2000AD Prog 260: Zarjaz 5th birthday issue “Happy birthday, Earthlets!” TOTAL WAR

I think Robin Smith provides the Tharg for this cover, which also has a thumbnail sized version of the Rogue Trooper poster we’ll be getting for the next four weeks (each section will have, respectively, Norts, tanks, Rogue and Southers). p.s. 2000AD Prog 1 – cover date: 26th February 1977. ‘Fifth birthday issue’ cover date: 17th April 1982…

A feature called “5 Years!” takes the place of “Tharg’s Nerve Centre” (which is usually just called “Nerve Centre”). Instead of the traditional Betelgeusian dictionary, this one has reader-submitted birthday cards from four earthlets and a terran.

Sam Slade, Robo-Hunter: The Beast of Blackheart Manor Part 1 by Alan Grant and Ian Gibson. As predicted, the logo has been updated with the Brit-Cit contact details. A mystery is presented when the seventeenth guest of a stately home turned hotel goes missing. Talbot the butler is very keen to put the blame on a legendary beast. When the Earl of Blackheart produces one of the cards that Slade has conned the Savoy hotel detective to distribute, the butler makes a very cursory visit to Slade’s office, quickly delivers the case then tries to get away before Slade can accept it. Suspicious, much? I half-remember how this ends – so the double mention of the pie stall in the six pages of this episode stand out. I’ve also realised why I prefer the prologue to this story – there’s nothing wrong with the story itself, it’s just that, for me, Brit-Cit is a large part of the appeal of Robo-Hunter (remember I hadn’t started reading 2000AD by this point, so the pre-BC stories were unknown to me). Taking Slade to Brit-Cit, then removing him the very next episode to go to a country estate is too close to the licenced stories from publishers in the USA who think that Dredd is the main character in Judge Dredd (when it’s really Mega-City One).

The Weetabix do the Breakfast Check – as you may be able to tell, this is an advert – the second in the skinhead breakfast cereal advertising campaign.

Tharg’s Birthday Party by T.M.O. and Eric Bradbury is indeed a comic story. The birthday party in question takes place at the Palladium Theatre (I’ll have to try to remember that – I’m sure it’ll come up as a quiz question at the end of the year, or something). What can I say, I don’t think it’s the worst Tharg story (but I’m happiest when there are thrill-suckers involved). The Dictators of Zrag manage to saw Tharg in to three pieces, but this means that there’s three part of him to foil their plans.

Judge Dredd: Apocalypse War Part 16 by T.B. Grover and Carlos Ezquerra. It’s happened. East-Meg One spaceships capture Justice 2, and with it, Chief Judge Griffin. Now that Griffin and Kazan (War Marshal? Supreme Judge?) are together they look quite similar. Same ‘square’ hair style. Something going on with the eyes (or not going on at all with one of Griffin’s eyes). Really the main difference between the two is Kazan’s pencil moustache. Important things about this episode. The sovs have captured the Grand Hall of Justice – the same one that we’ve seen since the early days (labelled Justice H.Q. back then). Griffin has, through psycho-surgery, been brainwashed into following Kazan’s bidding, starting by appearing on city vid channels to order mega-citizens to cease resistance. Dredd has enlisted a former armourer to… do something involving a bullet. Dredd heads out to kill the Chief Judge.

2000AD has made the digital edition of the Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol.5 free for download, to help Squaxx get through Covid-19.

Ace Trucking Co. Last Trip to Abbo Dabbo Part 1 by Grant Grover and Belardinelli. I’m really remember how much I loved Ace Trucking Co with these stories. Meltdown Man will always be my favourite Belardinelli tale, but this excuse to let the artist loose on art is so close as makes no difference. Somehow I’d forgotten about an additional member of the Speedo Ghost crew, who makes their first appearance in this prog – a pigrat (at least I think this is the pigrat who will later join the crew – if it is, their name is Chief). Chief (and a horde of pigrats) are encountered on the Bloo Maru, a ghost ship. After exploring a little, Ace and G-B-H eventually check the holds, expecting them to have been picked clean by scavengers. They haven’t. They’re stuffed full of treasures. After having gained the (theoretically) lucrative postal contract last episode, Ace the rest of the crew seem to be even richer. Next prog: Don’t bet on it!

From the Bloo Maru to Bagman Blues Ipart One in Rogue Trooper by Gerry Finley-Day and Brett Ewins, making his debut on the Genetic Infantryman. When I first started reading the progs, Rogue’s regular artists were Brett and Cam Kennedy, so this is another of those ‘elements slotting in to place’ to create my 2000AD. Having some idea where this story is going to go, I appreciate the subtle mention of how bagman uses a servo-arm to bring out “the correct piece of equipment”. Slightly less subtle is Rogue’s thought bubble saying how much sense Bagman talks. This doesn’t last when a Nort laser bolt scrambles the matrix of Bagman’s chip. It takes a while to quieten down Bagman’s screams and by the time Rogue has more Norts have come running. Amid the firefight, Bagman starts singing an old Earth nursery rhyme. I tried looking it up: “Here’s my little table, here’s my little chair… Now I’ve counted all of them and all of them are there…” and the only relevant result that came back was part of the first page of the next episode of this story! His hands full, Rogue can only look in the direction of the singing biochip to see him unpacking the backpack like it was inspection day.

Advert time! Eagle is getting another special offer, though this seems to be shared among a few IPC titles – a pack of Beef or Prawn Cocktail KP Griddles. Another ad is for the next prog. The final ad is for the Judge Dredd and Judge Death candles. 8 inches high and costing £4.95 each (back when 2000AD cost 16p)! I saw these at my local comic shop when I first discovered I had a local comic shop but couldn’t afford them. This would be around 1986, four years after they were first released – looks like nobody else could afford them either!

Dave Gibbons’ Total War poster gets its first segment of four this prog – a close up of the Nort forces plus a letter from a Souther trooper to his mum and dad. Basic training takes six months and nobody knows why the war started. Orders come from on high and nobody from Millicom is seen in person.

Grailpage: I was tempted by the first page of this week’s Ace Trucking Co which introduced the Bloo Maru, but instead I’m going for Belardinelli’s third page of the same story, starting with an internal view of the ship but more importantly featuring a close-up of a pigrat (known as porkies among truckers).

Grailquote: Alan Grant, Talbot: “And tonight the Beast will stalk again! Tonight, some of you will die!” Sam Slade: “Cheery soul, your butler!”

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