In Mind Wars it takes until the end of a full two pages for Ardeni Lakam to get naked, this time for a decontamination shower along with Tilman. When it comes time to get dressed Kareela la Borzac – an old enemy of Tilman – appears and burns Ardeni’s clothes. If not for a few interjections from Tilman, the conversation between Kareela and Ardeni would have passed the Bechdel-Wallace Test (the conversation was about clothes). Meanwhile the Jugla Empire are on the lookout for humans on conquered worlds who match the general description of the deceased Arlen Lakam, so that, through surgery, he can be made to look exactly like Ardeni’s dead brother. Meanwhile meanwhile, Ardeni, Tilman and their Lenarthian friends are in a Lenarth prison cell though Ardeni has just been knocked unconscious by poisoned food, provided by Kareela.
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…
The first thing we have is a huge corporate trademark holding Dredd up to his face. We had that a few progs ago when the corporate trademark was Ronald McDonald – this time it’s the Jolly Green Giant. This heralds the start of the other two-part story from The Cursed Earth that wouldn’t be republished for four decades (until that change in the law for purposes of parody allowed it).
A non-descript Nerve Centre opens the prog, complete with two adverts for stamps.
On to the stories – Robo-Hunter leaves Earth on Friday the 13th in the year 2140. Obviously I had to check if there will be a Friday the 13th in 2140 – good news, there is, and it’ll be in May! Mike Stott provides the words while Ferrer and Gibson share art duties (Mike Stott is another pseudonym for John Wagner). Slade mentions that he was working Megacity as he looks out of the window at the receding Earth. Other than the name being similar to Mega-City One there’s no other reason to believe that Robo-Hunter takes place in Dredd’s future (well, both strips contain another city called Brit-Cit) – what we see of Slade’s Earth does not match up with Dredd’s Earth. Besides which – it isn’t Dredd’s future any more – stories published last year (as I write this, 2018) in 2000AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine were set in 2140. Enough continuity rambling – Slade is being flown to Verdus by Commander Jim Kidd – Slade got put on this probably suicide mission because he was the best in the business – Kidd is on it possibly because he’s good at his job (by his own account, anyway) but mainly because he said the wrong thing to the wrong person. The shields fail, what’s the more Flectron (faster than light) drive can’t be switched off. So far the story has been drawn by Jose Ferrer – Ian Gibson takes over as Slade goes through the light barrier without safety shields. This is the point where the aged Robo-Hunter becomes the young Robo-Hunter we’ll be following for the next few years – Kidd also gets de-aged, but he started off in a lot younger so ends up as a baby, albeit one who has retained the ability to think and speak as a foul-mouthed twenty or thirty-something. Most of the rest of the episode is by Ferrer (with a few pictures of the young Commander Kidd possibly redrawn by Gibson) but fittingly the door of the spaceship opens on to a vista of robots, drawn by the best robot artist 2000AD has.
Mike McMahon does the honours for the cover, with the Brotherhood of Darkness about to attack Dredd.
The Nerve Centre message from Tharg mentions a less-than-complimentary letter about Judge Dredd, and the three letters on this page are, in order: critical of the violence inherent in the 2000AD system, preferring explorers and more pacificistic heroes to the violent Dredd and blast-happy new Dare; pleading for the return of Bonjo (I have a vague memory of a full-page picture of Bonjo from a special or annual – though I believe Gregory Townsend, Pinner, will have a long wait); extolling the virtues of Dredd in response to the letter in a previous prog (and asking for a Walter poster – Tharg responds that there’s already been a cut-away in Prog 53, though it won’t be long before there’s a blown up and coloured copy of a Bolland panel printed in the prog).
Story pages – Gibbons is on Dan Dare and wastes no time in showing us the tentacular denizen of the huge ice pyramid (as big as Everest so said the previous episode) where the octopus-like alien was trapped in a freak ice age. As predicted, Wise is due to be left behind, keeping the huge alien company. Except Dare and Hitman manage to climb to the top of the ice pyramid, radio the Fortress and free the alien. I don’t remember Wise making any further appearances, but he managed to escape with his life. Just realised – more Dave Gibbons, more giant tentacled monsters (not that this one killed crewmen on purpose – it was accidental, so that’s alright then) – really getting that Watchmen practice in on Dare.
MACH Zero returns, in a dynamic, eye-catching cover – no subtlety here!
Inside, Tharg informs us that there was a Frognum Gruelis (April Fool’s) joke in prog 58 – I completely missed the announcement in that prog that Dredd would be removed from 2000AD…
Dare is still on the ice planet with the joker, Wise, who continues to tell jokes, even as crewmen are dying around them (then again, Dare’s not much better, with the line “With that heavy gear draggin’ ’em down, they don’t stand a chance! Now we’re down to two!” – even before they’ve been dragged down into the icy waters)! So, the crew stand around not doing a whole lot while they get picked off and then dragged on an ice floe towards a huge ice pyramid. There’s a whole lot of ice, though the next prog tag promises us tentacles… of doom!
Two lawmasters and the land raider come blazing out of the cover, rocks flying in the air above them in the iconic Mike McMahon cover.
