Ron Smith starts this annual with a fantastic full-painted colour cover – it’s a real shame we didn’t get to see more painted artwork from Ron (though his black and white stuff is nothing to complain about).
Tharg introduces the Cosmic Contents page in a Carlos pic.
Judge Dredd: Block-Out at the Crater Bowl by T.B. Grover and John Byrne (the comic artist from the USA). I’m not a big fan of sports. Non-existent future-sports, on the other hand… And I absolutely love quizzes (though obscure questions related to fictional things we’ve never heard of before might stump me). Block-out is played between three blocks on a three-way checkered board, each overlooked by a panel crewed by a quiz show-style team of three blockers. The rest of the block team is made up of players attired in similar costumes to American football players, but each of the ‘ground’ players gets to move only if the panellists answer said quiz questions correctly. I wonder if Blood Bowl could be adapted to this game, though Games Workshop did include a version of Block-Out in the Judge Dredd Companion – when I get to the year 1987 (I think) I’ll dig out this special plus the rules of Blood Bowl and see how they all compare. Half of this story is about the match though, as the other half focuses on the judge’s response to crowd control. There are attempts to smuggle a laser cannon in to the stadium, surprise attacks by citi-def, use of electrified fences, snipers, stumm gas and riot foam. This was a pretty good primer for young me to the Mega-City attitude towards riots and block wars, without actually being a block war. There’s quite a few nice touches regarding the yobbishness of sports fans, some of which correlate with having to get past football crowds at a stadium local to where I used to live.
Games People Still Play! There’s going to be a lot of firsts in the next few month’s worth of progs, as 2000AD really opened up my cultural horizons. It had already outgrown the other comics which in the past had been aimed at the same age group by this point. So this was the first time I would have seen Dungeons & Dragons mentioned as it covers Games Day 82 (the one where the JD Boardgame was launched). Pictures are by Richard Burton and one of the photos features the South London Warlords – who are still going strong after nearly fifty years!
From games to a quiz, or a wordsearch with quizzical clues, anyway. Tharg’s Cosmic Challenge! I didn’t fill in this wordsearch, but did run through the questions. It wasn’t exactly challenging, plus I managed to find all the answers in the grid – but because I wasn’t scrawling over my copy of this special I didn’t know which letters were left over, to spell out… Well, I’ll leave that until Page 55, where the answers are.
M.A.C.H.1 reprint with the addition of a credit card – script by N. Allen art by John Cooper. I wouldn’t normally concentrate on reprint material, but this was the very first M.A.C.H.1 story I ever read. The writing takes a one-dimensional 1970s British view of the middle east, though to mix it up a little it has an evil sheik-type manipulating the superstitions of some keffiyeh- and agal-wearing locals. Probe does the first world saviour thing and ends up getting the locals on the side of Britain once again. Also my first exposure to the work of John Cooper, I think.
A 2000AD Colourscan: Return of the Jedi is what you’d expect – six full-colour stills, with a bit of blurb thrown in for good measure. Despite protestations we heard in the early 21st century, mention is made of the nine-film plan for the Star Wars saga.
Tharg the Mighty in… The Day the World Died (nearly) has art by Mike White and starts in Red Square, Moscow, as the Soviet missiles disappear. While they prepare to go to priority nuclear alert against the USA, the Space Shuttle also dematerialises. While the USA gets placed on nuclear alert the British prime minister contacts Tharg in an attempt to stop the USSR and the USA blowing up the world. Following a faint energy trail to the dark side of the moon TMO discovers a number of iconic Earth buildings (the usual – Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, etc) as the stolen missiles head towards them. Tharg effortlessly halts them in their flight as the perpetrator makes themselves known. It’s Joko-Jargo, better known nowadays (in the 2010s and 2020s) as guest editor of the all-ages 2000AD progs (or some reason the youngest son of Tharg’s sister Marg has 2000 on his jump-suit, just as Tharg usually does). Teleporting them back to their rightful places, Tharg teaches Joko-Jargo a lesson by unleashing a Rigelian hotshot. Invasion of the Trhill-Suckers would have been my first Tharg story, but this was the first complete Tharg story I’d have read.
Tharg the Mighty… Earth’s first alien editor! As you’d have gathered by now if you’ve read the last few weeks of posts, it was about two or three years after first being exposed the galaxy’s greatest comic before I started hitting the comic shops and buying up back progs. For all that time my sole experience of the 200s were the grainy pictures of covers in this colour centrefold photograph which act as zarjaz wallpaper. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this background in equally grainy youtube videos of 1980s programmes which paid visits to the command module.
