2000AD Prog 335: Free Poster 430mm X 550mm 2 new stories! Nemesis the Warlock Strontium Dog

I’d bought a few of the preceding progs from 330 on, but in my mind this is the real start for me – though I still wasn’t buying the galaxy’s greatest every single week – that didn’t happen for another few months. When the topic of best ever prog comes up on social media, this prog is my go-to nomination – though obviously a good deal of that is due to nostalgia. With the prog in front of me I’m still thinking it will be the best of those I’ve re-read up to this point in the prog slog – though it’ll be interesting to see if any other progs match or exceed it in months and years to come (and if I’ll be able to shove nostalgia out of the way enough to recognise it in those later progs). The cover does not start auspiciously as what will become my favourite story (Nemesis the Warlock) shares space with a picture bodges from a panel within the prog. Looking at it now I’m not sure the pic of Nemesis ever got displayed on its own – at least not until the Deviant edition reprint came out a few years back.

Tharg’s Nerve Centre… doesn’t exist as we get an introductory This is your Future! page instead with one paragraph intros to each story and a voting coupon in the corner, asking for the top three favourite stories in order and an “I dislike” option. Flicking through the prog the only thing I actually dislike is that cover (because it doesn’t present the original picture by Kevin O’Neill very well)!

Judge Dredd: The Graveyard Shift – Part 1 by T.B. Grover and Ron Smith. A veritable classic mini-epic which surely was the main inspiration for the atmosphere of Judge Dredd The Role-Playing Game from Games Workshop in a few year’s time (which I should be covering towards the end of 2020 in this blog). We’ve had similar tales of typical days in Mega-City One, but never one so developed and extended as this one – I wonder if all the stats we’re going to be presented with would stand up to scrutiny? My daily prog slog blog doesn’t lend itself well to in-depth analysis of any particular prog or storyline, but I’ll be sure to revisit it at some point in the future. Elements of this first episode: watching bays where judges take up position between the exiting bits; ITEM! the constant updates from Control (some of which will be developed further through following episodes); Claire Hogg, agony aunt (who deals pretty badly with a caller, not that she cares); Tariq Ali Alley – not the last time that pun will be used in Mega-City thoroughfare nomenclature. There’s a judge murder, but that’s dealt with by the end of the first episode, so barely merits comment in the wider scope of the story. I should probably say something about what this story is. It’s merely the tale of one night in Mega-City One, from 2100 hours to, erm, 06:00 is my guess? If memory serves it’ll end in ten minutes on the TRI in the last couple of panels in eight episodes time. By the way, Claire Hogg is an obvious parody of Claire Rayner, agony aunt – though on the Mega-City TV show she’s joined by somebody else who also looks like a parody, but I’m perhaps too young to recognise them.

Sláine: Warrior’s Dawn by Pat Mills and Mike McMahon. Angie had her episode, Belardinelli’s had a story now it’s the turn of McMahon as catch up with Sláine and Ukko in the sourland – an earth-energy drained swamp. I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that Mike hit on his scratchy tribal style by accident – something about roughly filling in the black areas on a trace and liking the effect that the linework had. As much as I like Belardinelli’s artwork (you’d probably have gotten that impression from Flesh and Meltdown Man) the Roman artist’s work doesn’t instil the celtic atmosphere that McMahon’s does. It’s the background details (or foreground, in one panel where Sláine and Ukko are entering a hill-fort. This week’s episode has yet another flashback as Ukko tells a tale in exchange for a horn of ale, of Sláine’s first warp spasm at the age of twelve and his entry in to the Red Branch (named for the rays of the sun branches out on midwinter’s day). The first appearance of the gae bolga also features, though it always struck me as a child that the depiction didn’t match the description – a bellow’s spear. Some time next year I think I’ll be covering Diceman, where the visual and narrative depictions will match up.

It’s not a 1980s jumping-on prog without a competition and this one is for an Atari home computer and runner-up prizes of Grandstand electronic games. It’s a massive four-week competition and encourages earthlets to deface their progs by cutting out tokens (and considering which story starts on the next page, that’s a particularly heinous act). There are also acronyms to descramble – the first concerns a character, ANTIPAC THIMS (it’s Captain Smith).

