Starlord Summer Special 1978: The world’s first cutaway of the Preying Mantis! Thunderbirds’ creator Gerry Anderson interviewed! Amazing short story by Arthur C. Clarke! Plus your favourite Starlord heroes in fantastic full-length adventures!!!

Yesterday I posted about the Dan Dare Poster Magazine which I didn’t own at the time I was writing blog posts on comics which came out in 1977. This one I did have in my possession and have no idea why I didn’t cover it. As it’s not easy to get publication dates for specials which came out four decades ago I’ve generally been writing blog posts when the adverts in the weeklies have popped up. I can only guess that I either missed the advert for this special, or it didn’t appear. Maybe the powers that be were more interested in merging Starlord with 2000AD at the time? Anyway, enough about that, the important thing is that I’m covering it now. This cover was provided by a mystery artists, and may well have been dredged from the IPC library rather than be commissioned.

Hail, Star-Troopers! I’d almost forgotten about Starlord himself. I wouldn’t exactly call this a contents page, though it does list some of the contents, but doesn’t give any order or pages numbers. There’s no original art, just various images from early issues of Starlord (possibly just the first issue) and a photo of Thunderbird 2.

The first story up is Time Quake. I was flicking through (without reading) trying to identify the artist – it’s a loose art style with grey washes and looked like a rushed John Cooper. On the last page I saw the credits – script by ‘Patterson’ and art by ‘Cooper’. As ever, this strip has a good idea but bad execution drags it down. I do like the general concept of Timequake – not a fan of time travel in more generic stories but if the series itself is centred around time shenanigans that’s a different matter. This one has the Droon assassinate Lenin in 1917, leading to the Russian Revolution unfurling in a different way, somehow (it isn’t detailed) which would allow the Droon to conquer Earth in the 40th century and make it a Droonworld. The time crew from 85 million years in the past jump up the timelines to foil this attempt… and fail to foil. The only solution – Suzi Cho shapechanges to take Lenin’s place for the next seven years, up to his recorded death in 1924. As ever, Blocker falls for a shapechanging trick from Suzi when they jump forward seven years and find her disguised as an old woman.

Unexpected colour pages next with Sci-Fi movies of the 1950’s. Interesting choice there. Using up two colour pages covering black and white films. They could have used them on Ro-Busters or Strontium Dog, but no. For the record, the films covered were War of the Worlds, Unknown Island (couldn’t find anything about this, but Mysterious Island came up while I was look for the other films on this list), Tarantula, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Creature from the Black Lagoon and This Island Earth.

Ro-Busters by V. Gross and G Campion. Entirely in black and white (with hints of grey) this one could have made better use of those two colour pages. There’s something about rocket-powered magnetic vacuum tunnel trains that run from San Francisco to Baltimore which are only made possible by Earthquake Control, which relieves pressure on the San Andreas Fault using small robotic nuclear warheads. What could possibly go wrong? Hitting uncharted underground caverns, that’s what (and yes, it does say ‘underground cavern’, like there’s any other kind). It bumps it’s robotic head equivalent – it looks a bit like a rigid sea cucumber so doesn’t have anything resembling a head, but it malfunctions and gets its co-ordinates wrong. A few days later it hits that train tunnel, de-vacuuming it and causing a crash. I’m not entirely sure what the train crashes in to, but the disaster is set – send in the Ro-Busters! After the usual disaster recovery, including some new robots, medical sniffers who report back to ‘Miss Angel’ – think something between the MSE-6-series repair droid and scutters, Mek-Quake comes across the nuclear warhead. Not knowing what it is or what to do with it the bulldozer takes it to the usual duo where it confirms its in the (inaccurate) location and sets its self-destruct timer. Hammerstein tries to halt the countdown by telling it there are 450 hume survivor’s lives at stake, but the robot (thinks it) has an earthquake to stop. Mek-Quake gets to be a hero by dragging train coaches filled with humes to safety while Hammerstein war-droids a wall to smithereens, forming a barrier between the bomb and the train (and then Ro-Jaws has to drag him out of the rubble). It’s not exactly a classic Ro-Busters story, but there’s worse, both in annuals and the original Starlord weekly.

