PROG: 161 – DROIDS ARE DISPOSABLE
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Script: Gary Rice
Art: Brett Ewins
Letters: Tony Jacob
Plot: The spaceship Freya has crashed hundreds of miles from the nearest base and the robot EZ1 combs the wreckage to see if it is the only survivor. Finally it finds the badly injured Lieutenant Nash, the sole human left alive, and, picking up his broken body in its arms, EZ1 begins the long trek to get Nash to safety. Nash is disgusted at being aided by a robot, making clear that he hates machines like EZ1; but, as EZ1 fends off predators and fierce weather conditions to protect the Lieutenant, gradually he comes to respect his metallic guardian. WIth its power supplies nearly depleted, EZ1 finally arrives at the base. It’s circuits breakdown as it enters the safe-haven having successfully saved the life of Nash.
Ending: Lieutenant Nash comes to in the camp’s hospital and enquires into how EZ1 is doing after their arduous trek. After being told he was ‘put to good use‘ the Lieutenant looks down at his first meal and see’s EZ1’s serial number stamped on the plate. EZ1 has been scrapped because ‘droids are disposable‘.
Thoughts: Gary Rice’s second Robo-Tale is a nicely executed story which returns to a theme of early Future Shocks – that humans are utter bastards – in a tale that echo’s much of the humanism Sci-Fi of the 1970s. The story of Nash and EZ1 bonding through survival is not so much traditional buddy movie material, as Nash is incapacitated throughout, as A Boy and His Dog or Silent Running. It’s a well executed tale with the antagonism to EZ1, despite his heroics, foreshadowed by Nash’s own initial reactions. The script throws in a fight with a winged beast to keep the tension high as well as reinforce why Nash learns the lesson the people at the base then neglect. In terms of story the use of a robot talking to itself is a tad clunky but this expository device is thankfully curtailed by the discovery of Nash. Ewins’ art is more problematic than the script, there is a major issue with the relative scales of Nash and EZ1, sometimes they look 1:1, sometimes EZ1 seems twice the size of the human. There also seems a complete inconsistency in the inking, sometimes faces are over-inked and at other there is a very clean line deployed. EZ1’s face also seems some peculiar mix of malleable human and Hammerstein, an unfortunate case of neither fish nor fowl. Ewins does appear to have drawn a USB connector and slot some 20 years before their ubiquity which at least draws a smile. One very effective panel is of EZ1 clutching the limp Nash to its chest. Filled with powerful symbolism of the robot as guardian this panel centers the emotional lesson of the story and, whether it was the choice of the artist or in script, the decision to focus page two around this image makes a very strong impact right at the half-way point of the tale. As ever with Brett Ewins any criticism of his early art comes attached with the acknowledgement that he would go on to be an excellent artist for the Prog.
Thrill Power?: Sadly the art rather dates this otherwise nice if functional tale. It’s a solid script and one an aspiring art-droid should maybe have a bash at re-drawing for a trial submission to Tharg.
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: 96 – THE END OF THE UNIVERSE
Script: Gary Rice
Art: Brett Ewins
Letters: Peter Knight
Plot: Steinway & Schmidt are two astronauts cryogenically frozen while their craft speeds onwards to find the ‘limits of space‘. They are awakened by the craft, an action that is meant to signal that they have reached their destination, only to find themselves still surrounded by infinite space. The two despair that they will never see the end of space after having decided their ship must have woken them on concluding that it would never reach it’s goal.
Shock: Prof. XYGBDN, an alien teacher, ‘Billions of Trillions of times bigger than human comprehension‘ calls for his class to be quiet while he shows them the microscopic view of a ‘slide of water‘ that actually is Steinway & Schmidt’s galaxy! The astronauts cannot visualize the universe as it is so vast to them, the alien children cannot visualize it because it is so small.
Thoughts: Filler even by Future Shocks standards this two-pager is notable only for the appearance of Brett Ewins art and marking the first of several scripts by the mysterious Gary Rice. That Rice only worked on one-offs and shorts (Future Shocks, Ro-Jaw’s Robo-Tales, Walter the Wobot) may indicate a pseudonym at play. This rather dull tale, which seems to rely on a navigation computer working out the secret of the universe, is a re-plodding of the ‘Problem of Scale’ that features so regularly in early Future Shocks. More interesting is that Ewins art doesn’t seem of the standard of his recent turn in Judge Dredd (The Day The Law Died, Prog 92 (pencils & inks) Prog 93 (pencils)) both in terms of detail and use of solid blacks. It may well be this Shock was drawn sometime before and held back until two pages were needed. The art on the first page, featuring humans and spaceships, really isn’t very good but the second page splash of the alien Professor is both substantially better art and alot more fun. The early Ewins certainly has a touch of the Belardinelli aliens / humans problem with his art. Given the great work he was to go on to turn out for 2000AD the strip is at least a fine example of how talent is given time to develop by the comic.
Shock’d?: That the editor isn’t bored of these ‘Problem of Scale’ stories. The reveal is totally unconnected to the preceding story and what little drama it had worked up. A Shock best quietly forgotten.