2000AD Sci-Fi Special 1981 2000AD Reviewed! Tharg Photo-Stripped! Nemesis Revealed!

2000AD Sci-Fi Special cover, art by Brian Bolland

More lens flare! Brian Bolland paints three judges on lawmasters, letting loose with the bike cannons in this cover.

On the inside front cover, Tharg presents The Thrill-Power Starts Here! Cosmic Contents – and he presents it from a Robin Smith-drawn Betelgeusian thought-processor (some kind of mind-operated printing press).

Judge Dredd in “The Sweet Taste of Justice” by Staccato and Colin Wilson. Staccato is Alan Grant and while I don’t recognise writing styles I’m going to take a wild stab in the dark and say that ‘Thomas’ is Tom Frame. The title of this story is displayed in the microgramma typeface, which always reminds me of Red Dwarf whenever I see it. Informer Max Normal attracts Dredd’s attention to tell the lawman of an illegal shipment to be made that night when he’s shot at. A medi-squad is called in to tend to Max as Dredd pursues the would-be assassin – which comes to an abrupt end as the perp gets spread along five hundred metres of mega-way. After a bit of detective work, Dredd uses a smear of lipstick to track a fellow resident of Max’s citiblock, Ricardo Montalban. She isn’t cooperative, but fortunately Justice Department bugs vid-phones of known associates of criminals. Once in place staking out the North Gate to Canada it’s a fairly standard Mega-City One chase and arrest until we get to the punchline – the illegal shipment of ‘white stuff’ is sugar – which was criminalised after sugar was declared to be a health hazard in those halcyon days of 1999! We’re going to get something similar in one of the first Judge Dredd annuals I received – but more about that in a few years time (in prog-time – in blog-time I think it’ll be before the end of this year). Colin Wilson isn’t a standard Dredd artist, but he puts in some great work here – I’m loving the images with the wall in the background – it’s not highly detailed but conveys a good impression of the size and weight of walls and citiblocks. If I’m not mistaken, Colin will be back on next week’s prog.

Desert Asteroid Authors is a three-page article by research robot Christopher Bendel (apparently a staff droid, but the name doesn’t ring any bells). For interest, the authors covered in this feature are: Robert A. Heinlein (which touches on the controversial and increasingly right-wing later work); James Blish; Isaac Asimov; H.G. Wells (obviously not in chronological order there); John Wyndham; Frank Herbert; Arthur C Clarke; Philip K Dick; ray Bradbury and John W Campbell. What we learn from this is that most sci-fi authors include their middle initial on their books.

As we’re getting used to in annuals and specials – after a feature you get… another feature – this one is A 2000AD Colourscan! on Superman II showing six full-colour pictures from the film (copyright DC Comics 1980).

Southern Comfort is a one-off story by R.E. Wright and W. Howarth. Trying to remember who Wright is a pseudonym of, I found out three facts (of varying trustworthiness) about this story: 1) it’s written by Alan Moore 2) it was on the shelf for some time before being published 3) Moore originally intended for it to be silent, the narration and dialogue added after editorial interference. I can’t quite see how it would work as a silent comic unless the format of the story changed drastically as well. This doesn’t have any of the twists of clever touches we’d expect from Alan Moore – it’s a simple story of somebody returning to their home town, encountering zombies (scaly space zombies) and then exploding the local petrol garage to destroy all the zombies. Except for one which has been lurking in the back seat of a car and apparently kills the both of them. Along with another ‘R.E. Wright’ tale in the prog these seem like they’re from a totally different author to the person who wrote the Abeldard Snazz two-parter, so I’m going to guess these were some of the slush pile stories sent to 2000AD by a slightly younger Moore and which were helped along by sub-editor Alan Grant.

