2000AD Prog 296: “Merry christmas!”

I shall stop saying that covers are classic, as we’re in the era when just about every cover is a classic (apart from the ones cobbled together from interior art and promotional tie-ins). This one from McMahon sits somewhere between his iconic Dredd era and his tribal style on Slaine – the children playing in the snow could very nearly exist in the wilderlands beyond the Tuatha de Danaan.

Tharg’s Nerve Centre has two terrans point out that the Obrium Carnivore submitted by a reader in Prog 286 (which I missed at the time) is in fact an Umber Hulk from Dungeons and Dragons.

Sam Slade, Robo-Hunter: Play it Again, Sam! Part 5 by Alan Grant and Ian Gibson. As at the end of last episode, Hoagy is still in pieces though with Sam on the case it isn’t long before he’s reassembled and ready to be switched back on. There’s just one problem – the first time Hoagy was assembled from a kit it was by his ‘parents’, who were far from expert at repairing and constructing robots. Sam Slade is an expert, at reconstructing as well as deconstructing robots. To wit, the reassembled robot is now a genius and the Human League has killed the Hoagy that Sam and Stogie knew. One song later and Sam has taken up the Home Secretary’s ‘offer’ and is out to get the Human League.

Action Video No 2 covers the third major games system of the era – the Philips Videopac (I’ve never heard of it – I had a ZX81). There’s news of a few games out at the time: Star Raiders; Cosmic Ark and Berserk (or probably Berzerk, as the picture of the box says). Finally there’s an offer to join a Video Games Club at a hefty £25 membership fee. They were based around Clapton, near the Lea Navigation, if you know the area (or at least that was their postal address).

Harry Twenty on the High Rock by Gerry Finley-Day and Alan Davis. Through the rather risky strategy of squirting hydraulic fluid on a slug’s belt and offering to clean it off, Harry-fake-Toady snags some flasks of rocket fuel. On the way back to the gym (where Toady is still unconscious) he runs in to Big Red One. It’s not the best time for the synthi-grease darkening Harry’s hair to start running, so this is what happens, and Big Red One notices. Rather than reveal Harry’s true identity, Big Red covers for Harry instead – through attacking the slugs and letting Harry escape back to the gym. Harry and Genghis get put on the gravy train (slang for punishment detail outside) for trapping Toady and use the opportunity to stow the four flasks of fuel with the capsule components outside. Things are coming together for Harry’s plan – pity Big Red One now has an inkling of it though…

Remember that advert for Kevin Keegan to go to someone’s school? Kevin Keegan’s Christmas Message drops a reference to 2000AD and has a photo of him posing with two children in wheelchairs with a copy of Prog 281. No doubt it was written by somebody from either 2000AD, IPC or the Muscular Dystrophy Group, but the words Keegan signed off on were: “I sometimes with I had Judge Dredd on my side – perhaps we could offer him a transfer.”

Judge Dredd: The Night of the Rad-Beast Part 1 by T.B. Grover and Carlos Ezquerra. I have dim memories of having read the end of this two-part story before the first so there must have been a gap in the time it took me to fill in these spaces when I was back-prog collecting. When I finally did see the first episode of this story (I’m probably over-egging it here – I wouldn’t be surprised if I had this prog a few months after 297) something that struck me was that Bizmo Klux was actually born before me, despite living in Mega-City One in 2104. His age at dying (being killed by a mugging team) isn’t totally implausible given a few more advancements in medical technology. Anyway, I love how this story is told, so I’m going to go into a bit of detail. It starts with a cold open, as we get a small panel of a rad-pit surrounded by progressively larger L-shaped panels. If you’re reading this one a device that has up-to-date unicode support, they look a bit like this: ═╝. If you aren’t then it’s kind of like an L that fell over. Anyway, each of the ═╝ panels shows the rad-pit bubbling until a shape emerges so that the right-hand third of the centrespread shows the Rad-Beast break the surface. Shortly after, Dredd is alerted by a mega-citizen who has discovered two bodies. Almost time for a flashback, but I like the intro the flashback – it’s a readout from the bike computer of Klux’s subject record, including the afore-mentioned date of birth, age (134), medical history and where he was last seen (a sweet shop) and what he purchased there. Speaking of medical technology – Klux has had a variety of medical implants over the years, starting in seven years time – 2027. By 2096 there’s so many of them that he needs a micro-computer to monitor them all. It’s this micro-computer that animates the artificial endo-skeleton of Klux.

