RT 3: ‘3P0 ‘N R2, THE LOST YEARS.

28 Nov

PROG: 148 & 149 – IT’S A KNOCKOUT

(click to enlarge)

Script: Oleh

Art: Casanovas

Letters: Peter Knight

Plot: Witnessing a gang of children stoning another robot, the android Gree-C tells them they should stop because he knows of ‘someone’ who will punish them. Prompted into elaborating, he tells the group that he was once a ‘Ro-Waiter’ and that, while being bullied by a loutish human client called Walker, a mysterious stranger came to his aid. The Stranger makes a simple bet, that Cree-C can beat Walker in any four competitions they choose. Should Cree-C lose any of the four tasks then the Stranger will forfeit his own life. If Cree-C can manage to win all four then Walker be the one to die. Confident of success in the two tests of his own choosing, Walker accepts and they begin with the two tasks selected by the Stranger. Despite attempts at sabotage, the competitions to serve every table and mop the floor quickest are won by Gree-C. Walker chooses that the first of his selections is to be shooting a coin in the air. Gree-C is worried he’ll fail until the Stranger reminds him he as telescopic arms which he can use to stay close to the flipped coin. Walker complains that this is cheating but the adjudicator rules in favour of the android. Still confident, Walker nominates poker as the final competition and the last test begins. Triumphantly, Walker displays four Kings…

Shock: Gree-C has ‘only’ got four ‘ones’ (Aces). Infuriated Walker attempts to shoot Gree-C but the Stranger blasts the gun out of his hand. With Walker at his mercy the Stranger listens to the man plead for his life. When Walker blabs that the stranger wouldn’t ‘kill one of his own kind over this‘ the Stranger flips open a face-plate to reveal that he too is an android. Casually he shoots Walker. 

Thoughts: An extended six page, spread over two Progs, tale that really amounts to very little but is adorned with some of the most sumptuous Casanovas’ art seen in 2000AD. As a story the tale is pretty much an unmitigated failure, a series of panels where a linear narrative occurs but one without any real internal logic nor convincing reasoning. Why would Walker agree to bet his own life for that of killing a stranger? Why would the final task be a game of chance? Are young readers meant to understand the rules of Poker? Why would a bunch of kids think anyone was going to kill them based on the story of the bar-room bet? None of it makes any sense and then to wrap it up in a format where Ro-Jaws introduces a tale where Gree-C then introduces a tale makes the whole thing far too complicated and necessitates too much exposition where a better plot could have been fleshed out. With the tale split over two Progs there is even a re-appearance of Ro-Jaws in the middle of the story but this time he returns the reader to the central tale without the re-appearance of the Gree-C ‘warning the children’ narrative. Worst of all is that the ‘twist’ is the reveal that the Stranger is a robot! That’s something new (bar FS 12, 31, 34, 35, RT 2).  The writer, credited as Oleh, may have been Oleh Stepaniuk who was published in the 1981 Annuals and Specials but it is not clear from Barney if this is the case. Saving the tale for a modern reader is the art which packs every panel, especially the Salon bar, with rich inventive detail. Every bar customer, every ornament and furnishing, every detail of clothing is rendered in the minutest detail. Much like his debut Future Shock, Casanovas gives us an ‘alien’ world which looks familiar yet definitely different. On the ‘down’ side Gree-C is a ringer for C3PO and the robot being stoned at the start of the tale is clearly R2D2-on-telescopic legs. A result of this, in the year The Empire Strikes Back conquered the box-office, is that it impossible to read the tale without every panel screaming ‘isn’t this a rubbish tale with C3PO’. The whole problem is compounded with Gree-C having the same shambling apologetic demeanour as has celluloid kin. So blatant are the influences that the strip forces you to look at other background characters to see if they look like the inhabitants of the Mos Eisley Cantina. Indeed, some of the girls do look like Princess Leah in her skimpy dancing-girl outfit and the ‘Stranger’ looks like Dr Strange! Whats he doing in Star Wars? Maybe this was down to the script or just Casanovas having fun but in retrospect it does detract from the otherwise stunning art.

