2000AD Prog 386: “The sentence is thrill-power…” “The sentence is…” “DEATH!” Tharg on trial!

One of my two favourite depictors of griminess takes to the cover as Eric Bradbury shows the Dictators of Zrag dressed as judges about to execute the Mighty One (my other favourite grime artist is Mike Dorey).

Tharg’s Nerve Centre has Tharg send pin-ups of Judge Dekker and Venus Bluegenes to two separate troops – one in Germany, one in RAF Waterbeach. Another reader asks when a few series will return: Sláine (soon) and The Stainless Steel Rat for President (very soon). In the corner are printed ‘Extra Tokens’ to make up for the fallout of the industrial action the previous month, which led to delays in publishing and one title folding.

Ace Trucking Co.: On the Dangle! Part 9 by Grant Grover and Belardinelli. Ace gets dubbed Honorary Hog of the Realm of Hoggus Major by King Trott. Ace swerves a marriage proposal from Princess Gadarina. Ace and the rest of the crew have their sentences quashed. Things are going hunky dory. Chiefy is less optimistic, and rightly so as Evil Blood picks this point to show up. Y’know, I was keeping an eye out when Ace’s scarf would start showing signs of animation, and when Ron Smith’s depiction of Dredd’s helmet got those frown lines and I’m keeping my eye on Dredd’s eagle as drawn by Ian Gibson, but I completely forgot to look at Evil’s torso tattoo. In case you hadn’t guessed from context, it also shows signs of animation, or at least the eyes of the blackwork skull do. The crew of the Speedo Ghost show absolutely no loyalty to their captain and he’s left to simply run away. There’s no further conflict, Ace has just picked up an enemy who shall return. There’s some nice panel work from Belardinelli as the Speedo Ghost lifts off, leaving a fiery trail in its wake, which sets fire to the corners of the few of the panels at the top of the page!

Mighty Micro Page. It’s a sign of the rapid evolution of computer games that a few years after the really primitive graphics of the first wave of home computer games the publishers are actually including screenshots of the merely primitive graphics on the covers of their games. The game prompting that sentence was Psytron from Beyond Software. Meanwhile four earthlets have submitted high scores for games on the Spectrum, ZX81, BBC and Vic 20.

The computer theme continues in the prog’s first advert: Weetabix – 100 home computer sets to be won. To be won are Dragon 64 computers (never heard of it), including a disk drive unit (there’s a picture but I can’t tell if it’s a 3½ floppy (which just about existed by then) or the more established ​5¼. Also pictured is a ‘data recorder’. For those who didn’t have home computers in the early eighties – it’s a tape recorder, as used to play music compact audio cassettes – the first one I owned specifically called out that it was compatible with computers (and the computer I used it with was a ZX81).

Tharg the Mighty in Zrag Law by T.M.O. and Eric Bradbury. Quick version: the Hag of Zrag casts a spell making the three Dictators in to Judges – as seen on the cover. They arrest Tharg and are about to execute him when the Mighty One blows the thrill intensifier to bring characters from the original artwork for the latest prog to life, defeating the Judges of Zrag. Nice touches: their first action is to sentence their mother to 100 years in an iso-cube (a small box); they ride Zragmasters – which feature a candle in place of the main headlight; John Howard is still working on reception in Kings Reach Tower; the Niffgiver has six settings from knockout through lethal to unbridled stench; the Dictators get sentenced to a two years long signing session at a well-known comic shop (and overseen by a character who I’m reliably informed shares more than passing similarity to former script droid and founder of Forbidden Planet Nick Landau) . Eric takes his cue from King Carlos in depictions of John Howard and the H-Wagons and I think becomes the third or fourth art droid to depict a Manta Prowl Tank.

More adverts – pretty similar to last week – the Judge Dredd Annual 1985 at the top and Eagle Comics (Judge Child Quest cover by Brian Bolland (the Jigsaw Man) and Nemesis the Warlock by Kevin O’Neill), Star Frontiers (TSR sci-fi game), Imagine (TSR British Dungeons & Dragons magazine), G*1 boardgame and the REAL Judge Dredd.

