Brian Bolland provides a montage cover featuring Dredd, Johnny Alpha and Blackhawk flanking Tharg. Wasn’t expecting to see Blackhawk again – I’m guessing it’s going to be a text story…
The contents page image is provided by Robin Smith and features Johnny Alpha – we’d better get a good Strontium Dog story this annual!
Robin Smith is back, along with T.M.O. in Tharg Ahoy! Tharg is yachting in the photon currents of the solar drift, waited upon hand and foot by Burt when an unnatural photon whirlpool. Tharg being Tharg, when the boat breaks up he manages to use a piece of the wreckage to surf through the whirlpool, ending up going through hyperspace to Zrag where the Dictators and the Hag are found to be responsible (of course). One use of the Rosette of Sirius later and the spell has been inverted on the quartet (and all the polluting buildings around them – not to mention the cube-shaped planet itself – did I ever mention that Zrag is cuboid? It appeared in one of the stories in the weekly). Ho-hum story matched by uninspiring art makes this a strange choice to open the annual.
Was it one of last year’s annual which started with a succession of features instead of stories? A Tharg story followed by a feature is good by comparison! This feature is Secrets of the Command Module opening with a rather nice airbrushed cutaway picture of Kings Reach Tower. Tharg has been busy since Tharg and the Intruder, as the layout of the Command Module has changed in the intervening years.
Blackhawk is indeed a text story, featuring reprints of illustrations by Massimo Belardinelli (the script droid is not credited – Belardinelli isn’t either, but the style is pretty distinctive). The crustacean gladiator who fought on Stadium is given a name here – I don’t remember it having a name earlier – it is Beezelbub from the planet Ska. That’s Beezelbub, not Beelzebub in case you thought that was a typo). Their friendship is emphasised a few ties and I found myself trying to remember if we saw the crustacean in later Arena-based episodes of the weekly strip to try to predict whether they’d survive to the end of this text story. The latest challenge to the Entertainers takes place on a planet with three suns, which produce a disorientating ultra-violet light when they converge in a certain way. It turns out that the champion of this planet is invisible, though it appears that Blackhawk manages to defeat it pretty quickly anyway. It later appears that Blackhawk hasn’t defeated it after all and is felled, soon to be crushed underfoot. The reason for all the “appears” is that Beezelbub starts crying for his friend and sees that there are actually two native champions, one lying unconscious on the ground, the other attacking the prone body of Blackhawk. Thus Beezelbub hurls his trident at the upright invisible alien. The Director uses some kind of sucker-finger touch to get the truth out of the native promoter of the match (don’t remember seeing this ability before). There’s one or two inconsistencies – or at least things we didn’t see in the weekly – but I actually like this text story – I suspect I’ll remember it better than the waterworld combat from a previous annual (or maybe it was a special).
The Pirate and the Polydroid: A Ro-Jaws’ Robo-Tale comes from Steve Parkhouse and Ewan Smith. I’m not familiar with Ewan Smith’s work but it comes across as underground comix / fanzine-style artwork. Could this be Steve Parkhouse’s first work for Tharg? The pirate is aided by a polydroid – a parrot-shaped shoulder-robot in chasing their quarry, who happens to be carrying zilch nuggets – the rarest mineral in four galaxies. After gaining access to the safe in which the nuggets are held, the polydroid eats up the nuggets, to the pirate’s shock. An unusual tale which I couldn’t envisage seeing the weekly prog at this point – though I’d have said the same about that ‘giant sign on the dark side of the moon’ story which was published a month or so earlier…
The Incredible World of TV Games – how far games technology has come – and this is highlighted in a text feature on pong-level tech contrasted with the games put out by the modern owners of 2000AD. Of the actual games mentioned I think I’ve played two or three – Night Driver and the omnipresent Space Invaders. The third is possibly Adventure – which I’m assuming is an Atari version of Colossal Game Adventure – the internet suggests it didn’t make it to home consoles or computers until 1982 though, and this annual was published in 1981 (despite the 1982 cover date).
