Tag Archives: Massimo Belardinelli

GIVE THE GIFT OF THARG 2013

6 Jan

Futurshockd took the year off this year. Sorry. Well, it was nice out. However in our absence the world seemed to take distinctly more notice of 2000AD with both the Dredd 3D movie (hurrah!), IDW’s Judge Dredd (hummmm) and increased coverage on major comics sites (much love and respect to Forbidden Planet’s Prog Pledge for the weekly effort). However Futureshockd is ready to return to the enjoyable task of whipping though the decades of 2000AD’s short stories so its fitting to return where we left off, with a review of what has happened in the last years Prog and Meg. As with a calendar year ago the time is ripe to jump on the Prog as Prog 2013, in shops over the New Year, contains the jump-on point for the next 5 tales which will doubtless take readers trough till the end of February. And for new subscribers the second volume of Tharg’s Futureshocks ‘B / Manga format’ Collections is your exclusive reward for subscribing to the House of Tharg’s hard-copy. This collection is a particular joy for fans of Belardinelli with no fewer than 10 strips illustrated by the departed weirdsmith.

thargs futureshocks vol 2 cover

Future Shocks Subscribers Exclusive Vol.2
Cover by Grant Perkins and Jamie Roberts

The stories in this exclusive collection are plucked from various Progs published between 1987 and 1989 (prog 539 – 648) and features such writers as Mark Millar, John Smith, Jim Campbell and future-Tharg Alan Mackenzie. As well as Belardinelli the art duties include such luminaries as Glenn Fabry, Mike Collins, Will Simpson, Richard Elson, Kev Walker, Jose Ortiz, Paul Marshall and the classic Dredd artist Ron Smith.

Future Shocks Subscribers Exclusive Edition - Art Various Copyright Rebellion

Art from Futureshocks Subscribers Exclusive Vol.2 – (clockwise from top right) by Will Simpson, Paul Marshall, Glenn Fabry, Mick Austin, Ron Smith, Kev Walker, Chris Weston, Massimo Belardinelli, Nigel Dobbyn, Richard Elson, Massimo Belardinelli, Mark Farmer

Tharg’s droids have made a fine selection from the time and the collection marks how Futureshocks were being used to test new talent rather than being given to old professionals. Indeed only Jose Ortiz and Belardinelli feature from the group who handled duties on the first 200 progs. Names such as Weston, Fabry, Marshall and Elson would all go on to have successful spells on strips such as Dredd, Slaine, Kingdom and Indigo Prime as well as successful careers in US comics. As for the Shocks themselves, well reviews of those will have to wait till the blog gets to them but there are many quality thrills, several of which will ping instantly back to the minds of former readers. Sadly the large Belardinelli count does not find room to include the magnificent Smith / Belardinelli ‘One Man’s Meat‘ from Prog 563, surely the finest strip to ever feature a cute alien-hippo with a gun to its head. For this delight from the Era check the still available Best of Future Shocks. 

One Man's Meat - Prog 563 - Art Massimo Belardinelli - Copyright Rebellion

One Man’s Meat – Prog 563 – Art Massimo Belardinelli

Wisely avoiding overlapping the Best of Future Shocks can be seen to have taken a few of the better tales from the Era out of consideration but that doesn’t mean there aren’t gems aplenty in the subscribers exclusive and the art work, especially from Weston, Belardinelli, Smith and Marshall is top notch. Fans of Golden Era comics will especially appreciate the formalism and style jokes in He Met the Moonmen, a strip which demonstrates Paul Marshall’s neat flare for aping past stylisms that would also feature so effectively in Prog 2010’s festive Dredd tale O’ Little Town of Bethlehem. Future Shocks Vol. 2 is, like its predecessor volume, a great reason to make the move to a full subscription with the House of Tharg.

Of course the primary reason to subscribe to 2000AD is the content of the weekly Prog and Monthly Meg and the proof of value is best illustrated by looking back on ‘what you would have won’ had you taken the plunge last year. Subscribers hauled in 50 editions of the Prog:

13 Issues of the Judge Dredd Megazine:

Judge Dredd Megazine 2012 - Art Various Copyright Rebellion

and 13 reprint Graphic Novel ‘floppies':

Judge dredd Meg floppies 2012

As with last year, a sub buys you just over 1800 pages of new comics, and an additional 700 plus pages of reprints, as well as interviews, star scans, the odd gift (this year Chris Weston’s magnificent multi-cast cover as poster) and advanced delivery a few days before it hits the shelves in town. Be the envy of squaxx everywhere by spoilering Dredd for them on a Monday morning.

However pretty covers and page count don’t make up for content (hiya Clint readers!) so what was contained in 2000AD in the last year? As with the 2011 review we’ll pick a top ten list of moments in Dredd and a slightly expanded top 12 of non-Dredd stories. Feel free to quibble over the choices and let Futureshockd know what you’ve have had in the lists instead! For those that take exception to our selections there is plenty of pretty artwork for you to enjoy instead.

