2000AD and Starlord Prog 99: The Terra-Mek’s hurling us into its atomic grinders… We’ll be crushed to a pulp!

Dave Gibbons gives a spoiler to the contents by showing us Fantas-Tek about to munch away on a couple of humes in a flying car (hover car?) I wasn’t too sure which one it was as it’s blue on the cover and purple on the centre pages.

The Nerve Centre looks a bit more like my ‘classic’ Nerve Centre, with the black background at the top and the letters black on white. Still an advert for stamps though.

After Bolland last week, we’re back to McMahon on The Day the Law Died!. I would have first read this story in the Titan collected edition and compared Brian and Mick’s renderings of the roadliner, seeing how too different artists represented the same design in wholly different ways, while still recognisably being the same vehicle. All of which is a prelude to an announcement of Dredd’s death as it crashes into City Bottom (in fact, through City Bottom to the Undercity, in the locale of the former Ohio River, now called the Big Smelly – I said the name of the tunnel would be important). As well as the wreckage from the roadliner, we see bodies in judge uniforms and everything, so Dredd is definitely dead, not like the other two times he’s been announced as dead in the preceding 97 progs. In celebration of Dredd’s actual death, Cal declares crime legal for the next 24 hours. Of course, the citizens fail to take advantage of this offer, crime figures falling drastically, blinds drawn and flags at half-mast (flags haven’t generally been very prominent in Mega-City One up to this point, so I’d love to know which flags are at half-mast). Judge Cox tries to placate Cal but ends up being ordered to shoot himself to show his love for the Chief Judge. A bit too late, Slocum and another judge (badge a little unclear -atting?) realise that Cal must die for all their sakes, but that the one man strong enough to do the deed is dead, and they helped. I’m trying not to just type out exactly what Slocum said – so it must be a contender for grailquote!

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2000AD and Starlord Prog 96: We’re gonna hit him! That guy’s dead… unless he’s – Superman! Eject into hell with – Angel!

Aircraft on the cover means that Ian Kennedy is drafted in to bring an Angel illustration.

The Nerve Centre has a warning of a ‘special shock issue’ – no idea what this is a reference to.

The Day the Law Died! sees Grampus, leader of the Kleggs, appointed Deputy Chief Judge, replacing Fish, and a plethora of draconian laws brought in, designed solely to make the mega-citizens suffer. This leads to a second page splashpage, showing a column of evacuees appearing to leave through a gate in a wall (not that there’s supposed to be city walls at this point), with little touches like ‘Booth is a bowb’ graffiti on a ruined wall in the Cursed Earth / Mutant Land. Cal is not happy (but when is he?) and gives the new Deputy Chief Judge absolute power to stop those attempting to leave. With Grampus on the case, the exodus is stemmed by late afternoon. Cal orders that wall built, one mile high with gun emplacements and searchlights. In the course of a single episode we see a guerilla attack by Dredd to disrupt the construction, but to no avail as the wall goes up within three weeks. Cal still isn’t happy that ‘Dreddists’ continue to resist his rule. Grampus isn’t just along for the ride – he gets involved, and brings in the Hounds of Klegg – in his words “creates nothing can hide from”. The hunt is on!

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2000AD and Starlord Prog 95: Burn them – burn the robot rebels!

Mike Dorey provides his first cover for Ro-Busters (apparently he also did the uncredited cover for Prog 6 – John Probe against Nazi skeletons underwater).

The Nerve Centre has letters about the 2000AD and Starlord merge – from those who like 2000AD and not Starlord, those who like Starlord and not 2000AD and those who like 2000AD and Starlord. Andrew Saunders is awarded the £10 prize for a picture of Starlord wearing the rosette of sirius and Tharg’s jumpsuit. Or possibly Tharg wearing Starlord’s boufant, robe and carrying his gun. Is this the first ‘Tharg the…’ reader’s picture?

