2000AD Prog 396: WIN! Dungeons & Dragons treasure trove! “We need NEW BLOOD – join us, Joe…” “Hershey! She’s a VAMPIRE!”

Robin Smith reprises the last panel of last week’s Dredd (and no doubt the opener of this week’s too) in this cover showing vampire Hershey about to put the bite on Dredd.

Tharg’s Nerve Centre has a letter from an earthlet whose brother insists that Helltrekkers is ‘copied’ from Bloodfang (a dinosaur story running in Eagle). I must have been getting Eagle at this time as I remember when it ran as well. The brother completely fails to notice that ‘F Martin Candor’ (actually John Wagner and/or Alan Grant) was the scribe behind both stories – a fact which Tharg does not fail to point out. There’s no response to the request for info on how Squaxx are storing progs, but art robot (and cover artist) Robin Smith suggests they be stored in a cool, dry, dark place – particularly as colour is susceptible to light.

The Stainless Steel Rat for President by Harry Harrison, adapted by Kelvin Gosnell and Carlos Ezquerra. Jim is unconscious on the ground, Bolivar is ready as a getaway driver, James retrieves Jim while Angelina provides covering fire. Gadget wise, Jim reveals a molecular extractor and restorer (which basically turns large pieces of equipment in to little toy-sized objects, and vice versa) and a tissue regenerator which heals all wounds. Out in the independent planes the diGriz family are introduced to a Marquez and he formulates a plan that the best way to topple the president (who commands the police and military) is to rig the forthcoming election. There’s bad news, though as ever another person’s bad news is good news to Slippery Jim. All election candidates must be registered that day, and they must do it in person at the castle of President Zapilote, which is out-of-bounds to all but the president. They prepare the chopper, keeping low to avoid long-distance radar and heading to the heliport before veering off, hugging the streets and dropping off Jim and the twins within the walls of the palace.

This is it – as I turn the page I see the Zarjaz Dungeons & Dragons competition after the last episode of Star Shadow by Graeme Morris and Tim Sell. My last chance to try to memorise made-up names before trying to answer the questions (without referring back to them). Unfortunately I don’t know if the answers will ever actually be published, but if it really gets to me I suppose I could always dig out the progs I’ve re-read in the last few weeks to find out. Anyway, here goes: Tomb of the King has Matt Greyshadow the halfling and Morwyn Starbrow in the king’s burial mound beneath the marsh to look for the Gem of Night. The Watcher is revealed as the king, buried with the gem when he died which led to some kind of undeath. The ice gem is the only thing which can destroy him but he and his minions cannot touch it, so he’s sent them out in to the world to try to lure people to bring it to him. Got that? The Watcher tries to force Morwyn to throw the ice gem into a pit of fire but she makes her will saving throw and casts it at the undead king instead. The duo now hold both gems, The Shadow taking the gem of night and The Star taking the ice gem (isn’t that a biscuit?) Graeme Morris also wrote a bunch of D&D modules, while Tim Sell illustrated the Fighting Fantasy gamebook The House of Hell – including an infamous banned page showing a naked human sacrifice. That probably didn’t get in to the US edition though looking it up the original release was about halfway through the lifepsan of this comic strip.

The competition! First prize is 60 copies of the Basic D&D set (the Mentzer boxed set for afficianados), second is 20 subscriptions to Imagine magazine and third is 50 Dungeons & Dragons jigsaws. 10 part story, 10 questions, presumably each question will refer to each episode. Without referring to the page I’ve just read… 1: The Star is Morwyn Starbrow. 2: the name of the town attacked by goblins was… er… it had an umlaut in it. 3: the nickname of the frost giant was… um… dunno. 4: the city of thieves was Darkhaven. 5: Klas Bara’s battle cry was… something I didn’t notice. 6: the race of creatures which first found the Ice Gem were dwarves. 7: Klas Bara’s brand is on his chest. 8: Matt and Morwyn are attacked by a were-rat in Darkhaven. 9: the Isle of Gulls is West of all the other places. 10: The Watcher is destroyed by having the Ice Gem chucked at them. I’ve referred back to my notes and the following are the ones I missed out: the town was Björnsfjell. I didn’t make a note of the Frost Giant’s name – I just called it ‘Frost Giant’ – referring back to prog 389 it’s probably “ol’ Icebreeks”. That battle cry was Belerion. By my reckoning I got seven out of ten correct. Probably not enough to win anything (though if I had actually been entering the competition I’d have referred to my progs before answering).I’d gotten past the stage where I actually detached starscans and this is yet another competition that had a cut-out token. Maybe I’d have entered if it hadn’t required that? It’s all superfluous as two years (more like one and a half – it was around Easter 1986) later I would buy the star prize anyway, and I still own it, a little faded (unfortunately I didn’t heed Robin Smith’s advice and left it out in sunlight for some time, so some parts of my copy of the red box are pink).

