Archive | October, 2011

FUTURES 26 – 50: A SUMMARY

9 Oct

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.

WORDS

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.

PICTURES

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:

Belardinelli (Flesh):

McMahon (Dredd):

O’Neil (Ro-Busters):

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 48Brain 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 34The 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 43Date 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 43Date With Destiny‘, this un-reprinted tale shows what a gold-mine these stories can be.

FS 50: AYE, VAMPIRE.

8 Oct

PROG: 97 – DEAR MUM

Script: John Richardson

Art: John Richardson

Letters: Peter Knight

Plot: A humanoid writes home to his mother after 5,000 years of ‘exile’ on a planet after having committed the first murder in a society that had discovered everlasting life. He recounts how he managed to make a primitive shelter, hunt wild animals for food and eventually build himself a large impregnable structure high on a hill. He tells her not to worry, his 20,000 year sentence will pass, meantime he has had a nap…

Shock: ..and is heading down to ‘the village‘ for a ‘bite to eat‘. Our mysterious correspondent is none other than Dracula.

Thoughts: John Richardson becomes the second person to fulfill both scripting and drawing duties (Kevin O’Neil, FS 11, Prog 35) in this rather abrupt odd tale of Dracula’s back-story. The third Shock to feature vampires (FS 9, Prog 34; FS 30, Prog 60) the story is played straight and with the vampire looking at the reader in with a menacing salivating contemplation. The strip has several problems – obviously the society who had discovered ‘eternal life‘ had not encountered stakes, sunlight or garlic bread and there is a strange panel showing a stone hut that Dracula had constructed, obviously a tomb-reference, which is made from slabs of stone far too large for a single person, or presumably vampire, to lift. However despite the disjuncted nature of the ending the art is effective and polished, again very much in the traditional boys comics mold, and the idea of Dracula writing to his alien mother has a certain charm. Some impact is undoubtedly lost by the reveal panel being merely a quarter page panel and very static; a large image of Dracula chomping down on the locals would have given the story some dramatic impact. The most striking aspect of the strip is that, despite the context of Dracula coming from a foreign planet, through a combination of art style and topic the strip doesn’t feel like a 2000AD story.

Shock’d?: The only shock Richardson intended was the fun final panel of the fanged Count eyeing up the readers and, despite the space limits of it being on a half-page, it is nicely done. From a story-telling point of view, with the exception of the tomb image, absolutely anything could have gone before that final panel.

FS 49: H2 OH-NO.

5 Oct

PROG: 96 – THE END OF THE UNIVERSE

Script: Gary Rice

Art: Brett Ewins

Letters: Peter Knight

Plot: Steinway & Schmidt are two astronauts cryogenically frozen while their craft speeds onwards to find the ‘limits of space‘. They are awakened by the craft, an action that is meant to signal that they have reached their destination, only to find themselves still surrounded by infinite space. The two despair that they will never see the end of space after having decided their ship must have woken them on concluding that it would never reach it’s goal.

Shock: Prof. XYGBDN, an alien teacher, ‘Billions of Trillions of times bigger than human comprehension‘ calls for his class to be quiet while he shows them the  microscopic view of a ‘slide of water‘ that actually is Steinway & Schmidt’s galaxy! The astronauts cannot visualize the universe as it is so vast to them, the alien children cannot visualize it because it is so small.

Thoughts: Filler even by Future Shocks standards this two-pager is notable only for the appearance of Brett Ewins art and marking the first of several scripts by the mysterious Gary Rice. That Rice only worked on one-offs and shorts (Future Shocks, Ro-Jaw’s Robo-Tales, Walter the Wobot) may indicate a pseudonym at play. This rather dull tale, which seems to rely on a navigation computer working out the secret of the universe, is a re-plodding of the ‘Problem of Scale’ that features so regularly in early Future Shocks. More interesting is that Ewins art doesn’t seem of the standard of his recent turn in Judge Dredd (The Day The Law Died, Prog 92 (pencils & inks) Prog 93 (pencils)) both in terms of detail and use of solid blacks. It may well be this Shock was drawn sometime before and held back until two pages were needed. The art on the first page, featuring humans and spaceships, really isn’t very good but the second page splash of the alien Professor is both substantially better art and alot more fun. The early Ewins certainly has a touch of the Belardinelli aliens / humans problem with his art. Given the great work he was to go on to turn out for 2000AD the strip is at least a fine example of how talent is given time to develop by the comic.

