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.
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: 77 – Ultimate Warrior
Script: Chris Stevens
Art: Pierre Frisano
Letters: Jack Potter
Plot: On the warrior planet Argon a humanoid, Karnok, has spent three months fighting against droids to become the Ultimate Warrior. Tired and exhausted he is jumped by yet another android and has to call into the events controllers to deactivate it before it kills him. The Droid self-destructs before Karnok can be hurt. On discussing his fatigue with the controllers he receives orders to proceed to the ‘Valley of Death’ for one final encounter to prove himself. In the Valley he meets a Grim Reaper style foe and, despite a valiant effort, is bested. Before its’ scythe can take his life he once again calls into Control to de-activate
Shock: Karnock explodes, the Grim Reaper muses that Karnock fought well, for an android.
Thoughts: The third Future Shock in four to use the ‘he’s not really human after all’ device reads badly because of the repetition of that basic visual/narrative switcheroo. At only the thirty-fifth Future Shock we’ve now seen it six times and this version brings nothing new to the table. It is even unfortunate enough to recycle it’s title ‘The Ultimate Warrior‘ from a previous Shock. Judging it on its’ own merits the comic isn’t too bad; the art, while not as joyous as Frisano’s previous outings, is dynamic and professional, the fight scenes are full of action and exposition is kept to a minimum in favour of action. However Frisano himself doesn’t seem as interested in it as the previous scripts and it is hard not to share his opinion. Chris Stevens was to write three FS and the short MACH-1 replacement strip ‘Angel‘, which, much like this Shock, wouldn’t up-root any trees and was very much one of the last ‘traditional’ action-adventure yarns before 2000AD began its shift in gear towards the black humour of Robo-Hunter, Strontium Dog and Slaine. Which also sums up this Future Shock, of its time and competently enough done but nothing of real interest.
Shock’d?: Sadly not, with half a page remaining and our hero being in ‘The Valley of Death’ the outcome for him was obvious and exactly the same as happened in the previous week’s Future Shock.
PROG: 76 – The Illusion Man
Script: Martin Lock
Art: Pierre Frisano
Letters: Jack Potter
Plot: Vance Shaw is a ‘lighthouse keeper’ orbiting a lone dead sun ’20 parsecs’ from the nearest inhabited planet. Fretting over the non-appearance of a re-supply ship he confronts the station’s AI for answers but is met with a suggestion of virtual ‘companions’, from the minxy Kathleen and Maureen to ‘playing chess with James‘, or even a simulated fight with Venusian Swamp Dragon. Shaw is angered by the lack of direct answers to his queries and the trivial virtual distractions offered; he orders the computer to ‘Get Rid Of all The illusions‘
Shock: Vance Shaw realises too late that he is a mere illusion for the AI and is deleted, leaving the machine alone to start again.
Thoughts: Seen that ‘Moon‘? Oh ain’t that clever! And that ‘Inception‘? Oh, it’s so smart and original. Ah, no. They are really just a two page Future Shock expanded over 90 minutes. Well how about that? To be fair the ‘its all an illusion’ isn’t new to literature so it might be a tad overblown to claim some royalties are due but certainly those celluloid visionaries may well have half-remembered this fantastic Shock from their openly confessed days as young Squaax. Nor is ‘what is human’ new to Future Shocks, the ‘human-droid’ switch having been seen as recently as FS 31, however Martin Lock and Pierre Frisano get more fun into two pages than anyone has a right to. The dialogue is hilariously insane ‘let’s sail the Spanish Main! Explore Mars with Bonhomme!‘ and the artist has a riot with lots of breakout panels, monsters with tridents and making ‘James’ every inch the 70′s foxy gent looking ready to do more than just play chess. Lord knows what the readers thought of this, or whether they got the fun the creators were having in the fantasy sequences but the ugly monsters and the neat ending would doubtless have appealed to them. Frisano’s orbital light-house and computers are all very retro looking but he’s clearly more interested in Kathleen and Marueen (and James) all looking like 70′s Charlie’s Angels and a monster with a stick. Never reprinted this is a Future Shock that more than stands the test of time.
Shock’d?: Well, I’ve seen Moon and Inception so not really. Otherwise slightly, the moment Shaw cries out for all the illusions to be deleted the alarm bells are ringing. Always beware of anyone asking for absolutes in Future Shocks!
PROG: 32-33: EXCURSION
Script: Peter Harris
Art: Horacio Lalia (as panacomics)
Letters: Jack Potter (pg. 1-2) Peter Knight (pg 3-4)
Plot: Abner and Charlie enjoy the views as Pompeii is engulfed in lava, escaping the doomed citizen at the last-minute via a tractor beam that takes them back to the shuttle of ‘trans time’ a company the specialises in time-travel holidays. They then plump for watching a witch-trial in medieval England but, finding the proceedings a bit dull, decided to use the tractor beam to levitate above the crowd and ‘play the witch’.
Shock: As they taunt the Witch-finder General their beams fail and Charlie and Abner plummet to earth, to be seized and burnt at the stake. As they die their comms device from the holiday company apologies for the technical failure and promises it will be remedied in the hour.
Thoughts: The first example of a Future Shock failing in terms of its own internal logic – the holiday company offers time travel and then, when there is a technical error resulting in the death of their clients, it should be obvious the company can just go back to before the accident and avoid the problem. Time travel is, of course, prone to this sort of problem in narrative determinism and sometimes it has to be indulged but here, when there is little else to hang the story on and not enough room to say why the company can’t deal with the deaths this way, it becomes an over-bearing problem. The story is both more of a Terror Tale (Charlie and Abner’s fates are pretty grisly) and a Time Twister before these titles were used in 2000AD. As a Future Shock concept it’s simply not very good. Horacio Lalia produces one or two fine panels but much of the work lacks the quality he brought to A Promised Land! in the previous issue and the inking, along with the credit to ‘panacomics’ would suggest he wasn’t the sole artist working on the visuals. Peter Harris’ concept may not have been up to much but he nails the casual speech of the slobbish Abner and Charlie (‘not us sucker, we’re movin’ on’) and gives some fun names during the witch-trials (Seth Wormtree, Goody Twynham). There is a real efficiency in his writing to be commended; in 16 panels he goes from the destruction of Pompeii to a meeting with the Time Travel company to the confrontation of the witch-trials and its fiery outcome.
Shock’d? There is no real shock to speak of as the reader immediately thinks that time-travel would save our callous protagonists but as an early Terror Tale it makes good reading with three burnings at the stake and Pompeii destroyed in a short four pages. There is talk of a money-back guarantee littered throughout the script which is clearly meant to have more import than it actually does. Nobody is shocked if a consumer warranty isn’t up to much, are they?