The Year In Dredd

Dredd in 2012 was dominated by two towering achievements – the first half of the year saw John Wagner’s Day of Chaos leave readers reeling while the months of November and December brought Dredd, The Simping Detective and Lowlife into an astounding cross-over that left everyone applauding just how darn clever it was. Very few strips managed to deal with the post-Day of Chaos expressly. Robbie Morrison’s Innocent contained some flashbacks and Michael Carroll’s Debris made best use of the ‘new’ city so far but still there was very much a feeling of writers not yet having got around to Wagner’s new rules. Given the length and impact of the stories that book-ended the year a great many other shorts can’t make it into a ‘best of’ but there was a great deal of good stuff outside of this list. Mark Harrison produced fantastic art in a rare strip appearance for Asleep (Prog 1804-05), Michael Carroll grabbed former exile Judge Doleman and returned him to assist in the clean-up (Debris, Prog 1792-1796) while Alan Grant took Ratfink out of his cell for a run-around before returning him for safekeeping (Ratfink’s Revenge: Meg 328-330). Gordon Rennie and Paul Marshall’s Killer Elite (Meg 328-331) only narrowly missed out on the list and ensured the Meg ended in rude health with a great tale of humour, revenge, stonewalling Dredd and a high body-count.  Whether it also marked the end of Rennie’s ‘Global Psycho’ stories will be intriguing to see.

10) Prog 1786 – Wot I Did During the Worst Dissaster in Mega City History: Script: John Wagner, Art: Henry Flint

Right on the cusp of the ‘actual’ Day of Chaos John Wagner throws a curve-ball at the fan-base who had speculated that arch-foe PJ Maybe, elaborately escaped from prison during the prologue to the epic, would play a significant role in its conclusion. However Wager punts Maybe and the long-absent Dark Judges into the long grass via a comedy 6 pager where Maybe outfoxes the slightly naive Fear Fire and Mortis and goes back to stealthy wealthy domesticity. Wot I did, blessed with the ever excellent Henry Flint on art duties, was a fun change of pace and showed that while Dredd’s world may be going to Hell, PJ’s wealth and cunning allowed him to, yet again, be relatively unfazed by the fate of Mega City One.

Judge Dredd - Prog 1786 - Script John Wagner - Art Henry Flint - Copyright Rebellion

9) Meg 328 – Top of the World, Ma-Ma: Script Matt Smith, Art Henry Flint

2012’s investment into Dredd saw different versions of the character emerging, both IDW’s take and this movie-prologue which appeared online and in the Megazine. Written by Tharg’s earthly ambassador, Matt Smith, and illustrated with a ‘movie-uniform’ look by Henry Flint, this was a very different Dredd world, much more in keeping with the low-rent broken tenement look of the movie and notably with contemporary curse words aplenty. A simple tale, elaborating the movie’s brief synopsis of Ma-Ma’s career given by the Peachtrees’ Paramedic, it gives a creditable world-view of what a ‘Dredd the Movie’ comic spin-off would have been. Ah, if only. Well, at-least it filled the void between the movie closing and the DVD release. It also acts as a very nice tester for Smith’s forthcoming IDW Dredd mini-series in Dredd: Year One.

Judge Dredd - MEG 328 - Script Matt Smith - Art Henry Flint - Copyright Rebellion

8) 1806 – The Cold Deck pt 1: Script: Al Ewing, Art: Henry Flint

The Cold Deck morphed into something bigger and wider but the first episode’s handling of  low-level crime shows why Al Ewing is the 2i/c when it comes to writing Judge Dredd. Ewing’s nails Dredd’s retreat into isolating tasks down to one-at-a-time as his way to deal with the harrowing destruction, emergency and new rules needed to survive in the post-Chaos Day city. His mantra of ‘One Job at a time’ make Dredd a near automaton dealing with the post-traumatic order by concentrating on what he’s good at… kicking ass and dealing with dumb perps. The McKluskys Brothers certain fit the bill of the dumbest of the dumb and it takes one page for Dredd to dispatch them with ruthless efficiency and a dry wit. ‘Not on your best day…. dummy‘. Fantastic.

Dredd - Prog 1806 - Script Al Ewing - Art Henry Flint - Copyright Rebellion

7) Prog 2012 – Choose Your Own Xmas: Script: Al Ewing, Art: John Higgins

The Xmas Dredd has always been a special case, a rare time the Prog affords Dredd more than 6 pages and fine tradition in linking to either festive citizen joviality or brooding winter reflection. This time Ewing made each panel a ‘Fighting Fantasy’ style chapter and readers could role-play being gormless lab tech Jackson Packard as he ventures into the unforgiving Mega-malls in search of finding X-mas presents and avoiding Christmas Day in the Iso-cubes. An ambitious exercise in subverting the unique nature of sequential panels and with wonderful goofy Cam Kennedy-alike citizenry from John Higgins Choose made for a very different, ambitious and, most importantly, hugely fun tale to add to the 2000AD banks. If ever Diceman gets a revival Ewing probably has a few drafts mapped out already.

