2000AD Prog 226: In the Mean Arena, the name of the game is… get Tallon!

Steve Dillon is back on the cover, and so is Tallon, flanked by a few of the Slayers we met before the Jensen Clan confrontation. This prog cost 16p and would have gone on sale on Monday 17th August 1981, two days after the signing of the annuals at Forbidden Planet on Denmark Street.

The Nerve Centre has a special greeting to readers in Malaysia, who are now paying $1.25 instead of $1.20 – the first (and only?) time that overseas price rises will be mentioned inside the pages. There’s also a letter in Scots brogue so broad that the Scots dictionaries I’ve been pointed at after earlier references went over my head are of no help.

Strontium Dog: The Gronk Affair Part 3 by Alan Grant and Ezquerra. the explanation of how the Weerd Brothers escaped Hell-World is non-existent and outlining of how they convinced the gourmand to go to the planet of the Gronks is scant, but the episode works. In orbit, the Weerds turn on the gourmand now that their real quarry has turned up – wounding him fatally. On the planet, after a strafing run, Johnny quickly establishes the Weerds are behind it all (Alpha vision) and returns fire, damaging the ship and sending it crashing in the direction of the Neverglades (I thought it’d be relevant). Before hunting down the Weerds, Johnny sends a mini-nuke in a catcher craft on auto-return – arriving at the mothership just as the gourmand starts on his last meal and exploding before he can finish it…

Reader submitted content with The Great 2000ad Mix-Up. A humanoid figure has been split into 14 numbered segments, each one depicting part of a character (so for instance the right side of the head belongs to Johnny Alpha while the left is Tharg’s bonce). 20 characters are listed. Readers have to match up 14 of the listed characters to the segment they appear in. I’m thinking this is the best of the reader-submitted puzzles that have been published. For the record, I didn’t get the left hand of T-Bone or the right leg of the Stainless Steel Rat.

Nemesis the Warlock by Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill starts with Nemesis hanging from a gallows. Unlike that MACH One Tharg warning telling people not to blow up Russian fishing vessels, this one actually makes more sense. The deaths which display poetic justice begin. I looked up “poetic justice” in a thesaurus and it suggested “nemesis” (!) The villager who spat on Nemesis (who I didn’t mention last weekly prog blog post) was found as if he’d been drowned. So Nosedrip tells Simon Two Shanks the butcher – the one who struck Nemesis, with his hand. Which he then chops off while talking to Nosedrip (and then bleeds to death). Worried, other villagers head to Hawberk the Robotsmith – the one who hung Nemesis – he tells them not to worry. That night he gets strangled by the most deadly snakes on Earth’s End – coiled like a noose around his neck. Widow Grundy, who led the removal of the warlock’s armour is smothered by flies. The rest of the villagers have had enough and beseech Nemesis (who hasn’t moved since being hung three days earlier) to leave them alone. The chains holding Nemesis up break and he glides down, as if he could have escaped the noose at any time… Only Nosedrip has been spared – I have sometimes wondered about this – the others may have been excluding him from claiming the reward, but he had initially been expecting a share. If it hadn’t been for Nosedrip, the other wouldn’t have known that Nemesis had crashed on their planet, and yet he gets away with it! Other than spotting the way each culprit meets a fitting end a great aspect of this story is the fear the bigoted villagers display when they get an inkling of how much power the warlock had all along is made apparent.

Tharg’s Future-Shocks: Scrambled Eggs by Alan Hebden and Garry Leach. A planet of teddy bears (essentially – even more so than Ewoks, these things look like teddy bears) makes visual contact with a huge pteranodon-style creature. By huge, it casually destroys the planet’s moon as it passes by, eventually stopping at the planets closest to the sun. It cracks each of the planets open in turn, finding dead chicks inside the inhabitants of the planet theorise that their solar system is a hatchery for giant alien birds, or that it is instead a huge hoax. These denials continue even as the planet they’re on starts cracking up, from the inside. I think the moment you find out any of the planets are eggs then you know that the planet they’re on is also going to be an egg – and also that the chick inside is going to be alive. The storytelling is fine, as it goes, the art is great – as most is from Leach, but the story itself is ho-hum.