Alan Moore and Steve Dillon collaborate on a Ro-Busters story called Bax the Burner – the first appearance of a character with pyrokinetic powers in 2000AD. Alan has left his clumsy early efforts behind as he delves into Miss Marilyn’s pre-Robusters career as a nurse on a hospital ward where dangerous patients / prisoners are kept. The title character of this story is one such patient, who has formed an emotional attachment to Marilyn, escaping from the ward to follow her to her new job (and setting loads of fires and killing people along the way). Alan writes Hammerstein and Ro-Jaws’ characters well – the war robot initially failing to deal with the situation (twice) but ultimately saving the day while Ro-Jaws gets Marilyn out of harm’s way (though then putting her back in it, comedically). There’s a limit to what can be done in a six-page annual story for a series which ceased a few years earier, but Moore and Dillon show it can still be engaging.
Reprint time – I’ll cover it in this annual but not sure if I’ll continue to do so in future years. IPC had a four or five year rule for reprints, though I’m not sure how official it was. Either way, the first prog of 2000AD is now sufficiently distanced in time that the reprints in this annual are from the first progs. This time it’s M.A.C.H.1’s first story, and it has a subtle difference from the first time it was printed – we get one of Kevin O’Neill’s credit cards so I can now confidently say the first John Probe story was scripted by R.E. Wright (alright – that’s a generic pseudonym) and had art by Enio and Ian Kennedy. For various reasons I’m more familiar with the first half of the introductory story than the second (namely that it would be reprinted in the micro-prog published in Progs 300 to 303 of 2000AD, and that I managed to get a copy of the genuine prog 1 of 2000AD at least a few years before I got prog 2). As is traditional, when you have extended scenes featuring aircraft, particularly military aircraft, then Tharg calls in Ian Kennedy.
Tharg’s Mighty Puzzle Pages. There’s a Chainword (we’ve had one of those in a previous annual), Spot the Difference (the image taken from the mobster-head-in-a-jar blitzer story by Dave Gibbons), 2000AD Heroes and Villains (match up the heroes with their enemies).
The first batch of puzzles out of the way, next up is a 2000AD Fact-File on Walter the Wobot. The “Impediment in speech circuits making all R’s sound as W’s” could have been more concisely written as a de-rhoticism in the same way as a lisp wouldn’t be referred to as “Impediment in speech circuits making all S’s sound as TH’s”.
Dash Decent makes a return in a one-page strip followed by a ‘making-of’ one-pager entitled Special Effects – all scripted by ‘Parker’ and O’Neill and illustrated by Kevin O’Neill. As you’d expect, the ‘normal’ strip page as plenty of special effects (such as wires holding things up, or candles in volcanoes) on show, while the special effects page shows that dummies and stunt aliens were fired through the air and wires were added later. Also, Dash got shocked out of his clothes – he sure spent a lot of time naked in the time he appeared in 2000AD. I think this is the actual last appearance by Dash and Pong.
More reprint – this time of the Preying Mantis. This condenses the four pictures of the different sections (as featured in the pages of the prog, just before the craft was destroyed in an explosion) into two pages. I’m sure there was some narrative about Ro-Jaws looking for Hammerstein, explaining the sewer droid’s presence in the forward thrust engine room, but that’s been ditched in this presentation.
2000AD’s Amazing Readers. We got told about Mark Sheridan, Tony Luke and Damian and Aiden Hunter in the pages of the prog, and told to wait until this annual to find out why they’d been mentioned. Mark Sheridan is a big fan of 2000AD and had all of the almost 300 publications from Tharg (and Starlord and Big E) at that point. Tony Luke is the late Tony Luke who would go on to become an art robot, though at this point he’s creating stop-motion animations based on Godzilla, the Golgotha story from ABC Warriors and The Blood of Satanus. I’ve found a Nemesis the Warlock / ABC Warriors: The Black Hole animation he’ll do in about seven years time, presented by Tony Robinson (Baldrick from Blackadder and Time Team). Other than his 2000AD work, Tony went on to have a varied artistic career in multiple countries. P.S. we were online friends through various real-life friends on the goth scene though I never got to meet him in person. As for Damian and Aiden Hunter awoke to find their house on fire – their actions saved the lives of their family and a couple of house guests. When it was reported upon on the front pages of the local press, one of the brothers was pictured wearing a Judge Dredd T-shirt (and badge, if the photo on this feature is the same as the one on the newspapers).
