2000AD Prog 210: “FREEZE!” The body-snatchers catch a cold – inside!

Drafting in the artist responsible for The Forever Crimes, Brian Bolland is back with a spoilerific Dredd cover – featuring Citizen Heinz and his wife Hilda in a suspended animation drawer.

Johnny’s back! And we’re going to meet a few of his new friends… Strontium Dog: Portrait of a Mutant Part 8 by Alan Grant and Ezquerra. The council of war meets. In the face of the latest anti-mutant laws, the Mutant Army is left with no option but to take immediate action, and the generals of the various divisions all vote for war. 2000AD hasn’t had an awful lot of recurring characters up to this point – compared with other comics where, for example, the villain of the week will be selected from a rotating roster, we’ve mainly had new characters every story. This has been quite a run of progs in the past few months, with the first appearances of characters who are going to come back again and again – Abelard Snazz, Joe Black, Marlon Shakespeare and in this story some distinctive faces come out of the meeting (remember, before Strontium Dog took a multiple-week break, the attendees at the council of war were all generic mutants). Evans the Fist, Clacton Fuzz (who kinda comes back), Middenface McNulty and the Torso from Newcastle are faces I would have recognised from a story I’d have read first – Outlaw, which ran in my first year and a bit of reading the prog. The date is set – in three weeks the Mutant Army will allocate half of their forces to attack Upminster Palace while the rest will attack local Kreeler bases. Hitting Kreeler weapons’ dumps in the meantime the mutants also collect some Flyboy Jetpax. The mutants wait at the Birmingham Gap so that the final page is a full-page panel revealing Upminster Palace, a huge hovering building containing a tiny-by-comparison Palace of Westminster in a bubble at the top (does that count as a domed city?) As a continuity geek, my attention was caught by the reference to the preparations for the attack on Upminster Palace taking place on Friday the thirteenth. In the year 2167 there will be three Friday the thirteenths, in February, March and November. Seeing as most of the events of Portrait of a Mutant (have taken place in 2150, 2152 and 2157, I’d say the logical month for this attack to take place is November.

Under another ad for the Sci-Fi Special are four more 1981 Readers Profiles. All four have voted for future war stories – making a total of eight out of the twelve published so far… One wants a Strontium Dog annual. Thirty nine years later the closest we ever got was from Quality Comics, and that was just a reprint of the Wolrog story. Another reader would like stories about the childhoods of 2000AD characters – they’re in more luck, particularly in 2020 as we’re going to get four all-ages progs, which will undoubtedly feature Cadet Dredd and similarly youthful versions of 2000AD characters (though admittedly some characters who won’t have even appeared yet, in early 1981).

Tharg’s Future-Shocks: The Collector by K Gosnell and I Kennedy. When Ian Kennedy’s on a shock, you know there’s going to be aircraft. It’s a fairly standard story, though well executed. This shock focuses on a jet fighter pilot with kill marks on the side of their phantom plane, denoting those he has killed during the Vietnam War. Pulling off a few snazzy moves to not just protect a B-52 from a heat-seeking missile, the major also manages to lure it down to an enemy missile installation. Rejoining the B-52 and another phantom escort, the major is surprised to see a new, unmarked plane. I (and the narration) says unmarked though we’ll find out at the end that it does have markings… The black plane heads in to a cloud and the major finds it doesn’t have a radar signature, having to rely on visual contact to follow it through the cloud to a runway beneath the clouds. Landing, the major confronts the pilot, also clad in black to be told that he didn’t survive the heat-seeker hit at the missile installation. Oh, and the pilot has horns and the landing strip is Airbase Hell, and the black plane did have markings – of all the souls that the devil – sorry, horned pilot – has collected, with USAF, (Nazi) Luftwaffe, RAF, Soviet star and the roundel of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. As I say – not an original story – people who didn’t survive an incident and end up finding themselves in Hell (or another afterlife) greeted by the devil or another supernatural being have been a staple of ‘shock’ stories in horror comics and pulp fiction for half a century by the time this story was published, but Ian Kennedy gets a chance to draw lots of aerial dogfighting, plus Airbase Hell is littered with aircraft from conflicts from the 20th century, so it’s all good.

