2000AD Sci-Fi Special 1985: Co-starring Rogue Trooper, Ro-Busters, Halo Jones, D.R. & Quinch, Strontium Dog. Starring Judge Dredd. Also featuring puzzles, readers’ art, future shocks, Tharg’s photo album

We’re going from captionless annual covers to blurb-filled sci-fi specials accompanying this painted cover artwork by Ian Gibson.

The contents page has a pic by Cam Kennedy of Rogue Trooper studying the line-up of this annual (as in the title of this post). Also on the Nu Earth news stand is next week’s 2000AD – Prog 422 (which features Rogue more prominently). All of this is depicted in Cam’s usual pen and ink, but with a grey wash adding a bit of depth.

Judge Dredd, I, Beast! by TB Grover and Cam Kennedy. Contrasting with that, this special’s Judge Dredd story has plain ‘ol pen-and-ink work. It’s just occurred to me that the Dredd stories which feature characters making there way through war-ravaged wastelands within the city (as this one does) reflects some of the places I grew up. I’m not entirely sure whether those places were war-ravaged or just the result of a post-industrial society (either is possible though you see a lot less bombsites these days – I guess the mid-eighties, nineties, etc boom periods meant they all finally got redeveloped after a half century). Anyway, Dredd is also in this wasteland on a routine patrol, checking out the down-and-outs. I’m not going back to check, but the Dredd-on-lawmaster looks rather like a McMahon opener, for instance the one from Christmas Comes Early to Des O’Connor Block. This is another entertaining story but there’s not much to it – mad scientist transplants monsters brain (actually an alien species – the Keralian Dragon) into a human body (and vice versa with the left-overs), the alien-brained creature escapes, goes on a mini-killing spree, gets stopped by Dredd – but not before it kills its creator.

Rackle, art by John Higgins

Quiz time – and I took turns with Rackle for these two. First I questions Rackle with Cadet Quiz! Artwise this uses the iconic Robin Smith judge badge and a pic of the Mega City 1 Academy of Law drawn by Ian Gibson. I’m going to take a wild guess that the Gibson pic is from a test page he did for a story which would have run in a proposed Judge Dredd comic but which ended up not being taken up by IPC. Other stories that were prepared for that comic eventually saw print as The Helltrekkers and the Anderson Psi Division story running the weekly when this special was published. If memory serves, Bad Company was initially developed for it too, with art by Ezquerra. Rackle got 45 points out of 50 – top rank (out of three). Unlike previous quizzes, most of the questions were pretty accurate to the comic.

The Mighty Tharg’s Hologram Quiz had Rackle asking the questions. The idea for this quiz is to study a one-page size reprinting of the originally six-page-size Tharg’s Futureworlds poster (ran from Prog 200 to Prog 205, art by Dave Gibbons) for varying amounts of time (15 minutes, 10 if you’re a squaxx dek Thargo and 5 if you’re a Krill Tro Thargo – though realisticly you’re hardly going to get any answers right at all if you’re not a squaxx). As I was fairly familiar with the poster I skipped this bit and just headed straight to the quiz. Each section has a possible 10 points (2 points per answer). Future War – 8. Robots – 10. Mutants – 6. Space Travel – 10. Cities and Cultures – 8. General Thrill Knowledge – 10. Total – 52 out of 60 – the top rank (also out of three).

Judge Dredd: Strip Search! (a couple of Daily Dredd’s, which I’ll cover after this year’s annuals in a few prog-months). Edit – both of these stories (Invasion Earth and Killjoy of the Year) have actually already been covered in the last Daily Dredds I did.

Ro-Busters: The North Sea Tunnel. A reprint of the first Ro-Busters story (without the Day of the Droid prologue and the colour double-page spread is in greyscale here). I already covered this story, but I’ll add a few bits I noticed on this reading (plus this reprint would have been the first time I read the story). Half a million pounds actually sounds like quite a good price to rescue loads of people from a submarine tunnel, considering the story takes place over fifty years in our future. Ro-Jaws’ chassis has a registration number on the back – XM753. Ro-Jaws also has water jet thrusters (though does the droid always have them, or are they just fitted for this story?)

Tharg’s Future-Shocks: Do You Do You Do You Copy? by Pete Milligan and Brendan McCarthy (actually credited under his own name for once). This starts with a scientist who has stolen the anything copier which he’s just stolen (read this as a 3d printer, which can also do organic material). This has a few reveals on the last page, some of which don’t change anything at all and another which just doesn’t make sense. The scientist claims that he stole the machine to take it to an alien race to produce food instead of weapons (which is what the Earth authorities want to do with it) and is murdered / executed by an agent. The aliens actually want to use it to create an army to take over the universe and the scientist wants to be ruler of Earth, the scientist who was killed was (obviously) a copy but turns out they were an enlarged copy as the original scientist is a dwarf. After the dwarf scientist kills the agent who already had killed a few of his clones/copies the last panel shows multiple copies of the dead agent. Why did the scientist make copies of the dead agent? What was the point of that? Also, why couldn’t the scientist have wanted to use the copier to feed Earth’s starving millions instead of to create an army?

