PROG: 90 – KID’S STUFF
Script: Barry Clements
Art: Carlos Pino
Letters: John Aldrich
Plot: Rick Travis, deep space pilot for the Intergalactic Mining Corp., is knocked off course by a meteor storm and his ship spirals uncontrollably to the surface of a mystery planet. Thrown clear of the debris he is found in by some small children and later falls in and out of consciousness on the operating table and in a recovery ward. He notes his mouth has been filled by some strange ‘breathing apparatus’.
Shock: The mouthpiece is a baby’s dummy. Rick has landed on a planet where the infants are the ‘adults’ and the adult’s are the children. His recovery is being undertaken on the children’s ward.
Thoughts: Barry Clement’s last work for 2000AD passes itself off unremarkably as a solid piece of retro-Sci-fi Shock but not one that would pass muster today. As with Clement’s last protagonist, Pritchard the Poacher from FS 42, Rick Travis is a fairly anonymous hero and the reader is never invested in his fate. His journey through the tale is completely passive: he crashes without any attempt to avert disaster, he is rescued without drama while unconscious and he gains cognition of the adult / child switch without any peril or endangerment. Clement’s internal dialogue is somewhat mangled and lacking a unified voice, at once juncture he refers to the ‘driving proficiency test‘, at another he’s growling ‘some joker cut rough and landed me one‘. The saloon-bar Americana of the latter sit oddly with the formalism of the former. The art of Carlos Pino is it’s usual professional standard. The sci-fi is resolutely retro, our hero manfully square-jawed and the children a picture of Janet and John innocence. The spaceship does break in two in the most unconvincing of manners and a slight inconsistency in the strip occurs during Travis’ operation where adults (who would, of course, be infantile) appear to be conducting the procedure; but otherwise its a fine turn. The Future Shock and Prog 90 are illustrative of the change occurring in 2000AD around this period as Pino’s work stands out as very dated when compared to the artists around him (Belardinelli going weird in Flesh, McMahon’s bonkers’ turn on The Day The Law Died, Kevin O’Neil’s fantastic Volg war madness in Ro-Busters and Ezquerra’s iconic Strontium Dog) and the tale lacks any of the madness and boundary pushing that Mills, Wagner et al. were beginning to mine so profitably.
Shock’d?: The children-are-adults reveal does come on a final half-page spread and is quite sweetly drawn with lots to amuse any young readers with nascent revenge fantasies about their parents; however a minutes pondering leaves one to conclude ‘so what?‘. Just as a viewer had better not ask too many questions about why Mindy is attracted to an undeveloped boy, albeit one in a man’s body, the Shock requires you don’t think too much over Travis’ predicament because he hasn’t really got one. As Kidd, from Robo-Hunter, was able to establish himself as an adult, although one subject to constant jokes about his infantile appearance, Travis surely would be able to show his alien hosts he is an elder of his species. In the meantime his peril is hoping he has an appetite for Farley’s Rusks and liquified food.
PROG: 80 – Breaking Out
Script: Jan Garczynski
Art: Carlos Pino
Letters: Steve Potter
Plot: Greg Isaacs is a newly arrived prisoner on the penal planet of Titan. Working alongside aliens on a chain gang he is frustrated when his work companion, a bug-eyed alien called Loren, says he is happy and has no intention on escaping. Faced with breaking out alone, Isaacs steals digging equipment and soon breaks through his cell floor into an underground cavern system. As he flees he is attacked by a huge subterranean monster but manages to kill it with his mining axe. Finally he emerges to the surface and heads for the spaceport where he steals an unattended craft and blasts off. As he does so he fleetingly thinks it was all too easy, like ‘a flight of fantasy‘…
Shock: It was a flight of fantasy, brought on by a drug administered by the prison’s doctor as the first step to rehabilitation. Like his drugged fellow-inmates Isaacs will soon be happy with his lot.
Thoughts: An almost ‘classic’ Shock that is somewhat hindered by the writer not focusing sufficiently on the key element of his ‘shock’. Had Isaac’s fellow inmates been human their 1000-yard stares would have signalled to the reader straight away that something was amiss. Thus the shock reveal, that the prisoners were all on heavy sedatives to control them, would have been nicely foreshadowed and consistent. However the only inmates we see are 2 panels of Loren, who is a bug-eyed alien, and one with two other alien inmates and indeed, on re-reading, with drugged looks, but partially obscured by letter boxes, standing in the background and far too ‘inherently alien’ to suggest something is afoot straight away. Trying to convey that Aliens are themselves in an alien state of mind to their usual manner is a very difficult trick to pull off unless there is direct exposition or more time spent developing the ‘strangeness’ of the whole situation. Without this necessary base the story reads mainly as an action-adventure with the key moment the battle with the underground beast. By the time of Isaac’s escape there hasn’t been enough to suggest anything other than that the rest of the inmates are gutless. Stalwart of Spanish and British comics, Carlos Pino (Johnny Red, Invasion, Star Trek, Jonah Hex, Commando, Daily Star’s Dredd) does a sterling job on Isaacs, and draws a fantastic looking alien in Loren although his monster does look like Jimmy Saville crossed with a squid. Re-reading shows Pino is doing his utmost to suggest the aliens are acting strangely but there simply isn’t enough in the script to work with. The whole tale is nicely dark and the first time a Future Shock has dealt with the idea of ‘the authorities’ getting up to something as murky as mind-control and mass drug prescription, it’s just a shame more time wasn’t given to establishing the set-up required rather than the highly traditional flight sequences.
Shock’d?: Given the flaw outlined above the doctor’s appearance is a tad left-field and seemingly only clumsily prefaced by the panel stating ‘it was like a flight of fancy‘. However had the fact that all the inmates were acting strangely from the start been better established then this reveal would have been a beautiful new dark direction for Future Shocks.