More reprint, this time Belardinelli’s underwater M.A.C.H.1 story – this time with a more illuminating ‘N. Allen’ as script robot. I don’t remember if I mentioned it first time I covered this story, but there’s a unique U-shaped panel by Belardinelli showing Probe diving, then twisting around the bend in teh ‘U’ before ascending, picking up speed so that he can leap out of the water. Something I’m sure I would have mentioned last time – there’s a curious “editor’s note” telling us not to copy a superhuman like MACH 1. I’m not sure what they were expecting readers to copy – swimming at a rate of 20 knots, leaping six or seven metres up out of the water, fighting a deep sea diver in a pressurised suit or ripping apart oil pipes on a disguised Eastern (European or Russian) ship, causing it to explode while running away caught on fire… Just for the record, I’ve not done any of those things since first reading this story, so I guess the warning worked.
Now for the Judge Dredd story we saw being written in front of the Squaxx while assembled at Wembley Stadium. Script is by John Howard (completed by Tharg, as the credit acknowledges) while art is by Brian Bolland. The story is The Alien Zoo and is fine as an entertaining story though some aspects of it don’t stand up to scrutiny. A mega-citizen is chucked out of the Alien Zoo when he antagonises one of the residents. He heads off to a nearby ultra-market and picks up a laze-cutter (a laser rifle). In the same section are ore guns and missiles – it doesn’t seem plausible that weaponry is so easily available in the Mega-City… Slicing through cages and locks, the citizen causes an alien stampede and the judges are called in. Some of those judges try to deal with an alien mimic species by using cling nets, though the aliens copy them and catch the judges in the nets (but how did they get their hands on the nets to do this?) – Dredd deals with them by punching one, and instead of punching him they punch each other. As I say, entertaining enough but doesn’t stand up to any scrutiny. Dredd ends up at the top of a flagpole (don’t ask) facing a flying alien and has his lawgiver knocked out of his hand. No weaponless, Dredd doesn’t appear to have anything to worry about as the flying alien he was shooting at isn’t seen again. Last up is a Krong-sized creature which is dealt with by handcuffing its nose. How would that stop it, instead of, say, antagonising it further? Dredd somehow manages to fit the handcuffs around the flagpole (which is about twice as wide as his torso – some handcuffs), descends and spots the culprit, following him into a huge Big Hungry-style creature (though this one is vegetarian).
Tharg’s Mighty 2000 A.D. Crossword is a reader-submitted puzzle. Some of the clues are tenuous…
How to Draw Judge Dredd: 3 steps to drawing Mega-City One’s top lawman! The three steps are: pencils (using a standard HB); inking (using a steel-nib dip-pen or mapping pen) and finally blacking in (using a sable brush). The three pictures shown are separate pictures, rather than the same picture at different stages of the process…
More reprint – and this one will last a while when I started collecting 2000AD two years later Tharg was still reprinting the ongoing storyline of Flesh Book I in the Sci-Fi Special. Credited to Pat Mills and Boix, like MACH 1, this appeared in Prog 1. The first view of the Trans-Time Base still looks like it was probably drawn by Kevin O’Neill though.
Earthets’ Art Gallery is self-explanatory – seven pictures – as ever, the more competent the picture looks the more likely it is to have been traced (either from multiple pictures in the prog or from some external source). Though just maybe everything on these two pages is entirely original.
Two pages are devoted to The Burt Interview where (Richard) Burt(on) interviews Alan Grant, who reveals that Jon Wagner was writing novel-length Tarzan comic stories. The idea of taking Blackhawk to a space arena was ‘inspired’ by a (bad) book called Hunter’s Moon. Ursa was one of Kelvin Gosnell’s creations, while Zog was Alan’s – though prompted by John Wagner who suggested that Blackhawk needed some sort of ‘ultimate deterrent’ to put Blackhawk and the other gladiators in their place. Massimo Belardinelli’s full name is mentioned – I think we still haven’t seen that in the weekly. Aan Grant’s favourite book is John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar, which he says is closest in feel to Judge Dredd and 2000AD.
