Dave Gibbon’s cover has Tharg over the smoking hole that is Croydon (by which I mean that Croydon as we know it is gone, to be replaced by a smoking hole). The cover date is 11 April 1981, so we’re going to be in Sci-Fi Special territory soon.
Tharg and the Creep Who Stole Croydon has art by Mike Dorey – first time we’ve seen him on Tharg. He’s more suited to gritty realism than out-and-out sci-fi, so I’m not sure if that means he’s well-placed for a Tharg story or not. Depends on how much of it takes place on Earth. This takes the place of Portrait of a Mutant – a tale about the son of a norm who was caught out in a strontium show. This is the tale of a Betelgeusian who was born over the foul planet Crag (sounds like it isn’t a million light years from Zrag to me) – the only bad betelgeusian, Narg the Blarg. I don’t know what a Blarg is, but Narg commits many acts of Blargery since being expelled from Quaxxann. You may well detect that this story is light-hearted in tone and not full of biting social commentary. The latest act of blargery is to steal the borough of Croydon with a huge grabber. Using a reconstruction lens, Tharg follows the trail to the dark side of the moon where a dome has been put over it. Tharg deals with Narg by punching the city smasher (a wrecking ball attached to a spaceship) so that it smashes into the cockpit of the spaceship, sprinkles some miniaturising dust over him and pops him into an envelope to “The Authorities Quaxxann”. Too many space panels don’t play to Dorey’s strengths – I hark for the days of Bill Savage, Ro-Jaws and MACH Zero.
After a quick ad with a photo of a Dengar (bounty hunter from Empire Strikes Back) Palitoy figure – but a big one, not the ‘classic’ Star Wars figure size, it’s time for Tharg’s Future-Shocks: The Sound of Silence! by Alvin Gaunt and Mike White. Keith Foster is an electronic engineer with a noisy neighbour problem. The neighbour is prone to violence and so Keith starts work on a machine to cancel out the noise coming from next door. Succeeding more through accident than design (hence he can’t replicate the invention and create copies), he uses it to carry out small-time robberies until he has enough to move away. But he wants something more – enough to buy an island and breaks in to the London Bullion Vault. He ignores the sign warning of guard dogs and an alsatian soon leads a security guard to Keith. Ending up in prison for five years, this wouldn’t be a Shock without a twist – his neighbour has also been put away for stealing cars. It’s the son of the violent one – but he’s equally noisy, so Keith sobs away as the radio volume gets turned up… We’ve been spoilt for Future-Shocks (and Shock-style stories) recently, so this average story suffers by comparison, though is much better than many of the earlier ones we had a year or so ago.
Tharg’s Nerve Centre has future writer Warren Ellis. I always think of him as being a script droid, simply because just about every British comic writer and artist who has achieved fame internationally has worked for Tharg at some point, but I think this might be Ellis’ only appearance in the prog. Lazarus Churchyard will make an appearance in the pages of the Judge Dredd Megazine – though it’ll already be reprint material by that point, so it doesn’t count. For interest, his letter continued the Terran/Earthlet debate – he’s against being called an Earthlet.
A giant green Judge Dredd logo stretches above the White Cliffs of Dover in part 2 of Judge Dredd: Unamerican Graffiti by T.B. Grover and Ron Smith. Lettering is by ‘Chopper Mk. II’ – presumably Tom Frame – I went back to check the last prog and there’s no credits on the first episode of this two-parter. The scrawl war between The Phantom and Chopper escalates, taking in the White Cliffs of Dover, H-Wagons and the Mega-Way until the ultimate challenge is made – to deface the Statue of Judgement. Marlon spends a few days preparing before the day comes and he hides during a tour of the Statue of Liberty, next to the Statues of Judgement. As darkness falls, he shimmies over on a monofilament wire and pulley and starts his work – hiding from the searchlights behind a non-reflective cloak. Finishing his work, he finally encounters the Phantom and *shock* it’s a robot. Robots glinting a bit more than juves under cloaks, the judges spot the pair. In the short time before the judges capture him, Marlon finds out that the robot is a city painting droid who just wanted to stand out from the crowd – but if he gets caught will be reprogrammed, becoming a nobody again and lets go of the statue, falling to his death while scrawling a line straight down. As the judges bundle him into a pat-wagon, Marlon wonders whether people are robots too – though as the sun rises (warming the heat-sensitive paint on the statue’s judge badge and making Chopper’s smiley face tag visible) his defiant spirit comes to the fore. Most people will probably agree that there are five good Chopper stories (opinions differ past a certain point) and this is a great start to a long-standing character. This is another story where I’d have read a later appearance of the character before managing to get my hands on the first one – in this case, The Midnight Surfer.