John Howard, Brian Bolland and Gary Leach are back on The Day the Law Died, with lettering by ‘Thomas’ – Tom Frame has previously been ‘Tomas Frame’ so he seems to like playing with his name when crediting himself! The executions begin but Dredd has a plan. ‘Recruiting’ Slocum, Cal is told that Deputy Chief Judge Fish died at the time of the first execution. The death sentence is suspended and following an unattended funeral parade, Cal promises to make the city suffer like never before. There’s not much I can say about this episode, except how pitch-perfect it is – I’m not sure how the art duties were divided up (I’m guessing Bolland did pencils while Leach the inks) but they perfectly capture John Wagner’s script. Plus Tom Frame puts in a irregularly shaped speech bubble to surround the over-sized final word of the episode – “SUFFER!”.

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2000AD and Starlord Prog 94: Citizens of Mega-City One, I sentence you to… Death! Can no-one stop the insane Judge Cal?

Chief Judge Cal glares out while pronouncing his death sentence on Mega-City One in this eye-catching cover by Mike McMahon. Possibly the first colour depiction of a Chief Judge, the gloves and shoulder pads are all red, rather than green or yellow…

The Nerve Centre is jammed full of letters this week, half on Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein the others on a variety of topics, including one who wants to see Dredd’s face in Prog 100 on the grounds that “Never, but NEVER have you shown us JUDGE DREDD’S face!” – I’d let that slide but they were very insistent. Dredd’s youthful face was shown in profile in The Return of Rico, alongside his brother on the shooting range. You can’t see much, but it does disprove both ‘Never’ and ‘NEVER’.

Judge Dredd in The Day the Law Died (Behold the Hordes of Klegg!) starts with one of those flash-forwards I dislike so much, and perfectly shows why they’re a bad idea. The splash-forward page shows Kleggs raining from the sky and shooting rifles. In the actual story, art duties are shared by Bolland and Leach and start with Dredd and his army of tutors and citizens driving Cal’s judges back to the Hall of Justice with Joe giving Cal an ultimatum. Cal responds cooly, telling Slocum that Dredd will get his answer in five minutes. If we hadn’t had that splash-forward page already we’d have no idea what Cal’s secret weapon would be, as it is we’ve seen it and it’s been given two names (Hordes of Klegg and the Curse of Cal). That aside, we get five page of rebellion, alien mercenaries and a finale showing Cal outlining how his earlier sentencing of the entire city to death will be carried out.

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2000AD and Starlord Prog 93: No! Please let me drown before the giant scorpions get to me!

In case there’s any doubt, this Flesh cover shows off Belardinelli’s skill at depicting monstrous beasts as a giant scorpion emerges from the waters to attack hapless humans in the Triassic.

The Nerve Centre highlights that there was an industrial dispute which kept the prog from the shelves for the best part of a month. I can sympathise – something similar happened in my first year as a squaxx. The droids antics in the Laugh-In have been brought to Tharg’s attention and they’re on a warning not to refer to him as ‘green bonce’ or ‘mush face’ again…

Brett Ewins continues the revolt with Judge Dredd in The Day the Law Died! ably assisted by Brendan McCarthy. As Dredd and company take over Broadcast Control, Judge Schmaltz lives up to his name, sobbing with emotion. Mega-citiznes heed Dredd’s call and take to the streets. Cal’s bath is interrupted and sentences the entire city to death. Meanwhile Dredd is unhappy at the casualty rate and leads a small convoy to Justice Dept Armoury East so that weapons can be distributed out ot the people. It’s a great episode (even fitting in a “the people are revolting” gag, but even so the highlight is the next prog tag. “The Kleggs are coming!”

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2000AD Prog 85: This Cursed Earth will not break me I am the law I am Dredd… Judge Dredd! Don’t dare miss the thrilling climax to the Cursed Earth in this power packed prog!!! Plus Important news for all readers inside!