Judge Dredd: Gator Part 3 by T.B. Grover and Kim Raymond. Classic opening pages – the Jimmy Tarbuck Block Survival Club have started a five-day exercise in the sewers beneath Old Town to earn their merit badges. After only an hour a few start panicking but are assured they can’t get lost as long as Randy is with them, as he knows the sewers like the back of his hand from his days working for the Sewage Dept sixty years earlier. While this is being explained we get to see a white alligator approaching, snatching Randy at the end of the double page spread. A time-worn trope, but well executed. They’re a thoroughly nasty bunch, by the way – despite protests that he didn’t know there were gators in the sewers they push the club leader, Sherm, in after Randy, to his death. Poetic justice dictates that they’re so overjoyed at their act of murder that they jump up and down, causing the ledge to crumble and go the way of Randy and Sherm. At this point I’m cheering on the gators, but eight members of the club manage to get out alive when the judges save them (three even survive with all limbs intact). Just time for the punchline regarding the survival club exercise: “Looks like they flunked out!”

Tharg’s Future-Shocks: The War Game! by T.M. Hebden and Jaimie Ortiz. I got really confused by this as it seems to hark back to a previous era of 2000AD so I thought it must have been a reprint (it also seemed really familiar, as if I’d already read it as part of my prog slog). Turns out it was the other way around – I’d re-read it recently as it gets reprinted in the Rogue Trooper Annual 1991, which I guested on Space Spinner 2000 the other month (and was broadcast earlier this month). A Major leads a group of human soldiers against their enemy who we don’t see clearly – all we know is that they’re wearing face-concealing helmets and are shorter than the human soldiers. Spoiler – the human soldiers are humans, so it’s not like the human-looking soldiers are robots and the robot-looking soldiers humans. What it is is that the enemy combatants are children who have been mutated or something.

Interrupted by an advert aimed at cyclists – presumably by the Department for Transport, though it’s not specified.

Rogue Trooper: M For Murder Part 3 by Gerry Finley-Day and Cam Kennedy. Just as Major Magnum is about to shoot Rogue, the Nort secret weapon takes effect, causing the bio-chips to start acting up. Heading over to shut them up, Magnum comes in to range of the beam and shoots his own head off. I say head but from a silhouetted picture later on in the episode it looks like it took off most of the top of his body – those officer’s pistols are pretty powerful! By the time the Norts turn up Rogue is long gone and all they find is a bunch of dead Norts around Hill 19 and a blue-skinned corpse (or what’s left of it). This is a quick story, despite taking three episodes – it really just exists to set up the last panel, Rogue is going to find the Traitor General – what’s he been trying to do for the past three years of stories then? I remember scenes from the next story but not specifics, so can’t remember how he actually tracks down the Traitor that he’s pretty much failed to do so far.

Thrill-Power Extravaganza! trails the next prog and the start of Nemesis the Warlock Book IV and Helltrekkers plus new stories for Dredd, Ace and Rogue.

To get us ready for the return of Nemesis the back page has a Nemesis the Warlock Who’s Who written by Pat Mills, drawn by Kevin O’Neill and featuring a map of the galaxy (the Termight Empire, Fringe Worlds, Nether Worlds and Gothic Empire included) and headshots of Nemesis; Grobbendonk; Magna; Torquemada; Purity Brown; Mek-Quake; Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein. Having only read (most of) Book III, I was unfamiliar with Purity, Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein when this first came out (though I’d have seen Hammerstein’s head in that photo-feature from the 1984 sci-fi special). I wouldn’t have read Red Planet Blues until christmas, even though the annual it appeared in was on the shelves by this point.

Grailpage: my favourite period of Kevin O’Neill’s style, drawing characters he won’t depict in comic stories means that Who’s Who wins this week.

Grailquote: Grant/Grover, Ace Garp: “Ya can’t bloon me with this untucker bucker! I’m the one what gotcha outa stoop copo, remember?” Feek the Freek: “You’re the one who got us in it, too, big ears!”

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