2000AD Prog 437: 5 Men plus 1 Droid plus 1 Alien plus 1 Panther Equals ? “Maximum kill-points!” The future of Earth is in Their Hands – Mean Team

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Prog 437 cover, art by Massimo Belardinelli

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Belardinelli’s back – it’s been too long (other than that starscan from two progs ago)! This cover heralds the debut of new thrill The Mean Team, starting inside!

Tharg’s Nerve Centre has a letter from an earthlet who has been reading the progs since 276 and has only just noticed that the J in the Judge Dredd logo contains a silhouette of Dredd. I’m pretty sure I’d noticed by this point – otherwise this was my introduction too.

Nemesis the Warlock Book V: The Vengeance of Thoth by Pat Mills and Bryan Talbot. We met Satanus at the end of the last prog, but what of the events in the plaza beneath Thoth’s apartment? Torquemada was being burnt to death at the stake. For the second time, a mortal Torque is killed, his remains taken away in a simple coffin. But then, unlike that time in the transporter, he finds himself being whipped through the tubes again, and up to the place of execution. Through judicious use of a photocopier, Talbot shows a time loop of Torque being executed again… and again… and again… (you get the picture). Thoth and his pet Satanus are watching the continued torture. Thoth gets Satanus another snack (this time a Mega-City judge) and then turns his attention to more mischief as Nemesis and Purity arrive in Termight via the White Hole Bypass (first appearance – it balances out the Black Hole Bypass on the other side of future Earth). Say what you like about Nemesis, but the warlock would have made a great Blitzspear veterinarian – Thoth brings on the blitzspear skin shedding early and – the only symptom being blood – Nem realises immediately what’s going on. Turns out that Seth has a spell giving interstellar life – not sure I remember that from The Secret Life of the Blitzspear. Must be part of the Kanaga ritual that clad Seth in living metal armour. Anyway, all this blood gets on to the windscreen of the occupants of the vehicle behind them – being driven by Elmer and Mabel – has it taken them ten years or more to get back to Termight after being lost in the Black Hole Bypass? Long way to go to get killed in a traffic collision! As luck would have it (good or bad, your choice) Grand Dragon Mazarin is being shown around the local traffic control watch-tower and sends in the Tube Police and Traffic Commandos, harking back to those early traffic cop-themed Comic Rock stories. Discussed on the Mega-City Book Club.

Another outing for last prog’s ad for reprints from Eagle Comics and IPC Magazines.

The debut of Mean Team by “The Beast” and Belardinelli. Reprints of this story have the Wagner / Grant Combine and Alan Hebden responsible for this – I’m thinking The Beast is the latest pseudonym for Wagner and Grant (already writing two of the other continuing stories this prog) and Hebden will be scripting for the second part of Mean Team – which is getting way ahead of ourselves. There’s plenty on the splash page hinting at what’s to come, but I remembered it from the time as being a future sports story. Our protagonists are Bad Jack Keller (typical scarred anti-hero), Henry Moon (the psychic), Amok (looks like a yeti) and Steelgrip (the robot). On with the story – the latest death sport to grace the pages of 2000AD is the snappily-titled Death-Bowl – and it is a death sport, bearing more in common to Blackhawk’s alien gladiatorial beginnings (in 2000AD, at least) than to Harlem Heroes or Inferno. Funny how all of those were illustrated by Massimo Belardinelli, isn’t it? After being told this is the semi-final of the annual contest, we get to see the arena – looking like a Mean Arena area of town, but in the middle of an actual arena, with spectator stands around it. After meeting the other finalists, we get to meet the opponent semi-finalists and then our protagonists. Notably there’s more people on the team than the four that appeared on that splash page, so I don’t hold out much hope for the players who didn’t feature there. Quick rundown of the rules (courtesy of the announcer) and I don’t think they get expanded on a whole lot over the course of the next few episodes. It’s a capture the flag game but you get points for the mayhem that is inflicted along the way – 1 each for maiming or capturing enemy players, 5 for killing an opponent and 10 for the actual flag (which also ends the game). Poitns are doubled if you get them through hand-to-hand combat so presumably if you kill somebody and capture their flag then you get a total of 30 points. I have a faint memory of how the grand final is going to end, so I’m sure that rules question will be answered then. Team owner Richman Von gives orders to Keller on the game plan, but Jack is a bit lippy in return. Oh, and Von has a pet panther, the team mascot. This is important. Steelgrip the robot is the flagman – protecting the flag. Bilk and Hammer set some booby-traps and take their positions while Keller and Moon go on the hunt for the enemy while the announcer exposits that Keller has double the kill-points of the previous record holder, nearing 5,000 kill-points. Don’t worry if that means nothing to you, it’ll become clear in a couple of episodes time. Amok (looks like a yeti) we’re told is a Beester, captured in a war and sold in to the pit, while Mungo chose the Death-Bowl over execution. The psychic Moon is the only volunteer in the team, joining to pay his debts. The enemy players surrender, but Keller doesn’t take prisoners (so our protagonist is definitely more anti- than hero). Moon admonishes Keller for essentially murdering the enemy players but comes a cropper when picking up the flag, which has been booby-trapped. End of episode. Next prog: “The skull of the panther!” – can you guess what’s going to happen? There’s a clue towards the end of the prog… This appears to be one of those stories which you divide opinion, but maybe I’ll say more when the first book ends and then when the entire series ends (the second appearance has a very different focus). The one criticism I’d have at this stage is that Belardinelli isn’t given enough alien weirdness to draw.

