Cam Kennedy put in a quick succession of three Sláine covers (even though the story they illustrated was drawn by Mike McMahon). McMahon has a go at a character better associated with Kennedy in this cover featuring Sláine, Dredd and Rogue. This, and the Dredd annual, were the first annuals I read (from the House of Tharg, anyway – I’d probably acquired Dandy and Treasure annuals).
Kevin O’Neill draws Torquemada on the contents page, raising my hopes for the forthcoming series of Nemesis the Warlock (though actually I wouldn’t have read this annual until Christmas as it would have been a present, by which time Book IV had already begun). I’m not a fan of colour for colour’s sake, but if only Kevin O’Neill had painted a book of Nemesis the Warlock…
The first story comes from Pat Mills and Massimo Belardinelli, and is Massimo’s last work on Sláine. This story doesn’t appear to have been reprinted, ever (according to Barney) – which is a real shame as it’s our first glimpse at how great Massimo’s painted work can be. It doesn’t have a title, so let’s call it The Battle of Clontarf. Other than Titan Books prejudice against Massimo, one reason this probably hasn’t been reprinted is that it no longer fits in to continuity – we’re going to see the warped one in a similar situation in the next series, Time Killer, so this ends up being a bit of a dry run on celtic time travel. Reading it as presented, however, following the ‘druids’ saving Sláine at the end of Sky Chariots, the ‘ever-living ones’ (who would appear to be elite druids, from what we’ve had presented to us so far) are sending Sláine to the far future (from his point of view, a thousand years in the past from ours). Anyway, he’s being sent to a battle in Ireland between the Gaels and Norsemen. Coincidentally (or something) the greatest of the Gaelic warriors has decided to enter a sacred mound where he gets possessed by Sláine’s spirit (and his body takes on Sláine’s appearance too, though still wearing the very Romanesque armour that Murdach was wearing). Complete aside, but the first view of Sláine’s arm in the future always reminded me of the plastic moulded arm of a He-Man figure I had at the same time this came out. There’s another reason this story in particular may not have been reprinted – other than the first and last page, the four pages in between are two-page centrespread style – reading from the left of the two pages to the right, then back to the left of the two pages again, leading to a great widescreen panel of the Norsemen army, led by one of the Badb from the Cave of Beasts. It’s the blonde one with a scar, though I don’t know if that’s Fea the Hateful, Nemon the Venomous or Catha the Fury. There’s also the dinosaur-y, dragon-y things from the end of Dragonheist, half-dead and an opportunity for Belardinelli to freely draw devilish creatures. Which continues on the second spread as Sláine warps out and drives the Norsemen (and devils) in to the sea. There’s a rushed battle between Elfric and the warped warrior, including Elfric’s third eye, and both kill each other (but they’re only there in spirit, so it’s really Murdach who dies).
The Burt Interview: Massimo Belardinelli. If I hadn’t been paying attention to the names in the credit box before, then I certainly would after reading this interview. The art droid is living in Italy so I have no idea how interviews like this were conducted at the time – either phone or by letter, but Massimo shows what a great sense of humour he has in the answers to the questions put to him. There’s an already out of date checklist of Massimo’s major works, as Ace Trucking Co is listed as running from “Progs 232-293” (even though it had returned and was running in the weekly progs when this was published) and the run on Sláine from “Progs 331-” even though Massimo’s last work, on Dragonheist, had already run. Art equipment wise Massimo was using pencils, a brush, a pen, a Rapidograph, coloured inks and ecoline – which appears to be some kind of brush pen, these days at any rate, though they also do a range of watercolour inks, so who knows exactly which product it was back in the mid-eighties? I got my first views of the Great Beast from Blackhawk and Artie Gruber from Inferno in this interview.
Heroes Before 2000AD is an article by Lew Stringer about the history of British comics. It’s three pages long, but gave me an introduction to some of the characters I’d be seeing in Zenith Phase III, Albion and the more recent Rebellion specials. Characters I would later see in reprints, reimaginings or re-something else are: Rick Random, Jet Ace Logan (that reprint in the Starlord Annual), Robot Archie, The Steel Claw, Kelly’s Eye and The Steel Commando. The history of British comics is more accurately a round-up of British comics with sci-fi elements, which usually appeared to took their cues from external influences. In short, the 1950s were about the space pilots (started by Dan Dare), 1960s were all for the robots (1950s sci-fi films), then a hero-with-a-gadget (James Bond?) and then super-powered characters towards the end of the decade (the Batman TV series). Time travel also made an appearance in this decade (Doctor Who) before the 1970s saw some supernatural characters. There’s no influences mentioned in this last section, but I wonder how the timeline would tie up with TV series like Sapphire and Steel and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)? Among the art used are reprints of pictures from decades earlier by some-time art droids Ron Turner and Eric Bradbury.
