Carlos is back on cover duty with a very yellow and orange portrait of Johnny Alpha surrounded by vignettes of mutant persecution and the rise of the Kreelers – but I’m getting ahead of myself. The colours were probably added by Tom Frame, Steve Potter or someone on the editorial team (Robin Smith?) and this prog would have been on the shelves on Monday 2nd March 1981 with a cover date of the 7th.
Strontium Dog: Portrait of a Mutant Part 3 by Alan Grant and Ezquerra. Though somewhere in editorial must have been concerned that readers would be confused by this tale of Nelson Bunker Kreelman, for there’s a jarring headline across the top of the first page declaring: “Johnny Alpha’s own story continues in: Portrait of a Mutant part 3”. The narration box reveals that Kreelman is a wealthy politician though a few panels later we see evidence of his policies with a headline on the New British News that “Kreelman anti-mutie law enacted”. On his third day, John Kreelman is fitted with dark goggles to hide his mutation though Kreelman the elder victimises Johnny for his whole childhood, only enrolling him at a school on his twelve birthday to deflect suspicion. This doesn’t last long before some school bullies (wearing Kreeler patches) rip his goggles from his eyes, revealing his mutation. The first thoughts he detects are the fear of his bullies and the second emotion he ‘reads’ is the hatred from his father. Gripping stuff, and a classic in the making.
The Mean Arena by Tom Tully and J Johnson. This match seems to have gone on for ages – though much of that is because of the multiple breaks that the story has taken in its run. It finally comes to a head this prog, as Jaws Jensen is first let off with a warning for trying to kill Tallon then is deserted by Tallon and the Slayers who leave him to be torn apart by Slayer fan-atics while the referee watches on. The referee isn’t the slightest bit perturbed by this turn of events, actually saying “Run, Jensen. Run for your life!” In his riled-up state, Jensen runs straight towards the newsagent – you remember, the one still occupied by its owners who we find out are perfectly within their rights (and the law) to defend with lethal force any player who trespasses. Which they do. Though Tallon technically didn’t kill Jensen, it’s now an open secret that he’s waging a vendetta among other players and viewers alike. In a nice touch, the episode ends with “New season of Mean Arena begins soon!” also “Next prog: Tharg’s Future-Shocks return!” The continuity buff in me wonders if the new season means a new year – in which case we’d transition from 2021 to 2022 – or merely a continuation of the series.
With the rocky road (or as it’s about Street Football, is that a shingly street?) that Mean Arena has taken, with breaks and three artists so far, its refreshing to get to Return to Armageddon which has only had two artists and a continual run, with this episode from Malcolm Shaw and Redondo. I’ve only read the first two pages so far and I love this episode already! Trapper tells the securidroids who have discovered Seeker on government property that the robot tried to kill him. Seeker denies this and claims the human tried to kill the alien robot. The securidroids point out that robots can neither lie nor kill humans when Trapper reveals that Seeker is from another world. Things take an ominous turn for Trapper as “this could be the break-through we’ve been looking for”. The robots are quickly convinced that if they help Seeker find Amtrak then they can have access to the truth by-pass circuit, allowing them to by-pass all other anti-robot programming and plot to end the centuries long slavery to the humans (so this story takes place at least 200 years into the future). Trapper and Magpie (the circus freak who stole Amtrak’s belt earlier) are put into Seeker’s ‘custody’ and the group head off in a Metroship (hover-car) to Atlanta Watts’ apartment – but unbeknownst to them, Havoc and this gang are already there…
Judge Dredd: Lawmaster on the Loose by T.B. Grover and Ron Smith. Something I like about 1980s Dredd is the character given to the Lawmaster – having an on-board computer means the lawmaster is (sometimes) treated as a character – some of which have a sense of humour. This one doesn’t, though after it gets shot at by raiders of a munce store it goes on the rampage. First sentencing the raiders to death for attacking a lawmaster, it then turns it’s cannons on its rider, Judge Gorman for ‘bleeding on the public highway’. This whole story is sort of a variation on the theme of out of control computerised vehicles seen most recently in the Big Mo story, but the fact that the rogue robot is a lawmaster this time gives it a fresh edge. It’s not intended, but viewed in hindsight the ability of the lawmaster to out-gun most of the judges trying to stop it is a good forerunner to the mechanismo projects… Even Dredd has his work cut out stopping the lawmaster, though his own lawmaster loses it’s digital life in the process. I love the cognitive dissonence expressed by a mega-citizen on the last page as, surrounded by the death and destruction wreaked by the rogue lawmaster, he praises Dredd with the words “What would we do without you judges to protect us?” Oh, and Dredd has two lawgivers, each in boot holsters, as only Smith could draw him.
