Ian Gibson / Emberton provides the cover for the 28 Feb 1981 cover-dated prog. I spot Griffin, Pepper and McGruder, can only assume that the other judge shown (other than Dredd) is also on the Council of Five. Dredd is shown drawing his lawgiver from a boot holster – showing how impractical it is while standing up but also how practical it would be while seated on a lawmaster.
Strontium Dog: Portrait of a Mutant Part 2 by Alan Grant and Ezquerra. It’s sometimes said that one of the secrets of 2000AD’s success is that it works on different levels, so that a younger child can read it and see the action while older readers can see a bit more nuance. That’s not entirely relevant in this case, but I am reminded that first time I read this I was much younger and obviously much less observant, because there’s something I only just noticed on this reading. We get to see Nelson Bunker Kreelman – Johnny’s father, and Ezquerra has put in a family likeness I’d not realised (in over thirty five years) – the nose and chin for both characters are the same. Kreelman finds out that a Strontium Dog is on-planet and out to get him, and that that Stronts name is Johnny Alpha. Johnny starts telling Wulf his life story, though initially the focus character of this flashback is Diana Kreelman. The Great War of 2150 having just ended Diana is heavily pregnant but wanting to give birth at home, not in a evacuation camp. She has to pass through an irradiated wasteland to get home, but is in a shielded limo. The radiation shielding doesn’t protect it against raiders, stealing what they can to survive and Diana (and her one-year old daughter Ruth – who we met in the pages of Starlord) is left to fend for herself, trying to cross the wasteland as a strontium shower rains down until a search party finds her two hours later. Cut forward a month and Diana’s baby is born. Nelson is interested in only one thing though – is he mutated?
The Mean Arena by Tom Tully with John Richardson back on the case after a couple of episodes off. I think the ‘rest’ has done him good – I can only presume that Steve Dillon was drafted in at short notice to give Richardson a bit of breathing room – but that’s all supposition. Tom Tully seems to be all the better for having a two episode flashback as well, with a fast-moving episode that feels like it’s going somewhere. Shark Jensen apparently left Matt Tallon’s brother Paul to the fan-atics (violent fans) and Tallon has arranged for some Slayer fan-atics to be around for a showdown. The rest of the episode concerns Tallon taunting Jensen and the Sharks fans. Having used the word showdown just then, next prog is: “Showdown!”
Return to Armageddon from Malcolm Shaw and Redondo continues as the circus freaks pour liquid stone into Amtrak’s would-be grave. I was wondering how Amtrak could possibly get out of this fix, but then the focus of the episode switched to Seeker, the damaged alien robot (which did an ‘arm reaching out from the wreckage’ panel in an earlier episode). Trapper is not afraid of Seeker though, as robots are programmed not to harm humans. Then Seeker points out that it was not created by humans and gives a demonstration of its lack of inhibitions. Trapper takes Seeker to Amtrak’s cage, only to discover it empty. The fellow freaks deny all knowledge, though this is a little difficult for the winged freak as he’s wearing the belt he stole from Amtrak… Being led to the construction site containing the stone slab in which Amtrak lies, Seeker is interrupted when official government robots turn up. Next prog: “The ability to lie!” I guess that being an alien robot, Seeker isn’t programmed to always tell the truth, like a presume human robots are, and this is somehow going to get the robot and Amtrak out of their sticky situation?