Reprint time! Strontium Dog in an untitled story from Starlord No 6. It generally gets titled Cure for Kansyr nowadays and has Johnny and Wulf journeying to an asteroid to hunt down the killer of Johnny Alpha’s previous partner, Sniffer Martinez. This story uses a variety of ‘powers’ – Johnny’s alpha-eyes intimidate somebody and gadgets involve time bombs to travel to the end of the street plus a range-finder on a blaster to have the beam pass harmlessly through Alpha’s head.
Barney calls the Judge Dredd story Gate Crashers, and it’s by TB Grover and Ian Gibson. My understanding is that 1980s TB Grover work is actually written by Alan Grant and John Wagner, while 1970s stories (reprinted) credited to Grover is Wagner alone. Gibson is putting out far better painted artwork than we got in The Law of the Jungle. As with the Belardinelli stories earlier, the first and last pages are single pages and the six pages in between comprise three double-page spreads. The worse thing about this story is that a lot of the detail gets lost in the fold. The story itself has a convoy of turbo-trux coming in off the Cursed Earth and instead of hanging around for decontam and searches for contraband gun the engines, kill a few judges and run a merry chase through the narrow streets of the Mega-City. Turns out the trux are empty. Driven by robot drivers there are now clues to who was responsible. An abandoned trucks is discovered with traces of stookie gland oil and Dredd pulls in the city’s major stookie dealers. Not even questioning them, he just leaves them to stew. As they’re gland users themselves they age rapidly and finally one breaks, afraid that the 153 year old will die if he isn’t released to get his gland fix. Instead he gets a three year sentence in the iso-cubes. The last page closes of the story with a simple capture of the gland runner in a car park the following day with the sincere hope from Dredd that the runner isn’t a gland user, as he wants the perp to savour every moment of his life sentence. I’d have seen the Cursed Earth a few times by this point, but this was my introduction to Stookie (not that it appears much after this).
Back to the reprints and this one is also from Starlord – Good Morning, Sheldon, I Love You! by TB Grover and Casanovas. This features the familiar early Shock / Twister trope of ungrateful husbands leaving their wives for perceived slights. This one moves to a house run by a computer, meaning we also get the trope of a computer which doesn’t recognise when their client / master is dead.
We’re half-way through all the reprint, now it’s time for a text story. Zragman is written by Alan Grant and has a few illustrations (including three panels of comic strip at the beginning) by Eric Bradbury. This whole story is seven pages long, though as is usual, taking in to account the split between text and art, roughly three and a half pages are text. If you don’t like Tharg stories and you don’t like text stories then you’re really not going to like this one. Despite ostensibly being written by the Dictators of Zrag themselves, they still don’t get names, merely being Dictator 1, 2 and 3. It’s a retelling of the Superman myth, but with a dirty, smelly baby from the planet Mukkippup instead of either Klaktonian or Kryptonian.
Next reprint, and this one is Tharg’s Future-Shocks: Fangs! by C. Lowder and C. Ezquerra from Prog 34. As mentioned when I covered that prog, this is where I first encountered the story, and King Carlos’ depiction of vampires, though these space vampires are not like those from Fiends of the Eastern Front. Begin a three and a half page story, the last half page is filled with an ‘advert’ for “Cassidium – reaches the Judges other cures can’t!” (using Steve Dillon pics of Dredd turning in to a werewolf, but in reverse order). The word ‘kronj’ is used – I think that got used in Flesh…
Photo-strip meets Tharg story in Tharg at the Printers. Presumably this involved Steve McManus donning the Tharg mask and jumpsuit and taking a tour of IPC’s factories. Going through the process are a few comics, one of which looks like Battle Action (Force?) and Prog 346.
That gets followed up by 2000AD’s Top 20. Compiled from the voting coupons from Prog 86 onwards, it lists the highest percentage that each story won in the weekly votes. Top three in reverse order are: Strontium Dog (34.25%); Ro-Busters (35%) and Judge Dredd (50%).
How the Dredd Was Drawn: Gibson reveals all! This has selected roughs and concept artwork from this annual’s Dredd story, interspersed with a narrative provided by a Robo-Hunter style personification of Gibson, drawn by the droid themselves. The only page that we don’t see the roughs of are the first, but all the two-page spreads are there, and we can see how much the layout can change. There are also two pages of the pencil layouts – the one where Dredd is dealing with one of the turbo-trux and the one with the stookie gland factory. Gibson uses inks, gouache, a sable brush and a split nib pen for the details.
