2000AD Prog 308:This is SKIZZ “Fatality factor 79%… Goodbye, Interpreter Zhcchz!”

Picture the scene. It’s a hot day in the early eighties, very possibly near the beginning of the school summer holidays. A hot day in the hottest summer of the 20th century. We were sitting on the front step of our house which faced on to an old disused canal. My family got chatting with the person from two doors down and they ended up giving me a bundle of comics. Being really young, I’m not sure any of the comics I’d previously owned had continuing storylines. In fact, I think only one or two of the stories may have stretched to two pages (think Bash Street Kids in the centerspread). So it’s possible that I didn’t even put the ten comics I was given in order as the numbers and dates on them might not have meant anything to me. Assuming I did though, this is the first prog I ever read. As I say, there were ten, but they weren’t entirely sequential. The exact numbers were as follows (I’ll probably end up linking them all once the prog slog blog has gotten to them): 308; 313; 314; 315; 316; 317; 318; 319; 322; 324. At some point I discovered the delights of comic shops and back prog hunting, but for a long time these episodes were all I had of the stories within. I’m not sure how long it was, but I do know I got Prog 302 on a family holiday in about 1985. It was a holiday to Bristol and probably not a million miles away from where I’ve met some of the people reading this, if you’ve ever been to the Lawgiver / Lawless convention. By the way – my 2000AD origin story as given to Eamonn on the Mega-City Book Club (twice so far – but there’s a third coming up) and Conrad on Space Spinner 2000 is wrong! I’d always thought it was my next-door neighbour, but it was actually my next-door-but-one neighbour. Also, I’d been under the impression that they progs had been left at that house by a recently ex-boyfriend of the neighbour, but now I’ve actually got them they’ve got the address written on the cover, as put there by the newsagent! There’s still a mini-mystery as to why there were gaps if they were being delivered and why they were given to me in the first place, but it started me on the squaxx path so I can’t complain. On with the show! A virtual jumping-on prog (except for the continuing Fort Neuro) starts with a bang as Skizz crashes into the pages of the galaxy’s greatest, starting with the Jim Baikie cover and this prog would have cost 18 shiny new pence (or 98 groats on Venus).

Tharg’s Nerve Centre. The reader’s pic of Tharg, which I rarely mention but perhaps should, shows the Mighty One as Danger Mouse. What was probably the first Nerve Centre I read is full of earthlet claims to have read 2000AD at high altitudes, in response to that one a few progs ago.

Skizz by Alan Moore and Jim Baikie. For reasons I’ll go in to later, I’ve scrawled the numbers 308 in my youthful handwriting at the top of the first page of Skizz, as the spacecraft hits the “atmosphere of the blue planet”. Tony Jacob gets in on the act, putting diacritic marks above Zhcchz’s screaming dialogue introduced by loads of incomprehensible third-person narration. Incomprehensible to a child, as an adult it’s suggestive of a natural science-based civilisation, thus Zhcchz recites sacred equations rather than begging a sky god for help. The recitations must have helped, because Zhcchz survives, though only long enough to be told by his ship computer that he’s broken the law, landed on a low technology planet and will be blown up with the rest of the ship in a short time due to statues forbidding high technology getting in to low tech hands. After pleading for a while, he manages to convince the ship computer that if he removes all of the high tech then he can be let out before the ship explodes. Zhcchz just about manages to get out of the fatal blast radius before the self-destruct, though at the cost of some sneaky high-tech hand-luggage. Shaken, the interpreter (I had no idea what an interpreter was first time I read this) steadies himself on a post – which is holding up a road sign for Birmingham! Seeing as your average sci-fi film or TV series usually featured aliens landing in far-off cities and countries, the idea that this alien was next to a motorway near the closest city to the one I lived in was amazing for my young mind.

Old habits die hard, so Space Watch is given to the latest comings and goings of the Space Shuttle.

D-MIL is back with Cinefax, and this time brings news of Return of the Jedi (as opposed to Revenge of the Jedi, which is what it had been called up until that point). Helen Slater has been cast as Supergirl, though interestingly it says Dolly Parton is to play the antagonist. Other news involves The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, E.T. breaking records, Krull, Star Trek 3: In Search of Spock, Brainstorm, Raiders of the Forbidden City (Temple of Doom) and Halloween 4 (Halloween 3 hasn’t been released yet, in Britain).