Judge Dredd - Prog 2012 - Script Al Ewing - Art John Higgins

6) Prog 1798-99 – Innocent: Script: Rob Williams, Art: Lawrence Campbell

Rob William’s Innocence is both a fantastic read and a great missed opportunity due to the savvy and style with which it dangled a concept, a drug making citizens incapable of crime, and swiped it away. The tale side-stepped tackling that fascinating issue, despite setting Dredd’s objections to it front and centre in the set-up, to switch into a ‘who-dunnit’ as the Judge advocating the measure is slain after a show-down with Joe. The art from returning driod Lawrence Campbell and coloured atmospherically by Chris Blythe helps lift an already well written tale into the best of the year. Campbell’s use of shadows and Blythe’s use of harsh lighting emphasise that MC-1 is broken and what light there is is glaring and artificial.  Evoking past tales of attempts to chemically pacify citizens (Oz) and Dredd’s reflections on the influence of his Apocalypse War actions on the Day of Chaos the tale flirts with something greater but eventually settles for being a straight forward murder mystery all too quickly resolved. Pairing the murder with the conduct of the drug’s trial and the dilemma’s of doping a population to such an extent could have made for a great multi-part story but alas we’ll never know.. unless William’s decides to ‘rediscover’ the missing formula for the drug. If so, get Campbell and Blythe back on board and see what dark broken corridors of docility can be explored.

Judge Dredd - Prog 1799 - Script Rob WIlliams - Art Lawrence Campbell - Copyright Rebellion

5) Prog 1774 – Day of Chaos: Eve of Destruction Pt 10: Script: John Wagner, Art: Ben Willsher

The remarkable Day of Chaos had already been through 29 episodes (or 32 including the PJ Maybe prologue) and was still the ‘day’ itself had not arrived but Prog 1774 marked the turn of the screw in brilliant fashion. For long-term readers the toppling of the Statute of Judgement (not for the first time but far more important since the role of PSU had been constantly increased) came as a blot from the blue, with the majority of the tale before concerning biological warfare. However the grand sweep of the Statute toppling is brilliantly counterpointed by the stomach turning lonely inglorious demise of one of MC-1’s ‘beautiful’ adversaries. Having slinked her way into MC-1 as rich-man’s plaything, then danced infection in skimpy attire the beautiful Titiana dies alone, decomposing and pecked at by a pigeon destined to spread her deathwish further. Willsher’s art is mercilessly intense as he depicts her leg breaking in a high impact fall and then the once beautiful body rotted like the fate of MC-1. A brilliant page of art, a brutal passage of Wagner prose and six pages that show the scales of death, large and small.

Judge Dredd - Prog 1774 - Script John Wagner - Art Henry Flint - Copyright Rebellion

4) Meg 325-327 – Great Executions: Script Robbie Morrison, Art Dave Taylor

Outside of The Day of Chaos / Trifecta one Dredd story towered head and shoulders about the rest, that was the Dickensian riffing, heart crushing sadness of the tale of reluctant hitman Charlie Wackett in Great Executions. Wackett’s unwanted assignment to kill the woman he loves, and the betrayal of those few close to him, made for a compelling story with the years most beautiful art drawn by the peerless Dave Taylor. Morrison easily matches the language of Dickens with the vocabulary of MC-1 and keeps Dredd to a effective background role until his low-key contributions to the tale’s conclusion. The final panel deserves to be added to the pantheon of the very very best of Dredd. Prog-only readers should seek out these three Meg’s and see what a modern classic they missed.

Judge Dredd - MEG 327 - Script Robbie Morrison - Art Dave Taylor - Copyright Rebellion

3) Prog 1812 – Trifecta: Script: Al Ewing, Si Spurrier, Rob Williams, Art: Carl Critchlow.

Trifecta was HUGE. Huge in all sorts of ways. A single story prog, a rare multi-author script collaboration, a finale to three existing major series arcs of very different Dredd-world stories and, seemingly, a massive publicity bonus for the House of Tharg. As a story it deserves applause on all sorts of levels, most notably the retention of the distinct voices of the different characters within the concluding tale. Returning, and all too-long absent, artist Carl Critchlow nails each character and maintains the depth of personality imbued by their regular weekly artists.  A real risk of switching away from artists as distinct as D’israeli and Coleby would have been to have disengaged the audience but Critchlow and the power of the tale sweep the characters out of their respective strips and into this cross-over conclusion. Whether the deus ex machina of Judge Smiley is convincing or not remains another matter but in 28 pages Trifecta has more good lines, more whip and zing and more than enough success to pass over whether Smiley has really been able to evade and supervise through all the disasters since Judge Cal. The one shame of the tale is the all-too soon exposure of Bachmann who had far more potential than to be introduced and disposed of in 18 months (see last years praise of Ewing’s establishing strip The Family Man). The Simping Detective and Lowlife would have made it into this years non-Dredd top list were it not for Trifecta, Ewing’s Bachmann machinations (Prog 1803’s Bullet to King Four) likewise for this list. Together there can be no doubting the impact and success they had on Dredd in 2012. Trifecta was tri’riffica.