The last of the reprints (kind of) next as we get Earn Big Money While you Sleep! from Starlord No 16 by Alan Grant and Casanovas. Starting with a hen-pecked husband whose only love is (not his wife but) his garden. As it’s a reprint I won’t go in to great detail about it, though there is a nice touch when someone shouts that the protagonist that they almost broke their leg when they pushed their way past – the person in question hallucinating that their victim was a centipede, with many legs. It all took place in Cityhive 9, though uses Mega-City (and Dan Dare) slang.
Ode to a G.I. is a four verse poem. No credit is given but I wouldn’t be incredibly surprised if it had already appeared in a Nerve Centre, sent in by an earthlet… The pic illustrating it is provided by Robin Smith.
Speaking of which Rogue Trooper: The War of Words by Ian Rogan and Robin Smith, this time in colour. I like Robin Smith’s colour artwork on a Bogie Man story but wasn’t keen on the colour Dredd story he did in last year’s 2000AD annual. Themes of propaganda and the location of the Quartz Zone is revisited. We also get a live appearance by the Kashan Legion (as opposed to a flashback, or their ‘cousins’ in the Kashars). The Kashans are to go to the Quartz Zone to celebrate their victory over the G.I.s and Rogue lays a trap. The first part is to leave Gunnar to be discovered so that the Norts can show off the trophy on a live propaganda broadcast and the second is to hang glide in. That’s right, he’s not buried in the ground this time! Though Bagman is placed in a crater, which is almost like being buried. Wiping out most of the Kashans he’s left to chuck Helm and Bagman at the last two aides to the General, who he picks up and impales on a spiky bit of quartz. The story ends with Rogue taking over the broadcast and transmitting to the watching Southers. This feels like a re-tread but I can’t offhand remember what story it reminds me of.
The next page is a full page painting of Sláine fighting the Time Monster, depicted by Mike McMahon. Who famously doesn’t like this picture, even though everybody else thinks it’s one of his finest pieces of work! Rebellion seem to agree, as a (relatively) recent edition of Sláine – Warrior’s Dawn features the painting on the cover.
Sláine: Ask Ukko (Pat Mills, more like) as reader’s letters are answered, apparently put to ‘Ukko’ by time-travelling research droid XJ-4 (no idea if that’s based on a person’s name). Interesting things I took away from this (either at the time or now): Myrddin was the original name for Merlin (meaning I’ll connect the two when the character turns up); Sláine won Ukko in a game of fidchell (wooden wisdom, a board game a bit like chess) – despite Sláine hating the idea of slavery – Ukko says this may be written about in a later episode (I can’t remember if this ever happens – it might be in one of the late nineties, early 21st century stories which I would have read once, then put in a box, never to be re-read – until I cover them in this prog slog – one of the reasons I’m doing it in the first place); Ogham has both leaf and sign language variants; the modern English are more Anglo-Celtic and Anglo-Saxon; Sláine thinks for the day, never looking to the future – though when he arrives at his home tribe he’ll have to face up to new responsibilities (as we’ll later find out). This feature was illustrated by reprinted pictures by Angie Mills (as was), Mike McMahon (from Sky Chariots) and Massimo Belardinelli (from Bride of Crom).
Next up is six pages of reprint, which I still don’t really consider reprint in the same league as the other stuff, as very few of those reading this annual would have seen the original publication in the Daily Star newspaper. As ever, I’ll be covering the previous year’s worth of Daily Dredds after I’ve covered the annuals.
Top Covers of ’83 picks out nine covers from the 53 covers published in 1983. Artists featured are Carlos (three times), Jim Baikie, Mick McMahon, Ian Gibson, Brett Ewins, Massimo Belardinelli and Kevin O’Neill. Stories featured are Judge Dredd (three times), Skizz, Robo-Hunter, Rogue Trooper, Strontium Dog, Sláine and Nemesis the Warlock.