Return to Armageddon by Malcolm Shaw and Redondo. The triad Amtrak confirms to what we shall call the human Amtrak (even though he merely looks human) that the giant space snowflakes are indeed the Stones of Eternity, that they can’t be moved from the area beyond the space warp and The Destroyer will need to be brought here. While he can’t take the stones with him, he is given The Sword of the First Triad – it’s steel is cold. Seeing as they’re surrounded by a planet which is literally hell frozen over, presumably the steel is very cold. At least thirty years have passed while human Amtrak was being rebuilt. Atlanta and Selous are dead, terminated after spending decades believing they had returned to Earth, their every desire fulfilled, while Seeker reactivates once the robot detects Amtrak. Returning to Earth, the duo discover all space stations and satellites around the planet gone and the oceans replaced by cauldrons of boiling oil, filled with people in torment. The land is in perpetual darkness, the only light from burning corpses. Devilish creatures whip columns of people into a mountain with a grinning maw. It’s pretty hellish, if you hadn’t got that impression… This episode is certainly putting the Armageddon into the title.
Alan Hebden and Belardineli start this episode of Meltdown Man with a flash-forward splash page. It’s a good image, but I still don’t like them. Caleb the Camelman sends Gruff off to his rendezvous with Stone, accompanied by Armless – a goat whose arms were cut off by predators, though secretly Calel also sends two cheetah yujees after them to deal with Billy the Pup, should he turn up. And turn up he does. Armless manages to buy Gruff some time to escape, though an armless goat is no match for an experienced tracker. Until the cheetahs Speedy and Gonzales turn up. I don’t like those names – they tie the story to the 20th century when it’s supposed to take place in the far future – suspension of disbelief is not helped by this kind of reference. Billy the Pup tries to run but obviously isn’t going to get far chased by two cheetahs – and opts to leap from a cliff, barely surviving the fall which is broken by pine branches all the way down. Meanwhile Gruff is at the Green Coast where he gets caught by local yujees who belief him to be a local tatty wolf who has been killing and robbing yujees. Billy arrives a few hours later after a one-sided trial to see Gruff being catapulted through the air (I’m not entirely sure what the punishment is meant to be but he’s still attached to a springy tree by one foot). So – I like Speedy and Gonzales but not their names.
The inside back page has part 2 of the Heller saga, where Johnny shows off his model Range Rover to his friend Steve and decides that he’ll get a model motor cycle next, and enter a model-making competition in to the bargain. That’s all an advert, if you hadn’t worked it out. The rest of the pages plugs the next, so-called birthday prog while over the page is The Gumfighter Blows ’em Away! The Bubble Gang are robbing the Gumtown Bank for the town’s stash of Hubba Bubba gum. Y’know – these kinds of advert strips may have fitted in to 2000AD a few years earlier, but the comic has grown so much that they’ve very out of place now.
Grailpage: Ron Smith’s centrespread of the White Cliffs of Dover in the midst of a central Mega-City One sector as a Justice Department craft surveys it through a cloud above.
Grailquote: uncredited writer, first un-named chief of staff: “The first question we must ask ourselves is… do we want Croydon back?” second un-named chief of staff: “Oh, I think so. We do, don’t we?” Third un-named chief of staff: “Of course we do! My brother-in-law lives in Croydon! Bally cad still owes me fifty quid!”