Another annual cover from Kev O’Neill. Nice colours though I’d have preferred it if he’d been working on more comic pages! I don’t think he’s got any more work on ABC Warriors, but it’s a long time ’til Comic Rock. The cover actually ties in to the first story, so I won’t go into detail.
The contents pages has a still from a sci-fi film or TV series (though nothing I recognise – something like Space 1999 or Blakes 7). As with the 2000AD annual, the only credits in this annual are those that the artists put on their own work – if I spot any signatures (or recognise art styles) I’ll mention it.
The Dan Dare story ties in to the cover. This is set before the Lost Worlds mission, and was probably written and drawn shortly after Belardinelli’s run on Dare in the weekly progs. The artwork doesn’t have the assuredness of pre-2000AD artists or the excitement of the punk generation artists and the best parts of the art are very derivative of other artwork – such as the appearance of Rok, which is very obviously copied directly from Belardinelli’s rendition, or some of hte spaceships, which look like they’re copied from Kevin O’Neill’s design which appeared on the cover. The story itself has Dare taking a break between SASA commissions where he encounters a captain who breaks under pressure and turns to piracy after gaining a reputation as unreliable. That’s about all you need to know – the cover is about Dare making a solo run on the pirate ship, which Rok ignores by gaining access to the ship and saving Dare’s life.
A Carlos devil adorns the latest prog cover with contrasting reds and greens creating a striking image of said devil, Johnny and Wulf (take that, Teal and Orange).
The Nerve Centre has a teaser of three new stories starting next prog – I’m thinking ABC Warriors, maybe Project Overkill and something else. The reader’s story features a future scientist (from 1987) heading to the far future and getting killed by Dredd.
Speaking of Dredd, the Judge is first up with Citiblock 2, featuring Harriet Beecher Stowe and Benjamin Spock blocks (which are located close to each other, and apparently also next to the city wall, unless that’s another straight section of wall with a tower on it, continuity fans). Harriet was a 19th century abolitionist who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin while Benjamin Spock was famous for a) not being Mr Spock from Star Trek and b) writing a leading baby and child care book. John Howard and Ron Smith really set out how Mega-City One operates here, with unemployment creating anti-robot sentiment, futsies and showing Dredd administering poetic justice in sentencing a futsie (who went futsie due to losing his job) to hard labour.
IPC may be pretending that the weekly 2000AD is actually 2000AD and Starlord, but the same cannot be said of the Sci-Fi Special, and so there is no ‘and Starlord’ above Brian Bolland’s picture of Judge Dredd and the Ape Gang. There’s a strip with a few promo pictures from within messing up the bottom of the cover.
The contents page has a good picture of the Space Fortress approaching an inhabited asteroid. Unfortunately it’s a reprint, though still better than some contents pages we’ve had previously.
Judge Dredd is brought to us by A. A. Grant and B. Ewins – Alan Grant’s first time on the lawman, in a story called The Billion Credit Caper. We already know who the antagonists are going to be though, ‘coz they’re plastered across the cover. Which is a shame as the mystery of Dredd’s would be assassin is kept until the end of the third page where we get our first clues (small like an animal, and Dredd hasn’t seen a tommy-gun used for years – not true – he saw them in Las Vegas last year). On the next page are Future-Shock style mysteries of people talking in shadow or viewed from behind so that we assume they’re humans. This page also has bananas strewn around the table… An accusation sometimes levelled at new Dredd scribes these days is that their stories tend to be based too much in continuity – rather than being entirely fresh tales they read like the author (sorry, script droid) has based their story entirely on older stories, so it’s interesting that Grant’s first story directly references an earlier story. There’s an interesting scene where Walter gives Dredd a massage, which may make it to the grailquote section at the end of this post…
McMahon’s cover introduces us to Las Vegas Judge Fingers and Dredd in front of a huge fruit machine (albeit one with death’s head symbols instead of fruit)!
The 2000AD Nerve Centre tells us that Dare is going to face the Doomsday Machine in this prog (recognise the name but the story eludes me for the time being). Tharg reveals that Tweak will be accompanying Dredd for the rest of the journey across the Cursed Earth (are you supposed to reveal that supporting characters will survive to the end of a story?) and that Walter will be back soon, presumably in a series of one-page strips.
Slade is being carried through the experimentation complex – and is fully drawn by Ian Gibson now. Slade and Kidd are stripped and examined by medical robots, who it has to be said look rather similar to the drones from 1972 film Silent Running. Ardeni Lakam may get naked at the drop of a hat over in Star Lord, but Sam Slade provides the (enforced) male nudity over in 2000AD. The word ‘Drokk’ get used by Slade… After a bit of pseudo-science the captive Robo-Hunter adjusts his blaster to cope with the hard metal which Verdus robots are made from and escapes – next prog promises a riot!
This cover is basically a rehash of the end of last week’s episode of Planet of the Damned, with Flint about to do battle with a black knight on the back of a mammoth in front of a fortress. This very red painting could have graced any Conan-esque fantasy novel of the last fifty years. Flint also looks a little like He-Man, though I think this is a few years before whichever toy company it was came up with that idea.
Starlord doesn’t have enough space this issue for a full Star Fax so has a narrow strip at the top of this week’s Mind Wars to tell us about the Hell Planet boardgame (and how he hasn’t finished writing the rules yet). If the last episode was inspired by Star Wars (with our protagonists approaching Mos Eisley to organise transport off world in a cantina) then the similarities continue, after a brief case of misinterpreted greetings. Tip – if an alien race looks like an apex predator then their greetings will probably look like an assault. The Solar Saint (Millenium Falcon) leaves Yu-Jubum just before it gets destroyed (Alderaan, anyone?) and is immediately pursued by Federal strike ships (Star Destroyers). Even some of the dialogue has parallels (even if the meaning is opposite). Compare and contrast: “The old Solar Saint was built to outrun local planetary space police forces, not a Federal battle fleet!”; “I’ve outrun Imperial starships. Not the local bulk cruisers mind you, I’m talking about the big Corellian ships now.” Anyway, the battle fleet attacks and the Lakam twins use their powers to hold out for a while, but in the end they have to be rescued by a Jugla suicide attack, just before they head off into trans-light drive (hyperspace).
The cliffhanger for Dan Dare resolves in the same way I predicted (but hoped it would not). Dare tells Bear to go for his gun and the five fakes try to wrestle the real Bear for his real gun. As Bear is best known for his great strength and bear hug I’d hoped it would be some way other than the method used to unmask DoppelDare from earlier. Nice use by Jack Adrian of the planet bombs mentioned in the Space Fort cutaway from a few months earlier – again it makes me wonder if the ideas were introduced for the cutaway or pre-written into the weekly story and part of the brief for the postergraph.
MACH One goes pretty much how I’d expected, with Probe being chucked in a pool and insta-frozen. We find out that while his reaction were slowed, Probe’s hyper-acu-reflexes allowed him to prevent the wound from the thrown knife being a fatal one. The mafia have stolen a dolphin to lead them to a secret research area, while Probe (having de-iced himself by raising his body temperature to dangerous levels) follows a different dolphin to the same area.