Judge Dredd - Simping Detective - Lowlife - Prog 1812 - Script Ewing Spurrier Williams - Art Critchlow - Copyright Rebellion

2) Prog 180 – The Cold Deck Pt 2 (Script: Al Ewing, Art: Henry Flint) / The Simping Detective: Jokers to the Right Pt 4 (Script: Si Spurrier / Art: Simon Coleby)

You have to feel a tad sorry for Lowlife‘s Rob Williams and D’israeli. Dirty Frank is in so many ways the heart of readers affections for Justice Department. He’s long since become a prog favourite, gets many great lines in Trifecta and is the constant hero throughout the story yet still it fell not to his tale of moon-side machinations with which to finally reveal to readers that Ewing, Spurrier and Williams had been playing a cold deck on us all. Ewing audaciously flags it up in his very first line (Prog 1806’s victim staring directly at the reader and asking ‘you know what a cold deck is‘) and yet is there anyone who can creditably say that, until the first panel of The Simping Detective carried on from the final panel of Dredd, they saw what was coming? Not here. Not in this household. Nuh-huh. Futureshockd ain’t ever going to be playing Ewing, Williams or Spurrier at poker. Of course a few pages on and Dirty Frank gets in on the act by receiving the message that the Simping Detective sent that Dredd tried to stop but… well by then it was out. We’d been duped, long-conned, played, dumped on our butts like chumps and our mouths open in amazement. Poor Dirty Frank. Late to the party as ever. Even more so than the excellent conclusion (Trifecta) Prog 1807’s ‘moment’ will remain one of ‘those’ 2000AD things people will discuss years from now. Do you know what a Cold Deck is? You do now.

Judge Dredd - The Simping Detective - Script Al Ewing - Si Spurrier - Art Henry Flint - Simon Coleby - Copyright Rebellion

1) Prog 1788 –  Chaos Day, Part 2: Script John Wagner, Art Henry Flint

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper

In Chaos Day Part 2 the city whimpered. In Chaos Day Part 2 Judge Dredd, the Judge Dredd (as the movie’s Judge Lex so admirably snarled) whimpered. Chaos Day ended just as it started. It ended because there was nothing left but fall. No redemption. No saving. Nothing but a whimper and the city father, John Wagner, laying out the dictum: ‘This city is dying before his eyes‘. The end of the Day of Chaos wrong-footed so many who assumed that the long-running  ‘Nadia‘ and ‘Eve of Destruction‘ were mere preludes rather than the ‘mega-epic’ itself. But by the time the Day of Chaos arrived so much had been torn down, the vestiges of power and authority so dismantled that there was no force left to save the day. There is rot and containment. Small stories and despair. Wagner’s tale is post-hollywood, post-post-Watchmen, not everything needs to have significance, not everything needs to be foreshadowing, some things become important, some wither and die. PJ Maybe wasn’t relevant, the Dark Judges just fizzled out, the villains died by their own actions not those of heroes. Are there even any heroes? The Day of Chaos was messy, a bombardment of varying successes and failures for the characters, a scramble for survival and at the end the answer is did the city survive? Maybe not. 2013 should be the year writers sit down and really reflect on what Wagner has done to his plaything. This isn’t just another ‘carry on with what’s left’, not another post-Necropolis, Post-Apoclaypse War. Or it shouldn’t be. Sit down with all 50 issues and applaud the greatest Dredd tale yet.

Judge Dredd - Prog 1788 - Script John Wagner - Art Henry Flint - Copyright Rebellion

FS 55: LA PIU BELLA

14 Nov

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.

ALEC TRENCH: MAN, MYTH, MONSTER OR ICE-CREAM SELLER?

9 Nov

Future Shock 52 (prog 102) deserves celebration for many reasons, the first script by Alan Grant, the first full outing in a story for Tharg and his droids at the Command Module but really, pushing aside these mere footnotes, for the first public appearance of one of the true greats of the Prog, a character that was to adorn the bedroom walls of teenagers and droids everywhere, a character so strong he would appear in not only the Galaxy’s Greatest comic but in Dr Who and Battle. The one, the only, the man death could not stifle… ALEC TRENCH.

Trench dropping off another script in Prog 102

Many now know the general story of Tharg The Mighty, alien, editor, devourer of plastic cups, temporary exiled by the Men In Black only to make a triumphant return yada-yada-yada. What is less well documented is his epic jealously and constant need of counselling to get over the fact that his very first strip in his own comic was stolen from under him by the grace, guile and urban sophistication of Alec ‘ladies man‘ Trench. It is impossible to confirm rumours that it was jealousy of the roguish writer that turned the Betelgeuse Bonce his famous green colour.

