2000AD Prog 387: Nemesis the Warlock in The Gothic Empire

Kevin O’Neill provides a new cover for the debut of Nemesis the Warlock Book IV. I say ‘new’ because the story within, while previously unpublished, was created some time before this prog was published. I’ll probably cover that when Tharg does – in three prog’s time. This prog has a cover date of the 13th of October, 1984 – so it would have been on shelves the weekend before (so not far off the date this blog post is being published).

It’s a jumping-on prog, which means that Tharg’s Nerve Centre is taken with (let’s do a checklist): introduction from Tharg – check! Data file on Tharg – check! Betelgeusian phrasebook – check! Run-down of the stories appearing in this prog for new readers – check! Instructions to readers on how to get published (use black ink on white paper in fan art, include name and address, keep letters short and to the point) – check, though we don’t usually get that, so on with the prog!

Nemesis the Warlock Book Four: The Gothic Empire by Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill. I discussed this book (amongst others) on the Mega-City Book Club (link goes to my entry on this blog, which then has a collection of links to MCBC places). I’ve not listened to this podcast lately so will probably mention some of the same things in the coming days as I cover the story here. This was the first Book of Nemesis that I actually read all of as I had missing progs in the Book III run when this had come out. Another first was this was my introduction to steampunk, though the term itself wasn’t invented until three years after this story was published. I started to like airships and a few of the alternative history tropes that by the time I saw the term on books in the early nineties I’d already got in to Michael Moorcock’s Nomad of the Time Streams books. From what I can tell, the O’Neill pages of this book were intended to be run either after Olric’s Great Quest or between the World’s End and Great Uncle Baal episodes of Book I. First time I read this episode (which introduces us all to the Gothic Empire, which had appeared on galactic maps ever since Prog 222) I probably hadn’t heard of Mafeking or any of the other British Empire-themed names, other than Britannia. Other references I wouldn’t have gotten: Ion Duke = Iron Duke; Colonel Starblower = Horatio Hornblower; land ironclads = tanks. Plot-wise the Terminators start a war against the Gothic Empire (but don’t declare war, in an dashed unsporting move), Nemesis is on his way, Grobbendonk gets mistreated by the Goths and we find out that the Ion Duke’s daughter and her fiancée are in league with Torquemada and plotting against the Duke and the entire Gothic Empire. The previous book of Nemesis was one of my favourite stories and a large part of the reason I kept buying 2000AD. In contrast this book was a tonal shift, but I’ll hold off on writing further on that until Tharg provides a note in Prog 389 (though if you want a preview I think I went in to this on Eamonn’s podcast).

Rogue Trooper: To the Ends of Nu Earth – Part 1 by Gerry Finley-Day and Cam Kennedy. This is it – after three years of tales the lead-up to the end of the tale that started in Prog 232. After a standard encounter with some Norts Bland and Brass arrive on the scene – though Brass is dead, preserved in a sarcophagus. I can’t believe I never worked out before that the two were lovers – Bland refers to their relationship as “our, er, partnership” and has a lacy handkerchief embroidered with “To someone special from Morrie”. The first gay characters in 2000AD? I was hesitant about this story following the decision last prog that even though they’d been walking Nu Earth for years, this time they’re actually going to hunt the Traitor General down (what have you been doing the rest of the time, G.I.s?) but the reintroduction of Bland, quick recounting of how he’s dying as a result of the Traitor and the location of said General gets this story off to a great start. The last two panels have a nice touch in that Bland wants their craft torched so that they, of all people, won’t be looted. Rogue obliges, finishing the episode walking away from the funeral pyre.

Advert time! Battle Action Force takes the top of the page – this is a comic I bought around this time, but not the issue advertised here. The bottom half has an advert for Everyday Electronics and Computer Projects which appears to be a partwork that includes parts of a physical kit (I may be wrong on this).

The Hell Trekkers by F Martin Candor and Jose Ortiz Horacio Lalia. Some people don’t like this – perhaps I was the right age to encounter it for the first time but I always enjoyed this cast-off from the first proposed Judge Dredd comic (and it’s been some time since I re-read it, so who knows how much I’ll enjoy it this time around?) – if memory serves, other stories lined up to appear in said comic (which eventually would see print) were the Anderson Psi-Division series, Bad Company (which got drastically reworked) and a Blockers story – though I might be getting mixed up with that one. 111 mega-citizens renounce their citizenhood to trek across the Cursed Earth in – what we’re told – is 28 rad-wagons. If memory serves it’s actually 27 rad-wagons (heavily armoured vehicles which offer protection against radiation) and one mo-pad (none of that). This story features maps! Lots of ’em! Though the scale leaves a little to be desired, as the first day of the trek (due to cover 2,000 kilometres to the New Territories) takes them a third of the way across the Cursed Earth and to Sauron Valley – which took Dredd and the gang a fair number of episodes (thirteen) to reach in the original Cursed Earth saga. EN Publishing has produced a map of the Cursed Earth which I believe includes many of the features from this story (plus other locations culled from other Cursed Earth stories) but I’m resisting temptation to get that off the bookshelf as I’ll never get this blog post out if I keep getting distracted! So… one day out and dinosaurs. The mo-pad bursts a tyre and trekmaster Rudd goes back to supervise repairs. The baddies of the piece are introduced as they shoot at a herd of otherwise harmless herbivores, provoking a stampede (there’s also a mammoth in there, among the dinosaurs). Not as deep as some of the other stories we’ve had in the 300s, but an entertaining start to a mostly non-Mega City Dredd-based strip (a judge appears in the first two panels but the city is left behind by the time it gets to the second page).

