PROG: 147 – DAMIEN, CHILD OF THE FUTURE.
Script: Kelvin Gosnell (as W.Gosmore)
Art: Mike White
Letters: John Aldrich (as Aldrich II)
Plot: While Rolf Harris is happy with his busy career as a ‘top electronics engineer’ his wife Mary pines for them to start a family. Faced with Rolf’s intransigence she pleads for some compromise and, several years later, Mary is overjoyed by the arrival of her baby Damien. Damien grows up a talented but slightly distanced teenager, one focused, like his father, on designing and building electric gadgets. Damien’s distance and cold nature lead to a row with his mother over having taken and melted down her wedding ring. Eventually Rolf intervenes and takes Damien off to dismantle him. Damien is just a robot built by Rolf. As Damien’s head comes of the robot cries out for his parents to stop.
Ending: As the Harris’ sit confronting life without their robot son they are stunned by the head reactivating and informing them that he has improved on his father’s design many times over. A door slides open and simulacra robots of Rolf and Mary appear. The humans realise they are to be dispatched and replaced. Later, as the robot family settle down, Damien suggests to his robot father that they consider doing something about the neighbours next…..
Thoughts: A very traditional but thoroughly entertaining sinister Robo-Tale doubtless appealing to the revenge fantasy of many of the then readers. In a series called ‘Robo-Tales‘ it is pretty obvious from the start that Mary’s ‘compromise’ must be a robot; so the revelation, on page three, about Damien having been built isn’t terribly surprising. The story delivers its ‘shock’ with the abandoned robot’s head stating that his ‘parents’ disloyalty will see them replaced by robotic versions of themselves. Children as central characters have been remarkably rare in 2000AD stories and this tale has the honour of being the first one where a child gets around to killing his own kin. Given the amount of death lashed out weekly in the Prog that it took until Prog 147 for parenticide to feature is pretty remarkable. The final touch of suggesting the neighbours will be next gives a nicely sinister coda to the tale. The only real problem with the very traditional art of Mike White is that not only do Rolf and Mary not seem to have aged while Damien grows up but poor Mary seems to have had the same haircut and wardrobe for the whole time. Damien’s lack of school friends was probably down to his shame from having parents who looked a decade out of date.
Thrill-Power?: After the left field antics of Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein in the series debut this is much more traditional Future Shock fare. Without ever being top-drawer, the ending and the malicious joy of the young Omen-bot’s triumph over stern adults make it a great kids comic even if they may not have been of the age to recognise that the Damien-bot is the exact spit of the infamous celluloid anti-christ.
PROG: 144 – Ro-Jaws – The Inside Story
Script: Pat Mills
Art: Kevin O’Neill
Letters: John Aldrich
Plot: Ro-Jaws is feeling unwell, a fact Hammerstein suspects may be down to having eaten the war droid’s missing war medals. After trapping his hand while trying to examine the contents of Ro-Jaws’ stomach he eventually takes the ill robot to a robo-garage. The mechanic deploys a team of ‘Thunderbots’, tiny singing robot repair droids, into Ro-Jaws system. Faced with a sea of sewage and waste in Ro-Jaws’ guts the Thunderbots take decisive action, exploding in his stomach
Ending: The explosion causes Ro-Jaws to throw-up Hammerstein’s war medals and he promptly gets beaten up and dumped in a trash can by the angry war droid.
Thoughts: The Inside Story is one of the great curios of 2000AD. It was the first time a one-off tale had appeared under a non-series banner outside of the Future Shock branding, but is in total contrast to any of the other stories printed as Ro-Jaws Robo-Tales. Whereas the rest of the short series (2o stories across the Prog and specials / annuals) would be ‘Future Shocks-with-a-‘bot’ as introduced by Ro-Jaws instead of Tharg, this is a straight character comedy piece featuring two well-established characters taken out of their usual dramatic story context. Ro-Jaws & Hammerstein were clearly a hit with the reader, used in editoral branding such as ‘Ro-Jaw’s Laugh In‘ (Readers Jokes) and ‘Guide To Robots‘ (Info Booklet), but this tale was unique in moving their love-hate rude banter from an aside in their action stories to being the focus of the strip itself. In a way it relates to Ro-Busters the way Terror Tube & Killer Watt does to Nemesis The Warlock; part of its world but slightly askew. It seems a shame it was left out of the recent The Complete Ro-Busters although it had featured in previous Titan collections. The story itself, a rare Pat Mills outing in these one-off stories, is quite astounding; full of profanity, belching, throwing up and even the most obvious masturbation cock-gag ever seen in 2000AD. In the anarchic hands of O’Neill and Mills it is, naturally, one of the greatest things to have appeared in the Prog. The art is packed full of rewards for the attentive reader, a small picture of Deadlock on a wall, ‘C3PO was a Hume‘ (human) graffitied in the background and volumes of comedy robot designs through-out. The script is similarly wonderful; rude, funny, constantly inventive with language, and seeped in the Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein tradition of ‘daft nerks‘ and cockney robo-speak. At all times knowing what it’s audience is and at all times knowing how to make them laugh. It certainly is a world away for the last Future Shocks‘ weeping child and lament for good parenting.
