A great cover from Steve Dillon and a superlative amount of thought bubbles from Tom Frame here.
Tharg’s Nerve Centre has a letter from an earthlet who polled their friends to determine the most popular stories from progs 300-349 and 363-401. There is no explanation of why progs 350 to 362 are missed out. In the corner is an ad for the Eagle reprints of Judge Dredd (Bolland Block Mania cover) and 2000AD Monthly (Bolland Black Plague with portraits of Johnny Alpha, Wulf Sternhammer, Earnest Errol Quinch and Waldo D.R. Dobbs inset.
The Ballad of Halo Jones Book Two 4: By Royal Appointment by Alan Moore and Ian Gibson. Opening with a gag – Toy points out junk clusters to Halo but by the time she gets to a window they’ve long since passed them – Halo refers to them as “natural wonders of space”. In case we missed him previously a child makes their third appearance (first was on the cover of prog 406 and second was in the pages of said prog). He’s told to get out of the staff only area. Kids, eh? Halo is assigned to take lunch to the Presidential Cabin (at 5.75 – suggesting to me that the hours as well as minutes are decimal in the future) and has a run in with whatever the Clara Pandy of Rumblejacks are called, who issue the lunch strictly according to regulations, even though they’ve probably seen her most days for the past four months. For some reason they can’t take lunch themselves because of “chapel regulations”. I’m not sure we ever get any kind of explanation of what this chapel means. From a technical point of view there’s a nice touch where Steve Potter puts some lower case letters in a dashed word balloon attached to a more regular upper case solid-lined balloon as Halo finishes a sentence under her breath. Probably still annoyed at the rumblejacks she sneaks a peak under the cover of the food and discovers it’s gruel. For the most prestigious cabin on the ship. While lingering next to the door she hears a strangled sound from within and convinces herself to check it out – to discover five rats within, tied by their tails. By means of a keyboard and computer monitor Halo discovers that the five rats together form a joint mind but that one of the rats is dying. She is given the task to find a new, healthy rat to replace the dying rat. And if she doesn’t, then she’ll die. Rat kings are a real thing, by the way – though the cause is unknown.
Next up – another Justice Department poster: “Juves! Junk the water pistol now! Justice is just around the corner. This follows on from Cliff Robinson’s poster from a few progs previous.
Psi-Testers by Alan Hebden and Mike Dorey follows on from last prog. Oscar the psi on the moon has a vision of the future – he let a felon free in the hope that he would reveal the location of a bomb which will detonate, shattering the pressurised dome of Moon City and killing one million lunar citizens to their deaths. The whole first page just recaps the first part. Reading people’s minds isn’t Oscar’s only talent, in Mega-City Psi-Division terms he picks up latents from the gang’s getaway vehicle and manages to find the bomb. Almost too late, captain of Oscar’s acquaintance snatches up the bomb just before it’s going to blow and heads for the nearest airlock, without a suit. The self-sacrifice saves the million citizens, but Oscar wants revenge and/or justice. He heads to Earth, easily follows the psychic trail of evil and ends up in a busy casino. We’ve been told that for some reason psis can’t carry out acts of physical aggression, but Oscar works a way around this by using psychic commands to get Cyclops the gang boss to take out his gun (busy casino remember, lots of witnesses) and shoot his own gang, just as the police turn up. It’s almost an alright story but I think I’d want more detail about why he could be psychically aggressive but not physically aggressive. ‘Kid’ Robson did the lettering for this one – possibly his first work for Tharg? It might well be Mike Dorey’s last work for Tharg as well…
Mega-Plan Update: Fink Brothers Here to Stay! The one page feature has snippets of reviews for the single – at least half of the six are from magazines that really exist so presumably they’re real reviews. I’m tempted to think that one of the ten winners of a Fink Brothers sweatshirt is one of the people behind Everything Comes Back to 2000AD (but I’m pretty sure they’re not from Tyne & Wear so it’s probably somebody else).
Judge Dredd: The Hunters Club Part 3 by T.B. Grover and Steve Dillon. I knew Ron Smith wasn’t going to be continuing on this story but got the replacement wrong – it’s Steve, not Cliff Robinson. A fake open has Chip shoot his target, but it’s really a dummy. After Chip’s ‘friend’ Bub gets Chip to make a stumbling call to the victim, giving them the ‘statutory warning’. It doesn’t go well and Chip goes to pieces afterwards. That’s when Bub reveals that he was set up to be today’s hunter – because once he knows about the club he has to become one of them so that he can’t report them without incriminating himself. And if he refuses? Bub is ready to kill Chip. Right now. Outside the block he’s forced in to making another warning which spooks the victim enough that she calls the judges. And the nearest judge? You can probably guess!
Glenn Fabry’s first artwork in the prog! And it’s for Sláine: Time Killer (a few images culled from the first episode, I believe).
Tharg’s Future-Shocks: But is it Art? by Peter Milligan and Eric Bradbury. I don’t think we’ll see much more of Bradbury’s artwork in future, so enjoy it while you can. Starting with a parody of government-funded job creation schemes of the mid-eighties, this story opens with and old pro criminal training up a fresh recruit from crime-school in the ways of burglary. They’re hitting an art world and following a reasonable guideline that the thing most worth stealing will be the thing which is most heavily protected. This is an absolutely classic Future-Shock structure in that it has two pages facing each other and then a one-panel (and in this case half a page) reveal over the page. The reveal is that the piece of artwork they opted for has the best protection, but it was a living painting and the bars are there to keep the painting away from the people (the two would-be thieves end up in a hellscape, by the way).
The bottom half of the one-panel reveal is another ad for Battle Action Force, this time inviting readers to meet Cobra Commander (this is way after my time but I think he’s a re-invented Baron Ironblood to align British and American versions of Action Force / Action Man / G.I. Joe).
The Hell Trekkers by F Martin Candor and Horacio Lalia. Quint is gone but his legacy runs on as Rudd follows the guide’s dying instructions. After a montage page of trekking they arrive at Quint’s Pass where Rose and Korky look to the future, hopeful that they’ve made it to the pass that Quint found himself. Korky call sit an omen, and anybody familiar with narrative tropes know that when people say how much they have to live for, it’s an omen alright. They want to celebrate their recent wedding but they’re not quite at the pass yet – they have a few kays of unstable rock and fountains of lava to make it through first. The omens are just piling up… True enough a new geyser opens up beneath their rad-wagon – fortunately for the couple, Korky made sure they had an XR17 radwagon – a model with an ejector seat and parachute. Unfortunately their parachute is coming down on another geyser…
A Cam Kennedy Rogue studies the Brett Ewins cover for next prog, but I don’t think either artist will ever actually illustrate a Rogue Trooper story again, so false advertising! This is probably one reason IPC and DC Thompson didn’t run credits… The bottom half has reservation coupons…
…and the back cover has an advert for KP Hula Hoops featuring free colour watches. I’m guessing they’re digital watches and not just a piece of plastic tat with a sticker on? Though it says there’s six colours to collect and it seems unlikely you’d get free digital watches given away free with packets of crisps / potato snacks.
Grailpage: Ian Gibson’s page where Halo enters the Presidential Cabin and discovers the cute little Rat King, with a conked out, almost-dead rat.
Grailquote: Alan Moore, Halo Jones: “Y’know, that Cezanne Goleiter, I’m sure I recognise her voice form somewhere…” Toy Molto: “You’re probably thinking of fingernails scraping down a polyscreen.”