John Richardson’s oddly un-2000AD Future Shock brought up the 50th installment of the series which was still 2000AD‘s only outlet for one-shot stories. As well as providing another numeric juncture from which to look at a few facts, trends and developments in the series, FS 50 (Prog 97) also approaches a point when the series moves from regular appearances (50 in 73 issues) to a semi-hiatus. Only six more stories would appear before Alan Moore’s debut in Prog 203 signaled a re-investment in the series. The 2000AD of Prog 203 was a very different beast to that of when the initial series debuted in Prog 25 and this summary will look at how that change was already underway and how the Future Shocks were maybe struggling to keep abreast of that change even by FS 50.
However before embarking on that analysis some facts and stats to be gleaned from the stories published so far.
Letterer Peter Knight remains the name most often on the Credit Box with 26 appearances, one of nine letterers to have worked on the series.
Since the last Summary at FS 25 an astounding 12 writers have debuted in the series although only one, Jan Garczynski, has had more than one story printed. Mike Cruden leads the scripting credits with 7, Robert Flynn has 6 stories in print and Steve Moore, the writer of the first Future Shock, has 5. Jack Adrian (aka Chris Lowder) and Martin Lock each have had 4 stories in the series and Alan Hebden, Peter Harris and Jan Garczynski each have had 2 stories printed.
Examining subjects and twists several reoccurring themes dominate these early stories. In terms of setting Space Exploration features in eight stories, Time Travel in seven and Alien Invasion likewise in seven. Lesser used themes include Future War, four stories, Alien Abduction, four stories and Dystopian / Post-Apocalyptic Earth which has appeared three times.
As regards formulaic ‘shocks’ there have been several strips which defy classification, such as the beautiful spot gag of Casanovas’ 6-armed alien (FS 32), but dominant ‘twists’ do permeate. The issue of ‘Who Are The Humans’ – meaning aliens acting like humans or supposedly human characters turning out to be aliens or robots – is a theme that has been used seven times. The ‘Problem of Scale’, whereby aliens and humans are operating on radically different sizes, subverting invasion or contact, has been used five times. Technology Gone Mad has occurred four times and Vampires have been the shock three times.
Many of the strips that have worked best are those that have a joke as their twist rather than a big reveal. In those that do play it straight there have been times when a cramped final panel has limited the impact of the story; certainly the Shocks where Belardinelli (FS 43) and Garry Leach (FS 47) have been given a final full-page splash to deliver the twist are among the best stories in this batch.
As revealing as what subjects and themes are used is consideration of those that aren’t. Biology, Zombies, Werewolves, Nano-technology, Mysticism, drugs and any concept of religion or gods have never featured in the tales, topics such as Post-Nuclear War, pestilence, Space Madness, Mind-Control and Alternative Earths have only featured once. As the interview with Hunter Tremayne made clear, cold-war politics was also strictly verboten in the Command Module.
The first 50 Shocks have seen 28 artists (or art teams in the case of Ewins / McCarthy and Puchades / Martinez) used. Artists with more than one appearance include; Pierre Frisano, 5 stories, Brett Ewins, 4, Jose Ferrer, 4, Horico Lalia, 3, Trevor Goring, 3, John Cooper, 3, Kevin O’Neil, 2, Ron Turner, 2, Brendan McCarthy, 2, Ramon Sola, 2, Garry Leach, 2, Ron Tiner,2, Carlos Pino, 2 and Vanyo, 2.
Several important names for 2000AD have debuted in the series in the 25-50 period, including series stalwarts Casanovas and Belardinelli. Notable is that, with the exception of Garry Leach and Brett Ewins / Brendan McCarthy, very few of the British artists associated with classic early 2000AD have seen work on the series. Brian Bolland has drawn one Future Shock but Dave Gibbons, Ian Gibson, Mick McMahon and Ron Smith are all absent the Credit Box. At this juncture Future Shocks are still largely either being produced by artists with a very traditional British comic ethic (Cooper, Richardson, Dorey, Turner) or by continental artists. In this latter set there is a clear difference between conservative stylists (Frisano, Lalia, Vanyo, Ferrer) who vary between a light sketchy or furious dirty style and two very detailed creative artists, Casanovas and Belardinelli, whose manic creation would go on the be regular features in the Prog.
THE FUTURE OF FUTURES
As noted in the review of FS 45, these two schools of art, both with quite conservative design sense, are starting to stand out in contrast the art being produced in the rest of the Prog. FS 45 appeared in Prog 90 where the other artists were:
and Ezquerra (Strontium Dog):
The art on display from all four artists,although vastly different, shares one element that the majority of artists given run on Future Shocks didn’t – a creativeness in their depiction of future worlds. Ezquerra’s wonderful mutants, McMahon’s bonkers vehicles, O’Neil’s astounding Spaceships and Belardinelli’s manic dino-hunts all typify the increasingly mature and richly detailed worlds 2000AD was creating. Combined with the creative anarchic fun in the writing of Mills and Wagner, the serialized strips in the comic were moving far beyond traditional cold-war paranoid pulp sci-fi fare. It is also clear that Mills and Wagner are notably more violent in their stories than the typical Future Shock dares to tread. Sadly few of the Future Shocks were keeping pace with this overall change in content and creativity.
That doesn’t make them inherently bad, indeed some are excellent comic strips, but it does show they are flagging to keep up with the creative revolution going on elsewhere in the comic. In 2000AD terms the Future Shocks were still Colony Earth, Angel, and Ant Wars, rather than Strontium Dog, The Day the Law Died or Blackhawk. In part the writing being handled by irregular and new writers must contribute to this, in addition the artists being outside of any developing cadre created by the regular free-lancers robbed them of the cross-pollination of styles and boundary-pushing. Perhaps also the age and influences of the agency artists used for many Future Shocks would have had input into the look of the strips. No doubt by the time of FS 50 this difference was becoming evident to Tharg as Future Shocks were to be radically reduced in number until the revival under a more focused small group of creators such as Alan Moore, Steve Moore, Peter Milligan, Massimo Belardinelli, Alan Hebden, Kelvin Gosnell, Garry Leach and Brett Ewins.
26-50: THE BEST
None of which should detract from the fact that several not just good but great Future Shocks have seen the light during the first 100 Progs and, as is customary with these summaries, here are three of the best as well as a panel that deserves a wider audience.
FS 48 – Brain Drain – (Script Steve Moore, Art Ron Tiner, Letters Peter Knight) – A future Future Shock before its time, Steve Moore wraps up a laugh at mankind’s pomposity in several layers of genre-poking fun that takes familiar fare and twists it just that slightest degree to provide something fresh.
FS 34 – The Illusion Man (Script Martin Lock, Art Pierre Frisano, Letters Jack Potter) – A simple joy of a Shock with a twist of the movie Moon which is taken to a superior level by an artist clearly enjoying the madness of lizard monsters with tridents and pouty-mouthed seductresses.
FS 43 – Date With Destiny (Script Mike Cruden, Art Massimo Belardinelli, Letters John Aldrich) A fun if slightly flawed script that works best as a simple shock and Belardinelli really delivers in a final page that shows a stunningly grotesque rotting corpse.
There have been several great images in the stories, Ron Tiner’s robot-with-a-brain, Garry Leach’s Parliament under ice, Vanyo’s smug alien zoo-keepers and Casanova’s whole alien world however the crown goes to the sadly missed genius of Massimo Belardinelli with the fantastic fate of the corrupt fame-hungry time traveler. From the aforementioned FS 43 ‘Date With Destiny‘, this un-reprinted tale shows what a gold-mine these stories can be.