A Brian Bolland cover greets us this year as he depicts some characters we won’t ever seem him draw in comic strip form (Rogue Trooper, Johnny and Wulf) in addition to his Dredd.
The contents page has Robin Smith’s rendition of Tharg riding an armoured space dragon thing (Tharg’s in the same suit of armour that Smith has shown him in before). Better than blurry NASA images of the space shuttle!
More Robin Smith – also in colour – along with Staccato as script droid (Staccato is definitely Alan Grant and might be John Wagner as well) on Strontium Dog: Incident at the Back o’ Beyond! Back o’ Beyond is the name of the characteristic western-style town on a desert planet called Skyn’s World (reference to Dez Skinn?) that Wulf and Johnny are riding through the area on mork-back but need to rest up for the night. They have a run-in with the local gang-family who use force to ‘tax’ the local populace. Not wanting any trouble, they avoid a fight, which does not go down well with their recently-widowed landlady (you can guess what happened to her husband) at the boarding house they stay at. That night she steals Johnny’s gun and challenges the family which goes as well as you’d expect in the hands of an inexperienced person. Finally forced to get involved, the shoot-out lasts three seconds and Johnny and Wulf are the toast of the town. But they’re just passing through…
Back to the black and white pages for Spot the Difference and Tharg is rather unfair on Dave Gibbons’ who gets his picture of Rogue killing some Norts (natch) doctored, but gets an insult about his art skills thrown in to the bargain. I was about to say that the worst thing was that three of the ‘errors’ are the fault of the lettering droid, then I remember that was probably Dave as well.
Much better is The Secret Life of the Blitzspear. As a Nemesis the Warlock fan who came on board for Book III, I think this was the most difficult story for me to get – almost certainly the last story I managed to read from those that had been published before my time as a Squaxx. When I finally got a copy of this annual it turned out that previous owner had (as well as colouring a few bits of some stories, as you’ll find out later) torn out these pages! I finally got to read it in the collected Titan edition (Book II, which missed out Redondo’s fantastic artwork on the real Book II and went straight to the afore-mentioned Book III, but re-numbered it). Using a nature-documentary style, we find out about Nemesis’ home planet, the evolution of the blitzspear (and early evolution of the Warlocks), their life cycles and even a tale of the childhood of Nemesis when he caught and broke in Seth – and all with a heady haze of (Earth) mythology, harking back to Egyptian and Babylonian deities. You can probably tell I like this six-page story, a lot. There’s a strange mention of a symbol which (if this displays correctly) looks a bit like this
] [ and (in the story) is called the Kanaga. In our world a kanaga is a heavily stylised human figure which used to adorn the flag of Mali (up to the 1950s), and also (in recent years) a Turkish web-series. This comes up in the launching ceremony, where the broken blitzspear has been named by Nemesis and newly shod in armour of living metal is reborn as the Seth we know and love. I can’t even begin to imagine how this story got made. It’s utterly unlike anything I’ve seen in any comic before or since. The closest I can think of is a late Alan Moore Swamp Thing story, but that isn’t very close (Loving the Alien if you’re wondering).
Tharg’s Future-Shocks: Bargain Buy! A rare text-story Shock, which has no credits. An alien estate agent habitually scams people into buying planets that he doesn’t own. He comes unstuck when he sells the Earth to a couple and then finds out from a friend who owns a mining corporation that the planet is inhabited (a big no-no in intergalactic law). Both of them are in trouble, as the friend should have reported it when he found out it was inhabited, but couldn’t face the paperwork. They hatch a plan to con the population of the Earth in to believing the planet is going to be destroyed by meteors and sharing alien technology to allow the evacuation of all four thousand million (Britain obviously wasn’t using the USA definition of billion at that point – also the population of the Earth was much smaller back then). As they approach, they receive a message that the erstwhile buyers did a survey to make sure it wouldn’t be mined, and a preservation order has been placed on the planet. Hard labour beckons. There’s no other choice – twist! – the aliens look enough like humans that the estate agent and mining executive continue to head for Earth, their new home, where they’re going to hide out from intergalactic authorities!