Nemesis the Warlock Book III by Brother Mills and Brother O’Neill. Not long after reading this I got busy with the plasticine making models of Chira and Magna as they fight. There’s some narration, but it’s of the Future-Shock variety where you know it’s skirting an issue so that it doesn’t reveal what ‘the prize’ the two are jousting over. The language is also kept gender-neutral, though this is also just to disguise the second of two twists at the end. What are the twists? Number one – Nemesis is the prize. Number two – Chira is female. Speaking of which, one of the things I dislike about this book is that the alien, demonic, almost reptilian warlocks follow the tired old trope of females = long hair. That aside, the gender dimorphism of warlocks has another characteristic – the males may have caprine carpus joints but the females resemble nothing so much as centaurs, and even after thirty five years of exposure to fantasy role playing games I still haven’t seen a better representation of dynamic centaurine anatomy than this five page episode. All that, just to introduce us to Nemesis’ family (don’t get attached to them).

Replacing Sam Slade is the long-awaited return of Johnny Alpha and Wulf Sternhammer. What has it been, two years? Annual stories don’t count! My introduction to the characters was with Strontium Dog: The Moses Incident – Part 1 by Alan Grant and Ezquerra. The full-page first panel knows that many readers won’t be familiar with the character and concept, so four narration boxes to fill us in (technically the first one isn’t in a box, but who’s counting?) This is one of those stories that starts small, then grows and grows, going in directions you couldn’t expect. As with many Stront stories, this one starts with Johnny making a bust, taking out small-time bounties on his way to a bigger prize. There’s use of alpha vision, some anti-mutant prejudice but then something different. A norm child who doesn’t automatically recoil from Strontium Dogs – he’s interested and wants to see the impending shoot-out that’s sure to happen. Dobie Zitch, he bounty is forewarned and has time to prepare a lesson that Alpha will remember “…all the way to hell!” Never a truer word spoken, but not in the way Zitch intends…

Rogue Trooper Genetic Infantryman: From Hell to Eternity Part 1 by Gerry Finley-Day and Brett Ewins. The only thing stopping the G.I.s from getting to the next combat zone is a scum sea – which wouldn’t be an insurmountable problem if it wasn’t for the Nort Navy. Despite being a highly-trained soldier, Rogue insists on standing on top of cliffs, silhouetted against the full moon while enemy hydrofoil-gunships patrol the waters. No wonder he needs to keep burrowing underground to avoid detection – once he’s already been detected and patrols are sent to hunt him down. Somehow the latest ‘foil doesn’t spot him, leaving gRogue free to pick up a signal on the special G.I. frequency. It’s a simple message: “Doll in distress”. We’ve only met one female G.I. (though we know others exist) – Venus Bluegenes. After minimal discussion (and a reminder to the reader that Helm fancies Venus but Venus fancies Rogue) it’s time to carve a really polished looking sailboat out of available timber On Caliban Island (Caliban being a name associated with the Shakespearian island-dwelling monster) it doesn’t take long for them to be discovered by Venus. There’s that ‘guys and dolls’ / ‘G.I. and doll’ pun again – how did I never notice that until this year? (I know why). I like my natural details in pictures, and the foliage on Caliban is well-realised in Ewins’ style.

Next prog, Judge Dredd from Eagle Comics and an ad for Eagle’s ‘new look’ (I’m guessing the photo-strips were dropped).

It’s the 1980s so The Weetabix giveaway is for free pop stickers promoted by Mike Read (DJ, not Mike Reid, actor). The artistes are: Tony Hadley; Nick Heyward; Suggs; Modern Romance; Thompson Twins; Musical Youth; Jo Boxers; Kaja Goo Goo and Duran Duran.

Just one more thing – this prog came with a free gift – an A2 (or near enough) sized posted by Ron Smith – and this was in full painted colour! I thought this was around the time Ron was also painting record covers for bands but checking his obituary from last year, the Sigue Sigue Sputnik work was six years later. Anyway, this poster has Dredd on a lawmaster, lawgiver aloft blazing through an explosion through a barricade set up by the East Sector Punks. There’s dyed hair, beads and dreadlocks, scars, nose rings, wood grain, jetpacks, “FREE CH😊︎PPER” graffiti. What more could you want?

Grailpage: I’ve already said how much I like this prog, and if a previous prog got three grailpages then this one is going to have at least two, right? The first is Mike McMahon’s celtic hill-fort (more like a ditch-and-earth bank stables) which is always evocative of the iron age to me. The second could be any page of centaur anatomy, but I’m going to pick the first one – my introduction to Nemesis, Grobbendonk, gibberish, Chira and Magna. As I said, I made plasticine models of the two female warlocks, so it’s a pretty obvious choice to pick the centre pages which have full length portraits of all those characters.

Grailquote: Pat Mills, narration: “Grobbendonk spoke gibberish – a Fringe World dialect.” I had no idea what that meant, it gets used just about every time Grobbendonk is introduced in a book and this was the first time I encountered that sentence. I’m not even sure Pat would have written it – it could have been added by a sub-editor by this point.

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