PROG: 81 – What Happened in Tunguska?
Script: Chris Lowder
Art: Pierre Frisano
Letters: P. Bensberg
Plot: It is the year 2000 and scientists at Global Dynamics have perfected a time machine and are briefing their two test pilots as to the first mission – to return to Tunguska 1908 on the eve of the famous impact that destroyed the region. The mission chief explains that he believes it was a ball of anti-matter but that the authorities believe it was First Contact gone wrong and, more importantly, the alien craft was probably warning mankind of a ‘disaster sweeping the galaxy‘. The time machine emerges in the skies over Tunguska minutes before the mysterious impact
Shock: As the craft emerges the test pilots sense something is wrong, the craft is shaking violently and the warp has begun to change them, turning them inside out. They realise they have been turned into anti-matter versions of themselves and seconds later their time-machine crashes into Tunguska, causing the famed explosion.
Thoughts: Not only one of the oddest titled Future Shocks but one of the strangest executed. Over three pages we get the initial page taking all it’s five panels to show the 1908 explosion, a second page where the Mission Chief repeats the exact same historical facts about Tunguska to the test pilots and then one page where the time machine malfunctions and the crash happens. Certainly there is one page too many and the repetition of the various theories about Tunguska strongly suggests that Tharg guessed not only did the young readers not know what actually happened in Tunguska but that they’d never heard of the mysterious explosion in the first place. The script is incredibly dull, a surprise for Lowder who had always focused on humour, and Pierre Frisano isn’t really given much to draw: a mysterious explosion (which has to be devoid of elements that give the shock away) a page of talking heads and then one page where the pilots get ‘reversed’ and crash. With his 50′s Sci-Fi style it is all very retro and a tad staid but does what is asked of it well enough and this saves the Future Shock from being a real stinker. Indeed the shock itself isn’t bad – making the investigation into what happened the cause of what happened, and the combination of the two alternative theories into the shock is well thought out. However getting there has been so dull and exposition heavy that it is a shame it couldn’t have been wrapped up in a more dynamic tale. This was to be Frisano’s last work for 2000AD and Lowder’s last Future Shock, although he was to pen a great many Time Twisters in the future.
Shock’d?: The shock itself is nicely executed, combining the competing theories of what caused the Tunguska explosion is cleverly done and the until the craft malfunctions there certainly could have been anything awaiting the test pilots on the final page. A strange combination of the shock element working while the preceding script itself didn’t.
PROG: 78 – Nothing On Earth!
Script: Chris Lowder
Art: Pierre Frisano
Letters: Jack Potter
Plot: At the American Space Research Centre, Houston, Professor Weems and his team identify a UFO heading for earth. Mobilizing the military, under the command of no-nonsense General B. Buckner Bulspitt, the military and the scientists rush to the landing site. The alien craft drops its ramp and out slither small many-eyed, multi-tentacled aliens. So repulsed is Gen. Bulspitt that he orders his weapons to open fire and the aliens are swiftly destroyed. Almost immediately a different alien craft arrives and this time tall bear-like creatures lollop forth. Weems and Bulspitt regard them as much friendlier looking and engage them in dialogue. The aliens ask what happened the previous spaceship which they identify as belonging to the ‘Sloog’ race.
Shock: The new aliens laugh at the Sloog’s destruction, and, as they open fire, they inform the General that the Sloog were peaceful and no-doubt intending to warn Earth about their own arrival, because the second aliens are ‘space pirates and planet destroyers‘. The General and Professor are slain in a hail of laser-fire.
Thoughts: An odd Shock that seems to rely on a central premise, that mankind will automatically kill any ‘ugly’ aliens’, that doesn’t really hold much water. Chris Lowder, whose two previous Shocks have been played for laughs, enjoys himself with ridiculous character names and a over-the-top Yankee accent for the General but there is an absence of any actual humour in the plot. This results in his scripting coming across as rather contemptuous of the audience and the genre, as if saying he knows the story is cliché hack-work but here it is anyway. Given his central premise is somewhat odd he might have concentrated on rationalizing it away a tad better than ‘bampot General thinks you’re ugly so die’. In addition it’s not exactly clear why a seven-foot tall brown bear in a spacesuit is automatically cuddly and friendly. Sure children have stuffed bears as toys but by the time they get to reading 2000AD many of them will have stored such away and be more likely to know that Bears are gert big killers like Sharko. This problem, along with oddities such as the American Space Research Centre not actually having a plan for alien contact, makes the whole script seem lazy even if there is, as no doubt Lowder took, pleasure in the silly names etc. The art by Frisano is professional but again slightly hampered by his 1950′s stylings and the strip, printed in the era of Star Wars, is all very B&W B-movie in tone. The result is a lesser Shock from two talented creators.