Tharg’s Time Twisters: The Reversible Man by Alan Moore and Mike White (those links are to old collected editions which are probably pretty difficult to get hold of these days – and only cover the Alan Moore Twisters in to the bargain). My first Time Twister, assuming I read them in the order they were published. Though if I didn’t then it’d be strangely appropriate as this story is that of a normal person’s normal life, told in reverse. Absolutely nothing exceptional happens, and it happens backwards. It could just be an excuse to put a spotlight on some of the things that people do by changes the direction they’re done in, or it could be read as the person’s life flashing before their eyes in the moments before their death. I wonder if Alan Moore will ever revisit that idea…

Eathlets see E.T. in 3-D! has a second ‘Tharg the’, this one, obvoiusly, as E.T. Plus the competition winners for the 3-D View-Master Started Sets, including one Lew Stringer, presumably the one who pops up in lots of British roleplaying magazines over the years.

Judge Dredd: The Prankster by T.B. Grover and Carlos Ezquerra. A practical joker has been pulling large-scale pranks throughout the city, including fake missiles full of itching powder and electronically jamming the city’s traffic control. The latest prank starts off the episode as the new Grand Hall of Justice is blown up (harming nobody). Having been mocked by him time and again, Dredd sets out a trap. It’s an obvious trap, but one that Dredd knows the Prankster won’t be able to resist – to blow up the New New Grand Hall of Justice. We almost get a Tom Tully special as our view of Dredd’s broadcast is from a seated watcher whose villainous hand we see – but then his robot butler pipes up and we see the Prankster’s face. Through fake radio messages and a fake chin, the Prankster manages to get in to the New New building to lay some charges, but Dredd’s suspicions are aroused. The arrest scene highlights how distinctive Dredd’s chin – remember this is the first Dredd story I ever read, probably – so right from the beginning, Dredd’s a big chinned character for me!

Invasion of the Thrill-Snatchers Part 1 by Belardinelli. We’re over half-way through all of the Tharg the Mighty stories ever published and in my humble opinion this is one of the best, if not the best. The Dictators of Zrag are not well. Even more than usual, that is. Or should that be less than usual? In a few unprecedented flashes of brilliance they manage to work out that they’re infested by Greater-Spotted Thrill-Suckers and a way to get rid of them, by luring them away to Earth. There’s a few nice touches “dawn breaks like a rotten egg over Planet Zrag” – literally as Belardinelli draws a rotten egg smeared across the Zragian sky. The Nazi-themed thrill-suckers land in Kentish Town. As it happens, I used to live around the corner from the spot that they landed, so recognised the slightly mispelled Jadwan House “Scouts report no thrills here worth sucking, Sir!” In the real world it’s Jadwin House, and at the time this story was published it was home to Marvel UK, which employed John Wagner, Pat Mills, Steve Dillon and Dave Gibbons on comics such as Doctor Who (as well as publishing various Star Wars related comics – not long after I was given this comic I bought a few copies of the Return of the Jedi weekly – but it was more expensive than 2000AD so I didn’t keep that up for long). Back to this story and the thrill-suckers find the millions of corpses of the lesser-spotted thrill-suckers from Prog 199.

Rogue Trooper: Fort Neuro Part 17 by Gerry Finley-Day and Cam Kennedy. The Southers in Rom Sector see skimpily dressed woman atop tanks, but it’s not an attack of the dreamweavers. Loathe to fire on “dames” the “girl-soldiers” of Scan Sector come to the rescue. Rogue gets given Bagman back but the Norts have had enough – no more subterfuge and underground assaults. The next attack will be an air strike at dawn.

Almost at the last page and I haven’t said why I wrote the prog number on the first story page of this prog. It’s because of the back cover. Containing a star pin-up, Skizz Stranded on a Strange World! by Jim Baikie led me to remove this cover and stick it on my wall! Which is what it was intended for, I guess, but it does mean that quite a few of those early progs I have once had their back cover removed and caused the front cover to fall off. It didn’t last long fortunately and before long I was leaving my progs intact. And at some point I stuck all the starscans back on to their respective progs.

Grailpage: I was pretty tempted by that view of the New Grand Hall of Justice getting blown up by Carlos Ezquerra (well, Carlos just drew it, it was the Prankster that did it) or one of Jim Baikie’s pages of a naturalistic Zhcchz in the aftermath of the crash, but instead I’m going to go for the comedy page – Belardinelli’s thrill-sucker legions on the wing as the depart Zrag, complete with rotten egg dawning day.

Grailquote: there’s loads of quotable lines in this prog, the one of many I’ll go for is Alan Moore, lamroN namroN (any relation to xaM?): “Mum and dad would call on Sundays. They doted on nodroG, and were especially fond of little treboR. Every Christmas they’d take dozens of toys away from him.”

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