Ro-Busters: Old Red Eyes is Back by Alan Moore and Bryan Talbot. This black and white story has been partially coloured in in my copy of the annual – thankfully the previous owner only got as far as one robot, the title and an instance of sound effect lettering. On a London building site a dropped girder hits Hammerstein on the head, causing his old Volgan war personality to come to the surface. Going on a rampage around London, Ro-Jaws has a race against time to find Joe Pineapples to put him out of action without destroying him (otherwise Howard Quartz and Mek-Quake will take a more permanent approach to stopping Hammerstein). It’s great to see Bryan Talbot drawing a few characters from Ro-Busters and the ABC Warriors, years before he’s drafted in to work on Nemesis the Warlock and I assume this story is what spurred him to request Pat Mills include * but I’m getting ahead of myself – we’ve got Nemesis Book III to go first! Back to the present and Pineapples uses non-human senses to ping a bullet off of a wall and through Hammerstein’s head, knocking him down but not killing him while also causing the wall to topple over on to the charging Mek-Quake. Luckily for the prone Hammerstein, the local police chief from the Thames Constabulary had his life saved by ABC Warriors numerous times during the war and ensures Mr Ten Per Cent treats the war hero with respect…
Alan Moore switches from Ro-Busters to Rogue Trooper, this time joined by Brett Ewins for Pray for War. And in my copy of this annual, also joined by a colourist who thankfully only coloured in one figure. Rogue comes across a Souther scout who got stranded deep in Nort territory. During the journey back to Souther lines they encounter a Nort version of genetically engineered soldiers though they’re more cybernetically enhanced to make up for lack of technological advancement. They’re there to protect a civilian convoy who have been visiting the warzone for christmas (to see their husbands and fathers fighting on the front). The young Souther scout suddenly turns nasty – he only sees Norts, not civilians, while Rogue’s warrior training is to go for other warriors only. In a scene worthy of an episode of Judge Dredd, after an altercation the scout snatches the Rogue’s rifle and tries to shoot him with out. Rather than exploding, like a Lawgiver would, Gunnar (keeping quiet) refuses to fire. Confused, the scout grabs the rifle by the barrel to use it as a club to bludgeon Rogue to death – that’s when Gunnar shoots… Remember, kids, don’t use a rifle to club somebody to death, especially when you’ve previously seen the rifle talking!
Rogue Trooper: Battle Pages! next. This goes in to more detail than we’ve ever had about the biochips and the equipment they’re plugged in to. When I say biochips, I mean the actual physical chip itself (comprised of gold micro-miniature circuits deposited by electron beam on to a protein base), has audio output but needs image receptors to feed in from attached G.I. equipment and has internal emergency power that can last for 60 seconds, after which the G.I. matrix is permanently dead. When I say biochips, I also mean the characters we know and love: Gunnar is a marksman grade AAA (we could have guessed that); Helm is a pathfinder first class; Bagman is an armourer/weapons instructor grade 2. Added to this is the usual specifications on the helmet (packed with sensors), Baker-Mark backpack and assault rifle. I’d expect this info to be dug out for a Rogue Trooper RPG at some point in the future.
The Mean Arena: Designs in Action! I find this interesting. Mean Arena is a bit of a mixed-bag, but something I always like about it is the idea of reader-submitted teams based in towns and cities around the UK. This feature shows the origin pictures sent in by those readers alongside the teams as they appeared in the progs, namely the Penzance Riggers from Prog 226, Salford Slicers from Prog 236 and Edinburgh Executioners from Prog 238.
Beyond! 2000, Inside-Out Worlds – Living in the Future. This is a great article, though I am biased as I like colonies in space (I had a book on the subject before it got lent and not returned). We’ve had this kind of article before but I still like reading about it. It should be noted (and I probably did, when it appeared in an earlier annual or special) that NASA commissioned some concept art in the 1970s which usually gets used in this kind of article, even to the present day. Six pages of filler, but filler I like – and in the internet age it’s much easier to get the colour versions of those images instead of the black and white versions in this annual (as a federal government agency, work produced by NASA is freely available under USA law).
Filler I’m not so keen on next as it’s reprints of material I already have – Harlem Heroes, from the first prog onwards. We get little flashes of future New York (only thirty years in our present-day future, but seventy-three years in the future first time it was printed). Not enough – I read this reprint and wish there’d been a bit more set in Harlem or the “slum area of street level 9” (where they found Zack).
