2000AD Prog 236: Block Mania

When Tharg wants to announce a major Dredd story starting, he brings in Brian Bolland to provide the cover – though on previous occassions he was actually drawing the story inside (at least the first episode – see The Judge Child Quest and Judge Death Lives). This time Block Mania gets the Bolland treatment, in a wraparound cover showing Dredd in the midst of six fighting blocks.

Tharg plugs Block Mania further in the Nerve Centre (and draws parallels to Judge Death Lives). An earthlet reports their attendance at the annuals signing at Forbidden Planet, which had McMahon, Gibbons, Bolland and AALN-1 in attendance (without looking back, I have a feeling the adverts for the signing didn’t actualy say who was going to be there). A member of the Carisbrooke Castle Excavators reveals that, to provide an accurate date for the dig’s completion, a copy of Prog 225 (Dark Justice in Mega-City One) was buried at the bottom of an excavation trench.

Ace Trucking Co. by Grant Grover and Belardinelli continues the initial story. As you’ll remember, Ace and co were stuck with a cargo of illegal Kleggs and two unconscious Jeepies. Always one to deliver, Ace takes the pacified Kleggs to the war-world. Approaching the planet Rambo, they catch the attention of a large Jeepie ship though throw it off by pretending to have been hit and releasing a distress beacon while they continue onwards. Incidentally, the ship is one of those which wouldn’t look good if anybody other than the original artist tried to draw it (Ezquerra has a talent for drawing spaceships which only work in his style too). This one looks a bit like a cybernetic manta ray crossed with a shark, crossed with a more standard starship. But only very vaguely. Delivering the alien mercenaries to the battlezone doesn’t result in the massacre you may expect, as prolonged exposure to trank flakes has led to them being permanently pacified. I wonder if we’ll ever meet another pacifist Klegg? On their way back, Ace navigates them back to where they took Officers Kroxley and Zagger aboard. Showing them now empty holds, the officers can’t even get Ace on a dumping charge as the phisphate has long since drifted away in space.

The Mean Arena by Tom Tully and Eric Bradbury takes a break while Mike White fills in on art duties. This quickly runs through a tackle or two of a match between Slater’s Slayers and the Salford Slicers (how sibilant), the game going to the Slayers – their third win in a row. Tallon is goaded in to letting slip that his next target for death is the ‘medic’ we found out about last prog. The episode ends with a visitor to Tallon’s luxurious flat – though the only bit we see of them is their villainous hand (well, the hand is replaced by a prosphetic blade, but same difference).

Space Wars! This is the first of a three-part series of articles about the possibilities of war in space in the real world (of the time). This first three-pager is a recap of history to date. The next promises some future-gazing. I’d be interested in comparing it to the reality of the last forty years, but it would take a bit too much time and slow this one-a-day prog slog to a crawl.

Judge Dredd: Block Mania by T.B. Grover and Mike McMahon. Normally I’d be complaining about the flash-forward that opens this story but this story is a prime example of how they should be used. The opening spread sets the theme of block war and block mania, plus throws in a portrait of our leading man. Obviously, most of the squaxx reading it would already be familiar with the concept of block wars already, but just in case they didn’t see that post-Judge Child story, or more the more recent (and expensive, for it appeared in the annual) Mega-City Rumble, this introduces it pretty neatly. Technically, many squaxx wouldn’t be reading that annual until christmas anyway (I know when in my first years and had my parents buying my annuals I didn’t read them when they came out – so this prog slog actually surprises me just how early in the year they were released). Before I leave the opening centrespread for the actual story – you know it’s meant to be a major story when Tharg has ordered the lettering droid to create a logo! Melda Dreepe lives in Dan Tanna Block. I was too young to have heard of Dan Tanna (a fictional character) or the TV series they appeared in (Vegas) so the reference to Thunderbird Park went completely over my head first time I read this in the mid-eighties (apparently the character Tanna drives around Las Vegas in a car called the Thunderbird). Anyway, Melda gets a Freezy-Whip dropped on her by an Enid Blyton blocker (Blyton block previously seen when Urk escaped in Night of the Bloodbeast). The Freezy-Whip incident comes to the fore at that evening’s Block Committee meeting, when the Tanna blockers decide to go to war with another block. It should be pointed out that the specific block wasn’t part of the decision making – they just wanted a block war – the Freezy-Whip just tips the balance against Enid Blyton Block. The Tanna blockers pour out, but the Blyton blockers are waiting for them. What’s more, as things hot up the conflict does not go unnoticed by surrounding blocks. By the time the judges turn up to pacify the first waves of combatants Dredd’s team find themselves surrounded by six block’s worth of citi-def members. What a start to a nine-part mini-epic – and yet the entire story is merely a prologue!

Tharg’s Future-Shocks: Space to Let! by Kelvin Gosnell and Tony Jozwiak. A writer wants to get away from it all and stumbles across a coastal property he’s never seen before. It seems the perfect getaway to write his next book, though the presence of two ground level gargoyle-like statues alerts us experiences Shock! readers that something is amiss. In the morning the writer notices a few odd things about the house – namely that it doesn’t seem as fixed in time and space as humans are used to. After the typical ‘trying to get out but failing’ montage, with a few interstellar views out of some of the windows, the writer’s mind snaps and he collapses, dead. The two statues start animating, discussing the inhabitants of this planet and their failure to come to terms with the house. Shock! They were builders of pan-dimensional dwellings! This story works – though the artwork does have the feeling of being somebody’s early professional work – I didn’t recognise the name so doubt they’ll be back.

Rogue Trooper by Gerry Finley-Day and Colin Wilson. Gibbons developed the character and world of Nu-Earth, but now Wilson takes over art duties for a few progs. At this early stage there’s been two types of story – those which propel the story (including telling us the background of the characters – those three flashbacks for the deaths of Gunnar, Bagman and Helm) and those that explore the world but don’t necessarily add anything other than flavour. This one is firmly in the former camp, as Rogue takes out the Nort Grand-Admiral who led the naval forces which killed Helm. Before he died, the Grand-Admiral let’s slip that the traitorous general is on Buzzard-3 – a Milli-Com satellite.

Grailpage: It was always going to be one of the Block Mania page, but which one? I did seriously consider this, but then went for the obvious first page – two cityscapes and a Dredd portrait from McMahon – what more do you want?

Grailquote: Grant/Grover, Officer Kroxley: “You know, Officer Zagger – I can’t shake the feeling that Ace has duped us again!” Officer Zagger: “I know what you mean, Officer Kroxley. I know what you mean!”

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