Archive | September, 2011

FS 45: 2000AD Feat MINDY (& MORK)

26 Sep

PROG: 90 – KID’S STUFF

Script: Barry Clements

Art: Carlos Pino

Letters: John Aldrich

Plot: Rick Travis, deep space pilot for the Intergalactic Mining Corp., is knocked off course by a meteor storm and his ship spirals uncontrollably to the surface of a mystery planet.  Thrown clear of the debris he is found in by some small children and later falls in and out of consciousness on the operating table and in a recovery ward. He notes his mouth has been filled by some strange ‘breathing apparatus’.

Shock: The mouthpiece is a baby’s dummy. Rick has landed on a planet where the infants are the ‘adults’ and the adult’s are the children. His recovery is being undertaken on the children’s ward.

Thoughts: Barry Clement’s last work for 2000AD passes itself off unremarkably as a solid piece of retro-Sci-fi Shock but not one that would pass muster today. As with Clement’s last protagonist, Pritchard the Poacher from FS 42, Rick Travis is a fairly anonymous hero and the reader is never invested in his fate. His journey through the tale is completely passive: he crashes without any attempt to avert disaster, he is rescued without drama while unconscious and he gains cognition of the adult / child switch without any peril or endangerment.  Clement’s internal dialogue is somewhat mangled and lacking a unified voice, at once juncture he refers to the ‘driving proficiency test‘, at another he’s growling ‘some joker cut rough and landed me one‘. The saloon-bar Americana of the latter sit oddly with the formalism of the former. The art of Carlos Pino is it’s usual professional standard. The sci-fi is resolutely retro, our hero manfully square-jawed and the children a picture of Janet and John innocence. The spaceship does break in two in the most unconvincing of manners and a slight inconsistency in the strip occurs during Travis’ operation where adults (who would, of course, be infantile) appear to be conducting the procedure; but otherwise its a fine turn. The Future Shock and Prog 90  are illustrative of the change occurring in 2000AD around this period  as Pino’s work stands out as very dated when compared to the artists around him (Belardinelli going weird in Flesh, McMahon’s bonkers’ turn on The Day The Law Died, Kevin O’Neil’s fantastic Volg war madness in Ro-Busters and Ezquerra’s iconic Strontium Dog) and the tale lacks any of the madness and boundary pushing that Mills, Wagner et al. were beginning to mine so profitably.

Shock’d?: The children-are-adults reveal does come on a final half-page spread and is quite sweetly drawn with lots to amuse any young readers with nascent revenge fantasies about their parents; however a minutes pondering leaves one to conclude ‘so what?‘. Just as a viewer had better not ask too many questions about why Mindy is attracted to an undeveloped boy, albeit one in a man’s body, the Shock requires you don’t think too much over Travis’ predicament because he hasn’t really got one. As Kidd, from Robo-Hunter, was able to establish himself as an adult, although one subject to constant jokes about his infantile appearance, Travis surely would be able to show his alien hosts he is an elder of his species. In the meantime his peril is hoping he has an appetite for Farley’s Rusks and liquified food.

FS 44: PLAY, DOH!

22 Sep

PROG: 89 – CHILDS PLAY

Script: Mike Cruden

Art: Trevor Goring

Letters: Steve Potter

Plot: Johnny and his parents are out on a day-trip and he has completed a circular ‘building’ with his ‘building bricks’. As his mother rests by a large stone formation his father demands he hurry up so they can get off home. Johnny is pleased with his effort which his parents praise as ‘unusual’ and ‘imaginative’.

Shock: Johnny’s imagination will continue to attract interest years in the future as he has constructed none other than Stonehenge

Thoughts: A real disappointment of a Future Shock from two talents who had previously produced excellent tales. Cruden’s story is a less interesting re-hash of FS 11 with building bricks / Stonehenge replacing The Moon / Billiard Ball as the object of ‘the problem of scale’ scenario.  Cruden’s strip, which once again places a young subject the age of the readership at the core of the tale, has a tough time of convincing that the stones of Stonehenge were once ‘building bricks’. The family are shown in 60s/70s clothing so large lumps of stone seem a curious childs toy for such an ‘advanced’ civilization. However while the script is barely re-fried seconds the art really jars and ensures this is a story to be forgotten. Trevor Goring’s final appearance on art chores in a Future Shock is a real let down, the various family members all appear static and light-boxed from photo-reference; the mother in particular straight from a 70’s Freemans catalogue. Even more frustrating their positions relative to each other continually changes from panel to panel in contrast to the flow indicated by their dialogue. A final oddity is that in one panel the mother seems pressed, in fashion-faux ecstasy, up against a giant rock face.. therefore one that is presumably 100s of miles higher than the tiny ‘Stonehenge’ being built at her feet. Strangely his granite mountain doesn’t appear to have survived to 1978’s Salisbury Plain while some tiny ‘building blocks’ have. Given how excellent his other two strips were the art here must have been down to some external factor such as time pressure or toying with a new technique. Those wishing to see just how good a 2000AD artist Trevor Goring could have been should look to his previous two Future Shocks.