Next up is Night-Land – a text story by John Agee (with spot illustrations by Eric Bradbury). As coincidence would have it, this month’s Judge Dredd Megazine has two stories reprinted from Scream! one of which is Terror of the Cats by John Agee (or at least the first couple of episodes are). Though I don’t know if that’s a real name or a pseudonym, which is part of the reason I go with the credited name in most cases – keeping track of all the pseudonyms and writing partnerships would be a full-time job! Enough about Scream! though this story is also very horror-themed. Cody is in a marshy wilderness, running away from something. There’s quite a few paragraphs about Cody running away from something and not knowing what they’re running from – but it’s in the mist and they’re afraid of it. After lots of teasing, Cody sees that the pursuer is himself, though a bestial, ferocious version of himself. After a scene in a graveyard where the tables turn and the fearful Cody becomes more confident and the bestial Cody is diminished, the newly power-filled Cody kills the former pursuer with an axe. And then wakes up. Just to avoid confusion – this awakening isn’t at the end of the story, it’s about half-way through. The rest is taken up with a Doctor Hammervoid trying to find out what Cody saw while in a psych-machine. At Cody’s behest, the doctor exposits that the machine reveals and records (to a vid-slug) the inner landscape of the test subject. What’s more, if the landscape is horrific – y’know, marshy wildernesses and graveyards, that kind of thing – then the subject is a dangerous psychopath. Cody says they saw themselves in a beautiful garden, pockets the slug while the doctor is distracted and you can guess where this is going… I found the pacing to be uneven, the explanation of the machine a bit clumsy and the perfect matching of what Cody saw being the tell-tale signs of a psychopath was too convenient. Quite a good name though – the night-land is “a horrifying landscape – a land of eternal night, if you like – full of unknown terrors”. Definitely more of a Scream! story (three years before the comic had its brief run) than a 2000AD one.

Shuttle’s Cocked – and Ready to Fire! I hadn’t realised that, with all the features we’ve so far had on the space shuttle, that it hadn’t actually been launched yet. While we’re waiting for that to happen, here’s some colour pictures, courtesy of NASA (and something called Space Frontiers Ltd).

More photos, though this time in black and white. And also in strip form – yes, it’s a Tharg photo-story – Tharg the Mighty in Alien! Tharg goes to the Aliens Registration Office and hi-jinks ensue. I’d be lying if I said it was my favourite Tharg story, though it’s a bit better than the quick photo-strips from Tornado. I think I spot Tom Frame in some of the photos, but I could be wrong. I’m going to guess all the people in this strip are 2000AD creators or editorial droids (as opposed to paid actors and models).

Next up is a One-Eyed Jack story by John Howard and John Cooper, with lettering by M.A. Chine. As I don’t recognise the name of the ‘lettering robot’ I’ll assume this is a reprint with a few 2000AD elements added to try to make it look less out-of-place (“When MC-1 was NYC this was the law!” and the 2000AD credit card). This is two stories joined together. They’re very proto-Dredd – especially early Dredd where Old Joe was always willing to play fast and loose with rules in order to uphold the law, or justice, or something. The first story has Jack McBane going in to Hell’s Kitchen on foot so that the criminals and cop-killers there will learn to respect the badge. The second one has Jack going after a gang who are targetting taxi drivers, and isn’t so Dredd-like.

Diary of an Alien Editor! is a run-down of events in the prog so far. It’s pretty honest – the entry for Prog 8 and the first part of the Flesh Game admits that it’s “designed to make the paper’s high circulation ‘stick’, the scheme spans four progs”.

The 2000AD recap / diary is interrupted after its first page by Ro-Jaws Technicolour Book Review. Ro-Jaws likes the Judge Dredd Annual 1982 (basically a plug for the annual, forthcoming in the Autumn – it’ll have three Dredd tales, a Max Normal, a Walter and a Mean Machine story). The sewer robot also likes The World Atlas of Mysteries by Francis Hitching and 100 Great Science Fiction Short Short Stories, edited by Isaac Asimov, Martin Harry Greenberg and Joseph D. Olander. He has less time for Puzzle Book 5: Flash Gordon Versus the Beast Men, The Secret of the Black Hole by Patrick Moore and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (adapation of the film) by Addison Steele.

