2000AD Prog 200 Let the reading galaxy celebrate! “I, Tharg, bring you future-worlds!”

Prog 2000 sees a Robin Smith Tharg holding the completed Future-worlds poster taking the cover. The cover blurb says it’s a giant poster, but the centre-spread presented partwork posters we’ve had previously have been bigger (by two pages).

This is Prog 200 (may as well be called This is 2000AD, as it serves as an introduction to new readers, complete with ‘Some Betelgeusian Sayings’). Though it also features lasergrams (space telegrams) from Starlord, The Mekon, Marg and others.

Strontium Dog: Portrait of a Mutant Part 1 by Alan Grant and Ezquerra. The reveal is featured in the last panel of this first episode of this series, so I’ll feel free to mention the ‘twist’. After a standard Strontium Dog opening of the completion of one bounty, a technique that the various pseudonyms of John Wagner and Alan Grant have used numerous times (if you’re writing SD fanfic that you want to feel like genuine Stront stories, my tip would be to start with the completion of a previous ‘adventure’, like James Bond films). Where was I? Oh, yes – once that’s out of the way it’s time to find the next bounty. Wulf finds Nelson B Kreelman and is about to scroll past (or however the interface on a wanted meter works) when Johnny Alpha lays down the law. They’re taking the Kreelman job. In a nice touch, Kreelman has the same nose as Johnny – that wedge shape that nobody else has had in Ezquerra’s work. Johnny broods even more than usual on the trip to the planet Stavros (sorry, can only think of Harry Enfield now). When the trio arrive on the planet they discover another S/D agent has already arrived – Egghead (you can guess what his mutation is). Johnny might be prone to brooding all the time anyway, but he’s brutal when Egghead stakes his claim to the bounty. Wulf is worried and then comes the revelation – Nelson B. Kreelman is his father!

The Mean Arena from Tom Tully and Steve Dillon carries on with the flashback. Venner is always there to help team-mates, even while playing a good game himself. This is laid on pretty thick so that we’re absolutely sure how much of a team player he is, saving people’s lives, intercepting blockers who trouble others on his team. This changes when his death-mate Lurker Leach sneaks in to the Mean Arena during a game and attempts to kill Venner. Venner calls on Mike Slater to help, but Mike has the rest of the game to think about, assuming Venner has simply run into a fan-atic of the opposing team and tells the player on the ground that he’s on his own. Venner ends up killing Leach (indirectly) and from that point on doesn’t rely on or help team-mates. Nice bit of back-story, though I wonder how much longer the character will last? I’m reminded of the four-part poster series of the Preying Mantis – and in its next appearance it was destroyed!

Return to Armageddon by Malcolm Shaw and Redondo takes a turn to the horrific, showing multiple murder attempts as Trapper, of Trapper’s Freak Circus, offers a million credits to the person who can kill Amtrak (renamed Mort by Trapper). As if that isn’t bad enough, the other exhibits at the Freak Circus conspire to get rid of Amtrak. In their words, “the circus ain’t much – but it’s all [they’ve] got”. You’d think being shot, burnt alive, blown up and a multitude of other deaths would be bad enough, but the other freaks carry him to a pit and pour on liquid stone. Not just buried but sealed in stone. Oh, and Atlanta also carried on with his sub-plot about meeting up with Havoc, but it doesn’t really get any further than it was at the end of last episode – it’s just there to remind us he’s around.