Judge Dredd: Law of the Jungle credited to Staccato and colour art from Emberton (so really written by Alan Grant, possibly with John Wagner, and Ian Gibson. ‘Frame’ provides some sometimes-colorful lettering. Use of a pseudonym by Gibson usually means he felt the artwork was rushed). It’s a post-Apocalypse War tale of travellers through Sector 301 who get beset by wild creatures. After capturing one of them, Dredd recognises them as a radiation-devolved version of Fast Eek, whom he tricks in to leading to the rest of the former Ape Gang by releasing. On the excuse that they’re “just beasts” now, Dredd shoots Fast Eek (who had previously surrendered to him) then wipes out all the others in cold blood. He ends by thinking that “In this nuclear hell, there must be law!” though I’m not too convinced his application of the law would necessarily stand up to scrutiny. The way these long-running characters were dispatched stinks of somebody who wanted to draw a close to a ‘silly’ aspect of early stories. I, for one, am glad that other writers have not followed this and brought apes back – in the current comics this includes the uplifts in Lawless in this month’s megazine and Noam Chimpsky in this week’s prog. I’ll try to remember to link to the blog posts I make when I get to the Meg and prog in question. If I keep to my current rate of one comic (or record, or game, etc) per day then I should get to 2020 releases in around 2025 or 2026!
Mega Stars in the Making! A lot of Squaxx will have fond memories of this section, as it provides behind-the-scenes info on the creation of three series, including early concept art. Ace Trucking Co has some piccies by Massimo Bellardineli, Rogue Trooper has some very non-Rogue looking artwork from Dave Gibbons (including the rough thumbnails for the first episode along the bottom of a double-page spread) and early Warlock, Grobbendonk and Blitzspear designs adorn the Nemesis the Warlock page. The feature reveals that the official placing of Olric’s Great Quest from the sci-fi special, is as Chapter 7 of Book I of Nemesis the Warlock (between On the Run with Purity Brown and Brother Gogol’s Problem).
Tharg the Mighty in Leave it to, um… Burt! The title is misleading – this is much more a Burt story from Q Twerk (another Gibson pseudonym) as Tharg heads off to a conference, leaving Burt in charge. Losing the entire stock of progs to some pirates the other droids navigate King’s Reach Tower back to Tharg. Returning to the place of the piracy, they find that the pirates read the progs and have changed careers to become newsagents.
Silicon Soul, A Ro-Jaws’ Robo-Tale from G.P. Rice and A. Langford. I was confused for a moment. This tale is about Zak and Jak from Zakjak Robotics – I thought they were the robo-engineers who turned out to be robots themselves – that was Zak and Daryl. That out of way, these guys have a robot with an emotions randomiser circuit. It has to sell well, or they’re out of business. Unfortunately the robot’s emotion is depression and it switches itself of immediately (I’m not going to mention any particular paranoid androids). Being “a metal man in a flesh and blood world” they come up with a plan to point out how it’s actually superior to a human. Not dissimilar to the tests that Joe Black went through on a robot-dominated world, but in reverse, they go through speed, resistance to emotional manipulation, intelligence, artistic talent and strength tests. Finally Zak succeeds in convincing the robot that being a robot is great, but at a cost – shock! Zak feels puny and inferior and wants to become a robot!
Are you a Jockbox Genius? Unofficial Space Truckers’ Quiz! Fifteen questions, maximum score is 75 and scores below zero are possible (one of negative answers follows what Ace did in the comics). I got 69 points “Tucker trucking!”
Next up on the reprints is Frankenstein 2 from prog 6.
Eurojudge has a collection of reader-submitted concepts for European Judges – the first adapted from a Ron Smith image but with added lion and union flag design the other two more general European.
M.A.C.H.1 gets the reprint treatment, this time John Cooper’s first work for the galaxy’s greatest from Prog 5.
Even more reprint in the form of Invasion! Also from Prog 6, this one has executions at Wembley Stadium (re-named Victory Stadium by the Volgs). By the way, as we found out in Prog 127, Wembley Stadium had also been destroyed in a whirlpool nine years earlier. So this must be the re-built Wembley, right?