Back to the diary / recap and note to myself (because I always forget) – the bad quality 2000AD printing is letterpress while the brief good quality printing from Prog 110 to 128 was litho printing.

This is followed by Tharg’s Mighty Puzzle Pages, starting with a Spot the Difference – a Bolland Dredd from Judge Death – “Blow his bonfs away!” and The 2000AD Chainword.

David Perry and Joe Collins put in Tharg’s Future-Shocks: A Space Oddity! This is a one-pager gag strip rather than the usual Future-Shock.

A Field Report and Resistance Hit File from Credo H.Q. plus a Deviant’s Data File from Necropolis, Termight remind us what Termight, Torquemada and Nemesis the Warlock are, before launching in to:

Nemesis: Olric’s Great Quest by Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill. I thought I could practically write about this story with my eyes closed, but then I noticed a gooney bird in the background of Olric’s first panel – I don’t think I’ve ever noticed that before, in the thirty-five years since I first read this story! Short version: Torquemada gives Olric a quest – to find the sword which his ancestor M’Stron wielded in the First Alien War. Olric suffers many hardships (including losing his leg and arm), refuses temptation and spends fifteen years before finding the sword. After fifteen years he has a sit down before setting out to kill Nemesis. Except while he’s sat down, Nem comes along and reclaims his sword and strikes down Olric. Other than what I think is some of Kevin O’Neill’s best early artwork, a few things I find interesting about this story… The alien known only as Old One, who recounts the rest of the story – we’ll see him again in the prologue to Nemesis Book II. Pat and Kev have obviously put in a lot of world-building time, as things lie the Fringe Worlds are casually mentioned. While the galactic empire is mentioned from the first Comic Rock story, this is the first time we get a sense of the galaxy, other than the Black Hole. Despite Termight being on a crusade against aliens, the Varks that Olric farms on the surface, and the mount that Torque turns up on seem rather deviant… Olric and the Lady Tanith’s defence of the Star City could have come from one of the annual or special covers. We get to see the planet Novala for the first time (which will also next appear in Nemesis Book II). There’s the first ancient giant robot – we’ll be getting more in Nemesis Book III – the first time I encountered Nemesis. On the penultimate page we get to see a dead warlock, Excessus thrust through its chest – like a preview two panes before our first sight of Nemesis (though technically that sight is just of Nem’s glowing eyes and nostrils). Over the page we get to see Nemesis properly as he pics up Excessus. As I’ve mentioned similar things previously, I’ll just comment on the panel ordering on the last page. If the panels were a blank, I’d assume they should be read as a row of three, then two going down, then across to the top right and then bottom right of the page. Due to the images within the panels (plus a border-breaking sword) and the placement of the lettering by Steve Potter, the eye follows the three panels to the top right, then back to the left, down and then right. An unconventional ordering though executed perfectly so that there’s no confusion on how to read it.

On the Wall! is a back page article featuring three photos from readers who were inspired. In two cases to put paint murals on their walls (Ezquerra’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse from Strontium Dog and Ron Smith’s Dredd in space) and a mother who made a plush Gronk for her sons.

Grailpage: for a moment while reading it I was weighing up the pages of Colin Wilson’s Dredd story, but by the end I’d remembered that this special had a Nemesis story in so my only real quandary is which of the five pages by Kevin O’Neill to pick. The second one – Olric’s star-longship approaching Star City plus Olric and Lady Tanith fighting off alien mercenaries in the Fringe Worlds. What more do you need?

Grailquote: John Howard, Jack McBane: “We’re gonna show Hell’s Kitchen we can take all it throws. Let ’em get on top of you and sooner or later they’ll finish you. Show ’em who’s boss and you’ll be safe.”

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