Tharg’s Nerve Centre collectively answers the question posed in Prog 298, revealing that Rawhide was currently being shown in the London area, Rowdy Yates was a ‘drag’ played by Clint Eastwood and Gil Favor was played by Eric Fleming. Tharg admonishes a query about the practicality of Judge Anderson wearing high heels, claiming it’s based on warped logic (and not just ‘logic’).
Skizz by Alan Moore and Jim Baikie shows us an alien’s eye-view of the West Midlands, presenting electricity pylons, smoke stacks and cooling towers in the same manner we’d normally see alien planets. As I said last prog, I was living in a city near Birmingham at the time I first read this, and the scenes of Zhcchz walking along an old canal were exactly like a canal near where I lived (not the one directly opposite where I lived). The first natives he has contact with have just poured out of the kind of Victorian pub which anybody in the UK would be familiar with, though the punks and skinheads who have poured out are right from the Vyvyan from The Young Ones school of punk (stars attached to foreheads and all). Escaping the yobs, Skizz skirts the underpasses next to the Bullring Centre and ends up in suburbia, filled with terraced houses and low-rise blocks of flats, taking refuge in a small shelter (or a garden shed). But Zhcchz isn’t entirely safe, as an ape-descendant with a flashlight and a weapon approaches… Take the alien out and you’ve got a tour of the UK’s second city at night. Put the alien in and you have that same city from a scary perspective (alright, some people might consider Birmingham a bit scary in the first place).
Next up is a Mega-Sounds special as D.J. 1 reports on a meeting between Tharg and a slightly abashed-looking Tim Worman, lead singer of the Polecats – one of the pictures looks like it was taken in the forecourt of Kings Reach Tower. I’ll check next time I’m in the area (though the original Command Module has been redeveloped in to the South Bank Tower). I’ve had a quick look through their album tracks but can’t detect any 2000AD-inspired songs (though M.A.C. 2000 gave me pause for thought). That’s early eighties rockabilly band The Polecats, by the way, not to be confused with early eighties rockabilly band The Stray Cats (which I did, for many years).
It’s the cover story! As with the last Belardinelli wraparound cover, this one is ‘what Tharg saw’ though has more of a story than the Secret of the Bermuda Triangle cover as Deke Riggins is forced to give his massive space freighter to the management of the gambling ship to pay of his gambling debts. As he’s about to hand it over he’s driven by the cynical way he was manipulated and tricked into debt in the first place and rams the gambling ship, ridding the galaxy of the evil gambling bosses at the cost of his own life.
Tharg’s Time Twisters: untitled story by Alan Moore and John Higgins (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). No title for this one so I’ll have to suggest on- I’m thinking either Blue Planet or Two Einsteins. Alien Zoo would be just too obvious. It’s the 66th century, though the human race has been wiped out so there’s nobody to count the years. The only indigenous life we see is a rat-like creature as it watches five alien spaceships arrive on the planet. They’re here to set up an alien zoo, using a time-probe and reconstruction chambers. The reason I’d possibly title this Blue Planet is because the aliens perceive colour differently to humans and have reconstructed everybody in bright blue. The reason I’ve potentially called it Two Einsteins is because the aliens reconstruct… well, you can probably guess. They’re done this to see if the pair of physicists and work out what had happened to them. Based on the fact that they both have the complete memories of the real Einstein, there’s two of them, they’re alive and Einstein is dead and they’re bright blue, they work out that aliens have recreated them. By the time the zoo opens they’ve also worked out how to escape, blowing a hole in the wall to the military enclosure. With the Emperor Nero, Henry V and comedy Hitler (“Donner und blitzen! Sturm and drang! Hansel und Gretel!”) on the case the deserted and dull planet is quickly filled with war, poverty, prejudice and starvation (but not dull). This is the second Time Twister which featured a time view device but no actual time travel…
After a half page of competition winners it’s straight in to a flash-forward cold open panel for Judge Dredd: The Starborn Thing part 1 by T.B. Grover and Carlos Ezquerra. Once we get past the the wasteful over-half-centre page panel it’s on to a UFO which passed over Mega-City One before landing in the Griff Mountains in the Cursed Earth. I’ve looked up Hossanjo Valley and the Griff Mountains and they both appear to be made up for the purposes of thi sstory. The only other Griff Mountains I could find were in a Dungeons and Dragons Greyhawk adventure written by Carl Sargent, better known for working on the Warhammer: Enemies Within campaign (widely regarded as one of the best ever roleplaying campaigns). Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay being developed at the same time as the Judge Dredd RPG from Games Workshop… As Dredd’s team approach Hossanjo Valley their poor Lawmasters start malfunctioning, coming out with such gems as “Yippyaiyaay! Repeat +++ repeat +++ repoot! Dta coming – fffff… No! ++ tubulation can’t+ttt++”. In the final approach to the valley on foot, through the foothills, the hills come alive (and not to the sound of music, as Dredd pointed out in that first panel). Everything dies down just as they turn a bend and come across a giant sphere as it cracks open, revealing a giant alien howling.
