PROG: 102 – Close Encounters of the Fatal Kind
Script: Alec Trench (RIP) (credit also to Alan Grant)
Art: Carlos Ezquerra
Letters: Peter Knight
Plot: Alec Trench, ’2000AD‘s worst writer‘, curses his lack of success (‘none of his stories were ever good enough to buy‘) and jumps from a bridge with his typewriter chained to his ankle. As he plummets, a UFO appears and beams him aboard. Trench convinces the alien crew not to dissect him but to keep him for a month wherein they can perform any experiments on him before granting him freedom. At the end of the month he claims his right to return to Earth, confident his story will make an epic tale, only to be told an alien month lasts 10 Earth years. Knowing he won’t physically endure, the quick witted Trench secures his freedom by getting the aliens to pose for pictures and, in their vanity, manoeuvres them into a position where he can blast them to oblivion. Trench then sets the ship’s transporter coordinates for Kings Reach Towers and beams out; aiming to woo Tharg with his record of the abduction.
Shock: Meters off in his aim, the hapless Trench materializes high in the sky beside the building and once again begins a fall to earth. As he passes the Command Module he manages to throw his script to Tharg who scoffs that ‘some writers will do anything to have a script accepted‘. Poor Trench meets a sorry demise at the base of the Tower.
Thoughts: A true in-joke of 2000AD, Alec Trench marks his début in fine form by dying in his only published work. Future Shock 52 isn’t really a Future Shock at all; it is the first time Tharg and his droids were given a story of their own, wrapped around an Alan Grant comedy on the frustrations of submitting scripts. Obviously comedy Tharg stories were to prove an immediate hit as by Prog 129 he would have his own irregular strip but for now the Future Shock banner is high-jacked for the birth of the Trench legend. Trench’s mania and terrible suffering in the pursuit of becoming a published writer contains many lovely lines ‘K-Kill Me? Now wait a minute fellas. I’m a good Union man!‘ as well as Ezquerra’s trademark big-nosed aliens being suitably goofy and gormless. All this in a story about torture that ends in the death of the protagonist. Now that’s a 2000AD speciality. Several stories exist as to the origins of Trench, the nicest being that Alan Grant confessed to have used the Trench moniker while a frustrated journalist working in the Scottish press, especially to concoct ludicrous stories which he would then suggest to gullible ‘eyewitnesses’ who then confirmed his fantasies and provide him with a scoop (half-remembered Nazi submarines landing on their shores etc) . It nicely sums up the humour of the man that he credits his first published story in 2000AD to that ludicrous alter-ego. This is a great strip, if in no way a Future Shock, and one deserving of a reprinting for both the comedy and the superb Ezquerra art.
Shock’d?: That Alec Trench dies? Do you really think Alec Trench is dead?
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.
PROG: 82 – The Rescue
Script: Stan Nicholls
Art: Vanyo (misspelt ‘Vanio’ in credit box)
Letters: J Raphaeline
Plot: Lawrence Cramer is drowning in the Ocean after having fallen from his cruise-ship. Crying out for help he is astounded to be grabbed by a UFO’s tractor-beam and lifted to safety.Greeted by two sage-like humanoids who inform him they respect the sanctity of life and he will come to no harm. They then proceed to show him other alien species they have as ‘guests’, it becomes clear to Cramer the guests are being kept like Zoo exhibitions. The aliens assure Cramer he will be comfy as he will be kept in the exact same conditions as he was found..
Shock: True to their word the Aliens bundle Cramer into a huge goldfish bowl filled with water… in exactly the same conditions as he was found.
Thoughts: A page and a half gag strip that delivers terrific value over seven panels, indeed Cramer only spends four panels on the alien craft but Barden Agency’s Vanyo (Mind of Wolfie Smith, Dredd: Bill Bailey Wont You Please Come Home, Battle) gives sumptuous detail of the smug aliens, their menagerie and the doomed Cramer drowning in the goldfish bowl. Writer Stan Nicholls was another of Dark they Were And Golden Eyed shop staff to have a Shock published and while this would be his only contribution to 2000AD he would go on to be associated with the comic’s profile in his role as the first London store manager of Forbidden Planet. Slightly detracting from the impact of the strip is the odd editorial decision to place the second half-page at the bottom of the page, meaning a half-page advert has interrupted the flow of the story, a criminal decision given the story is so compact and needs that flow to work quickly.
Shock’d?: In the final panel of the first page bold inking emphasises the phrase ‘(conditions) exactly the same as that in which we found them‘ which would have flagged up what was coming to even the most slack-jawed of readers but that just sets up the anticipation of the joke, and consequently there is a glee in turning the page knowing Cramer is going back in the drink. A semi-shock but a beautiful joke and a lovely little entry to the pantheon of Future Shocks.
PROG: 70 – Many Hands
Script: Jan Garczynski
Art: Jose Casanovas
Letters: Peter Knight
Plot: On an alien world, albeit one very similar to Earth, a doughy-faced looking labourer, Klang, arrives home to be met by a barrage of tasks from his pampered corpulent wife. As he begins the domestic chores her nagging doesn’t cease. Eventually Klang turns to her..
Shock: and berates her that he only has six sets of hands. Klang, and his species, have six arms each.
Thoughts: George and Mildred in Space in the hands of the wonderful Jose Casanovas makes for a classic ‘comedy’ Shock. Recycling the ‘hands out of panel’ trick of FS 6 but playing it for laughs is a nice enough move however the domestic grumbling of the gag would have been lost on a young readership were it not for the delight of Casanovas’ art. The writing itself is good and although there is nothing to the strip but the punchline, the dialogue is well done with great personality in Klang and his demanding wife. It’s quite entertaining to see 2000AD feature the line ‘Nag Nag Nag, that’s all she ever does‘ however the real star of the piece is the art. Every inch of the page is filled with loving detail and the exasperated Klang in the final panel would bring a smile to anyone’s face. Already a well-established artist across European comics this was his first work for 2000AD and Future Shocks was a series Casanovas flourished in. As with Belardinelli he has a skill for drawing the familiar everyday objects in a suitably twisted ‘alien’ form’ making every aspect of Klang’s day recognisable yet instantly unworldly. It remains a great shame that this Future Shock appears never to have been reprinted.
Shock’d?: There’s no real shock, just a great sight gag that appeals to the frustrated and put-upon of every age.