Shock’d?:  Cruden’s regular focusing on characters of the same profile as the reader may have engaged the then readership with the story and delighted with the ‘shock’ but to a contemporary audience the whole family are dull, lacking character and frankly boring. That the son builds Stonehenge is mildly amusing at best but, like the whole of the strip, poorly executed compared to both FS 11 and it’s subsequent third rehash (Dominoes / Stonehenge) in Prog 371’s The Domino Theory. 

FS 43: SHIELD YOUR EYES

20 Sep

PROG: 88 – DATE WITH DESTINY

Script: Mike Cruden

Art: Massimo Belardinelli

Letters: John Aldrich

Plot: As Earth scientists complete the first Time Machine they research candidates suitable to be test pilots. Eventually they settle on two candidates, Shelvin and Farren, with the latter being the first choice. Enraged at being passed over Shelvin doctors the food of Farren and takes his place on the mankind’s first time flight. He sets out on a trip 60 years into the future knowing his fame will be secured.

Shock: Shelvin fame is secured, without proper shielding his trip to the future has aged him 60 years and Shelvin has become the first fatality of time travel.

Thoughts: Mike Cruden’s fourth Future Shock is a pure delight in no small measure due to the series debut of maestro Massimo Belardinelli. Belardinelli’s style moves effortlessly from comedy, a series of beefcakes failing the selection tests, to horror as the story ends on a magnificent full-page splash of Shelvin’s decomposed corpse slithering off the flight seat.  Belardinelli pulls no punches with a panel as magnificent as any from his years working for 2000AD. With bones exposed, flesh peeling off and collapsed eye-sockets a wafting stench filling the cockpit the image is both striking and horrific. Beyond the art the story is an odd mix of comedy, the first page of failed tests, drama, the doctoring of the food and awaiting the craft’s return, and horror. It is perfectly possible to image the script had more consistency of tone as none of the writing is deliberately funny or melodramatic but Belardinelli imbues each page with the different tones and lifts up the end product as a result.  It remains a great shame this short three page Future Shock has never been reprinted.

Shock’d?: The image is certainly shocking but in terms of scripting it is a bit random. That scientists manage to master the complexities of Time Travel but not notice a shielding issue till this juncture is so incredulous that the shock comes out of left-field. Without foreshadowing readers would assume such mundane considerations have long since been dealt with by the boffins. However the reader will have likely given little consideration of this due to the impact of the wonderful grotesque last page.

FS 42: REDONDO Y EL BERK

20 Sep

PROG: 85: POACHER

Script: Barry Clements

Art: Jesus Redondo

Letters: Jill Raphaeline

Plot: John Pritchard, a countryside ne’er-do-well poacher, is making his way through the forest when he is astounded to observe a UFO land and two multi-limbed creatures emerge. Not realizing they are being observed the aliens take human form and walk off towards the town, confirming to the departing craft they will report back in twenty-four hours. Pritchard realises he can’t report this without giving away the fact he was trespassing and so decides to observe the aliens before deciding what further action to take. He maintains a vigil as the they visit and photograph a pub, port and Zoo. Confused, Pritchard finally decides to tell the authorities and leads the police to the landing site in time for the rendezvous.

Shock: The Aliens stay hidden and wait out the humans until Pritchard is arrested by an exasperated and disbelieving Police for his confessed poaching and trespassing. Finally they can board their returned craft in secrecy and when they do they look at their photographs and decide that Earth is a nice place for a holiday but a bit boring to live on.

