Friday, 29 January 2016

Hammerstein the ABC Warrior

If you're looking for a hard-as-nails, humanoid war robot, with a grim visage and a keen sense of honour, then Hammerstein the ABC Warrior could be for you.

If you already know all about him, then, um, well, I think we should probably be friends. So, er, read on friend.

If you've never heard of him then fear not, I'm about to fill that war-robot-shaped hole in your life — mainly by showing some of the early comic strips, magazines and other media where Hammerstein first reared his metal head. Although, it's worth saying right now, it's not always the same metal head.

The robot is a creation of the legendary Pat Mills, the visionary behind 2000AD, and its original Tharg (2000AD speak for editor). Hammerstein's first ever appearance was as an army surplus robot for sale in the Ro-Busters strip, Day of the Robot in issue one of Starlord.

His first action sequence came just a few pages later in the same issue, in the North Sea Tunnel story.

Although Pat Mills credits Kevin O'Neill with co-creating Ro-BustersCarlos Pino was the artist on the first stories

Pat Mills took Ro-Busters to 2000AD in 1978, when Starlord merged into it in Prog 86.

Art by Dave Gibbons (who later became the co-creator of Watchmen)

The ABC Warriors started in prog 119 of 2000AD, with a subhead stating it was a new Ro-Busters adventure. In this strip Hammerstein sported his older, more human-looking head.

Illustration by Kevin O'Neill, one of Pat Mills' long-term collaborators

Three episodes later and Hammerstein was off to recruit Mongrol to join his group.

Art by the much-loved Mick McMahon made the badass robot look more badass than ever

A three page prologue was published later which linked the ABC Warriors even more closely with Ro-Busters.

Kev O'Neill's signature style shines through

Hammerstein showed up in a third title when he and his robot warriors made a surprise appearance, set thousands of years after their previous adventures, in the strip Nemesis The Warlock. For a short while they were a regular fixture.

Art by the versatile Bryan Talbot (who also created, among other things, The Tale of One Bad Rat, a Beatrix Potter inspired story of abuse and homelessness, that couldn't be more removed from sci-fi war robots)

Nemesis eventually gave them a side mission and the warriors returned to their own strip in the story The Black Hole. Here we learnt that much of Hammerstein's head was actually a removable helmet, worn over the human-looking features.

And the world was introduced to the great Simon Bisley

Later in the mission we were shown more of Hammerstein's early days, including the Mark One and Mark Two war robots that predated his design. The sequence also tells how he felt his first emotion.

S.M.S. provided the intricate illustrations for this portion of the tale

The story continued directly into the first regular, full colour ABC Warriors strips Khronicles of Khaos and Hellbringer.
The art went from strength to strength when Kev Walker was brought on board

Not long after this Kev Walker and Chris Halls (who later changed his name to Chris Cunningham) designed a robot for inclusion in the Sylvester Stallone film Judge Dredd (more of that here). It looked suspiciously like Hammerstein, but was only ever referred to as an ABC War Robot. The ambiguity over the robot's identity was soon dispelled by 2000AD when Hammerstein entered his fourth different strip in the comic. He had a cameo in Judge Dredd, fighting judges in a flashback story that firmly established his presence in the film. The story is largely thought to have been ret-conned out of continuity now, which is a shame because the art alone deserves to live on for an ABC Warrior's lifespan.

Incredible art by Jason Brashill

Later on, in The Volgan War flashback story, told in ABC Warriors in 2000AD, we discovered that there were many other similar Hammerstein pattern robots, but that our Hammerstein was unique among his kind for being capable of independent thought. We also learnt that all Hammersteins were originally designed to have 4 arms.

Art by Clint Langley

The story of the early Hammerstein units was picked up in the 2000AD strip Savage, set in a contemporary Britain, occupied by hostile foreign forces. This story showed us Mark One war robots in the Hammerstein pattern. Presumably different models from the ones we had seen earlier in The Black Hole. Although not Hammerstein himself, they are still clearly Hammerstein units, so they're kind of like his granddad.

Especially if his granddad was not a very reliable person. The art by Patrick Goddard took Hammerstein back to black and white

He also appeared in Issue 2 of the short-lived Dice Man magazine. A gamebook style spin-off comic of 2000AD edited by Mills in the 80s.

And whatever happened to this short animation? It appears to be a promo for an ABC Warriors cartoon.

So, by my count Hammerstein has appeared in at least 3 different magazines, in 4 or 5 different strip titles, he's been in a major Hollywood movie (sort of), and nearly had his own cartoon.

And on top of all that there have been several commercial models made of him, including this one in a roughly 28mm scale and this larger one more suitable to 32mm, both by Wargames Foundry, and the no longer available PVC kit from Tsukuda Hobby, based on his movie appearance.

These days Hammerstein can still be seen in 2000AD, having recently returned in an all-new set of Ro-Busters stories.

As usual, if you've got anything to add, please do so in the comments below.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

So what about these dark gods then? Some chaotic ramblings on a chaotic subject

The dark fantasy game, Warhammer (WFB*) shares its most notorious bad guys, the Chaos Powers, with its science fiction counterpart, Warhammer 40,000 (WH40K). These super-villains are the horrors at the very top of the evil-doers food chain**. They're an insanely powerful set of ethereal beings, seemingly hell-bent on death and destruction, or at least resolutely driven to royally screw things up.