Staggering news for all our readers… Christmas Fun – One million annuals for Santa! If I didn’t get my 2000AD and Judge Dredd annuals as a result of previous adverts then I’m sure I’d have been pestering my parents by the time this four-page features appeared! The pull-out (which I left in) has thirty of those fifty annuals listed – deep breath: Buster; Cheeky; Cor!!; Jackpot; 2000AD; Judge Dredd; Eagle; Battle Action Force; Roy of the Rovers; Tiger; Oh Boy!; No. 1 Yearbook; Razzmatazz; My Guy; Shoot!; BMX; Jack and Jill; Fun-to-do; Willo the Wisp; Playhour; Krazy; Girl; Photo-Love; Misty (yay!); Angler’s Mail; Monster Fun; Barbie; Jim’ll Fix It; 3-2-1.

Star Shadow (an advert for Dungeons & Dragons). It’s told in comic form and I like the art by Tim Sell so I’m going to write about it. Tharg also told us there was going to be a competition asking questions about this serial comic strip advert. Maybe writing about this will help me get the answers when the competition runs? Morwyn Starbrow is an elf (who has the ability to hypnotise, though she doesn’t look like a magic-user class). Matt Greyshadow is a halfling (from his behaviour, possibly a thief). The pair have arrived in Björnsfjell, a cold city to the North of whatever land they’re in. Turns out that’s a real place in Norway, but that’s beside the point. And I’ve just realised that the game this is advertising is Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, the edition that I bought in the 1980s. Also known as the red box or Mentzer edition, this is the one with the Larry Elmore dragon on the cover art – and elves and halflings in this edition don’t have classes – their race is their class. Anyway – they arrive in this town, go to the tavern and somebody bursts through the door with two arrows in their back. The player-character stand-ins head out and see a bunch of wolves. Hazarding a guess, they didn’t shoot arrows in the back of the dead person. They’re large wolves and a huge white wolf is probably a dire wolf. That’s it – a one-page advert which potentially contains clues to win something-or-other back in 1984. Probably the Basic Set.

1984 Reader Profiles. We’ve had a number of the ‘usual’ (domestic) profiles followed by the overseas profiles last week. This week is an excuse to run some reader’s art of what are called aliens. I phrase it in that way and may be biased as it comes immediately after that D&D advert, but the only one of these that doesn’t look like it may have been ripped from a Monster Manual or Fiend Folio instead looks like D.R. I’m not accusing the earthlets involved of plagiarism, just that I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw very similar images in RPG magazines or supplements.

There was a small advert previously for Abacus Arcade, but the images were so unclear I skimmed what was in it – four (apparently related) games by the names Sentinel, Fireflash, Proteus and Avenger.

Judge Dredd: Question of Judgement by T.B. Grover and Ron Smith. I don’t spend all my time guesting on podcasts, but this is another story I’ve discussed when I talked to Conrad about this story on Space Spinner 2000 a few months ago (it was being reprinted in an annual). My perspective at the time was that the Apocalypse War was something that had happened in the history of the strip but that I hadn’t read yet. The opening full-page panel (printed in colour despite not being in the centre pages) shows the annual Apocalypse Day Parade. Dredd hales fellow Judge Morph and one of the pair comments that many of those in the parade seem to be celebrating the start of the war, not the end. While the pair handle crowd control for the parade we find out that Morph was the judge who gave Dredd his full eagle a quarter century earlier. This is the first part of the Judgement trilogy – three one-shots in a row showing Dredd’s doubts about the system which he upholds. This one has him question why he killed a perp when he could almost certainly have disarmed them instead. Morph’s classic remedy is for Dredd to legendarily start wearing boots a size too small – tight boots.” It even provokes one of those little-seen Dredd smirks.

Having acquired all those new readers, Tharg wants to retain some and has a nearly full-page ad (interrupted by more Extra Tokens from KP Skips and adverts for the Comic Mart at Central Hall, Westminster and Imagine Magazine from TSR).

Ace Trucking Co.: Strike One! by Grant Grover and Belardinelli. I wouldn’t have gotten the baseball reference in the title of this episode… This story is sometimes called Mutiny and between the two titles you can guess how it goes. You could probably guess who the ringleader is as well as Feek represents the crew of the Speedo Ghost (including Ghost). They have a list of demands, including seven years back pay, all future wages to be paid in advance, future decisions to be put to the vote (no more hare-brained schemes). Ace refuses and everybody goes on strike, including an ughbug in G-B-H’s hair. Ace storms out, past a Belardinelli-faced bampot to the Lugster’s Union to try to get a new crew. But he finds only Evil Blood. The chase is on!

A 2000AD Futurescan: The Hell Trekkers is the first of a two (?)-part listing of all the rad-wagons and their inhabitants, illustrated with images reprinted from the strip. It’s not totally necessary as any characters we need to know about will be introduced in the pages of the story, but it’s a nice touch and makes for an epic feel to the trek.

Grailpage: Kevin O’Neill’s last page of the first episode of Book Four – from the dark Thames-side view of the tombstone-shaped buildings to the same buildings from a different aspect through the intermediary panels showing Ursa, Starblower and poor Kitty. Oh, and there’s the phantasmal shadow of Torque, too.

Grailquote: Pat Mills, Space Admiral Beatty: “…I told you he was speaking nonsense!” Ursa Beatty: “Gibberish, actually!” – possibly the only time the word ‘gibberish’ is mentioned without being followed by ‘a Fringe World dialect’. Also, I have to include TB Grover, Judge Morph: “Tight boots.”

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