On Trench’s first physical appearance, in Prog 102, Tharg is quick to call him 2000AD’sworst writer‘ however close study of the early uncredited stories suggest Trench to have been behind several of the more popular ones. Certainly Death Planet and Colony Earth. Many readers from the 2000AD fan forum believe he was also behind seminal classics Junker and Medvac 318. Of course Tharg could not let such popularity stand and so Alec Trench was cruelly murdered in the pages of his own script. To date no charges of corporate manslaughter have been brought.

The End of the beginning..

Obviously with such aggression from an unfettered management Trench would be forced to pursue the next stage of his dazzling career underground. Many believe Alan Grant to have allowed Trench to have submitted scripts through his own name. The uncharitable have claimed that the better regarded Judge Anderson scripts ‘can’t have been the work of a Scotsman‘ and that the mystical insight of stories such as Shamballa can only have been written by a man who has had the cosmos revealed to him by a 20-stories plunge to the sidewalk. However Trench’s legend would not only be the future work he was to submit under the calling-card of others but his symbolism to the oppressed droids working under Tharg.

The inspiration of Trench was soon evident as his posters became plastered over the Nerve Centre walls and in the pages of Tharg’s very own strip. Indeed the very next outing for Tharg, Prog 129’s modestly titled puff-piece ‘A Day in the life of Tharg The Mighty‘ was to show the resistance had already taken root…

Occupy Nerve Centre – The First Sign of Resistance

An astounding tale of reckless lawbreaking by an untrammelled employer ‘A Day in The Life‘ showed Tharg in bed with famed capitalist villain Howard Quartz, handing loyal lettering droid John Aldrich over to Mek-Quake and assaulting a police officer while declaring himself above the law. It is little wonder that in these circumstances Alec Trench would serve as a nexus for rebellion and dissent.

By the time of his next physical appearance in the Prog he would have amassed further six outings on the walls of the brave, talented, rebellious droids. Diligent scholarship has shown that these appearances actually reveal two subtextual narratives that constitute a plea to the reader to liberate the harsh-treated droids. The first narrative, called ‘The Tragedy of the Common A-ALN-1,’ is a tryptic that shows a vengeful Tharg demanding a variety of tasks from loyal droid A-ALN-1 before cruelly concocting a pretence to have the droid despatched to the great sub-editing junk-yard in the sky. A-ALN-1’s tartan hat is placed on the walls of the Command Module as a reminder to droids as to who is in charge. Yet those droids bravely place the hat beside an image of the their inspiration, A. Trench

The Tradegy of the Common A-ALN-1 - Progs 162, 176 & 177
The Tragedy of the Common A-ALN-1 – Progs 162, 176 & 177

As stark as The Tragedy of the Common A-ALN-1 is, the message of defiance is sent out by Trench’s second tryptic, The Dream of Droids. Appearing in prog 180-182 this piece clearly shows that whatever the punishment, however much the talent of 2000AD is denied their dreams by Tharg and his lackey Mek-Quake, they will still keep the passion for Trench and justice burning..

The Dream of Droids – Progs 180-182

Alec ‘Our Inspiration‘, ‘Man Myth or Magic‘ ‘Remember…‘ ‘His Spirit Lingers‘ Trench, his symbolism to the Art and Script droids so clearly signalled to the  attentive reader. Rumours that Foucault was about to begin his study of the control narrative at the Command Module are sadly unsubstantiated, although the inspiration of Trench in his work was clear.

Meanwhile, Tharg was to yield to pressure and conceded that the time was right for Trench to make his second starring role in the two-part story Alec Trench – Zombie (prog 263 – 264)

Alec Trench: on the 264th Prog he is risen!

The story of Alec Trench – Zombie is, naturally, an attempt to smear the Trench legend. Tharg may have portrayed him as a mindless destroyer of central London, but, despite the baseless allegations and vile slurs, the trenchant support for Alec remained undiminished.

But who is this mysterious man of 2000AD?  Obviously, Alan Grant holds some of the information as to whom the figure of hope is, but he has also been actively engaged in a dis-information campaign. Judge Dredd Megazine vol 2 issue 42 saw Grant pen a ‘Whatever happened to Alex Trench?‘ tale that attempts to recount the actual last script Trench submitted but as to hard facts about his fellow writer he seems deliberately obtuse.  The now defunct website ‘battlestations’ contained the following post, saved for posterity on the 2000AD Forums

Anyway, somehow or other I found out that Alec Trench was an early pseudonym of Alan Grant’s, and was able to ask him at a convention where the name came from. According to Mr Grant, he first used the pseudonym when he was a journalist way back in the mists of time, working on a regional Scottish newspaper. Because nothing ever happened where he lived, he used to make up mad stories; the example he told me involved a Nazi U-Boat being washed up on the local beach during the War. Then he’d go and interview the local pensioners about it, and more often than not they’d say “Oh yes, I remember that…” and elaborate on the tale. Et voila! One interesting story for the paper, as told to the reporter by the locals. Genius…in a mad and twisted way. Of course, he could have been bullsh*tting me.