The 2000AD Ro-Jaws’ Star Pin-Up isn’t a typical 2000AD starscan, instead being a promo pic of St Exmin from forthcoming film Battle Beyond the Stars. No doubt it’ll be covered by Ro-Jaws later, but this film (as I recall) was about a farm boy from a remote planet who becomes a pilot in a space war against a galactic empire, with the help of a space pirate and a warrior. I don’t know for sure, but I think this plot may have been inspired by another film that came out a few years earlier and led to a multi-billion dollar media franchise which revolutionised cinema technology and special effects. What do you think? By the way, the image in particular is a 1981 letterpress version of this picture (though that’s on eBay, so who knows how long that link will work?)

The 2000AD Nerve Centre brings news of the first sticker album to be given away free with 2000AD – this one is for Buck Rogers and is only available with progs sold in UK and Eire. A similar promotion occurs in the 330s, which is of particular relevance to me… A reader notes that an Earthlet’s picture in prog 203 was copied from a painting by Peter Elson. I hadn’t heard the name and couldn’t find the pic, but did come across a few familiar images on the way – namely the editions I have of a few Stainless Steel Rat novels. Another reader complains about the lack of Mean Arena lately, Tharg responds by saying it’ll be back soon with a new look (a preview of which appears at the back of this very prog).

Judge Dredd: The Body Sharks part 2 (that’s the short version of the title of this episode) by T.B. Grover and Colin Wilson. As expected, Dredd enlists Citizen Heinz’ help in tracking the body sharkers when the hapless Heinz clumsily tries to raise 10,000 creds at short notice. In a neat idea, the body sharkers check Heinz for bugs and find none. When the vehicle that Heinz is in is driven into the back of a mopad while in a tunnel, Dredd activates a tracer by firing a high frequency sonic pulse from an H-wagon, shattering a circuit-breaker and triggering a micro-tracer. From there on it’s a typical Dredd solo-raid on the body bank, including one perp getting covered in liquid nitrogen and freezing. Hilda and the other ‘security deposits’ in suspended animation are thawed out, and this being Judge Dredd, the victims get punished too – more in the grailquotes section!

Return to Armageddon by Malcolm Shaw and Redondo. Amtrak was trapped under a metal beam in a ship best by metal-eating locusts and had to get out before the locusts ate through the ship’s core and caused the engine to explode. How could he get out? That’s right – the locusts ate through the metal beam as well as the engine so he just had time to escape, picking up the seeker-frozen-in-ice on the way. Once thawed out, Eve leads Amtrak and Seeker to her ‘home’ – a concentration camp, though along the way they encounter some humans who have found sanctuary, or so they appear. Whatever their illusion was, it wasn’t tuned for Seeker’s circuits and the robot saw them for the serpents they were. Amtrak hoped to form an army from Eve’s people, but seeing the emaciated forms in cages, his hopes are not yet realised… Sandwiched between freezing and unfreezing people in this week’s Dredd and serpents presenting illusions in Meltdown Man this continues to be a strange misch-masch unlike any other series that has ever run in 2000AD!

So, as I was saying – serpents casting illusions are the order of the day this prog (or is that order of the week?), continuing in Alan Hebden and Belardinelli’s Meltdown Man. Yujees apparently conform to the and tropes, with Liana the catgirl and the mink girl from page 5-C both looking much more human than the male of their respective species. We find this out from King Seth projecting an image from a mink newspaper of a glamour model (on the afore-mentioned page 5-C) so that Stone, Louis (previously called ‘Leo’, oops!) and the cobra can access a predator look-out post to spy on Sutermunda – just in time to see Liana getting taken away to Snow City. Seth continues the history lesson, taking Stone back to the immediately post-disaster world where Earth-bound humanity was attempting to find its feet and instead finding mutated lifeforms. Eventually these began to be used as beasts of burden, but then Stone interrupts the serpentine schooling so that they can head off to Snow City, home of the Eugenic Bioform Research Centre. I don’t remember if this lesson ever gets continued, so that might be it for the genesis of Yujee World. Meanwhile, Liana gets to see… my grailpage for this prog.

Before we get to that, however, there’s a Steve Dillon piccy of Matt Tallon …Shadow of the Slayers! and the promise that “New Mean Arena series starts soon!”

Grailpage: back two pages to the last page of Meltdown Man by Belardinelli with Leeshar and Liana in a gunship over a frozen lake viewing the Research Centre in the mountains above a lakeside town.

Grailquote: T.B. Grover, Judge Dredd: “Everyone awake? Good! You’re all under arrest for complicity in a body shark deal. Co-operate with these judges and things will be easier for you!” Citizen Heinz: “Oh, Hilda, I’ll never leave you again!” Judge Dredd: “You’re leaving her now, citizen – or had you forgotten about the little matter of the sneak theft? Twelve months! Take him away!”

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