Back to Harlem Heroes and Zack is saved from his reprinted death-dive in time to buck his ideas up and help win against a police-fielded team. I still like the spread where the audience stretches across the bottom of two pages.
A Danger to the Skies! is a Future-Shock by any other name, featuring an unidentified flying object which buzzes (and hits) various places around the countryside and a few rural towns and villages. Flying rather erratically it’s impossible for Earth jet fighters to intercept it until it suddenly heads straight up, never to be seen again. The twist ending? It’s an alien doing their driving test! You might have noticed I didn’t give any credits. That’s because there are none on this two-page story. I also don’t recognise the art style, which looks like it’s been pulled from a fanzine, underground comix or someone’s really early work – acceptable on a self-contained short but I wouldn’t want to see it on an ongoing series.
Filler time with The Robohunter Casebook, recapping Case 1: The Verdus Caper and selected characters (Boots, SJ1, B.O., Big Brain and Generals 1 & 2) then Case 2: Day of the Droids and major players (Hoagy, Stogie, Molotov, God-Droid, The Teeny Meks, The East Side Androids) then an Epilogue taking us up to getting the Brit-Cit Zoom Tube.
Tharg’s Mighty Answers Page lets me know I got the Spot the Difference right and also how I did in the Jockbox Genius quiz (69 out of 75, lowest score possible being -23).
More filler, this time In The Doghouse, a bounty-hunting periodical from the Galactic Crime Commission Information Bureau. Most of it is fluff taken from stories already published. Sections are: Harvey’s Crime Call; S.D. Profile Johnny Alpha; N.B. Kreelman Portrait of a Hate-Monger (these two making it pretty obvious that Johnny Alpha was actually born John Kreelman); Dead Dogs (one interesting part is the obituary of Stix, which states he was born in the Vancleef system (don’t think that got mentioned in the comic) and that he has two brothers who left that system about two months ago, destination unknown. We know where they eventually ended up though, or at least will in two years time); Small Ads (has a painfully out-dated racist ad from an ‘Indian’). It’s all rounded off by a Bounty Watch letting S/D Agents know they can find many prime bounties around Blas in the Gallego system, reusing the swarming Gronks image we’ve seen at least twice so far.
Another text story in the form of Ace Trucking Co in the Gung-Ho Run! credited to Grant and Belardinelli (though I think the art is all recycled from published comic stories). It reads like a standard single episode comic story, a Gung-Ho run being liquid fertilizer (specifically, in this case, manure). There follows a boarding by Galactic Police officers Kroxley and Zagger resulting in their searching the gung-ho weener for a fugitive gang. When Ace and crew finally get to their destination they find said gang have murdered all those at the artificial space farm. Through judicious use of a glazooka and the gung-ho weener, they capture the fugitives, who have a big price on their heads. The one problem they have is that the two Jeepee officers will want that reward for themselves. Sealing them in the repaired gung-ho weener, Ace puts the officers off the scent (and a strong scent it is too) by telling them he couldn’t make his delivery as the farm had been taken over. The story has a post-script, after Ace has collected the reward, the officers catch up with him and throw the book at him with every petty regulation they can pin on him and the Speedo Ghost.
The Space Truckers Dictionary gets trotted out again, this time reduced to one page. I’m not going to dig out the most recent one from the progs, but I suspect many of the words here were also in that one…
A pic of Dredd finishes the interior of this annual, with a plug for the weekly comic and the 1983 Judge Dredd annual.
The back cover differs from previous annuals (which just reprinted the front cover) but having a ‘seal of Tharg’ – Robin Smith in the centre and the words “Splundig vur Thrigg Squaxx dek Thargo” around the circular border. This is starting to feel like a real annual.
Grailpage: It’s got a trilobite! It’s got a spiky dolphin-like fossil! It has Seth being born from an egg (plus Seth’s mum and dad)! It has microscopic plankton in a storm cloud above Nemesis’ home planet of Murduk! It can only be the opening two-page spread of Kevin O’Neill’s Secret Life of the Blitzspear.
Grailquote: Alan Moore, boy: “But it’s only a War-Droid Dad. You said you killed THOUSANDS during the war…” Dad: “Shut up and keep crawling.”
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