Tharg’s Mighty Puzzle Pages. There are six pages of this and, as ever, I enlisted the aid of Rackle (pictured, portrait by John Higgins and owned by Simon Belmont) to test me on the quizzes. I skipped the Spot the Difference which uses Belardinelli’s pic of Blackblood versus Captain Psyko (I think from Prog 156). After that was The Cosmic Quiz which focussed on the solar system. As ever, the biggest challenge is trying to figure out what the limits of scientific knowledge were at the time it was published (which of the four ringed planets that we know of was the second one to be discovered to have rings?) Another challenge is that some of the questions are ambiguous – i.e. “Which planet has most known moons – including the one to which rogue Judges are exiled” The actual answer is Saturn, but in the Judge Dredd strip, Titan orbits Jupiter. This was explained as a result of an experiment in the Games Workshop roleplaying game, but that hasn’t been released yet. That experiment is due to happen next year, in fact. Thargagrams are a collection of four anagrams – I got three out of four (I managed to get the fourth, “O! Baby abed, Bond’s hut” with some heavy prompting from Rackle). Know your Art-Droids has pictures culled from comic panels of Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper, A.B.C. Warriors and Sláine. It’s not difficult and made even easier by printing the names of all the artists involved above each row of panels. Giant Word-Search – didn’t do the word-search, but the words to find are the answers to questions, so we did this one as a quiz instead. Some questions are a bit dodgy, such as “A Juve is a young one!” – the answer is “offender” – juve is just slang for juvenile or child – there’s nothing implicit there about the person being a perp! I also have an issue with the clue “Burying place”. If you think “grave” you’re wrong, because the answer is “crypt”! I didn’t get the answer to Blackhawk’s mystic sword (Bloodblade). K-Word – like a crossword but every single answer has the letter K in it. This would have been much easier if I’d been aware of that when I was trying to answer the questions! “Thargian robot encountered by Blackhawk on Silversun” (“Kwark”) and “Marvel’s jungle hero” (“Kazar”) were the only ones I didn’t get. Wow – hadn’t heard of it before, Ka-Zar is a shameless rip-off of Tarzan by Marvel – as well as most of the same letters, Ka-Zar is the orphan son of an English nobleman raised by wild animals in a jungle. Hilariously the ancestral home is a castle in Kentish Town, London. I used to live about five minutes walk from Kentish Town High Street. I wonder if those working for Marvel UK in the 1980s were aware of this? Squashed at the top of the answer page for all the puzzles is Weapons-Master! Two columns of characters and weapons which have to be matched up. The most difficult one is Sam Slade, as the answer is the generic ‘blaster’ which can only be reliably arrived at by process of elimination.
The A.B.C. Warriors: Red Planet Blues by Alan Moore and Dillon/Higgins (inks by Steve Dillon, colouring by John Higgins). As with the other colour stories (except Rogue Trooper’s War of Words) the ‘internal’ pages spread across two pages so it’s only the introductory page of this seven-page story which isn’t a double-page. I don’t know how the pair of artists worked on this, but it isn’t just a case of Higgins filling in the spaces between Dillon’s lines. The story is very straightforward. Human colonists are clearing native Martian flora and have discovered a huge artificial structure. They believe there’s no fauna, though the Warriors have been drafted in to reassure workers. The focus is on how colonisation wipes out the previous cultures and life of the place being colonised, told expertly by Moore. Hammerstein’s narration keeps emphasising how much he doesn’t have emotions. He doesn’t feel good, he doesn’t feel bad. The robot doth protest too much, as will be explored in The Black Hole by Pat Mills before the end of the eighties. I’m going to hazard a guess that Alan Moore and Pat Mills had shared a script at some point, as there’s a line about Hammerstein getting ‘old’ and ‘soft’ which has it’s equivalent in Book IV or Nemesis the Warlock. Speaking of which, Deadlock would appear for the first time in the prog since I became a squaxx within a few weeks of my reading this annual (remember, it may have come out earlier in the year but as it was a christmas present I wouldn’t have read it until the end of December) so this story was my introduction to that character though the Warriors were being introduced week by week throughout that month. Continuity-wise I didn’t spot the Mess anywhere, so I’m going to assume it takes place after the Mad George story.
The back cover gets a Splundig Vur Thrigg seal showing Tharg in the lotus position, by Carlos from the looks of it.
Grailpage: two pages, both double-page spreads. Ian Gibson’s spread of the stookie factory which also features a full-length portrait of Dredd and some rapidly aging Stookie buyers. Secondly I was tempted by Dillon and Higgins’ shot of the Martian structure, but I’m instead going for the following spread, that of Deadlock’s sanctum. The linework and colour perfectly depict varying atmospheric scenes, from Hammerstein walking to the Warrior’s base with a skull, the sanctum and a night-time view of colonist looking out over fields of strangle-weed beneath both of Mars’ moons. Almost perfect. Phobos and Deimos are very spherical-looking, as opposed to the real moons, which are both irregular in shape.
Grailquote: Alan Moore, Hammerstein (narration): “…it gets to the human settlers. Forty per cent of them have to be treated for depression during their first two years out here. They have a name for the condition. They call it ‘The Red Planet Blues‘ Robots aren’t troubled by it.”