As the cover line suggests, this is the last prog of 2000AD (because next week it’ll be 2000AD and Starlord) and Prog 85 also brings the last episode of The Cursed Earth, taking the cover (also the last episodes of everything else currently running in 2000AD and Starlord, but more about that in this post and the next, covering Starlord). Mick McMahon draws a very dilapidated Dredd.

The Nerve Centre is obviously centred on the forthcoming merge, and we find out that other life forms on the as-yet-unnamed Quaxxan (Tharg’s home planet) have superior brain power and it would be cruel to keep them as pets.

The last episode of The Doomsday Machine (which has regained it’s title – the past few episodes have just gone straight in to the story) has a change of pace and artist. I’ve not looked this up in Thrill-Power Overload or The Mighty One but I suspect Gary Leach and Trev Goring have been replaced in order to get the faster (?) Dave Gibbons to rustle up the truncated episode to make way for the merger. The huge skeleton which may or may not have a ghost attached is revealed to be Moebius, the last of the Golden Ones. I find it interesting that Landau, who went on to found Titan Comics and Forbidden Planet, filled this story with ships from pop cultural spaceships and named the antagonist after one of the greatest comic artists of the 20th century… We find out that it wasn’t The Kid being haughty earlier, it was Moebius possessing his body. The Golden Ones are the archetypal / stereotypical seekers after knowledge until they caught a disease. Moebius programmed the ship’s computer to retain his consciousness though over time the ship develops malfunctions, causing it to destroy planets and capture ships. Moebius has used a psychic connection with The Kid to bring the spacers down to the control room so that they can destroy the ship, ending the trail of destruction. Dare does this almost immediately – without any consideration to let the others escape. Consequently, in their race to get back to the Space Fort, Hitman is injured terminally. One page later he dies, quickly followed by The Kid and then everybody on the starship except for Dare himself, who clings to the remnants of an Eagle scout craft, floating through space to die (for all we know)… Nice one, Dan!

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2000AD Prog 84: Ant Wars rages on! “For they shall inherit the Earth.” H.G. Wells

In a third Ant Wars cover by Kev O’Neill the artist goes for a much more straight-forward scene of a family defending themselves from a giant ant (as opposed to the introductory world-spanning ant and the newspaper headline covers).

Nerve Centre – teases big news, and any veteran reader of British comics in the 1970s and 1980s knows that can mean only one thing – two comics are going to merge! I was too young to read 2000AD at this time (possibly too young to read anything) but it’s something I experienced in the early eighties with Spike (from DC Thompson, merged with Champ in 1984), Scream! (merged with Eagle – also in 1984) and Tiger (merged with Eagle in 1985). For that matter, Revolver (which will be featured in this blog at some point in coming years) sort-of merged with Crisis.

Speaking of the forthcoming merger, this is the last episode of Robo-Hunter for a while as it takes a break to make space for the Starlord strips that are going to crossover (I don’t remember what happens in the next episode of Robo-Hunter, so I’m going to guess this made a more natural break than the next episode would – I can’t imagine that deadlines were getting on top of Ian Gibson, as he’d drawn a few episodes of Strontium Dog not long before). Slade approaches Smokin’ Joe, removing the disguise and letting SJ-1 recognise him as a human, not a sim. Things seem to be looking up but not long after Slade and Cutie get captured. Thanks to Boots they escape and the three head out to try to convince a planet full of robots of the truth…

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2000AD Prog 83: Stomm! Now the DEAD are rising to challenge the law! Dredd vs- the Legion of the Damned!

Mike McMahon introduces us to The Legion of the Damned in a cover that could almost be a panel from the story inside. The Legion are long-dormant robots rising from the ground to attack Dredd. They’re not the only thing rising, as the price of the prog has gone up from 9p to 10p this week.