Computers Can be Creative… consists of print-outs of digitally-created art from primitive home computers. Probably the picture best suited to this method is the biochips. Computer graphics have some way to go…

…but You’ve got to Draw the Line Somewhere! Future art droid alert! As well as being my introduction to Arnie as a Terminator, this also represents my first sight of Jon Haward’s artwork. All three of the non-micro created pics here show up the limits of mid-eighties computers on the previous page.

We’re already at the centre pages and it’s time for an airbrush heavy centrefold poster of Halo Jones by Ian Gibson. Gibson’s painted art style had changed somewhat by the time we got significant amounts of colour in the prog.

The strip search (Daily Dredds) continue with another four stories (some or all of which I’ve already covered in my round-up last prog-year). Stories here are listed as Strip Search!, Bat Blitz, Great Moments in Science (No. 471) and Nine… Ten… Out!

Ro-Busters: Red Mist. More reprint – this one confused me a bit as (similar to the North Sea Tunnel story) the original story started before what was published here. That one had a Preying Mantis opener before they get called to the disaster site. I wrote about this episode in my coverage of Star Lord No 3. Apparently the other robots in Ro-Busters work in pairs, not just Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein. This never comes up again.

D.R. & Quinch Get Back to Nature by Alan Moore and Alan Davis. The last DR & Quinch story from Alan Moore and the last full DR & Quinch story from Alan Davis (and not that far off from Davis’ last work for Tharg). It’s little more than an excuse to allow Moore and Davis to depict a bunch of vignettes of everybody’s favourite sociopaths running a children’s (US-style) summer holiday camp. Not that that’s a bad thing. It’s all pulled together in the last page(s) / panel – looks like it had been intended to be a centrespread instead of that Halo poster and it also looks like it may have been painted by Alan Davis – possibly the only time in the pages of 2000AD publications that we’ll see painted Davis art (Titan collections, on the other hand…)

Rogue Trooper: On the Rogue Again – uncredited but there’s a few spot illustrations by Cam Kennedy. Spot illos? Yep, it’s the obligatory text story for the special. And when I say uncredited, I even had to go to the special’s contents page to find out the title of the story… There’s an action sequence on a train (I’m thinking I don’t like reading action sequences so much – that’s what comics are for – so you can see them) before it settles in to the actual story. Bagman has a few other names, we find out (unless they appeared in an earlier feature in an annual) – Trooper C.K. serial number 31483/ZN/21. Bagman is recording his last will and testament during a lull in the fighting when it seems that the Nort’s forthcoming assaults will be the final battle for the deserters – I actually think I remember the punchline of this story, but can’t remember anything that happens to get there – we’ll see once I’ve finished the six pages (roughly half and half split between text and art). This story takes place after the G.I.s have been roaming Nu Earth for three years (Bagman reckons he’s got three years of back pay owing to him – though I suspect being a genetic slave and a deserter in to the bargain would put paid to that idea). Having set that up, it’s flashback time to explore why they’re all preparing for their impending deaths. Turns out this is the tale of how Rogue and the boys made it from a desert to the Polar Zone where To the Ends of Nu Earth took place. The punchline is that this isn’t the first time that Bagman has recorded his last will and testament (as a coping mechanism), as the others point out in a none-too-sensitive way.

No Strontium Dog story but there is a cut-out standee (or scissor-scan) of Johnny Alpha by Robin Smith. He’s wearing his green and black stripy top and form fitting green and yellow clothing, holding a Webley blaster and the cut-out bits you fix on are his helmet and webbing / chest rig, containing holster, shoulder pads and S/D agency badge.

The Ro-Busters reprint continues, and concludes. I wrote about the original publication of this episode from Star Lord No 4 already. I don’t have anything to add to what I wrote then.

Tharg’s Photo Album has a bunch of doctored library photos adding Tharg to various situations (native Americans, Keystone Cops, The Fonz and a few others).

It’s been a good year for cosmic front covers… …and the future is zarjaz! Not a round-up of the covers with copy from editorial and creative droids but a mere one-page advert featuring seven covers from the preceding year (Progs 350, 362, 363, 361, 378, 379 and 391 – shown in that order).

Advertisement – it’s the back cover, it’s full colour and it’s an ad for Forbidden Planet (the ones in Denmark Street and St Giles High Street, London). On offer are T-shirts (shown are a Bolland Death and logo Judge Dredd), Eagle Comics (Judge Dredd not a specific issue, 2000AD Monthly, The Stainless Steel Rat and Judge Dredd’s Crime File (I think I have a few of those – it’s early cases, as I recall)) and badges (2000AD logo, Nemesis, Dredd badge and Judge Death).

Grailpage: Ian Gibson’s centrefold starscan of Halo Jones – colourful, air-brushed and if I’d still been putting starscans on my walls this would have surely taken pride of place.

Grailquote: T B Grover, Judge Dredd: “One more step and it’s knee-poppin’ time!” Also, Alan Moore, Nigel: “We’ve grown up so much here, I’m sure you and the other moms and dads will hardly recognise us. Actually, I think a certain amount of scar tissue looks manly and suggests character, don’t you?”

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