Thrill Power? The only way to enjoy this tale is to revel in the beautiful artwork, the story itself is ill thought out and terribly dated. A story so bad even the sound effects are deeply unconvincing (‘F-SHAM!‘ anyone?) With readers having had The Omen last Prog and Star Wars in this story they probably feared a robot-disguised-as-The Jazz Singer next week.

RT 2: SNATCH FAMILY ROBOT SON

23 Nov

PROG: 147 – DAMIEN, CHILD OF THE FUTURE.

Script: Kelvin Gosnell (as W.Gosmore)

Art: Mike White

Letters: John Aldrich (as Aldrich II)

Plot: While Rolf Harris is happy with his busy career as a ‘top electronics engineer’ his wife Mary pines for them to start a family. Faced with Rolf’s intransigence she pleads for some compromise and, several years later, Mary is overjoyed by the arrival of her baby Damien. Damien grows up a talented but slightly distanced teenager, one focused, like his father, on designing and building electric gadgets. Damien’s distance and cold nature lead to a row with his mother over having taken and melted down her wedding ring. Eventually Rolf intervenes and takes Damien off to dismantle him. Damien is just a robot built by Rolf. As Damien’s head comes of the robot cries out for his parents to stop.

Ending: As the Harris’ sit confronting life without their robot son they are stunned by the head reactivating and informing them that he has improved on his father’s design many times over. A door slides open and simulacra robots of Rolf and Mary appear. The humans realise they are to be dispatched and replaced.  Later, as the robot family settle down, Damien suggests to his robot father that they consider doing something about the neighbours next…..

Thoughts: A very traditional but thoroughly entertaining sinister Robo-Tale doubtless appealing to the revenge fantasy of many of the then readers. In a series called ‘Robo-Tales‘ it is pretty obvious from the start that Mary’s ‘compromise’ must be a robot; so the revelation, on page three, about Damien having been built isn’t terribly surprising. The story delivers its ‘shock’ with the abandoned robot’s head stating that his ‘parents’ disloyalty will see them replaced by robotic versions of themselves. Children as central characters have been remarkably rare in 2000AD stories and this tale has the honour of being the first one where a child gets around to killing his own kin. Given the amount of death lashed out weekly in the Prog that it took until Prog 147 for parenticide to feature is pretty remarkable. The final touch of suggesting the neighbours will be next gives a nicely sinister coda to the tale. The only real problem with the very traditional art of Mike White is that not only do Rolf and Mary not seem to have aged while Damien grows up but poor Mary seems to have had the same haircut and wardrobe for the whole time. Damien’s lack of school friends was probably down to his shame from having parents who looked a decade out of date.

Thrill-Power?: After the left field antics of Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein in the series debut this is much more traditional Future Shock fare. Without ever being top-drawer, the ending and the malicious joy of the young Omen-bot’s triumph over stern adults make it a great kids comic even if they may not have been of the age to recognise that the Damien-bot is the exact spit of the infamous celluloid anti-christ.

RT 1 – IF YOU (DON’T) TOLERATE THIS THEN YOUR CHILDREN WILL BE NERKS

21 Nov

PROG: 144 – Ro-Jaws – The Inside Story

Script: Pat Mills

Art: Kevin O’Neill

Letters: John Aldrich

Plot: Ro-Jaws is feeling unwell, a fact Hammerstein suspects may be down to having eaten the war droid’s missing war medals. After trapping his hand while trying to examine the contents of Ro-Jaws’ stomach he eventually takes the ill robot to a robo-garage. The mechanic deploys a team of ‘Thunderbots’, tiny singing robot repair droids, into Ro-Jaws system. Faced with a sea of sewage and waste in Ro-Jaws’ guts the Thunderbots take decisive action, exploding in his stomach

Ending: The explosion causes Ro-Jaws to throw-up Hammerstein’s war medals and he promptly gets beaten up and dumped in a trash can by the angry war droid.

