PROG: 98 – The Four-Legged Man!
Script: Mike Cruden
Art: Mike Dorey
Letters: Peter Knight
Plot: An alien craft lands on a future planet Earth, one devastated and devoid of life after war. From the craft emerge several humanoids and one, clearly a teacher, instructs the others that their Archaeological Practical Exam is to construct a model of the deceased ‘man’ from the ruins. Diligently the student set to work, finding small pieces to construct a whole specimen..
Shock: …of a television set. Ominously, Tharg, in a text box, asks us ‘Did television sets ever dominate life on your planet?‘
Thoughts: Mike Cruden, until this juncture the most prolific Future Shock writer, departs the series, and the comic, with this slight page and a half social comment. A dig both in the archaeological sense and at the medium that would challenge comics for the attention of readers. The only problem comes with the fact that the set-up seems somewhat botched. The final panel makes an obvious reference to the ‘dominant force’ of TV but the students weren’t directed to find the ‘dominant species’ or the like, they were specifically directed to find ‘the dominant life-form called ‘Man’‘. Given this to come up with something called ‘TV’ is simply illogical and a presumed fail for the students. A slight tweak of the script to remove the proper noun and the Shock would have been much more convincing in its bite. It is also unfortunate that the shock comes in a final text box rather than from the mouths of one of the characters; the portly professor certainly could have delivered a rant as to the goggle-box’s pernicious influence and the Earth’s decline. The art is competent but unexciting, the script doesn’t give much to work with save the arriving spacecraft and the final reveal panel. That the final reveal panel is people standing around a switched off television sums the excitement levels up. There is a foxy female archaeologist years before that became an overpopulated field but save for guns, breasts and Indiana Jones-esque escapades it’s pretty hard to make pottering around in ruins that interesting. Barney lists the art as by Carlos Pino but the Prog credits, and the style heavily suggests, Mike Dorey as the artist.
Shock’d?: Sadly the botched nature of the set-up and hiding the delivery of the strip’s message in the final text panel takes away some of the impact of what otherwise would have been a nice and clever set-up.
PROG: 94 – COLD KILL
Script: Mike Cruden
Art: Garry Leach (as Gary Leach)
Letters: Peter Knight
Plot: In a harsh cold part of the Earth a Hunter drags his bounty of slain animals towards his settlement. Aware he is surrounded by a gathering pack of wolves he manages to warn off the majority with a series of gunshots, however one of them leaps at him intent on the kill. The Hunter is wounded but, after eventually managing to slay the lupine foe, he loads his kayak for the final part of his journey. Tharg’s voice interjects to ask why we are seeing this Hunter, what is a tale of Canadian Hunters doing in the Prog?
Shock: The Hunter’s kayak arrives at his settlement, a frozen tundra with Big Ben at its centre! Mankind is in ‘the third Ice Age‘ and we have been witnessing life in London. The Hunter states ‘They Attacked me in Battersea Park. It’s a wild, lifeless place now. I won’t go there again in a hurry!’
Thoughts: A very curious Future Shock that subverts the format by directly using Tharg’s authorial voice to nudge the reader in the wrong direction before delivering an excellent switcheroo in a stunning final full-page splash. There is very little to the tale but a two page track-and-fight and then the final subverting reveal. Again Mike Cruden chooses not to burden his characters with over-detail, here we have a grizzly hunter stereotype, denoted by image and the most cursory of dialogue, whose purpose is to serve as the vehicle for the shock rather than engage the reader as a character. As with the previous Prog’s Future Shock this mean everything turns on the quality of the shock itself and Cruden has shown he understands the importance of a strong final Panel. In an era long before Hollywood could CGI-destroy famed landmarks ten-a-penny, the sight of Parliament beneath an ice flow was a fantastic kicker and Garry Leach does a first-rate job in conveying it. Leach’s art has moved up a notch since his debut in FS 28, delivering art with much greater detail (as well as more convincing head-gear). The stand-out element of his art is the degree of perspectives he uses, rarely showing two panels from the same horizontal or range, while still retaining the flow of the story with clarity and drama. He also draws one hell of a mean wolf. Cold Kill is very different fare to the traditional Future Shock, and Cruden’s decision not to invest in character is in stark contrast to the rest of the comic, but it certainly is an excellent use of three Prog pages.
Shock’d? The reveal about London is very disjointed from the rest of the tale, a problem coming from the character being so impersonal and lacking a localised narrative or dialogue that can set up the reveal. In acknowledgement of this the unusual step of having Tharg’s voice move from the traditional introductory spiel to directing the narrative mid-strip must be seen as an attempt to draw the reader back into thinking about the location to allow the ‘shock’ that it is London to work. On that level the drama of the two page fight is rather unconnected from the shock but given the beauty of the final splash page the editor and reader probably couldn’t care less.
PROG: 59 – Tin Can
Script: Mike Cruden
Art: Jose Luis Ferrer
Letters: Peter Knight
Plot: WW3 has ended with total nuclear devastation, food stocks have never replenished and now a morsel of food will start a bloody battle. A scavenger spots a half-buried tin can and makes across open ground, dodging bullets from a sniper who is also set on possessing the mystery contents. The sniper takes down the scavenger and she comes out of the shadows, only to be felled by a throwing knife from her ‘kill’ who had only been playing dead. The scavenger shows no remorse for having killed the beautiful woman and makes for the can.
Shock: He dusts down the bounty and finds it is not foodstuff but a useless can of motor oil, it prompts him to laugh ‘loudly and insanely‘.
Thoughts: A let-down of a Shock and a low-point to mark the departure of Jose Luis Ferrer and his beautiful art from Future Shocks. Ferrer was to go on to draw the first three instalments of Sam Slade: Robo-Hunter and then transfer to sister title Starlord but not return when the titles merged. His art on this outing has a fabulous bleak introduction panel depicting the residents of a shelter dwelling looking destitute, but thereafter is very sketchy and lacks the scratchy detail he usually displayed. Naturally he draws a great ‘beautiful’ female face on the fallen sniper although she does have rather manly arms before her gender is revealed. The story however really lets the Shock down, the third person narration and lack of personality in the scavenger are very distancing and there is little to engage the reader. As a consequence there is no investment in whether it is the scavenger or the sniper who survives their encounter. The ‘shock’ of the tin being oil not food really doesn’t hold up either; we’ve been told that the entire population is starving however there is no indication, and no reason, that oil isn’t just as vital to survival.There is electric lighting in the first panel so presumably there are generators and oil has value. In addition quite why the discovery should send the scavenger insane isn’t really justified, presumably it isn’t the first time he’s been frustrated in his pursuit of food. Cruden’s technique of not personalising the character worked really well in FS 21: The Guardian but in this strip it is at the heart of why the tale doesn’t work.
Shock’d? The fact the tin can contains oil not food is a ‘shock’ in the formal sense although it doesn’t really hold up as shocking and of consequence. Would have been better had it been a pop-up snake-in-a-can.