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: 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 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!!‘