Thoughts: The Inside Story is one of the great curios of 2000AD. It was the first time a one-off tale had appeared under a non-series banner outside of the Future Shock branding, but is in total contrast to any of the other stories printed as Ro-Jaws Robo-Tales. Whereas the rest of the short series (2o stories across the Prog and specials / annuals) would be  ‘Future Shocks-with-a-‘bot’ as introduced by Ro-Jaws instead of Tharg, this is a straight character comedy piece featuring two well-established characters taken out of their usual dramatic story context. Ro-Jaws & Hammerstein were clearly a hit with the reader, used in editoral branding such as ‘Ro-Jaw’s Laugh In‘ (Readers Jokes) and ‘Guide To Robots‘ (Info Booklet), but this tale was unique in moving their love-hate rude banter from an aside in their action stories to being the focus of the strip itself. In a way it relates to Ro-Busters the way Terror Tube & Killer Watt does to Nemesis The Warlock; part of its world but slightly askew. It seems a shame it was left out of the recent The Complete Ro-Busters although it had featured in previous Titan collections. The story itself, a rare Pat Mills outing in these one-off stories, is quite astounding; full of profanity, belching, throwing up and even the most obvious masturbation cock-gag ever seen in 2000AD. In the anarchic hands of O’Neill and Mills it is, naturally, one of the greatest things to have appeared in the Prog. The art is packed full of rewards for the attentive reader, a small picture of Deadlock on a wall,  ‘C3PO was a Hume‘ (human) graffitied in the background and volumes of comedy robot designs through-out. The script is similarly wonderful; rude, funny, constantly inventive with language, and seeped in the Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein tradition of ‘daft nerks‘ and cockney robo-speak. At all times knowing what it’s audience is and at all times knowing how to make them laugh. It certainly is a world away for the last Future Shocks‘ weeping child and lament for good parenting.

Thrill-Power?: Off the scale. There is no twist, shock or even dramatic denouement. Ro-Jaws gets dumped in the bin we knew he’d end up in from the very first time Hammerstein asks has he eaten the precious war medals. But the three pages it takes for him to get there will be a sumptuous treat for anyone who ever took to these classic 2000AD characters.

FS 57: BEIGE PRIME

18 Nov

PROG: 135 – Time Trap

Script: Roy Preston (as P. Wildbeest)

Art: John Cooper

Letters: P. Bensberg

Plot: Johnnie Collins plays with his toy metal frog while his mother prepares a special meal for his father’s return from work. However when Jim Collins returns home he curtly informs his wife that his project with The Time Monitoring Department means he will have to go straight to his study and continue working. As Chrissie Collins explains to young Johnnie why his father has come and gone so quickly she breaks into tears and is comforted by her son. Johnnie, with his toy frog, march to his father’s home lab as Jim Collins is about to start another time machine test. His father angrily shouts at him and smacks ‘Mister Frog’ from his hands. Jim then finishes working on the control desk and moves to enter the time machine capsule. Convinced he can stop the machine, Johnnie moves to the desk to reverse his father’s settings.

Shock: Johnnie’s well-intended meddling firstly places his father in an infinite loop and then accidentally break the controls. Jim Collins is trapped in the time machine in his basement, free to be seen by his family all day, every day.

