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: 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:55 – Space Bug
Script: V Wernham
Art: Jose Luis Ferrer
Letters: Peter Knight
Plot: On a distant planet and after months of drilling Prospectors finally hit pay dirt – oil to replenish earth’s diminished resources. As one of the men heads to the radio room to call in their claim he is bitten by a bug. It seems to have an immediate effect and he collapses. Meanwhile an alien craft has also hit the jackpot with its mining gear and they too begin to mine the resources.
Shock: The aliens in the craft are the bug that has bitten the miner in the radio room, they intend to fully pump his blood dry.
Thoughts: Its hard not to like this shock due largely to the lovely work of Jose Luis Ferrer and the silly old-world charm of ‘staking claims’ and other anachronistic nonsense. However it is an unoriginal script, recycling the story of FS 2 Food For Thought and, more importantly, one that doesn’t manage to hide its shock. The transition between the Prospector’s story and the switch to inside the Aliens ship needs to be more disjointed, leaving the reveal they are one and the same event to the end. Instead it is fairly impossible to not see that the Aliens are the ‘bug’ immediately and so spoil any shock. That flaw, which the mysterious writer Wernham certainly could have avoided, and the similarity to the old Shock aside it is a fun enough old school Shock and finishes with a great image of an oil-well being built on a human hand.
Shock’d?: Sadly not as much as the strip hopes as it is clear the bug and the aliens are one and the same immediately and with another page of the story to go.
PROG: 52 – Solo Flip
Script: Chris Lowder
Art: Brian Bolland
Letters: Peter Knight
Plot: An un-named astronaut eases himself out of his launch seat and contemplates his forthcoming six-year solo journey to the end of the galaxy and back. Suddenly he realises he will be alone, that his wages will be worth nothing on his eventual return and that he isn’t going to be able to cope. With his mania in full flow he plumps for opening the airlock rather than continuing alone…
Shock: He crashes onto a landing mat, having failed the simulation test for long-distance flight.
Thoughts: Chris Lowder’s second Future Shock, like the first, plays the format for laughs and, with an excellent early outing from the ever-so-slighty-famous Brian Bolland, the great art pairing means this comedy Shock works really well. Unusually the narration in the second person giving the strip a creepy Twilight Zone voice-over effect which, added to by the limited verbal outbursts of the of the astronaut himself, works to make the reader become the panic-stricken pilot. After two pages of building mania the pay-off on the third page, with the simulator and frustrated trainers suddenly revealed, is an excellent switch and done in the manner of that ‘page-turning’ revelation which only a physical comic can deliver. However more than one of 2000AD‘s young readership may have been baffled by the discussion of the effects of inflation on savings. Bolland’s art needs little comment, some anatomy is slightly wonky and the final panel showing the astronaut being restrained has a very unconvincing struggle between crazy astronaut and hospital orderly but there is much to savour in his famous inking style and the under-lighting on faces helps ramp up that Eerie comics feel of the whole strip. An excellent Future Shock and one, despite the fame of its artist, that has been rarely reprinted.
Shock’d? A top-quality shock, the mania of the spaceman builds fantastically and before the reveal comes there is no indication this is a simulator yet when the veil drops it all makes sense.
PROG: 40: SPACE PROSPECTOR
Script: Martin Lock
Art: Trevor Goring
Letters: Peter Knight
Plot: Space Miners Harlan Smith and Jerry pilot their craft through the asteroid belts looking for rocks with suitable mineral content. They bemoan the lack of money and the elder warns the newer man that he has heard tales of ‘strange monsters, snakes and birds’ more dangerous to miners than any ‘claim-jumpers’. The young man scoffs at such as the products of going space-crazy from too many years in the business. Finally they come across a more promising looking asteroid and blast it with the ships laser to yield its mineral deposits
Shock: The lasers crack open not an asteroid but an egg and the prospectors are faced with a huge Pterodactix Cosmotis space bird that squawks ‘mother’ to their ship.