Shock’d?: That the editor isn’t bored of these ‘Problem of Scale’ stories. The reveal is totally unconnected to the preceding story and what little drama it had worked up. A Shock best quietly forgotten.

FS 48: MOPING UP THE TALENT

4 Oct

PROG: 95 – Brain Drain

Script: Steve Moore

Art: Ron Tiner

Letters: Peter Knight

Plot: At some length Tharg considers the reasons why so many humans disappear each year before introducing the tale of Arnold Quigley-Jones,  a contented government astrophysicist with a young family and evident happiness at his lot. Unbeknownst to him he is being watched by two shady men, who proceed to zap him with a strange green ray, although he remains blissfully unaware of the fact.  Days later, as if programmed, he proceeds to a rendezvous point and boards a UFO. Taken to a mother-ship it is explained to him that he is being invited to join a collection of the Galaxy’s greatest minds. Quigley-Jones readily agrees and consents to an operation to make sure he can endure the rigors of space travel.

Shock: Quigley-Jones comes around from the procedure to find his brain has been transplanted into the cumbersome body of a robot-janitor. The aliens muse that the most intelligent of humans is only fit for menial duties aboard their spaceship.

Thoughts: Steve Moore, the author of the very first Future Shock, returns to scripting duties and raises the bar with a Robo-Hunter type gag spread out over four pages. A joke about humans only being fit for menial labour, wrapped in an alien abduction mystery and encased in Tharg’s meta-musings about the various reasons so many humans go missing each year. The tale throws men-in-black, comedy dogs, faux Reggie Perrin workplace bonhomie and an almost happy ending into the mix before mocking our hapless hero and the entire human race. Moore is ably assisted by Ron Tiner whose style has radically altered from his debut. Gone are the square-jaws and heavy inks, in are comedy robots, overly-energetic domestic pets and a lovely detailed but light cross-hatching style. Quigley-Jones’ final robo-form is pure Ian Gibson and Tiner really understands the whole fun Moore is having with the ludicrously named astrophysicist and his fate. Tiner’s style subtly morphs as the script demands, the Men-In-Black are very noir-ish, the abduction 50s Sci-fi in style and the comedy shock drawn with a Emberton-Gibson feathery looseness.  Also of note is that Tharg has graduated from his usual Banner-Heading role and last Future Shock’s mid-episode dialogue captions to make a full appearance in three introductory panel. It may seem an odd place for Old Green Bonce to appear but the gravitas  is part of Moore’s juxataposing the serious element with the evental comedy pay-off and subverting the expectations of the reader. Reprinted only the once this Shock is well worth a re-read and is an early example of nailing the 2000AD humour and the perspective that pervades so many of the comic’s classic tales.

Shock’d?: Absolutely. Moore wraps up his evident goal, a joke on how dumb humans are, in so many layers and curve-balls that the demeaning status of Quigley-Jones comes from no-where and yet is consistent with all that has gone before. It’s impact is reinforced by the excellent artwork which indicates Tiner had the makings of a perfect funny robots artist. Of course the sharp readers will have noted that with a pooch prone to making extensive comedy sound-effects and a name like Quigley-Jones the tale was never going to end up well for our slightly smug protagonist.

FS 47: HE LIVES BY THE RIVER

3 Oct

PROG: 94 – COLD KILL

Script: Mike Cruden

Art: Garry Leach (as Gary Leach)

Letters: Peter Knight

Plot:  In a harsh cold part of the Earth a Hunter drags his bounty of slain animals towards his settlement. Aware he is surrounded by a gathering pack of wolves he manages to warn off the majority with a series of gunshots, however one of them leaps at him intent on the kill. The Hunter is wounded but, after eventually managing to slay the lupine foe, he loads his kayak for the final part of his journey. Tharg’s voice interjects to ask why we are seeing this Hunter, what is a tale of Canadian Hunters doing in the Prog?

Shock: The Hunter’s kayak arrives at his settlement, a frozen tundra with Big Ben at its centre! Mankind is in ‘the third Ice Age‘ and we have been witnessing life in London.  The Hunter states ‘They Attacked me in Battersea Park. It’s a wild, lifeless place now. I won’t go there again in a hurry!’