Thoughts: The final Future Shock before a year and a half absence from the Prog is an unsatisfying meld of various established tropes. Mechanical problems with time machines have been seen several times and John Cooper has been the ‘go to’ artist for Shocks involving small children twice before. However a key element of the script’s failure to engage is that this time the child isn’t a cipher the reader can identify with. Whereas previous stories with children have had stroppy, defiant, independent kids, here Johnnie Collins is a wimpy mewlling child carrying around ‘Mister Frog’ much like Linus does a blanket. It seems unlikely any reader who thrills in the action of Dredd or has picked out a favourite ABC Warrior is going to have much time for Johnnie Collins. An additional problem is that the shock itself, in terms of the fate of Jim Collins, isn’t really well explained. Is Jim trapped in a ground-hog day scenario? Is he in stasis while the world grows old around him? Why is there a smiling image of Chrissie and Johnnie on the screen? Regardless of how negligent a parent and partner he had been, wouldn’t they be upset that he is trapped? Can’t the damage be undone by fixing the damaged box? With three pages there was more than enough room to have set up a clearer fate for Jim’s comeuppance but the strip is too busy showing weeping gal and Johnnie in their emotional distress. Cooper’s art is of its usual excellent standard, Chrissie Collins being a particularly pretty young mum and Johnnie as wide-eyed as it is possible for an innocent child to be. However three pages of talking heads and one panel of violence against a child is pretty hard to make interesting.

Shock’d?: The cause of the shock, the well-intended meddling of an upset child, is a novel one but the actual execution is neither clear nor visually very interesting. A more central problem is that Time Machine Shocks only end a limited number of ways and this one is particularly obvious and not very engaging.

FS 56: MANY HANDS MAKES STRIP WORK

16 Nov

PROG: 117 – Hand Of Friendship

Script: John Richardson

Art: John Richardson

Letters: Peter Knight

Plot: Brant and Jones, two Earth spacemen drifting in their Survival Pod, finally have their distress signal answered by a large alien war craft. The battleship informs them it cannot stop but will send them some supplies, as well as despatch their own supply ship when it becomes available. Concerned about alien foodstuff toxicity, the humans tell the aliens they can ‘give them a hand with just some bread and water‘ for now. A pod sends them over the food and they munch on the new supplies before turning to find out what was for dessert…

Shock:  They open an alien container to find several bagged human hands. Grant and Jones realise the ‘supplies’ craft coming for them might not be good news.

Thoughts: John Richardson becomes the first droid to have a second ‘joint credit’ for scripting and drawing duties. This time his art isn’t as impressive, although not bad it lacks any real dramatic set-pieces or outstanding panels, but the story is much better.  In the modern 2000AD this would be a Terror Tale rather than a Future Shock but back then that remained the sole banner for short stories; although that would soon change with the introduction of Ro-Jaws RoboTales (Prog 144). The simple visual joke of ‘being given a hand‘ plays out nicely and is tweaked that little bit by introducing the concept that a ship that was to supply them may now become a ship to supply them to the warship’s kitchens. Eight panels and 1.5 pages make this an excellent efficient early Terror Tale.

Shock’d?: Whether the ‘give us a hand’ prompt would have been picked up depends on how attentive the reader is; certainly the story on page one could have been the set-up for a longer different type of Shock but on turning the page the reader gets a half page of bagged hands floating towards him and the strip is done. And no less enjoyable for it.

FS 55: LA PIU BELLA

14 Nov

PROG: 119 – Colin’s Dream

Script: Chris Stevens

Art: Massimo Belardinelli

Letters: Peter Knight

Plot: While his wife shouts for him to wake up, Colin Ross continues in his slumber. He dreams of hand-to-hand combat against a fearsome massive many-tentacled beast, finally decapitating the monster. Inevitably awoken by his wife’s incessant calling, he moans about being disturbed just as he had seized victory in his dream-battle.

Shock: Colin’s wife enters the room, she is the same species as the monster from his dream! She warns him in the future she’ll make sure he gets up when he is told. Tharg warns the reader that in the 25th century Human-Alien marriages were common ‘but not always happy‘.

