2000AD Prog 385: Alpha vs Stix “Who’s next?”

It’s only right that a long-running story from one of the Mount Rushmore characters gets a cover, aned Carlos Ezquerra obliges with the showdown within on this cover.

Tharg’s Nerve Centre points out that it’s the last episode of the current Strontium Dog story, and also Halo Jones. An earthlet asks when the ABC Warriors will return and Tharg takes the opportunity to plug the 2000AD Annual 1985 (though the proper answer to the question is ‘pretty soon’ as they’ll be in the upcoming Nemesis the Warlock Book IV, starting in two week’s time).

Strontium Dog: Outlaw Part 23 by Alan Grant and Carlos Ezquerra – last episode! The cover lied – it isn’t Alpha versus Stix – it’s Alpha and Sternhammer versus Stix. The norms on the Doghouse aren’t always depicted sympathetically but they come through for the Stronts this episode, monitoring where the Stixes are and guiding the mutants to their location. The Stix Brothers knew their time had run out as Stronts by the way, and were scarpering via the time room – where George Moore, the Torso from Newcastle, was still holed up. He doesn’t last long alone but manages to trap the Stix by blowing up the time controls. Johnny and Wulf prepare for that showdown and the Stix tell them they’ll shoot when a dropped hat hits the floor – they cheat, but Johnny and Wulf haven’t survived that long by being so easily fooled. End of story – wonder what the next will be? There’s not that many more stories of the classic run of Strontium Dog left before (avoiding spoilers) a change happens in the dynamics of the series.

Those Best Pals Club adverts get a competition to win a Walkman – as it isn’t open to the children of employees of IPC or Pedigree Petfoods we finally find out who’s behind the Best Pals Club.

1984 International Reader Profiles – only three of them, the last space being taken by an advert for the World Wide Subscriptions Service. Readers are based in New Zealand, Norway and France, and the ‘other publications read’ are a tad more international with Sgt. Rock and Richie Rich making an appearance. And the lower half of the page containing an advert for the Judge Dredd Annual 1985.

The Ballad of Halo Jones 10: Going Out by Alan Moore and Ian Gibson. Despite not having it anywhere else, the last page pipes up with ‘End of Book One’. The plot of this episode has Toby chase a rat under a pile of barrels. While Toby investigates the gap that the rat disappeared in to the rodent re-emerges at the top of the barrel and scoots some rubbish atop it on to Toby’s head. The robo-dog jumps up on to the top of the barrels before being called off by Rodice. I suppose there was a subplot about Halo finding out about a hostess job on the Clara Pandy, mistakenly thinking there are two vacancies, then getting the job because she (unlike Rodice) can speak Cetacean. But that’s pales in to insignificance next to the Toby plot, which cleverly sometimes appears in the background of panels and misses some panels out entirely, making it appear that the thing about Halo getting a job and leaving Earth was the main plot. Meanwhile the last page has a few bits of world-building, the digital presenter Swifty Frisco possibly has a counterpart in Jazz Firpo and General Cannibal makes an off-screen appearance. The General is apparently from Mars and their characterisation isn’t quite like we’ll get to see in a book and a half’s time. Mention is made of the Tarantula Nebula, which will also appear after Book Two.

Advert time! But first the top half of the page has a Freebie Alert for some ZX Spectrum games – four apparently connected games in the ‘Abacus Arcade’. The actual adverts are for Eagle Comics Judge Dredd monthly reprint (it’s got up to the Mick McMahon cover showing Fergee fighting Dredd), Star Frontiers (sci-fi roleplaying game from TSR), Imagine Magazine (British Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying games magazine – the UK’s answer to Dragon Magazine), the actual Dungeons & Dragons game itself and the now customary trailer panel for the Judge Dredd episode on the next page – though using a seven year old pic of Dredd by McMahon.

