PROG: 85 – The Fourth Wall
Script: Mike Cruden
Art: John Cooper
Letters: John Aldrich
Plot: Chris, a demanding child, is watching his favourite TV show, the space adventure Adam Gordon, on his ceiling-to-floor ‘Wall TV’. With his birthday coming his father agrees to buy him the latest in technology, a Fourth Wall TV. When the engineer comes to install it he warns the impatient child that the technology is experimental and to call the manufacturer if there are any problems. Chris ushers him out and settles down to watch the space battles of Adam Gordon, loving how the lasers leap off the screen…
Shock: Not only do the lasers seem real, they are real! They blast Chris’ chair and, as he reaches for the telephone to call the engineer, they blast his phone too. Later his father comes to call him for dinner, Chris’ lifeless body lies in front of the Fourth Wall.
Thoughts: Mike Cruden and John Cooper team up again, after FS 21 (Prog 50, The Guardian) for another instalment of scaring the bejesus out of young boys everywhere with more tales of technology vs small child. Unlike The Guardian, where the nameless child was left to his impending doom, Chris is shown as a fresh smoking corpse, giving no doubt as to his fate in this gruesome Shock. Cooper’s art once again excels in drawing the boy’s face; in turn demanding, excited, in awe and scared. However, his decision to draw the TV images as vertical lines and white-space gives an odd effect to the strip and dominates over his traditional style in many panels. As a technique it doesn’t quite work and detracts from the beautifully balanced inks he uses to depict the rest of the family life and Chris’ demise. The twist in the story is formulaic but the use of the medium of television is a first for Future Shocks and the pacing is well scripted with an extended playing out of Chris’ scramble when the technology goes mad. Both story and art are above average, if not quite in the top-tier, and this successful Shock is definitely one of the nastier dark efforts to be presented to the young early-2000AD readers.
Shock’d?: The focused nature of the story’s set-up: his mother complaining about Chris doing nothing but watching TV, the introduction of the new technology etc all means it is pretty clear what is coming; however that doesn’t detract from it being joyously executed and with a real impact on readers of Chris’ age.
PROG:60 – Timeless Secret
Script: SJ Grimes
Art: Ramon Sola
Letters: John Aldrich
Plot: Professors Stein and Grahame enter a tomb that has been sealed for centuries. As they unsuccessfully try to open a ‘strange coffin shaped box‘ they quibble over whether its contents would prove that Earth had been visited by aliens or proof of a previously unknown tribe of humans. Turning their backs and continuing their academic squabble they fail to notice the sun has gone down and the coffin-shaped box opening..
Shock: A vampire emerges and moves in to devour them.
Thoughts: FS 30, marked another 2000AD regular artist’s departure from the series with an even poorer story than FS29. SJ Grimes’ script has no logic to it whatsoever and can only be indulged by considering that its young readers must be very easily satisfied. Ramon Sola’s art is great and he draws a lovely menacing Nosferatu style vampire with balding head, bat-wing ears and powerful clawed hands; but the story is threadbare and confused. First of all the tomb is clearly Egyptian; hieroglyphs and Egyptian symbolism are littered liberally in the depictions inside and outside of the tomb. Given this, why two academics should be postulating that a coffin-like enclosure evidences either aliens, or more bizarrely ‘a tribe previously unknown to man‘ rather than, say, Egyptians is hard to grasp. Maybe this was Sola going off script and not knowing how to decorate a tomb but that seems unlikely. Having read the script he would hardly have decided to set it in Egypt when he knows a what would happen and a dank dirty cave would have sufficed. And this ties into the second key fault because, completely randomly, a vampire appears and the narration says ‘ but then the idea that the coffin was the home of a creature that could inhabit the surface of the earth only after the sun had set, was ridiculous‘. Yes, it is. However if anyone could envisage such it was probably Professors Stein and Grahame because they’re already squabbling about aliens and unknown tribes when surrounded by Egyptian artefacts. However the reader is left admiring Sola’s slavering ghoul and wondering where the hell it came from and what has it been doing in a tomb sealed off ‘for centuries‘. So poor is the story that’ SJ Grimes’, in his sole credit for 2000AD, may well stand for Alan Smithee.
Shock’d?: The difference between ‘shock’ and ‘random disconnected deus ex machina‘ couldn’t be better evidenced than in this tale and it stands as an exemplar of how not to write a Future Shock.