Thoughts: Two pages, seven panels, including one magnificent full-page panel, an epic battle, a gruesome monster, a decapitation and a joke about annoying wives / mothers makes an absolutely magnificent Future Shock. The ‘waking up and…’ device has been regularly used in early Future Shocks (FS 53, FS 37) and the ‘pestering wife’ has featured in Casanova’s beautiful debut in FS 32 however this is still a great entry into Future Shocks largely due to it’s efficiency and the stunning work of Belardinelli. Futureshockd never shows the ‘shock’ panel in a story but the temptation to here is almost overwhelming. The full-page of image of a ‘pretty’ version of the above alien, all extended eye-lashes and pouting-lips and a domestic-goddess pinny, towering over a terrified Colin is a complete joy. Never reprinted, it is a neglected classic sitting in the 2000AD vaults. Readers at the time could clearly substitute ‘parents’ for the ‘wife’ element and empathize with Colin’s wish to keep dreaming rather than go to work / school.

Shock’d?: Strongly reminiscent of the twist in FS 1, the domesticated alien does come out of the left field as the nagging is not given enough time to establish itself as the ‘counter’ narrative to Colin’s dream; however it is a great visual shock due to the space given to allow Belardinelli to draw a truly marvelous monstrous image.

FS 54: OCCUPY TARKA III

13 Nov

PROG: 109 – Sacrifice!

Script: Alan Hebden

Art: Mike White

Letters: Jack Potter

Plot: The Planetary Assessment Group approach Tarka III, a dust-bowl planet that they have funded the gradual reclamation of by paying billions to let settlers attempt to colonise. They have arrived to assess progress and decide on future funding. Met by Reed Benson, the colonial leader, they immediately take against the thin air and small pockets of growth they witness. Benson explains to them how they are unleashing deep pockets of air from underground and another ten years will see the planet flourish with growth. Distinctly unimpressed they tell Benson they will give their verdict in the morning. Deeply frustrated, Benson returns home and joins his daughter at a nearby archaeological dig. Wandering alone in an uncovered ancient chamber he uncovers a room where a mysterious  ‘telepathic recording’ informs him it is the voice of the ancient inhabitants and they are offering him a choice – if he sacrifices himself the ancient’s mining devices will be reactivated and massive amounts of oxygen will be released; if he refuses the planet will be destroyed rather than fall into the hands of the unworthy…

Shock: Benson makes the sacrifice and the aliens unleash their technology to furnish vast amounts of air on the planet. The PAG representatives reverse their decision to cut funding when they realize the sudden re-oxygenization will make the cost of the program much less. As they depart the planet they scoff that Benson would be delighted as ‘he couldn’t care less about the cost of anything’  Their craft flies off as Benson writhes in pain, enduring the cost  he has shouldered for saving the planet he loves.

Thoughts: A luxuriant seven pages given to a slightly strange scoff at penny-pinching accountants as opposed to the sacrifice of the idealist. The story has doesn’t have a ‘shock’ per se, more a choice for Benson and a juxtaposed disparaging comment by a PAG member on the final panel. Outside of that the story fails to make a lot of sense. Searching hard one could think of reasons why the aliens just didn’t re-inhabit the planet themselves (since they are able to do it almost instantaneously after Benson’s decision) and why Benson must actually suffer a painful fate rather than be excused after having shown the requisite commitment, but none of it is explained by the story. At seven pages the story-telling is extremely flabby by the standards of 2000AD; Benson isn’t introduced until the bottom of page 2 and by the end of page 4 the tour of the agricultural facilities is just ended. High on tension and drama this tale is not. The art has lots of nice individual panels showing a similar ‘space meets Midwest America’ as seen in Angel Zero and a fantastic panel where Benson steps up to make his choice but for seven pages there is a lot of talking heads and shots of farmland. An interesting Shock in the context of the series, both for page count and political content,  and featuring two creators who would go on to work on many more one-shots for the Prog, but overall not a great outing for the series.

Shock’d?: The story doesn’t read at all like a Future Shock. The nearest thing to any formal shock is the callous remark of the departing PAG member. It seems more a general small sci-fi tale and perhaps was originally commissioned for something other than Future Shocks.

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