Shock’d?: The Bears’ sudden turn to violence isn’t telegraphed but nor is it very connected; the Major’s decision to shoot the Sloog is so random that after that juncture the story falls apart and any shock is more of a ‘oh well’. To buy into the ending being a shock the reader would have to have been enamoured with the ‘cuddly toy’ nature of the Bear aliens and it seems highly unlikely that readers of Judge Dredd and Robo-Hunter, both in this Prog, would still be at that level.
PROG: 52 – Solo Flip
Script: Chris Lowder
Art: Brian Bolland
Letters: Peter Knight
Plot: An un-named astronaut eases himself out of his launch seat and contemplates his forthcoming six-year solo journey to the end of the galaxy and back. Suddenly he realises he will be alone, that his wages will be worth nothing on his eventual return and that he isn’t going to be able to cope. With his mania in full flow he plumps for opening the airlock rather than continuing alone…
Shock: He crashes onto a landing mat, having failed the simulation test for long-distance flight.
Thoughts: Chris Lowder’s second Future Shock, like the first, plays the format for laughs and, with an excellent early outing from the ever-so-slighty-famous Brian Bolland, the great art pairing means this comedy Shock works really well. Unusually the narration in the second person giving the strip a creepy Twilight Zone voice-over effect which, added to by the limited verbal outbursts of the of the astronaut himself, works to make the reader become the panic-stricken pilot. After two pages of building mania the pay-off on the third page, with the simulator and frustrated trainers suddenly revealed, is an excellent switch and done in the manner of that ‘page-turning’ revelation which only a physical comic can deliver. However more than one of 2000AD‘s young readership may have been baffled by the discussion of the effects of inflation on savings. Bolland’s art needs little comment, some anatomy is slightly wonky and the final panel showing the astronaut being restrained has a very unconvincing struggle between crazy astronaut and hospital orderly but there is much to savour in his famous inking style and the under-lighting on faces helps ramp up that Eerie comics feel of the whole strip. An excellent Future Shock and one, despite the fame of its artist, that has been rarely reprinted.
Shock’d? A top-quality shock, the mania of the spaceman builds fantastically and before the reveal comes there is no indication this is a simulator yet when the veil drops it all makes sense.
PROG: 34 FANGS
Script: Chris Lowder
Art: Carlos Ezquerra
Letters: John Aldrich
Plot: The crew of the star-cruiser ‘Ajex’ flee back to their craft as they come under attack from winged blood-sucking aliens. Crew member Rimmer is bitten but survives however when the craft blasts out of orbit he transforms into a vampire. The rest of the crew deploy increasingly powerful weapons to stop him but it is in vain, finally he has only the cook in the galley to dispatch before the ship is his…
Shock: Cook has watched ‘antique 20th Century movies‘ and knows to defeat Rimmer with garlic powder. With the fiend dead Tharg reminds readers that the only ways to kill a vampire are stake through the heart, exposure to sunlight or drenching in garlic.
Thoughts: Looking at Fangs it appears likely it became the first ‘slapstick’ Future Shock due to the decisions of its artist, the legendary 2000AD stalwart Carlos Ezquerra. Ezquerra uses a similar style to his work on Bob The Galactic Bum; the faces are weather-beaten with ruddy noses and elongated rubbery appearances as well as being, like much of his earlier work, heavier inked. The result is uniquely Ezquerra but in a more pronounced comedic way; crew member Rimmer becomes a highly camp Count Dracula and the rest of the crew become exaggerated cast-offs from Scooby-Doo. It all works to marvelous effect and makes a corny story story into a fun comic strip, whose denouement is clear the minute the vampire declares he’s off to kill the chief. However the pacing, exposition and dialogue from 2000AD utility man Chris Lowder (Invasion, Dan Dare,(2000AD) Ro-Busters, Victor Drago (Starlord) & Blackjack (Action)) can all be read completely straight-faced. The ending may be a bit farcical but then 2000AD was aimed squarely at kids at this juncture and they would see it as far less risible as a dramatic ending. Hand the script to a Dom Reardon or Leigh Gallagher and you would have a perfectly good horror story. Lowder was a seasoned vet at writing comics and his efficiency shows in a great 7 panel sequence where ‘Dracula’ is zapped 3 times with increasingly deadly weapons before finishing off his aggressors. His writing, along with Ezquerra’s dynamic figure-work, helps to pack a lot of action into a three and a half page comic. If Lowder was intentionally playing this for laughs then its even more to his credit that he wrote it so ‘straight’.
Shock’d? That they still cook with garlic powder in the future? A bit. That they don’t have their own vampire movies but have to rely on ‘antiques’ for the way to defeat the vampiric foe? Absolutely. But as the story pure slapstick there is no real ‘shock’ per se.