However another tale, direct from the mouth of the Grant Droid himself, appeared on acclaimed Comics site ‘downthetubes.net

Alex Trench was a character I used in a couple of Tharg’s Future Shocks for 2000AD; he was based on the ice-cream van driver in the village I hail from,” he reveals. “Presumably Leapy came from the same place… though I honestly don’t know.

The tale Alan Grant was referring to was not a 2000AD story but one in esteemed journal of truth and justice Dr Who Magazine, where Alec Trench has been given the code-name ‘Leapy’ and deals with a flea infestation. Trench being Trench, is on the side of the righteous and he and The Doctor overcome an alien invasion.

Alec Trench Undercover

Trench’s message wasn’t just limited to 2000AD and the DWM, notable amongst other references to Trench was in John Wagner’s Darkie’s Mob (reprinted in Meg 208) where, like Alec Trench – Zombie, a Trench tombstone is shown. This time the image was accompanied by a message of solemnity more fitting of this 2000AD great.

Darkie’s Mob: Nous Sommes Tous Trench

2000AD, The Megazine, Dr Who Magazine, Battle.. the Trench message was spreading. Can it be any wonder that this time marks the surge in creators rights? Emboldened by their love of Trench, Tharg’s once-cowed droids were moving en-mass to the riches of American Publishers. Could any of this have happened without Trench taking that ‘fall’ in Prog 102? It is highly doubtful. But to reinforce their message and keep the flame of their hero alive the Droids at the Nerve Centre were to keep the printed homages coming. Ezquerra, Bradbury, Ron Smith, Belardinelli all were to rally to the Trench cause..

Prog 0283: The legendary Tom Frame Droid Parties in front of 'The Writer's Writer'

In Prog 284 the Droids invoke the ‘truly Zarjaz‘ spirit of Trench when they confront Tharg over working conditions:

Prog 284: Union negotiations under the watchful eye of Alec Trench

 An inspiration to all, Alec Trench was there when famed ex-Droid Alan Moore  first finds voice of his regular criticism of publishing companies. Comic onanists the globe over have asked themselves ‘Would we have had Lost Girls if it wasn’t for Alec Trench?‘ Finally that other great question can be answered, Qui ipsos custodes custodiet? Alec Trench!

Prog 285 - The Alan Moore droid (far left) first gives voice to his problems with publishers

In Prog 304’s tale of unprecedented cruelty to animals ‘Tharg & the Mice‘ the droid’s show their dissent at complicity in large-scale mice-ocide by including not one reference to Trench but two!

Prog 304: The McMahon droid lashes out at working conditions while the visage of Trench reminds droids not to partake in management mass murder (of mice)

In Prog 309 one of 2000AD’s finest ever artists, Massimo Belardinelli, was to firmly nail his colours to the foot of the Trench mast with the unsurprising assertion that 2000AD’s great writer may have been none other than the nation’s greatest writer:

Yet more homages to the great Alec Trench can be found in Prog 435 (Tharg The Mighty in Exit The Wally) Prog 436 (Enter The Beast) and Prog 443 (PSmith’s Farewell). A unifying theme of all these stories is Tharg’s insistence on bringing in new union-breaking droids and sending the old ones off to Mek-Quake. The Ezquerra droid, forced to draw such atrocities, makes clear his feelings with constant invocation of the great inspiration Trench:

(Clockwise from Top Left) Progs 435, 436 & 443 - When droids stumble, St.Trench is there.

Ezquerra was far from the only droid keeping the name of Trench alive, Eric Bradbury managed to sneak reference to him into not only the Prog but the 1983 Sci-Fi Special:

,

The penultimate appearances of Alec Trench (l-r) Prog 467 & The Sci-Fi Special 1983

Sadly, like heroes from Savage to Defoe, Ichabod Azreal to Judge Dredd, Trench was but human and his removal as icon from Tharg’s fiefdom would be complete by the time of the Murdoch-like move to full colour Progs. One last fleeting reference to our disenfranchised hero would be glimpsed, shorn of his beard and lustre, muddied by 2000AD’s era of brown-paint but still there, grinning out at the droids and readers, letting them know that whenever a true classic of 2000AD is there, a Golden Fox Rebellion, a Trash, a Stalag #666, so too is Alec Trench.

Prog 749 - Half A Trench - His final appearance in public.

Alec Trench, star of 2000AD, companion of Dr Who, valiant soldier of Darkie’s Mob, wit, raconteur, doubtless father to several illegitimate children, and writer of that great script you never realised was him, Futureshockd salutes you!

(FutureShockd would like to thank the many artists who kept the spirit of Trench alive, Alan Grant for his ambiguous role as public front, W.R. Logan (for his exhaustive history), contributors to the http://forums.2000adonline.com threads on Trench & a research grant from Quaxxann University). If Alec Trench touched your life, be it droid or human, let Futureshockd know.

