the whole story on Stone’s plan from the warthog, takes his new brigand captives to the nearest predator post and reports all he has learnt to Leeshar. Gruff won’t be able to make the primary Hellsdrop rendezvous with Stone if he wants to enlist the help of the other brigands, but T-Bone has reached Riverton “Gateway to Hellsdrop & the Spice Coast” with King Seth (who Leeshar has given up looking for at Sutermunda). As ever, T-Bone is about to get himself in trouble with the local predators until Seth hypnotises a hyena captain into ramming a human hydrofoil as a distraction. Leeshar’s gunship appears on the scene to discover the half-drowned and still hypnotised captain. Well, that gives away where Seth is!

Return to Armageddon from Malcolm Shaw and Redondo carries on from last episode with Atlanta Watts deciding to take the immortal, regenerating Amtrak to a freakshow (the same freakshow to which he took the original body of the Destroyer). Having been sold to the freakshow owner, Amtrak discovers said body of the Destroyer, and finds out too late that the person who just sold him into slavery is the one he was searching for. Everything is not rosy for Atlanta though, as Havoc has made contact in order to kill him on the Destroyer’s orders…

Two more pages, both full of adverts – the first for next week’s prog – Prog 200 – featuring… Well, you can wait until tomorrow when I’ll be posting it. I will reveal that Carlos is back on the Tharg stories after these two progs of Twerk (almost wrote Ian Gibson there). I’ll also mention that while this week’s prog has a cover date of 14 Feb 81, next week’s is on sale from 16th February. The reason for this is that the cover date is an instruction to the newsagent on when to remove it from the shelves, ready for the next week’s prog. There’s also a teeny stamp collector’s advert. Over the page is a Superman / Nick O’Teen ad from The Health Advistory Council.

Grailpage: There’s a few good ones – I’m tempted by Ron Smith’s final page of Dredd, showing Mother crashing through a wall, or Belardinelli’s of the paddlesteamer to Hellsdrop but that Bolland cover has to take it!

Grailquote: Tom Tully, J.T. Venner: “No-one would want a game of street football that bad..! …w-would they?” narration: “Next prog: YES!”

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