2000AD Prog 398: Have a cosmic Christmas, earthlets! “Ho ho ho!”

Kevin O’Neill provides a cover poster for christmas, featuring a version of Father Christmas that could only come from his pen! Of particular interest (on the back of the prog) are fireplace monsters, houses setting fire to each other and fighting snowmen, cheered on by bloodthirsty spectators (also snowmen). Snowthirsty? Icethirsty? Whatever animated snowmen have instead of blood.

Tharg’s Nerve Centre has a few words I had to look up, courtesy of various earthlets. First up was in a recipe for Tharg involving hydromel (it’s a type of mead, or something) and the second was a clerihew (a type of biographical poem with four lines of irregular length – first line is the name of the poem’s subject, second rhymes with that then the last two lines rhyme with each other).

The Stainless Steel Rat for President by Harry Harrison, adapted by Kelvin Gosnell and Carlos Ezquerra. You might expect that Slippery Jim diGriz would be lying low for a few hours before trying to escape the city and return to the castle that the rest of his family have made a base (and which I wish I’d mentioned had an unremarked-upon semaphore system set up on a tower when it appeared). diGriz doesn’t do this though – he holes up in a suitably seedy hotel and passes the time by getting invited to a game of poker which all too obviously was intended to hustle him. He plays along but when they turn guns on him he fights back, taking out two of the three with tranquilisers from a hidden needle gun. While they’re unconscious he recruits them (well, the conscious one – but they play along when they awaken) to his new political party – the Nobles, Workers and Peasants Party. One bank heist later (from a Zapilote bank, naturally) and it’s time to attempt to enter a noble’s castle within the city to use the semaphore system to get a message back to the ‘home’ castle (see why I wish I’d mentioned it when it appeared previously?) – but first he has to get in to a castle. A distraction leaves him trapped between the guard’s position and a locked door with an unfamiliar lock – cliffhanger!

Tharg’s Future-Shocks: The Search for Spot (in a Star Trek typeface presumably by lettering droid Richard Starkings) by Pete Milligan and Jeff Anderson. This might be Starking’s first appearance in the prog (haven’t noticed previously) and has to be Anderson’s first work for the mighty one. Joe is doing a six-month tour working on an alien planet while daydreaming about winning the massive prize for bringing the first intelligent alien back to Earth. His co-worker Eddie is taking food to his pet (whom Joe assumes is imaginary). Seeing it’s real, a real alien and an intelligent one, greed for money takes over and he knocks out Eddie and catches the alien, which turns out to be slippery. I haven’t turned the page yet, but as Joe chases the alien (Spot) I’m going to guess that he’s going to be led to a cage, put on exhibit in an alien zoo and that Spot will get paid a large reward for taking Joe back to Spot’s home planet. Yep.

Nemesis the Warlock Book IV: The Gothic Empire by Pat Mills and Bryan Talbot. The pastiche of 1930s Universal horror films continues as Torquemada opens his eyes in his new, permanent, super-body. But he can’t move. Professor Victor Frankenstein and the other members of the Hellfire Club have trapped him in the body – for him to move would require more power, but first they’ll inject him with mind-control serum so that he can help them to claim Termight itself. Time for a flashback to tell us why Tomas has put himself in to this position. Remember that starscan of the Family of Tomas de Torquemada in Prog 250? We get to meet Candida properly in these memories, and mention is made of his children Pandora and Barbarossa. He might be a genocidal maniac, but he cares about his family, and the fact that they’re afraid of him now that he’s a phantom has led him to go to drastic lengths to get a permanent physical body. Back in the present and the Goths gloating is interrupted by a massive power surge from a Terminator space-ship overhead, giving Torque the power he needs to get animated. Everyone dies – not just the Goths but also the Terminators in the ship, so that they won’t be able to tell anybody that Torque was on Britannia.

The Nat West On Line Saver’s Club advert gets another outing before the centre pages and…

Judge Dredd: City of the Damned by T.B. Grover and Steve Dillon. Heading through the ruined city, Anderson tries to convince Dredd that they should head back to the Proteus time machine but Dredd’s having none of it. Through attacks by large snakey-monsters, over sudden acid pools, past more large creatures they head towards The Dark – where the Mutant’s psi-force is strongest. Anderson nick-names the Mutant ‘spiderman’ – I wouldn’t be surprised if this makes it in to a question in one of the annuals or specials at some point within the next year… After a brief interlude with some wretched mega-citizens who are scratching a life from slime and bugs – which serves only to reinforce the atmosphere of hopelessness – they head in to The Dark, from whence nobody has ever returned.

Ace Feek Evil Trucking Co.: Strike Eleven! by Grant Grover and Belardinelli. Ace continues to hitch lifts between speaking beacons. Meanwhile Feek treats G-B-H’s wound (even though he’s dead). Chiefy thinks this is a waste of time, but having lived alongside somebody with (dead) written on their clothing for around seven years (I think that’s how much back-pay they said they were owed), Feek knows there’s a possibility that G-B-H might not let a little thing like death stop him. Not having the slightest idea where Ace is, under Captain Evil Blood’s orders they start by checking out his home planet, Parp, home of the barps. It has a ring, and is shaped like Garp’s head. I wouldn’t swear to it, but I think one of the barps is intended to be the obligatory cameo by Massimo (it’s a big difficult to tell whether the bearded visage is supposed to be him, as none of the barps have hair atop their heads). Speaking of which, at mention of his name they make their opinion of Ace perfectly clear – there’s no way Garp would return to this planet. Chiefy knows which way things are heading and jumps ship – leaving behind his tail (did I mention that it got chopped off by Evil?) for Feek – who finds it very tasty! Feek has remembered Ace’s second ship though – Old Peart the Third. Such is narratology that Ace remembers his second ship at around the same time… I suppose this is the last we’ll see of Chiefy – I don’t recall there being any return. By the way – the escape pod he departed in looks like a teacup, complete with saucer – I guess this is Belardinelli’s take on a flying saucer?

The Hell Trekkers by F Martin Candor and Horacio Lalia. On Heartbreak Ridge Lucas buries 25 trekkers – I was going to say that’d make a nice supper for the tyrannosaurs but then realised that all three were now dead. Black Scab, tyrannosaurs, radiation sickness take the total dead so far up to 39, leaving 72 trekkers from the 111 to continue. Six days have passed since they left Mega-City One. They eventually make it to a way-station, Stinking Creek. The greeting they get is hospitable. Too hospitable. The kind of greeting a planet gave the crew of Dan Dare’s Space Fort before trying to suck their blood. True enough, the muties running this station plan to “Take ’em!” once the trekkers are drunk.

Grailpage: I keep missing out the covers when trying to choose a grailpage – not this week as that wraparound cover poster wins – largely for the half that appears on the back of the prog, featuring wintery vignettes, O’Neill style.

Grailquote: Pat Mills, Ursa: “You see, Torquemada, we knew you’d cheat us once you had a new body.” Professor Victor Frankenstein: “So we beat you to it.” Tomas de Torquemada: “And not a bad effort… for beginners. But you should have realised – when it comes to treachery… I am the Grand Master!”

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