The title of the next story, Tharg’s Future-Shocks: The Last of the First Ones! promises to be about a first contact or rediscovery of an ancient progenitor race. It’s by G.P. Rice and Colin Wilson. It’s the former, with a side order of impending alien invasion. An extraterrestrial spaceship has been observed in Earth orbit, sending down signals. A linguist works out what the signal means: “We are the first ones” but can’t get any further than that. Being sent up to make contact with the aliens, he finds that they’re in bad shape and just before one of them dies, they manage to make tentative steps to speak in English. By the time the last of them dies, they reveal that they were victims of the most technologically advanced race in the galaxy, who are now bent on total galactic conquest. They were the first ones to fall, and Earth is next! It’s a standard Future-Shock, plus there was planetary destruction along the way (the alien’s home world). Tharg’s certainly been keeping Colin Wilson busy lately!
The next 2000AD Fact-File is for Strontium Dog, which reveals nothing a casual reader wouldn’t already have picked up.
The first 2000AD Fear-File for Judge Death is bang up to date with Judge Death Lives. Wait a minute – the other thing – it gives spoilers for the end of the story which is only currently on its second episode – oops!
Even more Colin Wison, though who the writer is is a mystery in a (text) Ro-Jaws’ Robo-Tale: The Volunteer. The protagonist, Gymp, wants to be a starliner pilot. Though set in the year 2180, this story was already out-dated by the time I first read it, as it refers to Laker Spacelines – a parody of Laker Airlines, which would cease trading half a year after this story was published (and was some historical reference I wouldn’t have picked up on my first reading). Unfortunately for Gymp, he isn’t tall or good-looking enough to become a starliner pilot and is working in an office job to try to raise funds to get the requisite genetic job and face change. When he gets fired, he contemplates suicide. If he jumped from his 539th floor balcony, Gymp calculates it would take 2 minutes 39 seconds to hit the ground. Assuming standard air resistance, this means his balcony is about 119 kilometres above the ground. Gymp isn’t good at calculations. Luckily he is distracted by a badly-piloted starliner heading out overhead and gets an idea to hijack a starfreighter and crash it into his old office block (it’s the middle of the night, so I’m inferring this means only Gymp himsef would die). Though detected, he manages to get through security and has only a limited amount of time before he gets caught. Such is his obsession with pilotting starliners and freighters, he can operate the controls in the flight deck, though as he comes to the conclusion that the controls are not working, the recruiting manager from Laker Starliners makes himself known and confirms that none of the controls work. Taking him on a tour of the outside of the freighter, Gymp is introduced to a heavily-modified cyborg who is drawn up into the nose of the freighter. The explanation is that a normal person would not be able to handle the immense amount of control and sensors needed for piloting a starship at the speed of light, and that the real pilot must be genetically and technologically modified to become part of the ship. The good-looking tall pilot is only to comfort the passengers. I like this story, it’s stuck with me and, judging by a recent thread on the 2000AD forum I’m not the only one.
Six pages on three future sports next – the most recent, Street Football, first – showing art from the early episodes of Mean Arena by John Richardson. I like his earlier art on the series but feel that in his later episode he may have been rushed. I know it gets better again when he works on (for example) Terror of the Cats in Scream! (recently reprinted in the Judge Dredd Megazine floppy). The rules for Street Football seem fairly intelligible, and point out things I either hadn’t noticed before (if they’ve been stated in the actual story). Over in Aeroball / Harlem Heroes the pics are by Dave Gibbons, except for one portrait of John ‘Giant’ Clay by Massimo. Speaking of which – all of the pictures for Inferno are by Belardinelli.
The nostalgia continues with a reprint of the King Krong story (written by Malcolm Shaw, art by Carlos Ezquerra). This was the one with Sensor-Round and Movie Special Effect Museum curator Kevin O’Neill. Though earthlets would recognise art droid Kevin O’Neill’s name now…
Photo-story time – as Tharg Gets… The Call! It opens with a pop-culture reference which has dated – Tharg refers to a newspaper comic strip called Garth – though doesn’t go into any more detail than mentioning the name which would completely go over your head if you weren’t already aware of it. The rest of the tale has Tharg invited to Downing Street (in the days when there weren’t heavy gates at the end of the street – though it looks like the photographer and ‘Tharg’ had a very obliging policeman to help out) to visit the P.M. who invites T.M.O. to become the world’s leader (Tharg declines as humans must sort out their own problems).
