PROG: 135 – Time Trap
Script: Roy Preston (as P. Wildbeest)
Art: John Cooper
Letters: P. Bensberg
Plot: Johnnie Collins plays with his toy metal frog while his mother prepares a special meal for his father’s return from work. However when Jim Collins returns home he curtly informs his wife that his project with The Time Monitoring Department means he will have to go straight to his study and continue working. As Chrissie Collins explains to young Johnnie why his father has come and gone so quickly she breaks into tears and is comforted by her son. Johnnie, with his toy frog, march to his father’s home lab as Jim Collins is about to start another time machine test. His father angrily shouts at him and smacks ‘Mister Frog’ from his hands. Jim then finishes working on the control desk and moves to enter the time machine capsule. Convinced he can stop the machine, Johnnie moves to the desk to reverse his father’s settings.
Shock: Johnnie’s well-intended meddling firstly places his father in an infinite loop and then accidentally break the controls. Jim Collins is trapped in the time machine in his basement, free to be seen by his family all day, every day.
Thoughts: The final Future Shock before a year and a half absence from the Prog is an unsatisfying meld of various established tropes. Mechanical problems with time machines have been seen several times and John Cooper has been the ‘go to’ artist for Shocks involving small children twice before. However a key element of the script’s failure to engage is that this time the child isn’t a cipher the reader can identify with. Whereas previous stories with children have had stroppy, defiant, independent kids, here Johnnie Collins is a wimpy mewlling child carrying around ‘Mister Frog’ much like Linus does a blanket. It seems unlikely any reader who thrills in the action of Dredd or has picked out a favourite ABC Warrior is going to have much time for Johnnie Collins. An additional problem is that the shock itself, in terms of the fate of Jim Collins, isn’t really well explained. Is Jim trapped in a ground-hog day scenario? Is he in stasis while the world grows old around him? Why is there a smiling image of Chrissie and Johnnie on the screen? Regardless of how negligent a parent and partner he had been, wouldn’t they be upset that he is trapped? Can’t the damage be undone by fixing the damaged box? With three pages there was more than enough room to have set up a clearer fate for Jim’s comeuppance but the strip is too busy showing weeping gal and Johnnie in their emotional distress. Cooper’s art is of its usual excellent standard, Chrissie Collins being a particularly pretty young mum and Johnnie as wide-eyed as it is possible for an innocent child to be. However three pages of talking heads and one panel of violence against a child is pretty hard to make interesting.
Shock’d?: The cause of the shock, the well-intended meddling of an upset child, is a novel one but the actual execution is neither clear nor visually very interesting. A more central problem is that Time Machine Shocks only end a limited number of ways and this one is particularly obvious and not very engaging.
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.
PROG: 81 – What Happened in Tunguska?
Script: Chris Lowder
Art: Pierre Frisano
Letters: P. Bensberg
Plot: It is the year 2000 and scientists at Global Dynamics have perfected a time machine and are briefing their two test pilots as to the first mission – to return to Tunguska 1908 on the eve of the famous impact that destroyed the region. The mission chief explains that he believes it was a ball of anti-matter but that the authorities believe it was First Contact gone wrong and, more importantly, the alien craft was probably warning mankind of a ‘disaster sweeping the galaxy‘. The time machine emerges in the skies over Tunguska minutes before the mysterious impact
Shock: As the craft emerges the test pilots sense something is wrong, the craft is shaking violently and the warp has begun to change them, turning them inside out. They realise they have been turned into anti-matter versions of themselves and seconds later their time-machine crashes into Tunguska, causing the famed explosion.
Thoughts: Not only one of the oddest titled Future Shocks but one of the strangest executed. Over three pages we get the initial page taking all it’s five panels to show the 1908 explosion, a second page where the Mission Chief repeats the exact same historical facts about Tunguska to the test pilots and then one page where the time machine malfunctions and the crash happens. Certainly there is one page too many and the repetition of the various theories about Tunguska strongly suggests that Tharg guessed not only did the young readers not know what actually happened in Tunguska but that they’d never heard of the mysterious explosion in the first place. The script is incredibly dull, a surprise for Lowder who had always focused on humour, and Pierre Frisano isn’t really given much to draw: a mysterious explosion (which has to be devoid of elements that give the shock away) a page of talking heads and then one page where the pilots get ‘reversed’ and crash. With his 50’s Sci-Fi style it is all very retro and a tad staid but does what is asked of it well enough and this saves the Future Shock from being a real stinker. Indeed the shock itself isn’t bad – making the investigation into what happened the cause of what happened, and the combination of the two alternative theories into the shock is well thought out. However getting there has been so dull and exposition heavy that it is a shame it couldn’t have been wrapped up in a more dynamic tale. This was to be Frisano’s last work for 2000AD and Lowder’s last Future Shock, although he was to pen a great many Time Twisters in the future.