I didn’t mention the microbes last prog, but they only appeared in a single panel. This time around in Invasion of the Thrill-Snatchers we get more of what Belardinelli’s good at, as a hundred million suck-troopers do battle with the Tharg-engineered microbes. The microbe resistance (bampot-style heads with a single big fist) were engineered to combat lesser-spotted thrill-suckers however, and they face the greater-spotted thrill-suckers this time. No contest! The microbes retreat and I don’t think we ever see them again, so I don’t know where they retreated to! The Nazi-themed thrill-suckers get the lowdown on how Tharg created the microbes, making their primary target on Earth clear. They formulate a Fantastic Voyage style plan to approach Tharg’s brain through the blood stream. It looks like their attack is doomed to failure as Tharg, feeling an itch (“most extraordinary”) launches a swat attack (Tharg’s about to slap them with his hand).
Rogue Trooper: Fort Neuro Part 18 by Gerry Finley-Day and Cam Kennedy. Rogue has trained up the robe-runners and they’re all ready for an assault by the Norts. At that exact moment above the chem clouds, Nort sensors detect the large force of robots and launch attack pods against their only credible threat in the Fort. I’ll say one thing for Admiral Torpitz – he leads from the front and so is present on the battlefield as he gets a chance to gloat over Rogue’s defeat at the hands of the giant Nort killer robots known as Amoks. They’re not Charlie or George-sized giant robots, but they’re taller than the average human. The robe-runners don’t stand a chance, and Rogue momentarily pleased for Ro-ger and Rob-s-pierre not to try to get past the amoks to carry messages to the other sector, but to no avail – they’re smashed to pieces. Just a little too late to save them, the Frank Sector troops arrive on the scene, taking out Admiral Torpitz and even seeing the light that their inappropriate headgear makes them easy targets. The Roms turns up next and they mean business – even cancelling hair-styling appointments in favour of the battle ahead!
Grailpage: The two things that Belardinelli excels at are the unconventional, be they ships or aliens, and natural forms such as rock formations, water or in this case plumes of smoke and fire. If you’re not using his talents on either of these things (preferably both) then you’re wasting him. Which is the long-winded way of saying that I pick the wraparound cover for my grailpage for this prog.
Grailquote: what do I go for, comedy or drama? I was tempted by TB Grover, Chief Judge McGruder: “I’m sending in a tek-party by land. I want you to lead it. How soon can you be ready to leave?” Judge Dredd: “I’m ready now.” In the end though, I had to pick something from Skizz, Alan Moore, third-person narration: “The apes are everywhere, gibbering and screeching. Metal horrors roar past, blinding him with their white-hot gaze. Now he knows why they call these places Hellworlds… He changes direction again and again, losing himself amidst the dark geometries.” That ‘dark geometries’ phrase seemed so resonant that I assumed it had been taken from somewhere else, but the only references I can see on the internet are within the last five to fifteen years, so at least half the age of this story.