The Preying Mantis… Inside Story. How many cutaways of the Preying Mantis have their been? When this was published – none – all the others came after. This one’s in colour and on the centre pages. The usual elements are present – Howard Quartz’s Picasso painting, what different robots are up to, though I did notice two of the labels are the wrong way around (the ones for hover ambulances and pilot droids in the Plague Pod).

Starlord’s Starfax: “I’d like to make a new Thunderbirds series” You might think that Ro-Busters is rather like Thunderbirds, but Gerry Anderson didn’t seem to hold it against Starlord (or at least wasn’t aware of it at this point). There’s a brief recounting of his early career (before the famous stuff) and nothing at all about what work he was doing at the time. Space 1999 had finished, his first marriage was over bar the divorce. In his future lay a second marriage plus Terrahawks (which apparently he wanted to forget later, but I liked it), Dick Spanner P.I. and Space Precinct.

Trash by D. Hooper and Magano. This is a straight-forward tale of salvage operators in space. There’s something about the salvage operators being kidnapped by space police, then framed in a bar room brawl so that they agree to fight space pirates or something? It reads like an extended Future Shock without a punchline.

Starlord Special Quiz! You are a Strontium Dog – you know the deal, multiple choice, 0, 2 or 5 points for each question. I got 25 out of 25 – including one about super-sensitive mutant hearing – has Johnny Alpha ever displayed this?

Strontium Dog by Bill Henry and B. McArthy (that’s what it says, but it’s Brendan McCarthy really). You know where I said they could have used those two colour pages on black and white films on Strontium Dog? They did end up giving the opening of this story some colour, so that just leaves Trash and Ro-Busters fully black and white when they could have had a splash of colour. The action opens on a space casino (or Kasino) as the head of a gambler at the big table suddenly explodes as if hit by a force-beam. I remember some details of how this ends, so know that the murderer is already shown in that scene. More deaths are accompanied by the same characters in the backgrounds until Johnny arrives on the scene. Kane, owner of the Kasino, greets Alpha and Sternhammer when they turn up – while facing in the other direction. While looking at one of the murder scenes and talking about how all the victims have been rich people who owned rival casinos, the duo are attacked by some of Kane’s men, capturing one of the lackeys alive. Taking him back to Kane’s office, Johnny goes to turn the alpha eyes on their captive, purporting to get info out of his brain – but Johnny’s actually looking at Kane (who’s facing away – again). In exposition all gets revealed – Kane is a mutant (surprise!) with a cyclops eye on the front of his head and a secret destructive mind-power eye in his neck, covered by shoulder length hair. Things aren’t that simple though – the real villain of the piece is Kane’s partner who was threatening to kill Kane’s daughter if he didn’t assassinate the rival casino owners. Clear? Everyone dies apart from Johnny, Wulf and the daughter, Kane’s role is covered up and all the murders are attached to the partner.

Starlord’s Joke-In! Six spot cartoons in a style which suggest they may have been drawn any time in the previous twenty years.

Both Starlord and Tharg get in on the inside back cover with ads for Starlord weekly and 2000AD.

Short story by Arthur C. Clarke: Neutron Tide is a reprinted story from 1970, illustrated by what I think is a photo of a model by the person who made that Hammerstein model. I did see an interview with that person once where the photo illustrating had (among other models) that Hammerstein, but I can’t remember what the model maker’s name was and can’t find it now. I didn’t mention it, but the Stront story had lots of coloured text boxes, making it not as easy as it could be to read. This back page story is in black text on a deep red background. The whole thing is a set-up for a pun (“star-mangled spanner”) though has a number of comedy names along the way. It’s either not as funny as it things it is, or is an example of dated humour. There’s worse examples of dated humour, so I can live with it.

Grailpage: G Campion’s opening page to Ro-Busters features the Baltimore Belle at the San Francisco Rapid Transport System main terminal station, full splash page.

Grailquote: Patterson, Harl Vinda: “You’ve got seven years to carry it off, Suzi! We’ll jump forward in time and pick you up. For us, it’ll be seconds, for you – seven years.” Way to rub it in, Vinda!

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