Planet of the Damned & Death Planet

Planet of the Damned & Death Planet
Planet of the Damned review
  • UK publisher / ISBN: 2000AD - 978-1-78108-413-7
  • Release date: 2016
  • Format: Black and white
  • UPC: 9781781084137
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no

They don’t make them like this any more! Long before Lost, a passenger plane disappears in the Bermuda Triangle, but instead of that being the story Pat Mills follows the plane to an alternate dimension where subsequent writer Alan Hebden (as R.E. Wright) subjects the passengers to a gruesome daily struggle for survival. Rain is literally acid, and the premise allows for any kind of group from the past to appear. Barbarians, pirates, Nazis and dinosaurs all disappeared near Bermuda at some stage, and are all now to be found on the planet of the damned, also featuring shambling, acid-spitting monsters and zombies. There’s no logic to any of it beyond the prompt of entertaining young boys with thrilling danger, although Hebden in his introduction notes his regret at treating women only as victims.

As was frequent in the late 1970s, the contributing artists were all Spanish, sourced via agent and apparently cheaper than British artists. Alfonso Azpiri, Haracio Lalia, and Jesús Suso Peña Rego all shone on other material, but you get what you pay for, and while never poor, much of the art is ordinary.

Bubbling under the constant danger, a plot about attempting to return to Earth eventually surfaces, yet even that’s rendered more complicated than it already is by the ideological opposition of some of the stranded who actively work to sabotage such efforts. It’s obvious Hebden is winging the plot, never considering any further than a single episode ahead, but his completely bonkers imagination throws up an inventive succession of threats, some in jaw-droppingly poor taste. It’s energetic and very funny, not least the rapid wrap-up.

Although actually published earlier, ‘Death Planet’ is the secondary feature, and explores some of the same ideas with more restraint. This time it’s a bunch of human colonists on a transport spaceship who end up in resolutely inhospitable territory, but without any even vaguely friendly predecessors to guide them. The humans bicker, and there are multiple threats, but the thrust is more about colonisation than escape before taking a swerve into Flash Gordon style adventure. Hebden is again only thinking from week to week, but in Lorna Varn he partially compensates for his poor treatment of women in the previous strip, as she earns her rank of Commander many times over. César López Vera puts the effort into the art, and while design isn’t his strong point, the pages look better than almost anything in the previous story.

Both features are now very much of their time, with ‘Planet of the Damned’ far more entertaining because Hebden was just having a laugh, whereas the more serious adventure tone of ‘Death Planet’ is now just dull and old fashioned.