FUTURES 26 – 50: A SUMMARY

9 Oct

John Richardson’s oddly un-2000AD Future Shock brought up the 50th installment of the series which was still 2000AD‘s only outlet for one-shot stories. As well as providing another numeric juncture from which to look at a few facts, trends and developments in the series, FS 50 (Prog 97) also approaches a point when the series moves from regular appearances (50 in 73 issues) to a semi-hiatus. Only six more stories would appear before Alan Moore’s debut in Prog 203 signaled a re-investment in the series. The 2000AD of Prog 203 was a very different beast to that of when the initial series debuted in Prog 25 and this summary will look at how that change was already underway and how the Future Shocks were maybe struggling to keep abreast of that change even by FS 50.

However before embarking on that analysis some facts and stats to be gleaned from the stories published so far.

WORDS

Letterer Peter Knight remains the name most often on the Credit Box with 26 appearances, one of nine letterers to have worked on the series.

Since the last Summary at FS 25 an astounding 12 writers have debuted in the series although only one, Jan Garczynski, has had more than one story printed. Mike Cruden leads the scripting credits with 7, Robert Flynn has 6 stories in print and Steve Moore, the writer of the first Future Shock, has 5. Jack Adrian (aka Chris Lowder) and Martin Lock each have had 4 stories in the series and Alan Hebden, Peter Harris and Jan Garczynski each have had 2 stories printed.

Examining subjects and twists several reoccurring themes dominate these early stories. In terms of setting Space Exploration features in eight stories, Time Travel in seven and Alien Invasion likewise in seven. Lesser used themes include Future War, four stories, Alien Abduction, four stories and Dystopian / Post-Apocalyptic Earth which has appeared three times.

As regards formulaic ‘shocks’ there have been several strips which defy classification, such as the beautiful spot gag of Casanovas’ 6-armed alien (FS 32), but dominant ‘twists’ do permeate. The issue of ‘Who Are The Humans’ – meaning aliens acting like humans or supposedly human characters turning out to be aliens or robots – is a theme that has been used seven times. The ‘Problem of Scale’, whereby aliens and humans are operating on radically different sizes, subverting invasion or contact, has been used five times. Technology Gone Mad has occurred four times and Vampires have been the shock three times.

Many of the strips that have worked best are those that have a joke as their twist rather than a big reveal. In those that do play it straight there have been times when a cramped final panel has limited the impact of the story; certainly the Shocks where Belardinelli (FS 43) and Garry Leach (FS 47) have been given a final full-page splash to deliver the twist are among the best stories in this batch.

As revealing as what subjects and themes are used is consideration of those that aren’t. Biology, Zombies, Werewolves, Nano-technology, Mysticism, drugs and any concept of religion or gods have never featured in the tales, topics such as Post-Nuclear War, pestilence, Space Madness, Mind-Control and Alternative Earths have only featured once. As the interview with Hunter Tremayne made clear, cold-war politics was also strictly verboten in the Command Module.

PICTURES

The first 50 Shocks have seen 28 artists (or art teams in the case of Ewins / McCarthy and Puchades / Martinez) used. Artists with more than one appearance include; Pierre Frisano, 5 stories, Brett Ewins, 4, Jose Ferrer, 4, Horico Lalia, 3, Trevor Goring, 3, John Cooper, 3, Kevin O’Neil, 2, Ron Turner, 2, Brendan McCarthy, 2, Ramon Sola, 2, Garry Leach, 2, Ron Tiner,2, Carlos Pino, 2 and Vanyo, 2.

Several important names for 2000AD have debuted in the series in the 25-50 period, including series stalwarts Casanovas and Belardinelli. Notable is that, with the exception of Garry Leach and Brett Ewins / Brendan McCarthy, very few of the British artists associated with classic early 2000AD have seen work on the series. Brian Bolland has drawn one Future Shock but Dave Gibbons, Ian Gibson, Mick McMahon and Ron Smith are all absent the Credit Box. At this juncture Future Shocks are still largely either being produced by artists with a very traditional British comic ethic (Cooper, Richardson, Dorey, Turner) or by continental artists. In this latter set there is a clear difference between conservative stylists (Frisano, Lalia, Vanyo, Ferrer) who vary between a light sketchy or furious dirty style and two very detailed creative artists, Casanovas and Belardinelli, whose manic creation would go on the be regular features in the Prog.