Judge Dredd: Pirates of the Black Atlantic Part Four: The Sov Connection by T.B. Grover and Ron Smith. Somewhere along the line, somebody forgot that Bob Oppenheimer Block was destroyed at 08:17:37 on 7th February 2103, for the opening crawl claims it’s still 2102. Yes, I know it’s nit-picking. That’s all beside the point as Skank’s ‘mother’ is causing problems for Dredd. As tends to happen at times like this, Dredd loses his gun. He manages to scoop up a sword (a pirate’s cutlass!) and buys himself some time by chopping off a few heads. Not a lot of time, as the massive mutant squid-thing has a lot of tentacles and each has a conger eel-like head. Dredd being Dredd, it doesn’t take long for him to come up with a different tactic – slicing through a power cable and electrocuting Mother. Skank rushes to help his supposed mother though a pirate with a head full of cyber tentacles lasts as long as you’d expect! Judge Giant turns up for the clean-up operation as Jenno Matryx (collaborator) gets led away – her fate unshown. Discovering that Skank was actually operated by a controller held by Tuskarosa, the body of the latter has multiple cosmetic additions removed to reveal the face of a Sov-Blok agent, Nikita Kramm. After a meeting of the Mega-City security council, this body is returned to the Sov-Blok by a Justice Department vessel, along with a threatening note from Dredd. After a similar meeting of the top Sov-Blok judges, Supreme Judge Josef Bulgarin (not named in this story, but has the distinctive look that we’ll see more of in The Apocalypse War) makes the decision to set off a nuclear device in a Sov-Blok sektor. A few elements let the reader know this isn’t the end of it – a line from one of the top Sov-Blok judges: “We’re not ready for a full-scale war – not yet!” and a similar prediction from Dredd closing the story. This is the middle story between Battle of the Black Atlantic and Block Mania which act as prequels to The Apocalypse War.

Tharg at the Party by Ezquerra. After the recent Emberton-illustrated Tharg stories, it’s back to Ezquerra. Being the 200th prog, this story is about the celebratory party, featuring aliens from across the universe plus a few familiar droids (I spot McMahon, John Howard and Brian Bolland). As ever, the Dictators of Zrag are present to attempt to disrupt proceedings and, as ever, they fail – their exploding plastic cup merely causing a little indigestion and a bit of fire-breathing.

Alan Hebden and Belardinelli’s Meltdown Man opens with Hellsdrop and a demonstration of the sadistic behaviour of the humans as they tease human status to any yujee who can survive the drop over the waterfall. T-Bone is spotted on the paddle-steamer by Leeshar and Tiger Commander in a gunship. A little more searching finds Stone and Liana and the chase is on. Disintegrating the engine of the speedboat Stone is in, the duo are forced over the waterfall of Hellsdrop as Tiger Commander’s attention turns back to T-Bone and he finally spots King Seth, observing events from T-Bone’s back pack. Taking a similar tack to how they dealt with Stone, they fire rockets at the paddlesteamer sinking it. Fortunately for Liana, Stone did some time with the Special Boat Service before joining the SAS and fortunately for T-Bone, this means he can somehow manoeuvre the speedboat down teh waterfall without an engine (and then pick T-Bone out of the water). Commenting on T-Bones reluctance to leave the sack behind, even when it impedes his swimming, Seth is forced out of hiding. Bargaining for his life with the secret of this world, and Stone’s way home, Seth manages to save his life for the time being, though once ashore Stone doesn’t mess about, demanding the truth. This is the scene where Seth instructs Stone to turn the map of ‘Yujee World’ upside down and fill in the blanks. More in the grailquot section!

Dave Gibbon’s six-part Tharg’s Futureworlds poster gets it’s first part here, as Tharg introduces “heroes and villains, mutants and robots… exploration and a time of war… exotic cities and strange cultures”. Though the top of the page may not inspire too much confidence, with Dash Decent, Zellamy, Klep, Bonjo and Big E arranged around the 2000AD logo. Things get a bit better with the Mekon, Mr Monday, Tweak, the Gronk and a Biog (let’s not mention the Dictator of Zrag looking over Tharg’s shoulder).

Grailpage: Belardinelli’s establishing shot of Hellsdrop shows that he was truly the master of natural and water scenes.

Grailquote: Alan Hebden, King Seth: “Look at the map upside down, Stone. Use that intelligence of yours. Fill in what is missing!” Stone (thinking): “Up… upside down? Fill in what’s missing? Trace it on the ground. It… it can’t be!” (out loud): “I’m in South America!” For over twenty episodes we’d thought that Stone was on an alien planet, or maybe in another dimension and it turned out he was on Earth all along!

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