More Flesh reprint, this time credited to R.E. Wright (again) and Boix / Sola (that’ll be Ramon Sola, I expect) taken from progs 2 and 3. I’m more familiar with the second half of this segment of Flesh as I had prog 3 for years before I managed to get prog 2. Though that’s the best bit, as it has Old One Eye’s first appearance – and indeed the bit where she lost her other eye.
Wolfie Smith is the subject of the next 2000AD Fact-File.
More profiles after that, this time let’s Meet the Droids, courtesy of Ro-Jaws. The droids covered are AALN-1, Burt (who we find out was initially created by a cult of comic fanatics), McMahon (whose idiosyncrasies are due to oil stains on the blueprints when he was being constructed), Brian Bolland (who likes to sneakly watch monster and horror films) and finally Howard (which recaps the Tharg story which resulted in the Judge Dredd Alien Zoo story).
Strontium Dog: an untitled story by G.P. Rice and Steve Kyte. I’ll arbitrarily name it “Hospitality is our middle name” as that’s the motto of the planet that Wulf and Johnny arrive on. Though Wulf is put out of the way straight away that they leave the spaceport. While Wulf is with the doctor, a local (female) law enforcement officer attaches herself to Johnny’s hunt for the bounty which brought him and Wulf to the planet. The bounty has an unidentified accomplice. Following the trail, Johnny and the officer head to an underwater domed city where they get the usual inhospitable ‘welcome’ from the Gill Men, though this time it’s because they’re surface dwellers and not because Johnny is a mutant. They find the bounty and take him out without any problem – oh, except that Johnny’s ‘partner’, the officer, kills the bounty before Johnny can question him regarding his accomplice. If you hadn’t guessed already (my suspicions were raised when she first appeared and were pretty much confirmed when she expressed an interest in tagging along with Johnny – before we even found out there was an accomplice) the officer prevents Johnny from using a time drogue to question the dead bounty. Luckily for Johnny, she stands over the dropped blaster of her victim, so Johny “has to keep her talking” while he barrages the blaster with alpha rays. He ‘keeps her taking’ by doing absolutely nothing and just not interrupting her as she monologues. No clever wordplay on Johnny’s part, just keeping quiet. This story wasn’t absolutely awful though was predictable and had year-old art, so it’d been on the shelf awaiting / avoiding publication. I did like a (pretty bad) kleptomania joke though (it’s in the grailquote section).
Could You Replace the Mighty Tharg? This is a two-page quiz… The first part is general knowledge (30 questions) the second is 8 multiple choice questions. My results were: 2000AD and Sci-Fi: 20/20 (they’re not difficult questions). 2000AD Catchphrases: 10/10. Descriptions of 2000AD Characters: 10/10. General Questions about 2000AD: 20/20. Multiple coice: 40/40. Total: 100/100. Over 80: Zarjaz performance!
Prog Power! presents 16 prog covers from pre-2000AD and Starlord progs, 2000AD and Starlord, 2000AD and Tornado and post-2000AD and Tornado progs. Without looking up who did the UFO cover (which has a difficult style to place) our favourite art droids get the following tally: Dave Gibbons – 2; Mike McMahon – 4; Ian Gibson – 1; Brian Bolland – 4; Carlos Ezquerra – 3; Kevin O’Neill – 1.
The rest of the annual is taken up with assorted Chainword, Spot the Difference, Heroes and Villains, Crossword and Could You Replace the Mighty Tharg? answers, then an advert for 2000AD (featuring Artie Gruber, confusingly – it’s been years since he appeared in Inferno) and finally the back cover containing the family “Splundig vur Thrigg Squaxx dek Thargo” roundel.
Grailpage: it may be a cold open flash-forward, but I’m going for Brian Bolland’s opening page to Alien Zoo.
Grailquote: G.P. Rice, Omed (the kleptomaniac): “The desire to steal is ike a sickness within me. But the nice thing about this sickness is… I can always take something for it!”