PROG: 157 – Revolt of the Tick-Tock Monkey Bomb
Script: Gary Rice
Art: Dave Gibbons
Letters: Tony Jacob
Plot: Having been accidentally built with an advanced logic circuit, a ‘Monkey Bomb’ anti-personnel device brags that he isn’t going to detonate around the neck of the enemy human he is deployed against but will use the threat of detonation to get out of the war-zone and into a better body. As planned he attaches himself to an enemy solider and uses his ‘tick-tock’ noise as a threat of detonation to ensure he is taken to a safe factory where he can be transplanted into a humanoid robot. En route the Monkey Bomb forces the solider to kill anyone standing in their way, but eventually the recipient body is ready..
Ending: Just as the robot is about to transplant into his new body a commander at his army’s headquarters notices he has failed to explode when deployed and operates the remote detonation. The Monkey Bomb and his nearly-freed host solider are consumed in the massive explosion.
Thoughts: Dave Gibbons 2000AD career is known for two phases, his early work on The Harlem Heroes & Dan Dare and then his iconic work on the initial Rogue Trooper stories. In the period between Dare ending and Rogue Trooper‘s début he would complete a Dredd (The Mob Blitzers, Prog 130), an ABC Warriors (Cyboons, Progs 130-1) and a welcome number of beautifully drawn Robo-Tales of which this the first. Gibbon’s art elevates a fine but simple tale, one marred with a very poor deus ex resolution, into something worth reading many times. The wonderfully titled Revolt of the Tick Tock Monkey Bomb is a real Curate’s egg of a script. It has a great premise, a delightfully mean-spirited protagonist and carries itself entertainingly, but it’s resolution is among the very worst of the genre. The ‘suddenly someone at base remembers to hit self-destruct’ is such a hoary old cliché that the fact the strip has entertained so much until that point makes it all the more disappointing. With a great set-up and central character it is a shame Gary Rice couldn’t think of anywhere else to take the tale. Gibbon’s art is fantastic, and in formal terms a notable change to most of the art so far seen in the series. He uses techniques such as splitting a single image over several frames, removing backgrounds to emphasise emotion, and breakout frames in a restrained and masterly way. As with much of his work there is a convention and tradition evident in every panel, never too grotesque, never too flashy, always a beautiful story-teller. The manner in which he manages to combine modern techniques with a traditional illustration style makes his art very appealing to both reader and fellow-professional. Gibbon’s début on the series is a sign that good times are ahead.
Thrill Power?: A really good tale, another of the gems of Tharg’s back catalogue. The out-of-the-blue ending is frustrating but the Monkey-Bomb has the same malevolent charm as the Robo-Hunter‘s Teeny-Meks, Dredd‘s SAMS and all the other vicious smart-talking explosive robots. It is a grand 2000AD sub-genre and Tick Tock … is, largely due to the beautiful art, a fine entry.
PROG: 35 – THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR
Script: Robert Flynn
Art: Marzal Canos
Letters: Peter Knight
Plot: On the Ice Planet Lexor two cities have fought ceaselessly for 10,000 years. Finally one side unveils Peron, a solider whose glaze destroys everything in his view. Peron quickly vanquishes all enemies and returns to his city a hero. The King bids him a private audience and unveils a gift to thank him for his prowess on the battle field.
Shock: The King unveils a mirror and Peron cannot help but gaze into it and so destroys himself. The King congratulates himself on ridding the kingdom of a dangerous future challenger for power.
Thoughts: A future shock with little to recommend it beyond the Machiavellian delight of the scurrilous King winning out. The script is utterly nonsensical – how does one train to have eyes that kill? At least X-men have the conceit of mutant genes whereas Peron simply ‘has trained for 20 years’ (and if you are investing in a 20 year training cycle surely you’d have more than one warrior on the program?). Peron goes to battle on an Ice planet, which presumably has lots of… ice. So no chance of catching your own reflection in the ice eh? Or on all that shiny metal work these bizarre future knights are dressed in. Good job the king had the only mirror too – otherwise a 20 year training program might have been for naught had Peron nipped into a public convenience and looked up when washing his hands. Add to this a surfeit of stupid fantasy names dropped hither and thither for little reason and Robert Flynn’s first Future Shock is deeply unimpressive. However even then there could no-doubt have been a market for it had the art been up to par but if anything the barely fan-art efforts, credited to Marzal Canos, is even worse than the script. It certainly ranks as the worst art in a Future Shock up to that point. It’s hard to know whether Canos really can be the source of such inept work – he had already worked, at times with Lozano, on several 2000AD strips, notably MACH 1, and while that art was hardly astounding it certainly was competent and professionally done. This three page Shock has, at most, one panel that is of a professional standard, and even it isn’t much more than hacked-out. Whoever is responsible for this, or whatever division of pencils and inking may be behind it they certainly can view it as the nadir of their career. If it was Marzal Canos then it is at least fair to point out that he has gone on to far better work.
Shock’d? The fate of Peron is a shock in that there has been no indication it has been coming nor is it in any way convincing or logical. As may be clear the shock is in just how bad the art in this is in a Prog that featured the sumptuous work of Ian Gibson and Dave Gibbons.
PROG 28: WINGS
Script: Kev O’Neil
Art: Kev O’Neil
Letters: Peter Knight
Plot: In a future air-war Pilot K Trel of the 513 th Air Defence Squadron is ambushed by two mechanically piloted planes. He curses them for getting the jump on him but defeats them as he was ‘trained from birth to fly to fight and to kill.’
Shock : K Trel lands the plane and is assisted by a ground crew that consists of a chimp and a tiger because K Trel is a kestrel. Born to fly, fight and kill.
Thoughts: If there was an example of a Future Shock to which time has not been kind to then, on first viewing, Kev O’Neil’s ‘Wings’ is such. A rare outing as a script droid, and an even rarer one away from humour scripting such as Dash Decent and Bonjo, O’Neil’s page and a half has a simple ‘shock’ to deliver and does it with the minimum of fuss. Like the previous week’s Shock, First Contact, the kicker is all in the visuals of the final panel; however what precedes it isn’t as sophisticated or interesting as Hebden’s excellent story. There is a bad pun name K Trel / Kestrel and the hint line of being ‘born to do it’ but aside from that the delivery is all in the final Panel of K Trel flying out of the cockpit while talking to the anthropomorphic ground crew. Sadly the art in that panel is easily the worst thing in the strip as O’Neil tries to draw realistic animals instead of in his own distinctive style that has featured in the preceding panels. However given that 2000AD was a young kids comic and considering ‘future war where animals do men’s fighting’ has been the highly successful basis for both Paul Cornell’s XTNCT and Dan Abnett’s KINGDOM the idea deserves a kindness in re-analysis. There are a few panels of that much admired unique O’Neil style and K Trel is clearly the spiritual pun-father of Gene The Hackman. However the highly critical will wonder why K Trel needed to wear a humanoid helmet and flight suit, the unnecessary appearance of which does undermine the final reveal.
Shock’d? More ‘WTF”d’ than ‘shocked’. The tiny kestrel shooting out of a huge traditional cockpit is just a bizarre image and completely illogical but the story has given us a few pointers, if more of the type that only become apparent after the final reveal than clever points building the story. A qualified shock undermined by the Johnny Morris look to the animals.