There is an oblique mention of the land raider in the Nerve Centre, with news that Matchbox have produced three vehicles in their Adventure 2000 series. The news flash goes on to say there will be more detail in Earth’s most advanced comic, and that Death Planet begins in Prog 62. Death Planet isn’t my go-to story for re-reading, so I’m not sure if one of the other toys in the range appears in its pages. The ones I had were the landraider, a missile carrier and a car with flip-out wings – I don’t remember seeing anything other than the landraider in 2000AD (other than in adverts).
Dare starts a named story , Nightmare Planet in this prog (for the first time in 2000AD? Seems like every story so far has been “Dan Dare (unnamed story)”). Jack Adrian is joined by Brian Lewis (I’m going to guess this is the only appearance this art droid makes). As well as stories whose first scene starts half-way through, then immediately goes back to scenes that take place earlier, I’m also not a huge fan of ‘everything is an illusion’ or ‘they woke up and it was all a dream’ (exceptions made for Neil Gaiman’s Sandman). The Space Fort encounters some giant monsters which the computer says are really there and aren’t illusions, but then it appears that they are actually an illusion after all. Shortly after, on the planet Dare was heading to, a giant Mekon picks up Dare, but is easily beaten and drops Dare into a soft sponge vegetation (or whatever the fungal version of vegetation is). I’m not getting any sense of peril yet.
Brian Bolland presents a spoilerific MACH 1 cover (in the last episode we’d only just met MACH 2 – before we’d seen Probe fight him at all we’ve seen this cover with his face half melted off, showing a robotic skeleton beneath – years before Terminator, in case anybody’s wondering).
I’ve not commented much on the Nerve Centre, but shall do so for this one – Tharg talks about how “other people are trying to catch up in the thrill value of futuristic tales” and “how could any other being produce a paper to rival my supreme offering to you Earthlets?” – no mention of Star Lord, but it’ll be on the shelves within a month… Iain Findlay of Glasgow writes in to say how they didn’t enjoy Dredd’s Luna 1 adventures as much as those in Mega City 1 (good news, Iain, Dredd’s back in the Meg – bad news, only for this prog – off to the Cursed Earth next week). Iain also hopes that Invasion will return soon – it’s going to be about twenty five to thirty years! Meanwhile Simon Brown of Abington says how great 2000AD is, but how other publications from the same address are trash and how “it would be absolutely and positively a disaster if you ever contemplated joining with another comic!” What I said about Star Lord within a month? Spoiler – twenty-two issues later it will be merging with 2000AD 🙂
Dan Dare leaves the front page to make way for Dredd’s return to Mega-City One, in possibly the first giant image of Dredd looming over the city, as illustrated by Mike McMahon.
After the Nerve Centre we launch in to Dan Dare, or at least the Snappers do. Technically they launch into some of Dare’s crew, while the Commander looks on. So, they all come up with a plan to assassinate the Slurgg Mother 20 miles deep by turning a blockbuster into a sonic weapon and injecting themselves with a Zeeb boosting-fluid (which sounds rather like Viagra, to be honest: “we inject ourselves with a special boosting fluid that hardens us… enables us to withstand the mighty pressures!” As Dare and Ley (yes, that’s right, a crewman we’ve not heard of before) get their injections, an eruption jogs them. Three panels later we say goodbye to Ley, who we now know was only there to let Dare know that being jogged meant he didn’t get a full dosage and is prone to die from the massive water pressures 20 miles down.
The cliffhangering (cliffhanging? I feel that cliffhanging is what a character does between episodes, while cliffhangering is what the writer does when putting a character into a perilous situation) on Dan Dare is still a bit off – the first page one is fine (massive underwater sea creature next to the prone Eagle scout craft) and over the page there’s a bit of exposition about how it might actually be dead and not a threat. As a couple of the crew suit up and check it out they find that there are creatures living inside which grab the spacers and pull them into the creature. Switch back to inside and Hitman has arrived to tell everybody that Dare is dead! Except we know he isn’t, because we saw him being rescued last prog (and also the very next panel on the same page has Dare waking up on a bed). Most of the rest of the episode is clumsily presented exposition about how the rescuers are going into hibernation for 500 years, except by the time they wake up the planet will have been destroyed by the big aliens. Speaking of which, Dare and the Zeebs (rescuer aliens) approach the Slurgg (big alien) to see Hitman kill one. This time the cliffhanger is that killing a Slurgg is the worst thing possible as the Snappers (littler aliens inside) are released. I’m not a huge fan of Gibbons’ alien designs on this episode, which is a shame.
As predicted, Dan Dare gets out his laser broadsword to deflect the Dark Lord’s Killing Star, which has an autopilot function. While Dare deals with that, the Dark Lord takes the opportunity to escape in an Eagle craft where he orders an Armageddon Missile to destroy the Space Fort and all ships surrounding it (including Starslayer ships). Unaccountably he doesn’t get out of the way of the missile first, and dies in a massive explosion. Over the page we wrap up the sixteen-episode story – the Starslayers surrender, the Starslayer’s Empire is renamed the Star Alliance, which will be directed by the insectoid Drones and policed by the Grawls. In all the excitement the credit card got missed off again – ironic considering that Dan Dare was initially the only story which did credit the artist.