The Von Ballin Tape a text story by Jack Hamilton Teed with art by Robin Smith. I was thinking I wouldn’t have remembered anything from this story, but something that has stayed with me is the motto of the detective agency. This one is presented as a taped interview and starts as a London crime thriller as Von Ballin recounts how the Kray-like Italian mobsters operating in and around Soho are trying to recover their accountant (who turns out to have made an extensive confession) when they’re interrupted by a person who looks and sounds exactly like Von Ballin (and made their appearance by popping out of an orange hole in the air). On the second page the Von Ballin-a-like has gotten themselves a pursuer as “a girl with faintly oriental features” appeared. Particulary in the USA, the word ‘oriental’ to refer to people is out-dated, though there’s worse to come in this story (which I won’t go in to, let’s just say our viewpoint character uses old-fashioned terms). A picture on page four tripped a switch in my brain and I suddenly had the inkling that this was a stealth Time-Quake story. I was right – the ‘girl’ was Suzi Cho – a name that’s almost always followed by the words “a princess of the Haniken Empire in the 32nd Century” – though unlike previous appearances the narrative doesn’t go on to say how such princesses have the power to change shape (something she doesn’t do in this tale). Anyway, the second Von Vallin turns out to be from an alternative timeline which can be crossed-over from a few times a year. Such as 31st October 1987 – yes, that’s right – Hallowe’en and ghosts are inspired by glimpses of the other timeline! The story ends with the framing story as Von Ballin was transported back to his home timeline, but as the escapades had taken some time the alignment wasn’t quite right and he ended up materialising naked in the living room of Police-sergeant C. Lowder while Lowder was watching TV with his wife (which reveals that Jack Hamilton Teed is another pseudonym for Chris Lowder, also known among squaxx as Jack Adrian).
Judge Dredd’s “Star” Role! These are reprinted from the weekend strips that ran in the Daily Star for much of the 1980s. I’ll cover them when I cover (some of) The Daily Dredds Volume One – which I’ll probably cover when Tharg announces that the strip is going daily. Hmmm, looking at it, that won’t be until 1986 – that may be two far off. Might do it earlier than that.
Rogue Trooper: Warheads by Gerry Finlay-Day and Boluda. This story features human-like Nort androids – I don’t think we’ve seen that before or since? These ones have bombs built in to their heads and are – of course – nicknamed Warheads (their official designation is droidonators). The doktor leading the Nort project (projekt?) considers all of this a precursor to the real target – Rogue. Cutting to Nu Sonora sector (obviously named by Mexican colonists) and Rogue encounters what appears to be Souther civilians camped next to a water hole. The first ‘souther’ he encounters is a Sister Sledgesque person collecting water. By the time Bagman has worked out that the Southers have synthesised voices the droidonators have primed their bombs, though it only takes a bit of running around the diving in to the waterhole to deal with them. Realising that he’s been hunted, Rogue wants revenge and sets a trap. The doktor arrives on the scene and takes Rogue into a hastily erected chem-sealed medical dissection bubble. Rogue has held a lungful of chem-air and gives the Nort doktor a blow-back while the carefully positioned Gunnar opens fire from outside the seal and Bagman dispenses micro-mines. Just time for a quip from Rogue “One man’s air is another man’s poison” and it’s on to the next feature…
The forthcoming annuals in August take a page (with the answers to the Cosmic Challenge squeezed in at the bottom).
Sci-Fi Book Scan has a time travel theme in honour of Tharg’s Time Twisters, covering nine books in three pages (two in colour), plus a run-down of sci-fi bookshops around the UK: Forbidden Planet (Denmark Street); Andromeda Bookshop (Birmingham); Odyssey (Manchester); SF Bookshop (Edinburgh) and Forever People (Bristol). Looking up the exact address of the Bristol shop (and using a popular mapping website which includes street level photographs) I have now confirmed that this is the shop I bought some of my first back progs. The site is now a pizza restaurant. Books covered are: H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine; A Bertram Chandler – Bring Back Yesterday; Fritz Leiber – The Big Time; Jack Williamson -The Legion of Time; James P. Hogan – Thrice Upon a Time; Gordon R. Dickson – Time Storm; Ronald Welch – The Gauntlet; Ted White – No Time Like Tomorrow; Robert Silverberg – Up the Line; Chad Oliver – Mists of Dawn; L. Sprague de Camp – Lest Darkness Fall; Reginald Maddock – The Time Maze; Keith Laumer – The Great Time Machine Hoax; Poul Anderson – Guardians of Time. Of those, I’ve read the first one.
The reprint of Invasion: Novatown by Gerry finley-Day and Mike Dorey was my introduction to Bill Savage, and what an introduction, featuring the immortal line: “Quack, quack, Volg!” (which would have been my grailquote if I allowed reprints to take that coveted spot). I’ll just pop back in time to 2016 to add the grailquote there instead.
The Dark Judges is a photograph of some models made by an earthlet. I’m not sure if this one made it to my wall – I still have my original Sci-Fi Special somewhere, but the one I’ve been reading today is a slightly more pristine one. If I come across my tattered old copy then I’ll update this bit. The models are of Mortis, Fear and Death – I can understand why the earthlet skipped making a model of a fiery skeleton – a bit difficult to sculpt out of whatever the earthlet in question was using.
Grailpage: I was tempted by a few off-the-wall choices, including that photo of the model (my intro to the DJs – well, three of them), the centrespread of Tharg (and more importantly all those blurry covers) or even Byrne’s pic of the mall next to the Crater Bowl – not a particularly well-executed panel but there’s something about that futuristic shopping arcade that struck me. None of that matters though, because when I closed the cover on this Sci-Fi Special Ron Smith’s painted pic was staring out at me, with the neon-lit Mega-City in the background, including the Statue of Judgement.
Grailquote: Jack Hamilton Teed, Sorrell & Von Ballin Private Enquiry Agents motto: “The Eyes that often Wink – but never Blink” because that motto has stayed in my head ever since, even though I didn’t realise it came from this story!