2000AD Prog 227: “Here’s the reward for making me all-powerful, Stone… Death!” Countdown to Meltdown!

Sad day – a Belardinelli cover for one of my favourite 2000AD series. You might wonder why this is sad – it’s because I know this heralds the last episode of said series. Leeshar is about to shoot Stone, who is operating the Cruise missile, apparently a traitor to his yujee friends. Sutermunda has rooftop gardens and (according to the colourist, whomever it may have been) a golden hue to the buildings. This momentous prog was published on Monday 24th August 1981 and would have remained on the shelves until the cover date of Saturday 29th.

The Nerve Centre doesn’t mention that Meltdown Man is concluding this prog, but does get a plug for Rogue Trooper, and that it was created as a result of the reader’s survey clamouring for a new future war series.

Strontium Dog: The Gronk Affair Part 4 by Alan Grant and Ezquerra. No sooner do the Weerd Brothers crash-land in the swamp than they get attacked swamp monsters. It looks like they’re going to die there when they’re rescued by Johnny and Wulf! Well, two of them are… Of course, they’re only saved so that Johnny and Wulf can kill them personally. It’s a good end to a good four-parter.

The first two story arcs in Nemesis the Warlock by Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill have been relatively self-contained, in the same way that the Comic Rock stories and Olric’s Great Quest were. You could take out Brother Behell’s sequence and the excursion to Earth’s End and it wouldn’t really affect the main story in Book I of Nemesis. We’re getting in to the plot with this episode as we go on the run with Purity Brown. Like Terror Tube, however, the real stars of the show on this one are the tunnels and chasms of Termight. Life in the cities of Necropolis and Mausoleum harks back to life in Mega-City One bringing on Future Shock, though one pop-cultural reference that went over my head when I first read this as a (pre-?)teen was Here comes my nineteenth nervous breakdown. One fantastic page showing a chase through people pipes towards the Abyss gives way to an even better page featuring the two cities of the Abyss – and a London Transport bus stop(!) as Purity and fellow Credo agent Googly try to escape a Terminator. Googly manages to kill the Terminator though, after Purity has led the pair to Sanctuary, filled with other Credo agents and fugitive aliens, Googly’s body starts to reject its passenger – Torquemada! Most of the pictures of Torque in this episode (and this book of Nemesis) have been ‘old-style’ – like his first appearance, but one image of the Grand Master’s spirit leaving the corpse of Googly looks more like the Torque that I was first familiar with from Book III. I imagine this image was drawn or re-drawn after the rest of the episode.

Tharg’s Guide to The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy – A 20000AD Special Report. This one isn’t by Burt or Ro-Jaws, instead interview droid Gon-Sel-1 (making a wild stab in the dark – Kelvin Gosnell) goes to talk to Jim Francis at the Visual Effects Department at the BBC. There’s a few anecdotes about the tribulations of shooting special effects though it ends on a sad note – Jim was looking forward to starting work on series two of Hitch Hikers (after some Blakes 7). We never got to see that series…

Judge Dredd: Judge Death Lives part four by T.B. Grover and Brian Bolland. Anderson has gotten Dredd and herself through the shield. The Dark Judges have sensed her presence and so Fire and Fear leave Death and Mortis to continue to administer jusssticcce in Peanut Park. The Mega-City Two face Fire first (though Fire fires on them first). They don’t exactly defeat the inflammatory one, but do bury him under loads of rubble. Racing up to the apartment of the late Mitson’s they quickly dispatch Fear (well, Dredd does – a bit more about that later – not quite at the end of this blog post, but pretty close) before Dredd destroys the psi-shield generator. Shields down, it looks like the tables have turned, now that the rest of the judges can get through. Continuing the theme of this prog – another great episode!

