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.
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.
PROG: 108 – TOGETHER
Script: John Higgins
Art: John Higgins
Letters: John Aldrich
Plot: Two Astro-Pliots, Dave & Ron, are on route to Proxima Centauri when a meteor storm causes their craft to crash. An alien spaceship surveys the wreckage and lifts the living biomass aboard. Unsure of the species they are dealing with, but confident of a similarity to their own physiology, alien surgeons try to save the life of the crew. Hours late Dave awakens and asks what has become of Ron.
Shock: The four-armed doctors don’t know of Ron’s whereabouts but a shocked Dave finally realises he has had Ron’s limbs grafted onto his own torso to create an eight-limbed body much like the aliens.
Thoughts: Long-haul Droid John Higgin’s first work in 2000AD is the third Future Shock to be written and drawn by the same person (FS 4 – Kevin O’Neil, FS 50 – John Richardson). For a début in the comic its a remarkably strong piece of work. His unique drawing style, most clearly visible in his technique for drawing faces, has clearly changed little over thirty years; probably because it is so good it has little need to. The art is clearly a strong point; there is an excellent panel-breaking swooping spaceship in the first page, a pair of surgeons who look remarkably like Bryan Talbot’s rendering of Blackblood from the ABC Warriors, and the reveal panel is a great multi-limbed alien doctor with, it has to be said, a neck and face like a swollen beaten male appendage. The inking is magnificent and the most remarkable thing is that Higgins would only pick up the odd Future Shock and Time Twister before his prolonged stint on Judge Dredd from the mid-400s. It is clear from work like this that he would have been ready long before that. As for the story, it has a fairly retro vibe and is quite conventional but there is also a lot to praise. The shock itself is fairly easy to spot, certainly as the reader turns to the last page they know that something awful is going to be the result of the alien’s good-natured attempt at aid.. just look at those looming surgeons (above), how could something sinister not result. Naturally ‘waking up in hospital to something bad’ isn’t the most original of framing devices but the drafting and execution are superior. It also deserves praise for being a great example of a story that comics can tell that the purely written medium cannot. A drawn image can hide descriptive detail, creating ambiguity from what it doesn’t show and what it leads the reader to imply; whereas the word, with its need to specify simply cannot achieve the same degree of implication. Where a writer would have to specify what the aliens looked like in considerable detail, the image can lead you to assume they have 4 limbs not 8. This is one of the great joys of comics, one of the skills that talented comic writers and artists can create and it this small tale is a magnificent example of it.
Shock’d?: The specific shock is fairly corny and the story makes no attempt to hide that something terrible is going to come from the operation, what that specifically is being gloriously revealed on the last page. In many ways the story telling is of its time and the shock isn’t as gorily rendered as it might have been but it is still a great moment to turn to the final page and find out Ron and Dave’s fate.