Judge Dredd: Gator Part 2 by T.B. Grover and Kim Raymond. As I established last prog, Dredd’s arm has been caught in the jaws of the gator, but unlike with the klegghound there’s no gun on the end of the arm. He still has another arm free though – and access to a bootknife. World-building wise we find out that most of Mega-City One doesn’t use the antiquated sewer systems but that some do: Badford Stuy (I had no idea what this meant, so had to look up districts of New York – it’s Bedford–Stuyvesant); Philadilly (Philadelphia, naturally) and Old Town (New York and/or New Jersey). Why is this mentioned? Because Dredd’s next port of call is a sewer works which processes waste and produces water and polypropylop. I think we’ve seen that mentioned before once or twice – wasn’t that balloon that melted over a birthday party made out of the substance? It’s not just for balloons though, as we’re shown a range of goods similar to the plasteen range – furniture, electronic goods and even a citiblock. The boss of the sewer works tells Dredd that maintenance droids (which look like ants but the scale isn’t clear – I’d assumed they were bigger than a person but they could just have been really close). Turns out they were only programmed to detect small vermin and not, for instance, five metre long alligators. While the boss gets about reprogramming the maintenance droids, Dredd starts to formulate the negligence charge before being interrupted by news over the radio that a block survival club has gone down in to the sewers…

Rogue Trooper: Death Valley M For Murder! by Gerry Finley-Day and Cam Kennedy. Not given a part number, but it’s part 2. Major Magnum being back, having been regened by Millicom, he starts the field court marshal of Rogue for desertion, the sentence for which is death. The chips try to defend, but the Major is rather biased and dismisses all of their points – some of which are that the Traitor General is the real villain of the piece and that the Norts have been hit so hard by Rogue that they’ve developed a new weapon. Speaking of which, we get shown a Nort experiment – it’s some kind of brainwashing thing. There is another point – Bagman says they’ve been hitting the Norts for three years – but as I surmised from the Fort Neuropeans knowing about Rogue despite having been isolated for ten years, that doesn’t quite match up. As he prepares to shoot Rogue, the Norts also prepare to activate their weapon from orbit – but for reasons it has to lock in on the biochipped equipment instead of Rogue. I had thought that it would mistakenly target Magnum instead of Rogue, but looks like Helm, Gunnar and Bagman are going to be acting up next prog instead.

A reservation coupon shares a page with a next prog and next-but-one prog trailer centred around Nemesis the Warlock (two week’s time) and a Nemesis the Warlock futurescan (next week).

Ace Trucking Co.: On the Dangle: 8 by Grant Grover and Belardinelli. Similar to this week’s episode of Halo Jones, in this story Ace Garp’s scarf plants an ughbug under Evil Blood’s pirate hat where it rapidly reproduces until the colony lifts the hat off his head. Meanwhile, Belardinelli shows us small creatures crawling from under panels across the page and lifting up other panels to hide beneath (fourth wall ahoy). Meanwhile the subplot has Garp talk Evil Blood out of killing and eating the princess and instead ransoming her for a billion big byms. Further he manages to con Blood in to letting him take the princess away for her safety in case Bug Bly’s Boys attack and kill her in the crossfire, thus losing their ransom. Remarkably, Feek sticks up for Garp when Chiefy pours scorn on Garp’s ability to talk their way out of the latest crisis situation. Slipping out of Porto Bucko, everybody on board is jubilant that they appear to have escaped, whatsmore about to get their sentences pardoned in to the bargain. Except Ghost, who doesn’t buy it.

Grailpage: tricky – there’s a lot of great art on show, but none of the stories has any set pieces, which would have made it easier to pick. Kim Raymond’s opener for Gator has quite a dynamic half-width wide panel showing Dredd slicing the belly of a gator, Belardinelli has a great sequence of Speedo Ghost leaving Port Bucko but I’m going for Ian Gibson’s page of Halo Jones displaying great visual comedy as Toby comes second best in a battle of wits against a rat.

Grailquote: T B Grover, Judge Dredd: “If the gators don’t get me, the DYSENTRY will!” I had no idea what the word ‘dysentry’ meant and had to ask my parents. They probably wondered just what I was reading! From the same episode, Justice Department medic: “No alcohol for 36 hours. And lay off the romance for a week.” Judge Dredd: “You trying to be funny?”

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