In the Nerve Centre, Tharg points out the price rise by printing a now out-of-date letter from a reader complaining about other things rising in cost. The rest of the letters and nerve centre are attacks on Tharg (and the droids) for stealing ideas from the book Damnation Alley for Cursed Earth and the film Them for Ant Wars. As with the comic itself being inspired by forthcoming film Star Wars and starting story MACH 1 having been strongly influenced by The Six Million Dollar Man, the stories were more likely to have been commissioned to tie in to films that would soon be on release – Damnation Alley was on release in the USA while the adaptation of Empire of the Ants (from the book by H.G. Wells) was reviewed in the Sci-Fi Special.

A wonderful opening splash page for Robo-Hunter (maybe I’m baised after those two annuals this week) with Sam, Cutie and Boots on a hill overlooking Process Plant 8883. The next page also has a splash, this time with loads of faulty robots waiting to go in for processing (recycling). As you’d expect from Ian Gibson, these robot designs are fantastic, showing character and proving we’re not in pre-2000AD blocky robot territory. Another page, another splash – this time a full-page panel showing the innards of the robot factory, with a conveyor belt of destruction. Classes of robots have been mentioned a few times – basically the higher the class number the more intelligent (and less easy to fool) a robot is. This was in a different series as well, but I didn’t make a note and can’t remember which one it was – presumably Judge Dredd, but may have been something else. We find out here that robots can be fooled by simple disguises – class 1s and 2s by something as basic as a name and serial number. Not sure if Boots is a 2 or 3, but they get fooled by what is essentially a fork-lift harness. What is sure is that Class 1s, in the form of dust bugs, are very easily formed and Slade shows a sadistic side in ordering them to report for recycling, despite their plaintive protestations. At the end of the episode, the trio get a sight of SJ1.

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2000AD Prog 82: Alien Roots

Classic Bolland, showing Tweak in the alien slave market. For some reason those attending the market are throwing tomatoes at the slaves – would you mess up something that you were about to buy? p.s. this scene doesn’t appear in the comic!

Nerve Centre has a few letters from girls (curiously both in Ireland – which doesn’t even have a cover price) demanding better representation. Off the top of my head I can’t think when the next strong female lead will appear – Anderson is well over a year away and Ardeni Lakam only appears in Starlord. I agree completely that Lorna Varn is not a positive female character (so promising as well, appearing on the cover of the first prog with Death Planet).

Boots leads Sam Slade Robo-Hunter through what I will call Verdus city. It’s not long before the pair are surrounded by robocops shooting at them (even with Sam wearing Boots to run at 60 miles per hour). They finally escape when Boots jumps seemingly into thin air but actually to a far-off ledge. They make it to the Robotic Records Office, where the records clerk reveals where SJ1 is currently located and things appear to look up…

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2000AD Prog 81: Dan Dare Guardian of the Galaxy

Art honours go to Dave Gibbons and is the one with Dare swooping towards us in a space suit above a planet.

In the Nerve Centre, Tharg plugs the new series of Flesh in an answer to a letter about the Loch Ness Monster (and gives away the ending – or at least gives a big hint to how it will end). Another letter demands the return of The Visible Man – just goes to show that if you ask for something you’ll get it – I wonder if the author of that letter was still reading 2000AD 35 or so years later?

We rejoin Sam Slade, Robo-Hunter, as he meets the robotic residents of the apartment and finds out what Sims are – simulated humans. According to the Verdus robot’s programming, humans are superior to robots in every respect, so the humans who have arrived on Verdus can’t be true humans, as they feel pain, are not as strong as robots and are not as intelligent as robots. Slade goes to sleep while the robots in the apartment argue over what to do with Slade and Kidd and has a problematic dream involving robotic late 19th / early 20th century caricatures of black slaves and the return of the borderline stereotypical depiction of Chan. Luckily, Slade wakes up to find that the apartment robots want to send him to SJ1 – Smoking Joe, the robot who was originally sent to Verdus to build other robots and settle the planet.

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