PROG: 37 & 38 – ROBOT REPAIRS
Script: Robert Flynn
Art: Brett Ewins & Jim McCarthy
Letters: John Aldrich
Plot: Daryl and Zac run ‘Robot Repairs’ – an ultra-efficient robot repair service which is in much demand in the highly robotised 2142. Faced with the creation of the self-repairing robot they decide to destroy the prototypes and its creator Dr Small. Breaking into the factory they succeed in their plans and return to base to celebrate
Shock: Daryl and Zac commend themselves on their success, not only for destroying the threat from self-repairing robots but also because they are, once again, the only existing self-repairing robots.
Thoughts: With The Ultimate Warrior (FS 10) Robert Flynn wrote a rather poor piece of ill-thought out nonsense, however at least it obeyed its own narrative consistency. Here he gives us an exciting enough tale, with a good deal more direct violence than has typified Future Shocks to date, but amazingly manages to make make the shock contradict itself in its own revelation. Daryl and Zac are said to be the only two ‘self-repairing’ robots left after their destruction of Dr Small’s robot but we see Zac repairing Daryl and ‘getting him some spare parts’. How this makes Daryl any different to any other robot is not really clear. It seems a quibble but when you spot the error it totally undermines the whole shock. Worse still it would have been perfectly easy to edit – showing Daryl repairing himself. The art marks the début of two names who would go on to contribute much to 2000AD’s next decade, Brett Ewins (Rouge Trooper, Judge Anderson, Bad Company) and Jim McCarthy (Bad Company, Bix Barton, The GrudgeFather) and is remarkable only for that fact. The standard is pretty poor and includes some oddities such as the colour of the repairmen’s overalls changing mid-strip. On the plus side you can distinctly see how their own individual styles would progress from this début and there are a few good in-jokes like a reference to Dredd on the back of a newspaper. The panel when Daryl’s face opens is a nice image and much the best drawn panel, it would immediately remind Golden-Era 2000AD readers of a similar moment in Robo-Hunter.
Shock’d? On an initial read the reveal that Zac and Daryl are self-repairing robots is a nice touch, although not needed or explanatory of anything additional as they would have had the motive to kill Dr Small and his inventions had they just been ordinary robot repair men, of a human or robotic nature. However when the flaw of Zac fixing Daryl while proclaiming themselves ‘self-repairing’ becomes noted the effect is to undermine any credibility in the story at all. So not a great shock nor even a shock that adds anything to the tale, simply a badly executed almost shock with fairly ugly art.
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.
PROG 27: FIRST CONTACT
Script: Alan Hebden
Letters: John Aldrich
Plot: At Heathrow airport planes are suspended mid-flight as an alien ship requests to land – the government, seizing the opportunity to make first contact readily agree but as the, still unseen, alien craft comes into land it garbles strange messages about an unidentified forest and being forced to land there. The government agents and military rush around nearby fields assuming the craft to be invisible
Shock : The alien craft is tiny and is crushed under-foot by one of the men searching for it
Thoughts: Third time lucky as seasoned and much under-valued 2000AD scribe Alan Hebden (Meltdown Man, Mean Team, Death Planet) turns in the first classic Future Shock. Beautifully written it’s a great punchy tale packed with fantastic dialogue (‘Man! This is FOR REAL!‘) and several human characters driving the story onwards while teasing all the time at the shock to come. While the problem of scale is hardly a novel one to Sci-Fi here is 2000AD making Douglas Adams’ jokes a year before him. Another anonymous studio European ‘Medraho’ gives great value in terms of characters, locations, a brilliant opening shot of a 747 and a lush final panel of the space-craft about to meet its doom. His art is also rather ‘english’ in its characterisations – more John Cooper than Jesus Redondo, and its a ‘commando’ style that suits the tone of the piece. The story also has some crazy but effective panel layouts and an interesting, if failed, attempt at some lettering effects. As with the original future shock, King of the World, this tale makes great use of that ‘turning the page’ moment only a physical comic can give. Any collection of Future Shocks should open with this classic tale.
Shock’d? Oh yes. The humans keep talking about an invisible craft and the Alien’s have great technology to be able to freeze all air-flight so that they are smaller than a size ten shoe on the last page works really well. For those that are interested the alien’s last words are ‘…..NO!!‘