Judge Dredd: Something Abnormal About Norman by T.B. Grover and Cam Kennedy starts off rather like the episode of Red Dwarf that introduced Kryten where the robot didn’t realise that those they were assigned to serve were dead (this Dredd story predates that one by the way). Though as I recall, Kryten’s clients were killed in a crash landing. The malfunctioning robots in this story are rather different. A design fault has led to a circuit burn-out which affects their ability to distinguish between the living and dead. In echoes of the Dark Judge’s creed, those who are dead don’t complain as much as the living. Judges urgently track down the 14,000 robots sold from the batch – 7 are dead before the judges can track them all down. The last page is classic Dredd, with the would-be victim saved from being shot with his own gun being arrested by Dredd for owning said gun, before Dredd heads off to charge the managing director of the company who produced the droids.

Tharg’s Future-Shocks: The War with the Slobb! by Pete Milligan and Barry Kitson. First appearance from Barry in the prog? I’m halfway through this four-page story and I can’t remember it – an alien race called the Slobbs have invaded Earth. They always seem to know what the humans battle plans are and the Field Marshal concludes that their must be a spy in their midst. Not having time to root the traitor out, they turn to another method. A scientist is brought in who can change a human body into a that of a slobb. Unfortunately the reversal process has not been perfected, and the ‘volunteer’ could spend years before they can be turned back. I think I’ve worked out what the shock is going to be – the expendable person they pick to be turned in to a slobb and infiltrate the aliens can only be a slobb who has had a non-reversible molecular remoulding. Yep, the expendables name is Captain Hyde – getting a bit Jekyll there with that name? Yep – only when the human Field Marshal talked the volunteer into changing into a Slobb they didn’t mention the process was one way – the Slobbs were more honest with their spy! Did I work that out myself or did I simply remember it from when I read it thirty years ago? I can never tell…

Robo-Hunter: “Farewell, my Billions” by Grant / Grover and Ian Gibson. Sam Slade hits New York and on the full-page splash image there’s a sneaky discarded newspaper headline on the ground referring to an earlier 2000AD story “Hero in Harlem”. Sam sneaks his gun into a hiding place in the casino of his quarry before entering through the front door as a standard customer. Frisked by the same model of droid as the copper heavy from Tahiti he quickly spies out the likely owner of the establishment. A persistent one-armed bandit (it’s on legs – this is Robo-Hunter after all) follows him around and provides some comic relief while he tries to hide in a ventilation duct. Meanwhile the rest of the episode has Slade biding his time, waiting for the casino to close for the night and creeping through the dark building. Taking out two heavies and ushering a bath buddy in to a cupboard before locking her in their, Slade interrupts the bath-time of the hood (who was waiting for some fragrant bath-oils). The name of the hood is Harlem Grits – he’s based in Harlem. I gather grits is some sort of food in the Southern states of the USA, but past that any cultural references pass me by and they’d have even more completely passed me by when I first read this. I seem to recall from Space Spinner 2000 that there are problematic cultural connotations – I’ll find out once I’ve blogged about Prog 438 (as the relevant episode covers progs 435 to 438).

Adverts: some kind of competition to win a Raleigh Vektar electronic bike (what is it that makes the bike electronic? It has “an electronic console which features a computer module, a radio and a sound module” – but what does the computer actually do? I want to know, but not enough to, y’know, do any research), Nemesis the Warlock Book Three from Titan (which is actually Book IV: The Gothic Empire because Titan missed out Book II: The Alien Resistance) and a half-page next prog panel showing Henry Moon’s brain being removed from his head – I wonder where it’s going to go? You don’t get ads like that for Jack and Jill (I imagine, I never read it).

The History of Justice – The Cursed Earth: progs 61-85 shows Satanus preparing to chow down on a Judge Dredd meat popsicle. Rather good timing with Satanus feasting on a Mega-City judge in this prog’s Nemesis episode.

Grailpage: I was disappointed that the first glimpse of the Death-Bowl arena and the map of said arena weren’t on the same page. We’re also on episode three of the current Nemesis story and I haven’t picked any Bryan Talbot pages yet. I’m also almost tempted by a few of Gibson’s pages from Robo-Hunter this week. In the end it’s going to be a Talbot page, but which one? I’m tempted by the time-loop execution pic, and also by the following page showing Thoth looming over an organic panel frame as Nem returns to Termight, but I’m going to go for the third page in a row which shows the panoply of hovering road signs in the White Hole Bypass. We might get a similar picture next episode, but I’m not going to take that risk. Also we get the reappearance, after five years, of Elmer and Mabel (just before they die).

Grailquote: Pat Mills has a line from Ro-Jaws: “Maybe I could be your familiar instead, guv? Purity’s always saying I’m too familiar. Like the time I asked her if -” almost gets the grailquote spot, as does Grant/Grover’s casino employee from Robo-Hunter: “I told you – leave the customers alone in the toilet!” (thought bubble) “Hey – their ain’t no customers! That 17’s getting worse!” In grailquote first place, however, is the utterly different to Grant/Grover as TB Grover writes about the murderous Norman droid: “I thought if I could stop them complaining they’d be happier. So I did. And they are.”

I gave in – here’s an article about that electronic bike – it cost £750 (adjusting for inflation) and didn’t even have lights! See (and hear) it in two videos.

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