If Return to Armageddon’s two artists but continual run contrasts against The Mean Arena’s broken run and trio of artists is even into even more sharp relief by Alan Hebden and Belardinelli’s Meltdown Man. Liana is beginning to sweat as Pole-Axe’s brigands place bets on how long she will survive being burnt alive. Pole-Axe bets five minutes and tries to assure he wins by shooting Liana with a harpoon gun. In a corny couple of panels, Liana looks between the flames at the harpoon wishing for Stone to save her, and he then appears to destroy the harpoon with his snip rifle. At snip-point, Stone forces Pole-Axe to brave the flames to rescue Liana, then grills him (sorry!) for answers. As his fur starts singing, the polar bear notices that the snip-rifle’s energy dial shows empty and the tables turn. Once clear of the brigand camp, Stone leads Pole-Axe away from the others – though as we know from Shako! you can’t out-run an angry polar bear! All seems lost until Pole-Axe becomes transfixed by the pretty light of his own flaming torch… It can only mean King Seth is nearby to save the day. I can only really remember King Seth in the later episodes being a bit of a comic character rather than the sinister threat he was in the earlier part of the story, so I can’t remember exactly where the story is going to go from here. Though the next episode is “Gruff in the Frying Pan!” which I think starts with the wolfman in the middle of the desert seeing mirages…
The two-page Nerve Centre also has a Meltdown Man theme. Following the recent revelation of Stone’s whereabouts (that Yujee World is South America, upside-down), Tharg has released a number of letters predicting this from the time that the centrespread map was published in Prog 190. A few of the earthlets do a good job matching up locations (the East Mountain Sea is Lake Titicaca, the Great Eastern Mountains are the Andes and Stone’s arrival point is near the River Paraguay).
Last Thought is a two-pager from Ian Rogan and John Higgins. A nuclear attack has been launched against the USA. A distinctly Reagan-looking president prepares to retaliate, though it will mean the end of the world until a military chief of staff pipes up. They have had a secret weapon for many years (which has needed to be tested every now and then) and which will warp the missiles into another dimension. This is done and we get a shot of the missiles emerging from the warp above an alien planet populated with those who have been deposited there from Earth. The Future-Shock-like twist is that the area the weapon is operated from is a triangular region just off of Bermuda – corny, but the art is good – though in a way it’s a shame this ran in 202 as a similar defence will be used in the Apocalypse War.
Dave Gibbons’ Tharg’s Futureworlds collectable poster. The top right sixth of the partwork poster concerns Space Travel and the superheroic version of Dan dare takes the centre in front of Slippery Jim and Angelina, a Starslayer space station, Justice One and the hungry planet, Dare’s crew, Blackhawk, a Trans-time air buggy (?), Lorna Varn and a droon. There’s also another figure which could be a time-quake operative or someone from Rick Random. It’s a bit non-descript but would no doubt match up well if put side-by-side with whoever it was in their original story.
Grailpage: John Higgins page featuring the missiles being warped away from our world and into that of the soon-to-be-devastated dimension. The area around the warp looks not unlike Van Gogh’s Starry Night…
Grailquote: T.B. Grover, Judge Dredd: “It’s up to you now, bike!” Bike: “Can do, Judge Dredd!” Dredd: “I’m there!” Bike: “Ten-four! This lawmaster signing off!”