Thoughts: A real hidden curio of a Future Shock, Space Prospectors marks the appearance of two British creators who were to have enduring careers in the field but who never really made an impact in 2000AD. A fact that is all the more curious by just how solid this 2 page shock is. Writer Lock was to go on to found Harrier Comics – a short-lived but prolific UK imprint notable for the Bolland associated character ‘Redfox’ and the début of Eddie Campbell’s ‘Bacchus’ as well as further writing in 90’s erotic comics. An editor of considerable experience this tale showed how Lock had a flair for naturalistic language whereas previous Shocks had tended towards expository utterances to drive the tale along or, in the case of jive-talking Peter Harris’ characters, fun dialogue to flesh out character. Such a technique is a marked change in the tone of Future Shocks and gives the Shock a feeling more akin to a foreshadow of Warrior comics, Alan Moore and more sophisticated story-telling in 2000AD itself. This feeling is undoubtedly compounded by the neat atmospheric work of Trevor Goring, a man who may well claim to be the most successful 2000AD artist the fan base has no memory of. Goring clocked up around 60 pages of artwork for 2000AD, the bulk of which was on Dan Dare with Gary Leach, but would go on to work for Marvel, Dark Horse as well as storyboard artist for films such as Watchmen and X-men 2.However even a seasoned vet of 2000AD would be hard pushed to identify where he worked for the comic. There is no surprise he had a successful career; this strip is beautifully drawn with a similarity to the ink-heavy earlier style of Steve Dillon. The final monster is a bit under-whelming but that is a minor point especially as he carries off the more challenging task of keeping interesting two pages of talking heads via using varying angles and a very readable but dynamic page breakdown. At two pages this is too slight to call it a classic but it certainly is a very classy Future Shock.
Shock’d? The real shock is that the piece ends so quickly. Lock’s naturalistic characters have a certain languid effect making for an anticipation of a much longer strip; however they find and ‘crack’ the space egg in two panels and all is done. The half-page splash of the Space Bird does detract from the shock as it is immediately too visible when the reader should be still on the panels setting up its appearance but with two pages there was obviously limited room for manoeuvre. However it’s not a bad shock, the space creatures are nicely foreshadowed in the dialogue and you don’t immediately assume the asteroid is an egg, largely because you expect this tale has more than 2 pages to run.
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 29: JUST LIKE HOME
Script: Peter Harris
Art: Ron Turner
Letters: Peter Knight
Plot: Tex and Mitch land on a earth-like planet after four years using an experimental warp drive. Unsure of their precise location they are shocked to find branded cattle just as they would in Texas. After an initial confrontation with two lizard-like ‘cowboys’ the four settled down to enjoy beans by the camp-fire before Tex and Mitch leave to continue their space voyage.
Shock : As the astronauts depart the two lizard cowboys debate whether they should have told the two humans that they had come ‘full circle’ back to an earth 50 years in the future and that mankind was ‘reduced to zombies’ by germ warfare.
Thoughts: A classic 50’s Sci-Fi feel pervades this excellent strip, down in no small measure to Ron Turner’s excellent traditional art. Peter Harris, the neglected author of the ‘first’ Dredd story in Prog 2, turns out a bobbins tale that doesn’t make a lot of sense (experimental warp drives given four-year missions, navigation units being accepted as unreliable) and a description of the human condition ‘reduced to zombies’ which doesn’t match the images (the lizard cowboys ride off on hairy human-faced ‘horses’) but still it works because yes those are bonkers aliens in Roy Rodgers gear and yes that final human-horse-wildebeest image is just so weird and wrong and magnificent. And also because, lets face it, this is ‘The Last Rumble of the Platinum Horde‘ rendered as Charlton Silver-Age Sci-Fi five years ahead of Mr Moore’s more famous piece.
Shock’d? Most certainly. The story has its own separate tension, mainly the initial confrontation with earth’s new cowboys which seems sure to end badly for Mitch and Tex, and the Shock is totally bonkers and unexplained (who are these lizards?, why are they so happy to let our heroes go when they ride human-slave animals? , why are they dressed like RKO serial extras? and what’s the whole zombie thing about?) but still all is forgiven for that last panel of the pained human-horse-Sasquatches looking so miserable.