The Mean Arena by Tom Tully and Eric Bradbury. I had my reservations over whether Eric would be well suited to a future sport strip, but as long as the game in question takes place in a run-down former industrial town it’s working, as Eric is one of the great IPC / 2000AD artists when it comes to grime (along with Mike Dorey). I’m not a big fan of sport in general, so there’s a limit to how much I can say about people running around either carrying or chasing a ball. The Penzance Riggers show some humanity when one of their team falls into a sludge pit, even though it costs them some lead time in the chase after Tallon. Oh, and Tallon scores a hit, or goal, or whatever it’s called in this game. When play resumes Tallon comes up against Meeker, who appears to be the droid – and it’s programmed to kill Tallon…

Meltdown Man. It’s Alan Hebden and Massimo Belardinelli’s last episode on the adventures of Stone in Yujee World. After a few weaker moments (mostly involving super-predators) this series heads to a strong finish as yujees, predators and humans of the world (well, the bit that’s like an inverted South America) unite against Leeshar. The capital city, Sutermunda, is being cleared of all but Leeshar, Stone and the super-predators. Bad news for the former residents, good news for Stone, the man with a plan. Stone programs the Cruise missile and fires it – Leeshar believing that it will take out the army approaching the capital. Which is probably understandable if you’ve only seen bows, arrows, spears and snip guns – all of which only fire in one direction. As we already know from the cover of the prog, Leeshar (who had made a deal that Stone could go anywhere in the world other than this land) is about to kill Stone as the missile heads through the air… And then it turns around, over head heads of Liana, Gruff and T-Bone’s army, heading back towards the city. Stone prepares to die in the heart of a nuclear inferno (again) as the missile hits. There’s another page after this where Stone and Leeshar appear in North America in the present, before the latter fades away. It doesn’t add much – other than letting us know that Stone is safe – and doesn’t take much away either – though their is the possibility that the characters we’ve met over the last fifty episode won’t actually exist at all if Stone convinces the authorities to deflect the asteroid that made the world topsy-turvy, but if we’re going to be scientific about this, then Earth’s poles reverse about twice every million years, asteroid or no asteroid – and we’re currently overdue for a reversal as the last one took place 700,000 years ago… I think I’d have preferred the ending if it had concentrated on the trio of yujees, maybe a flash-forward to ‘many years later’ when they’re telling their children or commemorating Stone’s memory. Either way, this is still one of my favourite early stories and one of the best showcases of Belardinelli’s artwork. Off the top of my head I can think of three more, but I think this may be the most consistent, and certainly longest-running.

The inside back cover has a couple of adverts – one for the 2000AD Annual 1982, the other for the next prog – and the debut of Rogue Trooper!

And on the outer back cover, five pieces of reader art – and they’ve been coloured in. They’re all looking like pics cpied by children of specific pictures by (respectively) Ian Gibson, Mike McMohn, Carlos Ezquerra (times two) and Jesus Redondo. At least when they’re copied from pics in 2000AD the contributors aren’t pretending that their copy is original, like when they take panels from Star Wars comics or covers of Metal Hurlant or as-yet-unidentified pics by Chris Foss.

Grailpage: so, the idea of picking a grail page is to choose one page from each prog that is better than the other pages in some way. I’ve had one or two progs (so far) where two pages have equally deserved the top spot – generally the ones where I was looking forward to the page in question as I knew I’d pick it, only to find that there were two such pages in the same prog. This prog is different. There are three grailpages, each picked for very different reasons (well, except I knew beforehand that I’d be picking them – I was just surprised that all three were in the same week). Number one is the first view of the cities of Necropolis and Mausoleum, their stalscrapers pointing at each other across the Abyss (the preceding page was nothing to be sniffed at, either). Number three has the denouement of Meltdown Man – the second time that stone prepares to die in a nuclear explosion, though this time he takes the capital city of Sutermunda with him (not to mention Leeshar) – and all with an audience of the amassed yujee, predator and human armies of Yujee World – Liana throwing her arms up in despair. If you’re observant you may have noticed I skipped one. That’s because I numbered them in the order they appeared in the prog, but felt the middle one had to be saved ’til last. You can’t miss out the page featuring the most famous, most iconic single panel in British comic history (if you can think of another contender, I’d love to hear it – all I can think of is an image of Bill Savage from Prog 1 (“I ain’t running from dirty Volgans!”), or the one where Bill (again) shows some Volgs his rubber duck. Though there’s a few more that are coming to mind – all three of which are drawn by King Carlos (two in black and white, the final in colour – if you want to guess). There are other progs which have had a better line-up of stories, but I think this is my favourite single prog so far in my prog slog. And that’s with two pages given over to a text feature (admittedly devoted to a TV series – and no, I can’t remember if I saw the TV series or read the book first).

Grailquote: Alan Grant, Wulf Sternhammer: “Is time you pay for your crimes, Veerds. Ve count to three…” Johnny Alpha: “Come up shooting – or come up dead!” narration: “The Weerds come up shooting. They also came up dead!”

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