Nemesis the Warlock Book IV: The Gothic Empire by Pat Mills and Bryan Talbot. Exhausted of his psychic powers for the time being, Nemesis deals with Hammerstein ‘the old-fashioned way’, i.e. hitting ‘im until he stops moving. He’s still ticking though… The page where that happens has a panel on the right which stretches to the bottom of the page while the flow of the story heads back to the left – unlike in some previous pages in the last seven years, there’s no confusion on where the eye should be going through Steve Potter’s speech balloon placement and Bryan Talbot’s having nemesis literally pointing at the next panel to be read with his pointy nose and arm. The panel in question has Torquemada reveal himself now that his hit squad has failed but is thwarted from killing Queen Victoria when Prince Albert sacrifices himself. Nemesis, having defused the bomb within Hammerstein, turns and shoots Torque through the window though the phantom escapes. The Brick Moon is policed by Star Troopers (armed with heat-ray weapons) who deal with the remainder of the hit-squad. The assassination attempt over, it remains only for Hammerstein to be executed, despite Ro-Jaws protestations. Nemesis is unwilling to intervene and Hammerstein himself is tired of living. How’s that for a cliffhanger? No Mek-Quake in sight!

I’ve covered the range of Fleetway annuals previously, though I will note that of all the comics I’d have been getting around this time (Eagle, 2000AD, Battle Action Force and maybe Tiger) the only annuals I wanted were for 2000AD and Judge Dredd…

Judge Dredd: City of the Damned by T.B. Grover and Kim Raymond, the third art droid in four episodes to work on this mega-epic. I sense scheduling problems. Vampire Hershey’s voice is seductive as she draws close to Joe, almost hypnotic. But unless he’s in a psych evaluation, Joe ain’t that susceptible to hypnosis… Vampire Judge Coffey tries to lure Anderson to become one of them, but she retorts that she’s vegetarian (though makes an exception for the vampire, biting his gauntleted hand). Hershey and the others dispatched, Dredd grabs an event tape from the seven days preceding the last intake and the pair scoot away from the increasingly busy Sector House. They free the prisoners (vampire food) from the holding pens and burn down the (sector) house. Once clear they prepare to view the tape (luckily lawmasters from 2107 use the same tape format as Sector House Control computers from 2120). Next prog – and I think we’re going to go back to Steve Dillon.

Ace Trucking Co.: Strike Nine! by Grant Grover and Belardinelli is back! Ace quits, giving the reason that “when lugbuddies can’t truck tucker it’s gotta be ten-ten an’ never again” – he might have his faults, but Ace has always been loyal to other truckers (though not always going as far as to pay them wages). They drop Ace off at a speaking beacon (mid-space distress buoy) and head to B-Hive B to hire a new pilot. Other than being provisionally loyal, Ace was also a good pilot – as G-B-H points out, it’ll be hard to replace him. I couldn’t remember a) how they found Ace again and b) why they’d want to. But the last panel gives me a massive clue as Captain Evil Blood sees the advert for a new pilot…

The 2000AD Annual 1985 gets a second advert in the same prog (granted the previous one was as one of many Fleetway annuals). The next prog ad uses fragments of a Brendan McCarthy Dredd poster…

The Hell Trekkers by F Martin Candor and Horacio Lalia. The dying dinosaur doesn’t cause as much damage as I’d expected it would, just falling backwards. The other one (the last remaining one?) gets scared off by fire from the radwagons and Lucas Rudd (suffering from black scab) heads after it on a pod. He manages to take it out with a bomb, but his pod is destroyed in the process and he hits a quick-quag pool on the way back to the trek (think quicksand). The last page is on the back cover and is very yellow.

Grailpage: resisting the urge to pick Nemesis the Warlock again, I’m going for a thoughtful though still cartoonish page from Massimo Belardinelli as Ace is left alone with his thoughts on the speaking beacon. There’s also a parallel series of thought bubbles as Ace imaginarily squawks to himself.

Grailquote: Grant Grover, Feek the Freek: “Barkeep! Three double macmac” G-B-H: “I’ll have three as well!” the old jokes are the best! (Chiefy: “Make mine a small dry sherry!”)

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