Thoughts: Prog 85 has a few unique claims. Mick McMahon’s ‘The Cursed Earth Will Not Break MeDredd cover is in that select group of classic covers paid homage to by a later prog (Prog 1657′s Shakara Cover by Henry Flint). It contains the first credit given to a female contributor, Jill Raphaeline from this Shock, and it was the first to contain two Future Shocks in the same prog. It is also rare in that both stories are listed as Future Shocks rather than using another banner, such as Time Twisters, or just forgoing a banner and having a stand alone short strip, such as Prog 245′s ‘SuperBean‘ which appears alongside an Alan Moore Future Shock and a ‘Abelard Snazz’ strip which had, of course, graduated from a Future Shock to its own short irregular eponymous series. However back in 1978 2000AD has few such branding qualms and the readers are given two Shocks for their groats.

The first of two Barry Clements’ Shocks for 2000AD, Poacher is a lackluster affair saved only by being the Future Shock debut of one of the finest Spanish artists to grace the pages of the ‘Galaxy’s Greatest’, Jesus Redondo. The script is plodding and reaches a conclusion it foreshadows in the first half page as the un-engaging moronic Pritchard gets his comeuppance. The Alien’s sight-seeing is, as demanded by the strip, rather dull. Setting the story in rural UK may have fired the reader’s imaginations that Aliens could be amongst them, but a more dramatic environment than the Ambridge duck pond may have given the story some dynamic. Given very little to work with Redondo does a top-notch job; Pritchard is fully fleshed out, including a great pair of flares, and the drawings of the various venues visited by the Aliens are packed full of detail. Known for his turn on Nemesis BK II,  as well as The Mind of Wolfie Smith and Return to Armageddon, Redondo’s true star turn for 2000AD is the vast number of Future Shocks and other one-offs he has contributed. Indeed he rightly returned to the Prog in 2011 for a beautiful four-page Terror Tale with line-work every bit as detailed and sumptuous as it was in 1978. This might not have been the best story to kick off a thirty year association with 2000AD ‘s one-offs but it certainly is the birth of a beautiful thing.

Shock’d?: A shock would have been for Pritchard to devise some cunning way to escape the law and expose the Aliens, sadly that is not even attempted. The shock, that the Aliens are sight-seeing, doesn’t amount to much because there is never any menace in their words or deeds. A short line about ‘walking undetected‘ and ‘reporting back‘ is not enough to substantiate that anything is going on beyond taking photographs of zebras. The ‘shock’ appears about as thrilling as the Alien’s own conclusions about Earth.

FS 41: LIFE-ELIMINATING DIODE

13 Sep

PROG: 85 – The Fourth Wall

Script: Mike Cruden

Art: John Cooper

Letters: John Aldrich

Plot: Chris, a demanding child, is watching his favourite TV show, the space adventure Adam Gordon, on his ceiling-to-floor ‘Wall TV’. With his birthday coming his father agrees to buy him the latest in technology, a Fourth Wall  TV. When the engineer comes to install it he warns the impatient child that the technology is experimental and to call the manufacturer if there are any problems. Chris ushers him out and settles down to watch the space battles of Adam Gordon, loving how the lasers leap off the screen…

Shock: Not only do the lasers seem real, they are real! They blast Chris’ chair and, as he reaches for the telephone to call the engineer, they blast his phone too. Later his father comes to call him for dinner, Chris’ lifeless body lies in front of the Fourth Wall.

Thoughts: Mike Cruden and John Cooper team up again, after FS 21 (Prog 50, The Guardian) for another instalment of scaring the bejesus out of young boys everywhere with more tales of technology vs small child. Unlike The Guardian, where the nameless child was left to his impending doom, Chris is shown as a fresh smoking corpse, giving no doubt as to his fate in this gruesome Shock. Cooper’s art once again excels in drawing the boy’s face; in turn demanding, excited, in awe and scared. However, his decision to draw the TV images as vertical lines and white-space gives an odd effect to the strip and dominates over his traditional style in many panels. As a technique it doesn’t quite work and detracts from the beautifully balanced inks he uses to depict the rest of the family life and Chris’ demise. The twist in the story is formulaic but the use of the medium of television is a first for Future Shocks and the pacing is well scripted with an extended playing out of Chris’ scramble when the technology goes mad. Both story and art are above average, if not quite in the top-tier, and this successful Shock is definitely one of the nastier dark efforts to be presented to the young early-2000AD readers.

Shock’d?: The focused nature of the story’s set-up: his mother complaining about Chris doing nothing but watching TV, the introduction of the new technology etc all means it is pretty clear what is coming; however that doesn’t detract from it being joyously executed and with a real impact on readers of Chris’ age.

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