Thoughts: A very curious Future Shock that subverts the format by directly using Tharg’s authorial voice to nudge the reader in the wrong direction before delivering an excellent switcheroo in a stunning final full-page splash. There is very little to the tale but a two page track-and-fight and then the final subverting reveal. Again Mike Cruden chooses not to burden his characters with over-detail, here we have a grizzly hunter stereotype, denoted by image and the most cursory of dialogue, whose purpose is to serve as the vehicle for the shock rather than engage the reader as a character.  As with the previous Prog’s Future Shock this mean everything turns on the quality of the shock itself and Cruden has shown he understands the importance of a strong final Panel. In an era long before Hollywood could CGI-destroy famed landmarks ten-a-penny, the sight of Parliament beneath an ice flow was a fantastic kicker and Garry Leach does a first-rate job in conveying it.  Leach’s art has moved up a notch since his debut in FS 28, delivering art with much greater detail (as well as more convincing head-gear). The stand-out element of his art is the degree of perspectives he uses, rarely showing two panels from the same horizontal or range, while still retaining the flow of the story with clarity and drama. He also draws one hell of a mean wolf. Cold Kill is very different fare to the traditional Future Shock, and Cruden’s decision not to invest in character is in stark contrast to the rest of the comic, but it certainly is an excellent use of three Prog pages.

Shock’d? The reveal about London is very disjointed from the rest of the tale, a problem coming from the character being so impersonal and lacking a localised narrative or dialogue that can set up the reveal. In acknowledgement of this the unusual step of having Tharg’s voice move from the traditional introductory spiel to directing the narrative mid-strip must be seen as an attempt to draw the reader back into thinking about the location to allow the ‘shock’ that it is London to work. On that level the drama of the two page fight is rather unconnected from the shock but given the beauty of the final splash page the editor and reader probably couldn’t care less.

FS 46: CAPSULE (OF THE WORLDS)

2 Oct

PROG: 93 – PANDORA’S BOX

Script: Mike Cruden

Art: Mike White

Letters: Steve Potter

Plot: In 1984, the Prime Minister of the UK celebrates the unveiling of his own Statue with cementing in place a time capsule containing important artifacts of 20th Century culture. Centuries later mankind has passed through a series of wars to emerge in a new ‘Golden Age’ were war is a thing of the past and disease is eradicated. Two archaeologists find the 1984 Capsule and take the unopened box to the ‘Science Centre’ for further investigation. At the Centre this relic from ‘the Dark Ages‘ is immediately deemed to be dangerous and unsuitable for opening.

Shock: One of the Archaeologists rebels, she condemns the attitude of refusing to open the box as ‘being frightened of the unknown‘. In secret she opens the box and she and her colleagues marvel at the culture contained within, claiming that ‘There is nothing dangerous about these things‘. However within minutes the time-sealed bacteria has ravaged their bodies and killed them.

Thoughts: Mike Cruden repeats the ‘gruesome’ final panel trick of FS 43 hinting that the astounding rotting corpse by Belardinelli had been a big hit with the readers. Mike White, best known as the artist of Alan Moore’s Abelard Snazz, turns in a nicely horrific pair of decayed bodies in a final panel which is much the best element of the tale. His first work for 2000AD is marred only  by poor layout on the first page that necessitates horrible direction arrows to guide the reader’s eye. Otherwise the strip is well drawn if in a slightly dated orthodox ‘boys comic’ style. Cruden’s strip falls into his series of ‘adults suffering horrific fates’ and while the War Of The World lesson may be clichéd to an adult it probably was pretty eye-opening to a young reader. The strip uses two and a half pages to cram in a lot of elements, from the counter-factual British Prime Minister to the final opening of the capsule and death. Chosing to introduce the main characters on page two is a brave move, leaving page one to be packed full of the alternate history detail but suffering perhaps from a lack of time to establish any character in the various protagonists. Indeed it is only in the fourth panel of the second page that we learn our main protagonist is not only an archaeologist but a very young very pretty Professor. Up until that point the two scientists doing field work resemble more a curious courting couple in a forest, not least because one is seen strumming a Lyre. Maybe it is some sort of high-tech future archaeological kit that just happens to look like a Lyre. Given this lack of characters to invest in, the strip simply turns on the success of the idea and in the context of 1978’s 2000AD it may not be original but it is effectively deployed by the image of the  rotting corpses.

Shock’d?:  The idea of bacteria from the past / another world destroying an entire species is, of course, a rather well trodden trope in Science Fiction; however for any young reader not yet exposed to it this is a fine little rehash. The Shock is one of the ‘final panel reveals’ that work so well in comics and Mike White’s drawing does the story proud.

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