He may not be working on stories in the prog any time soon (due to the stories in the next JD annual mentioned in the Nerve Centre last week), but Mike McMahon’s back on cover duties, putting in an eye-catching pic of Dredd dragging a scrawler away, in front of a high red wall with the name of the story within emblazoned across it… Earthlets got to see this at the tale end of March, with a 4 April 1981 cover date.
Strontium Dog: Portrait of a Mutant Part 7 by Alan Grant and Ezquerra. As predicted (and given away in the next prog take last episode) Johnny uses his alpha eyes to deal with the two Kreelers who have been sent to search for him by sending them mad (also claiming they’re spies into the bargain). Despite having had a taste of Johnny’s alpha eyes, Nelson Bunker Kreelman assumes that when the two scouts are discovered a few days later, mad, that Johnny must be dead. I can appreciate this assumption helps propel the story forward, but it is a bit glaring. Time for a montage – Johnny gets taught the art of guerilla warfare (and fighting in general) by Armz and rises through the ranks of the resistance army, while Bunky’s career also blossoms, with NBK becoming the Minister for Mutation. This brings a raft of new measures from Kreelman, including banning mutants from inhabited areas and forced deportation to experimental labour camps / death camps. The Mutant Army can’t bide it’s time any longer and calls an emergency summit in the ruins of New Coventry Catherdal. I’m pretty sure we get to meet a host of long-running characters next episode, but the last panel of this one has only generic mutants around a fire. Bad news – Johnny’s story is taking a break for the next three progs!
Three ads on the next page, the top third for Heller model kits, the middle half for ‘Crazy Fings’ sweet (never heard of them) with stickers given away with such bully-enabling phrases on them as “Snotty”, “Kick me”, “I’m crazy”, “Rubbish!”, “Drip” and “Smelly”. Lovely. And the little bit at the bottom of the page is given to a reservation coupon.
Tharg’s Future-Shocks: The Last Man! by Gary Rice and Brett Ewins. Four men stalk the ruined remains of civilisation, desperately trying to find anybody else still alive. A heat-activated rifle with radar sights halves the amount of known living people in the world. One of the two survivors postulates that they must reason with the shooter as the auto-sighting means they won’t otherwise be able to avoid being targetted. Filled with rage, the last remaining survivor charges towards the assassins position, managing to avoid the first shot but getting hit by the second. Mortally wounded, he struggles up the stairs of the ruined building only to find (twist!) that the sniper had died and was now a skeleton, his finger frozen to the automated rifle. The human race was finally wiped out by a dead person! Pretty good, and Brett is getting practiced at drawing gas masked soldiers stalking through the fog-wreathed ruins of civilisation. I wonder where that could come in handy?
Half a page is given to a Dare update. Putting a brave face on it, the news of the cancellation of the 13-part ATV series tries to rescue some dignity by pointing out how much the toy industry had expected to make (£20 million of spin-offs), how Elton John had recorded a track and David Bowie was due to head into the studio and how the holder of TV and film rights was still looking for another backer. “It’s a question of time” – though I suspect the (animated) TV series that eventually did get made – and which I haven’t seen – has absolutely nothing to do with the 1981 attempt.
Another feature in the form of Ro-Jaws Reviews… Superman II. Ro-Jaws didn’t like it (though did rate some of the acting and special effects). To be honest, I’m not sure if I’d ever have seen the exact film which Ro-Jaws is reviewing – the version that made it to the screen at the time could be different to what I would have seen on TV which itself is different to the current Richard Donner / director’s cut.
The Nerve Centre is a fourth page of editorial. Along with plugging the forthcoming special and annuals, Tharg takes the opportunity to mention the 4th anniversary prog (four years and three months after the first prog) which will have a competition. I can barely wait.
Not to be out-done by McMahon on the cover, Ron Smith puts in a single image centrespread of Dredd looking at scrawls on a wall in the opener to Judge Dredd: Unamerican Graffiti (written by T.B. Grover). I think I remember reading somewhere that the graffiti on this spread was created by a few people in the Nerve Centre, with plenty of input and in-jokes from editorial droids. I would have a look to confirm that, but can imagine I’d get lost down a rabbit-hold and not actually complete this blog… Among the bits I find interesting (other than general reference to preceding stories) were “Steve 4 Liv” – presumably contributed by Steve McManus, “who judges the judges?”, “Robin” – leading me to think that Ron Smith drew the buildings in the background and Dredd, but Robin Smith may have drawn the actual wall, or at least handled the colouring and writing of scrawls. The last interesting line is “Block wars are coming” – around twenty weeks before Block Mania is going to appear! All this is merely a taster of the story as Mayor Grubb (with a different appearance to the Grubb we’ve seen previously) only to be told that Dredd is already on the case. Despite this, Dredd barely makes an appearance this prog, with the story showing the wave of scrawling before focusing on one particular scrawler, Marlon Shakespeare, who we find out has an alter ego, Chopper. This story is about the pointlessness of life in the Mega-City, the only purpose for Chopper to make a name for himself – and how this is threatened by another scrawler, The Phantom. Next prog: “Scrawl war!”
Malcolm Shaw and Redondo’s Return to Armageddon gets to a turning point as the mutated Amtrak meets his namesake, a computer-generated hologram of the triad Amtrak, whose symbol the human(oid) Amtrak wears on his belt. Following being divided into two, his body is then sub-divided like a cell or growing crystal until he ends up as a naked newborn baby and reassembled in his earlier humanoid form, not dissimilar to the first time we met him. The biggest revelation is that Amtrak is not merely a clone of the Destroyer, but actually part of the Destoyer – for when the Destroyer was born all the good in him was expelled into human form. Less revelatory is that when the Destroyer dies then so will Amtrak – I’m pretty sure this will be on TV Tropes somewhere, but there’s a whole load of ‘death’ tropes and I don’t know what name they’ve picked… Amtrak has no problem with this and is all ready to plan out a suicide mission.
Alan Hebden and Belardinelli’s Meltdown Man continues with Pole-Axe and Stone starting a battle for Anville – though first a bunch of humans flee the city only to be killed when the train they’re on is blown up by the brigands. By the time Pole-Axe and the brigands arrive in the city the humans brave enough not to flee are ready to turn their snip-guns on the invaders (though they’re not very good at tactics and get jumped on from above). Stone mobilises yujees armed with machine pistols and rescues the humans, while Liana has gotten out of her bikini and into a mini-dress, just in time to get knocked out by a falling building. Pole-Axe picks up her prone body and prepares to use her as a bargaining chip with Leeshar. This feels familiar…
The Hubba Bubba Gumfighter Has a Stagefight on the back page (some robbers hold up a stage coach and blowing up bubbles somehow helps).
Grailpage: Ron Smith and Robin Smith’s centrespread of a sprawl-covered wall (possibly with help by Tom Frame, but there’s no credits in this episode).
Grailquote: T.B. Grover, Bert Shakespeare: “See boy, that is what you call an interest! I’m the only man in the whole city who heads eggs into a bucket!”