After the seriousness of Pirates of the Black Atlantic, it’s time for a lighter-hearted tale from T.B. Grover, this time joined by ‘Emberton’ on Judge Dredd: Any Confessions? Featuring a spoof of Des O’Connor (here called Corn O’Connor, in case you were in any doubt), the format of the new vid-prog of the title is that two teams compete to confess to crimes carrying higher sentences. Chief Judge Griffin is happy with the effect the programme is having – as well as the actual arrests of contestants on the quiz itself, it has inspired a wave of spontaneous confessions. We’ve seen Edwin Parsley previously, but it’s good to see sponts as another Mega-City craze. Dredd is convinced that the programme creates crimes, some committed just to amass more points on the show, and orders spy-in-the-sky camera surveillance of every contestant due to appear. He’s right, though the Council of Five (holding a special meeting on a terrace at the Hall of Justice – ?) still think the benefits outweigh the few crimes that are committed – the spontaneous confessions have continued with prison admittances doubling. I said that Pirates of the Black Atlantic was more serious, though it did have light moments, little spots of humour or dark humour among the deaths of millions. In the same way, this mostly comedic tale features the death of one of the council members, which is only possible through that Council meeting being held on an outside terrace! With his dying words, Deputy Chief Judge Pepper changes his vote to ban Any Confessions? a decision which is supported by the other members. As an aside, the official name of the Council of Five appears to be The Supreme Council. I like this kind of story – it has everything in seven pages – Mega-City oddities, a snapshot of political life in the Mega-City and even the death of a long-running character.
The next page has a Weetabix advert for ‘Flash Gordon movie cards’. There are 18 of these to collect, appearing in ‘family’ and ‘giant’ sized boxes. We think that means boxes containing 24 and 48 biscuits. You get 3 cards in each 24 box (the 48 box isn’t shown in the advert). Assuming you have two biscuits per breakfast per day and you were very lucky then you’d need to buy six 24-sized boxes. The chances of that are (I’m told) six!factorial over eighteen to the power of six. 2.1 times ten to the power minus six. (you’ll have to eat a lot more than 144 biscuits). I like the film Flash Gordon, but I’m waiting for the Weetabix ads that will be running in a year or two…
The Nerve Centre – not content with the promotional opportunities afforded by Prog 200, Tharg starts plugging the 4th anniversary prog. Though it has to be pointed out that this prog was released four years after Prog 1, but due to strikes, 4 x 52 progs (the week which Tharg has chosen to celebrate) will appear seven weeks later. Not for the first time, a reader writes in complaining about being called an Earthlet, demanding instead that they (and everybody else) be called Terrans. Tharg awaits a more rational pressure group, in the meantime we’re all earthlets. There’s also five pictures, one of which has a bit of copying going on, but that’s the ‘Tharg the Policeman’ one, and the important thing about those pictures is the bit after ‘the’.
Tiger Commander and Leeshar inspect the wreckage of the paddle-steamer in Alan Hebden and Belardinelli’s Meltdown Man. That’s all beside the point though, as what we really want to know is how come Stone is in South America. We don’t get any answers though – other than that this is Stone’s earth thousands of years in to the future (we could have guessed that bit). Stone tries to question King Seth but is interrupted by T-Bone who reports that torches have been spotted heading towards the metalworkers city of Anville. Liana went to check them out but got caught in a creeper, to be discovered by Pole-Axe, who’s now wearing a captain’s hat (I don’t remember him wearing that before).
After a few ads for the next prog, stamps and other IPC comics (giving away a 5-pack of Hubba Bubba gum this week), it’s time for Dave Gibbons’ Tharg’s Futureworlds collectable poster. The theme for the top left corner of the six-part poster is Future War, in the months before Rogue Trooper comes on to the scene. Notable inclusions are the V.C.s, Bill Savage, that exo-suit from M.A.C.H. Zero, the A.B.C. Warriors, Starlord, General Blood ‘n’ Guts and a Klegg. There’s also an appearance by George of Mars, but I feel that’s probably just him creeping from a later Robots section. The blurb makes little sense – apparently General Blood ‘n’ Guts is among those ready to combat tyranny – funny, I thought he was supporting it.
Grailpage: Belardinelli puts in two excellent pages this prog (more than that, but these are the stand-out ones) – the first is the opener showing Tiger Commander surveying the wreckage of the paddle steamer on the first page, the one I’m actually going to pick is the last page, showing Lianna trapped as Pole-Axe and the brigands find her. Gotta love a polar bear in a hat, carrying an axe.
Grailquote: Malcolm Shaw, Trapper: “You don’t frighten me. robots are programmed never to harm humans.” Seeker: “First – I don’t consider filth like you to be human. Second – I don’t come from Earth. You’re an expandable alien as far as I’m concerned. If you don’t believe me…” Trapper: “Aaarrgh! I believe you!”