Judge Dredd: Judge Death Returns part 3 by T.B. Grover and Brian Bolland – though this episode begins with a centrespread “2000AD postergraph” entitled The Four Dark Judges! Most of this episode shows us what the DJs get up to behind the psi-shield enveloping Billy Carter Block (mass murder in creative ways, including killing people while they’re taking a shower). Outside, Anderson turns up – she should be resting, but who can rest when there’s a massacre taking place? She’s got two things to tell Dredd – firstly, there are four dark judges in there, not just Death on his own. Secondly, she has the ability to deflect the psychic waves generated by the psi-shield – to wit, she can get Dredd and herself through. Death immediately senses her presence once they’re through. But you know all this, as (marginally behind the original Judge Death story) this has to be the most reprinted story from 2000AD – probably including Halo Jones and The Horned God – and this is for the simple reason that it’s great! Well-written, the time taken on the art showing through – it’s an instant classic, and we’re not even in Deadworld yet!

The Mean Arena by Tom Tully and… no idea what happened to Steve Dillon, who still provided this week’s Mean Arena-related cover, but he’s now replaced by Eric Bradbury. It’s become a bit of a tradition for me to listen to the Space Spinner 2000 podcast relating to the progs I’ve just covered – after I’ve finished this post and the one for Prog 227 I’ll be listening to Episode 67. I have absolutely no doubt that they’ll point out the Tom Tully Special – the hand of the mysterious figure who is controlling affairs. I have this confidence in Conrad and Fox because they’re the ones who pointed out that it always crops up! Which is a long-winded way of saying that once the Slayers finally go to Penzance for that match against the Riggers, touted however-many-progs ago, we get to see a mysterious hand mention the name “Hendrick”. We’re not left wondering who this is for long though, as two panels later we’re told that Hendrick is the Chief Referee – as he hands Tallon’s (no doubt sabotaged) droid gun to him. Reinforcing this, we get told tat one of the players on the opposing team is a droid (no surprise, as that’s the rules of the game, as told to us in the annual the week before) but that it has been specifically programmed to destroy Tallon. So, to recap so far (for me) this series got off to a good start with John Richardson’s artwork, though that quickly tailed off – though I know his art skills would come to the fore on other stories (though possibly not any that will be covered in this blog). There was then a brief golden age under Steve Dillon. Now that Bradbury is on the job, presumably for about half a year before he goes off to draw Doomlord for the new Eagle which will be re-launched some time soon (my timings may be completely out there – I know it had gone through a photo-strip phase before I became a regular reader, about the time I started getting 2000AD). Anyway – I like Bradbury’s artwork, though in the same way I like Mike Dorey’s work – absolutely fantastic when on grimy, grounded, contemporary stories but variable on other stories. The Mean Arena can go either way, depending on what the focus is in a particular storyline. It’s been some considerable time since I read this series all the way through (the latter years of the 20th century) so it’s anybody’s guess what I’m going to make of it this time around.

A series I know I love is Meltdown Man from Alan Hebden and Belardinelli. One of the best characters in this story has his swan-song this episode as Tiger Commander leads two (standard) predators into the Snow City production centre where they descend to the boiler room which taps geothermal power. Closing and then sabotaging the valves while the minks hold off the super-predators, by the time they get in it’s too late for them to do anything to stop the imminent explosion. Faced with impending death the super-predators completely go to pieces going from vicious attack dogs loyal to Leeshar to panicky puppies in one frame! Leeshar narrowly avoids getting caught in the explosion which destroys Snow City, but he’s not worried as he has more than enough super-predators to build a bigger, better production centre. Hearing the news which has given them some time, Stone comes up with a plan and leaves a note discovered by Gruff and Liana – he has gone off to surrender to Leeshar, as the only person in this world who can operate the stolen Cruise missile. As the next prog box reveals, the next episode will get it’s first ever Belardinelli-drawn cover – but it’s going to be for the last episode of Meltdown Man…

Sharing the page with the next prog box is a Nerve Centre Extra showing the answers to that Mix-Up puzzle, a Convention Guide (for Liverpool, London and Manchester Comic Marts) plus two more Year of the Alien drawings submitted by readers. One looks like the Two of Verath and/or Zaphod Beeblebrox – which is apposite as that next prog box also mentions “Secrets of the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy! Special TV feature”.

Grailpage: there are great pages in this week’s Nemesis and Judge Dredd episodes, but it’s Belardinelli’s destruction of Snow City. Ron Smith may be great at destroying Mega-City One, but Belardinelli’s equally good at destroying everything else, especially if there’s rocky outcrops to crash into ice lakes nearby.

Grailquote: Pat Mills, narration: “No one was prepared to answer Hawberk’s cries for help. After five hours the lamp began to run out of fuel…” but also T.B. Grover, Judge Fire: “This city iss guilty!” Judge Fear: “The crime iss life!” Judge Mortis: “The ssentence iss…” Judge Death: “DEATH!”

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