Homer the Barbarian by Stavros and Massimo Belardinelli. Speaking of artists getting ready to illustrate the early tales of Slaine (as I briefly mentioned when I covered the cover), remember Slashman, Kowalski and the Rat and how the narrator turned out not to be the obvious character? So, the scam here is that muscle-bound barbarian-types pay 10 groats for the chance to pull the Direblade in the Sword-in-the-Stone routine which will make a successful puller-from-the-stone rich. The Direblade in question is your typical Stormbringer-style sword, with a Feek the Freek-looking hilt for good measure (no hat though). Home pushes his way to the front of the queue and threatens the guy taking money to get a free go. Partially through smashing the stone, Homer manages to free the sword, kills the other people who were in the queue and then questions the person he should have paid the groats to to find out how it will make the wielder rich (note I didn’t say that the guy taking the groats was the narrator). Home follows the instructions to go to a quiet place, throw the sword high in to the air and where it lands will be the treasure. He does this and the Direblade homes in on him (no pun intended). Did you guess who the narrator was yet? Yep, the Feek-like skeletal hilted sword.

Rogue Trooper: Fort Neuro Part 6 by Gerry Finley-Day and Cam Kennedy. Rogue meets the Lim-ees and they’ve taken on the stylings of a mid-20th century British holiday camp, though after questioning the camp commandant (playing away on a hammond organ) Rogue establishes that there is still a more warlike ‘specialised’ forces section, who operated independently of the rest of Lim-ee sector. He visits. They seem like a normal military force. Seem like. Rogue asks to tag along on a raid on the Norts, so they arrange to meet him just before dawn. So what’s odd about them? They turn up for the hit-and-run mission in hunting pinks (the red riding outfits that upper class bloodsports fanatics wore before it was banned). Rogue still gives them the benefit of the doubt as they’re at least on a mission, even if they’re not in the best outfits for it. p.s. last episode ended with Rogue encountering some Lim-ees, thinking they’re untouched by siege fever then discovering that they’d modelled themselves after holiday campers and were just as bad as the Frank Sector-ers. This episode effectively ends in exactly the same way.

No Nemesis the Warlock Book III but we do get a pic of Torquemada dressed as Father Christmas, wishing “all humans a very pure xmas…”. Um, I really like Nemesis the Warlock Book III, so any hint of it I’m going to drone on about it. Unfortunately for you it’s not going to start until Prog 335, though more fortunately for you I don’t think there’s going to be too many more Nem pictures until then. The pic is by Kevin O’Neill.

Grailpage: picking this grailpage thing is a bit abstract. I’m not actually picking the page that exists (if it has survived to the present day) because I don’t usually know what does exist. So I’m kind of picking something which never existed as a single piece of art and only came together on the printed page. Depending on the era the physical objects (if assuming they’re not entirely digital) could be a page of art with an overlay of lettering and colours which weren’t added until much later. Or they might actually be a painted colourful page with the lettering stuck on the page. Which is a long-winded way of saying that one of the things I like about my choice today is that the colours (possibly by the art editor of the time, or the letterer, but who knows?) add a lot to give an unhealthy post-Apocalyptic glow to proceedings. But even without the colours, I’m liking how a low-detail scene of wasteland between sectors can be brought to life on the page by an artist as skilled as Ezquerra. And then we get to see Bizmo Klux (or what remains of him) with 1960s B-movie lettering by Jack Potter: “Flesh! Need fresh flesh!” (that’s not my grailquote, by the way).

Grailquote: Stavros, Direblade: “It’s not so much the gore I mind… It’s the walk home carrying the gold! We’re going to need a new rock, too…”

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