THE FUTURE OF FUTURES

As noted in the review of FS 45, these two schools of art, both with quite conservative design sense, are starting to stand out in contrast the art being produced in the rest of the Prog. FS 45 appeared in Prog 90 where the other artists were:

Belardinelli (Flesh):

McMahon (Dredd):

O’Neil (Ro-Busters):

and Ezquerra (Strontium Dog):

The art on display from all four artists,although vastly different, shares one element that the majority of artists given run on Future Shocks didn’t – a creativeness in their depiction of future worlds. Ezquerra’s wonderful mutants, McMahon’s bonkers vehicles, O’Neil’s astounding Spaceships and Belardinelli’s manic dino-hunts all typify the increasingly mature and richly detailed worlds 2000AD was creating. Combined with the creative anarchic fun in the writing of Mills and Wagner, the serialized strips in the comic were moving far beyond traditional cold-war paranoid pulp sci-fi fare. It is also clear that Mills and Wagner are notably more violent in their stories than the typical Future Shock dares to tread. Sadly few of the Future Shocks were keeping pace with this overall change in content and creativity.

That doesn’t make them inherently bad, indeed some are excellent comic strips, but it does show they are flagging to keep up with the creative revolution going on elsewhere in the comic. In 2000AD terms the Future Shocks were still Colony Earth, Angel, and Ant Wars, rather than Strontium Dog, The Day the Law Died or Blackhawk. In part the writing being handled by irregular and new writers must contribute to this, in addition the artists being outside of any developing cadre created by the regular free-lancers robbed them of the cross-pollination of styles and boundary-pushing. Perhaps also the age and influences of the agency artists used for many Future Shocks would have had input into the look of the strips. No doubt by the time of FS 50 this difference was becoming evident to Tharg as Future Shocks were to be radically reduced in number until the revival under a more focused small group of creators such as Alan Moore, Steve Moore, Peter Milligan, Massimo Belardinelli, Alan Hebden, Kelvin Gosnell, Garry Leach and Brett Ewins.

26-50: THE BEST

None of which should detract from the fact that several not just good but great Future Shocks have seen the light during the first 100 Progs and, as is customary with these summaries, here are three of the best as well as a panel that deserves a wider audience.

FS 48Brain Drain – (Script Steve Moore, Art Ron Tiner, Letters Peter Knight) – A future Future Shock before its time, Steve Moore wraps up a laugh at mankind’s pomposity in several layers of genre-poking fun that takes familiar fare and twists it just that slightest degree to provide something fresh.

FS 34The Illusion Man (Script Martin Lock, Art Pierre Frisano, Letters Jack Potter) – A simple joy of a Shock with a twist of the movie Moon which is taken to a superior level by an artist clearly enjoying the madness of lizard monsters with tridents and pouty-mouthed seductresses.

FS 43Date With Destiny (Script Mike Cruden, Art Massimo Belardinelli, Letters John Aldrich) A fun if slightly flawed script that works best as a simple shock and Belardinelli really delivers in a final page that shows a stunningly grotesque rotting corpse.

There have been several great images in the stories, Ron Tiner’s robot-with-a-brain, Garry Leach’s Parliament under ice, Vanyo’s smug alien zoo-keepers and Casanova’s whole alien world however the crown goes to the sadly missed genius of Massimo Belardinelli with the fantastic fate of the corrupt fame-hungry time traveler. From the aforementioned FS 43Date With Destiny‘, this un-reprinted tale shows what a gold-mine these stories can be.

FS 43: SHIELD YOUR EYES

20 Sep

PROG: 88 – DATE WITH DESTINY

Script: Mike Cruden

Art: Massimo Belardinelli

Letters: John Aldrich

Plot: As Earth scientists complete the first Time Machine they research candidates suitable to be test pilots. Eventually they settle on two candidates, Shelvin and Farren, with the latter being the first choice. Enraged at being passed over Shelvin doctors the food of Farren and takes his place on the mankind’s first time flight. He sets out on a trip 60 years into the future knowing his fame will be secured.

Shock: Shelvin fame is secured, without proper shielding his trip to the future has aged him 60 years and Shelvin has become the first fatality of time travel.

Thoughts: Mike Cruden’s fourth Future Shock is a pure delight in no small measure due to the series debut of maestro Massimo Belardinelli. Belardinelli’s style moves effortlessly from comedy, a series of beefcakes failing the selection tests, to horror as the story ends on a magnificent full-page splash of Shelvin’s decomposed corpse slithering off the flight seat.  Belardinelli pulls no punches with a panel as magnificent as any from his years working for 2000AD. With bones exposed, flesh peeling off and collapsed eye-sockets a wafting stench filling the cockpit the image is both striking and horrific. Beyond the art the story is an odd mix of comedy, the first page of failed tests, drama, the doctoring of the food and awaiting the craft’s return, and horror. It is perfectly possible to image the script had more consistency of tone as none of the writing is deliberately funny or melodramatic but Belardinelli imbues each page with the different tones and lifts up the end product as a result.  It remains a great shame this short three page Future Shock has never been reprinted.

Shock’d?: The image is certainly shocking but in terms of scripting it is a bit random. That scientists manage to master the complexities of Time Travel but not notice a shielding issue till this juncture is so incredulous that the shock comes out of left-field. Without foreshadowing readers would assume such mundane considerations have long since been dealt with by the boffins. However the reader will have likely given little consideration of this due to the impact of the wonderful grotesque last page.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.