At first glance there appear to be four of these dark gods, but it's not quite as simple as that. We'll come back to this in a moment.

From one game to the other, there are a few subtle differences in their back stories, but all the main characteristics are pretty much identical. The similarities are so overwhelmingly strong that the Chaos Gods' presence in both games could be the main reason for all the speculation on the relationship between the WFB realm and the WH40K universe (see here for a quick round-up and here for my thoughts on the subject).

Of course, all the speculation makes it hard to prove that they're the exact same horrible bad guys. It's hard to find definitive answers. Very little light has been shone into these darkest of dark corners.

However, over the years, Games Workshop have released a few key milestones.

One such key milestone happened in the late eighties and early nineties. Back in those swirling mists of time we were given Slaves to Darkness (1988) and The Lost and the Damned (1990), collectively known as the Realm of Chaos books.

I say 'given', but actually these were really expensive

These books fleshed out pre-existing Chaos lore and added much of the additional material we are familiar with today. They contained the first list of the four Chaos Gods: the two unpronounceable ones, Slaanesh and Tzeentch; the meat-eater that sounds like a vegetarian, Khorne; and the bringer of sick days, Nurgle.

In those weighty tomes this evil pantheon was described as the ‘four major Chaos Powers’. But that word major, really implies that there might be other, minor Chaos Gods out there. So who might these missing minor gods be?

From a theoretical perspective, seeing as minor and major are comparative terms, the minor gods only need to be a bit less powerful than the major ones. And simple lexicon would surely place them above Greater Daemons. Yet Greater Daemons are no push over. Warhammer 40,000 Wiki describes these monstrous Chaos lieutenants ‘as huge, terrifying creatures capable of slaying scores of warriors and destroying even main battle tanks. They have strange, sorcerous powers drawn from the psychic energy of the Warp and are virtually impervious to mortal weapons’.

That places our minor gods somewhere between extremely dangerous and unstoppably insane. Strange then that for such a deadly foe in Games Workshop lore we have been told almost nothing about them.

Almost nothing, but not quite. For anyone who remembers back to those darkly swirling mists of the 1980s there was once a fifth Chaos God. Whether it was a major power or a minor power was never explicitly stated, but it was certainly meant to be dangerous. If you were born in the 70s or before, and had an unhealthy interest in Citadel Miniatures, or you are just magnificently well-read, you may be familiar with Malal, the renegade God.

Malal was invented by a team lifted directly from 2000AD: John Wagner (co-creator of Judge Dredd), Alan Grant (Wagner's writing partner on Dredd for most of the eighties), the late, great Brett Ewins (who coincidentally lived around the corner from the first ever Games Workshop store near Ravenscourt Park in West London) and Jim McCarthy (Ewins' long-time art partner and brother to Brendan McCarthy of Mad Max Fury Road fame). Their dark god made his first appearance as a somewhat ambiguous antagonist in one of the earliest Games Workshop comic strips, The Quest of Kaleb Daark.

After the struggles that 2000AD creators had with IPC and the copyright to their characters, this all-star creative team was reluctant to give Games Workshop the intellectual property to Malal. So the comic was never completed and Games Workshop pretty much canned their planned expansion of Malal's presence in the game.

Any further references to him were in a new guise, that of Malice.

If you fancy some further reading there are a couple of more detailed posts about Malal, including mention of his second most infamous follower, Skrag the Slaughterer, the ogre renegade, over at Realm of Chaos 80s here and here

As far as I'm aware Malal only appeared in the WFB setting, but if the gods are indeed the same from WFB to WH40K then he could equally pop up in the 41st millennium at any point. Or the 31st for that matter. 

But not just Malal. If there are four major gods at the top, and countless numbers of greater daemons positioned on the third tier, then it follows that there would be a whole host of minor gods sitting in between them. Minor gods that are yet to be named, designed or explored. Minor gods that are fair game for anyone wanting to do their own thing. Minor gods that could well end up as the patron deities of your own collection of Chaos followers. 

I'll be picking up on this theme in a later post.

*Or Warhammer Age of Sigmar (AoS) if you prefer. But I'm old skool at heart, I referred to Snickers as Marathons for years. And besides, I'm not sure Slaanesh still exists in the reboot, so that would pretty much kill half this article. What's that you say? No bad thing?
**Or perhaps you think that title belongs to the Tyranids. Or maybe the C’tan. Or the Orks, or whatever the all-powerful army of the moment may happen to be. For the sake of this article let's just agree it’s the Chaos Powers. Or agree to disagree. Or you could write me a compelling argument in the comments section.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

The Giant Robo Alphabot, part four

In my first post of 2016 it's time to atone for one of my final posts of 2015 - this one about trying to make Jar Jar Binks cool. The karma sprites need appeasing, so I'll try to do that by showing some Star Wars things that are genuinely cool. In fact the Star Wars things I want to show are, arguably, the genuinely coolest, most influential vehicles ever seen on screen. And while I'm showing cool robotic things from movies I figured this other entry, the versatile, murderous offspring of a beach ball and an iMac, from the film Oblivion, was an interesting counterpoint to the heavily mechanical transports of the Galactic Empire.

To see all the robot posters together on their Pinterest page look here, or if you'd rather just see all the relevant posts from this blog in one easy-to-find place then try a slice of this.