Shock’d?: The shock itself is nicely executed, combining the competing theories of what caused the Tunguska explosion is cleverly done and the until the craft malfunctions there certainly could have been anything awaiting the test pilots on the final page. A strange combination of the shock element working while the preceding script itself didn’t.
PROG: 56 – MONKEY
Script: Alan Hebden
Letters: Peter Knight
Plot: Jim and Frank are chosen to test Prof. Zimmerman’s ‘Time Phaser’ time machine, donning full spacesuits replete with life support and tinted visors. Under strict instructions not to interfere with anything they are sent ’10 million years into the past’ and told to observe and await the return to be activated. After successfully transporting, Frank decides they should seek higher ground and, while climbing, he callously sends a monkey to its death while ignoring Jim’s warnings about non-interference. After an hour they are taken back to their future era.
Shock: On their return the two time-travellers discover Prof Zimmerman and the rest of humanity has been replaced by intelligent simians; the death of the monkey on the rock has led to apes evolving to be the dominant intelligent species. Then Joe realises he is still behind a tinted visor, he turns to the mirror not knowing what it will reveal when the helmet comes off…
Thoughts: For the third time in their short publication life we have a Future Shock with yet another test-run for a time machine and yet another decision to go back to prehistoric times; although on this occasion wisely pitching up after the dinosaurs have exited the scene. There isn’t anything remarkable about crossing interfering with the past, Chaos Theory and time travel to produce a ‘Return to the Planet of the Apes’ but this Shock is lifted into a superior category by one fact – the decision to write the tale in the first person and thus add the additional shock of neither the narrator nor the reader knowing whether he too has become an ape. This produces a great final panel where our time traveller turns to a mirror and prepares to find out his fate. Following the logic of the script there is no doubt he would have been altered every bit as much as those ‘back’ in his original time but the strip’s constancy of voice, the fact he notices no change while in the past, means the reader hasn’t considered this possibility until that final panel. Alan Hebden, a key early writer for 2000AD and one still producing great work for Commando some thirty years later, should take great credit for this ‘double’ shock. Mystery artist Malgullanes does fine work in bringing the story to life with clear composition and some nice breakout panels. Having also worked on Starlord this was his only appearance in 2000AD.
Shock’d?: Yes. An excellent shock with the issue of whether Jim, our narrator, has also turned into an ape. While not totally logical this serves up an additional shock to the reader who could have guessed the Planet of the Apes was coming the minute the poor monkey was despatched by Frank.
PROG: 54 – STASIS
Script: Charles Swift
Art: McCarthy – Ewins
Letters: Tony Jacob
Plot: A female scientist is showing her male colleague her latest work – a stasis machine. Ridiculing the notion he contemptuously flicks at the switches on the machine. Dismissively he decries ‘There! Nothing’s happened, has it?‘
Shock: ‘There! Nothing’s happened, has it?’ There! Nothing’s happened, has it?’ There! Nothing’s happened, has it?’ There! Nothing’s happened, has it?’ There! Nothing’s happened, has it?’
Thoughts: A joyous curio of a strip to round of the first 25 Future Shocks. Charles Swift is presumably a pseudonym, perhaps of one of the illustrators of the strip. Sadly his one and a half pages of 2000AD fame are marred by the repetition of a rather obvious grammar mistake (the direct quote above) but our presumably fictitious friend does leave us with a rather nice simple gag strip. The second page is composed entirely of repeated copies of the last panel from the first page as the two scientists are now trapped in stasis by the machine. Actually they appear to be trapped in a loop rather than stasis but we’ll indulge them that given the eternity of their fate. The art also proves a small conundrum with the familiar ‘which McCarthy Brother was it’ dilemma. The strip lists ‘McCarthy’, Barney lists Jim McCarthy whereas Brendan McCarthy claims it as his own on his website’s bibliography. Which ever way they divided up the chores, the art certainly is an improvement over their previous work and hopefully the young artists got a full-page rate for a cheeky ten minutes with a Xerox machine on the second page.
Shock’d? More of a Future Chuckle than a shock but the strip is definitely a successful one-note gag.