Thrill-Power?: Off the scale. There is no twist, shock or even dramatic denouement. Ro-Jaws gets dumped in the bin we knew he’d end up in from the very first time Hammerstein asks has he eaten the precious war medals. But the three pages it takes for him to get there will be a sumptuous treat for anyone who ever took to these classic 2000AD characters.
PROG: 108 – TOGETHER
Script: John Higgins
Art: John Higgins
Letters: John Aldrich
Plot: Two Astro-Pliots, Dave & Ron, are on route to Proxima Centauri when a meteor storm causes their craft to crash. An alien spaceship surveys the wreckage and lifts the living biomass aboard. Unsure of the species they are dealing with, but confident of a similarity to their own physiology, alien surgeons try to save the life of the crew. Hours late Dave awakens and asks what has become of Ron.
Shock: The four-armed doctors don’t know of Ron’s whereabouts but a shocked Dave finally realises he has had Ron’s limbs grafted onto his own torso to create an eight-limbed body much like the aliens.
Thoughts: Long-haul Droid John Higgin’s first work in 2000AD is the third Future Shock to be written and drawn by the same person (FS 4 – Kevin O’Neil, FS 50 – John Richardson). For a début in the comic its a remarkably strong piece of work. His unique drawing style, most clearly visible in his technique for drawing faces, has clearly changed little over thirty years; probably because it is so good it has little need to. The art is clearly a strong point; there is an excellent panel-breaking swooping spaceship in the first page, a pair of surgeons who look remarkably like Bryan Talbot’s rendering of Blackblood from the ABC Warriors, and the reveal panel is a great multi-limbed alien doctor with, it has to be said, a neck and face like a swollen beaten male appendage. The inking is magnificent and the most remarkable thing is that Higgins would only pick up the odd Future Shock and Time Twister before his prolonged stint on Judge Dredd from the mid-400s. It is clear from work like this that he would have been ready long before that. As for the story, it has a fairly retro vibe and is quite conventional but there is also a lot to praise. The shock itself is fairly easy to spot, certainly as the reader turns to the last page they know that something awful is going to be the result of the alien’s good-natured attempt at aid.. just look at those looming surgeons (above), how could something sinister not result. Naturally ‘waking up in hospital to something bad’ isn’t the most original of framing devices but the drafting and execution are superior. It also deserves praise for being a great example of a story that comics can tell that the purely written medium cannot. A drawn image can hide descriptive detail, creating ambiguity from what it doesn’t show and what it leads the reader to imply; whereas the word, with its need to specify simply cannot achieve the same degree of implication. Where a writer would have to specify what the aliens looked like in considerable detail, the image can lead you to assume they have 4 limbs not 8. This is one of the great joys of comics, one of the skills that talented comic writers and artists can create and it this small tale is a magnificent example of it.
Shock’d?: The specific shock is fairly corny and the story makes no attempt to hide that something terrible is going to come from the operation, what that specifically is being gloriously revealed on the last page. In many ways the story telling is of its time and the shock isn’t as gorily rendered as it might have been but it is still a great moment to turn to the final page and find out Ron and Dave’s fate.
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: 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: 85 – The Fourth Wall
Script: Mike Cruden
Art: John Cooper
Letters: John Aldrich
Plot: Chris, a demanding child, is watching his favourite TV show, the space adventure Adam Gordon, on his ceiling-to-floor ‘Wall TV’. With his birthday coming his father agrees to buy him the latest in technology, a Fourth Wall TV. When the engineer comes to install it he warns the impatient child that the technology is experimental and to call the manufacturer if there are any problems. Chris ushers him out and settles down to watch the space battles of Adam Gordon, loving how the lasers leap off the screen…
Shock: Not only do the lasers seem real, they are real! They blast Chris’ chair and, as he reaches for the telephone to call the engineer, they blast his phone too. Later his father comes to call him for dinner, Chris’ lifeless body lies in front of the Fourth Wall.
Thoughts: Mike Cruden and John Cooper team up again, after FS 21 (Prog 50, The Guardian) for another instalment of scaring the bejesus out of young boys everywhere with more tales of technology vs small child. Unlike The Guardian, where the nameless child was left to his impending doom, Chris is shown as a fresh smoking corpse, giving no doubt as to his fate in this gruesome Shock. Cooper’s art once again excels in drawing the boy’s face; in turn demanding, excited, in awe and scared. However, his decision to draw the TV images as vertical lines and white-space gives an odd effect to the strip and dominates over his traditional style in many panels. As a technique it doesn’t quite work and detracts from the beautifully balanced inks he uses to depict the rest of the family life and Chris’ demise. The twist in the story is formulaic but the use of the medium of television is a first for Future Shocks and the pacing is well scripted with an extended playing out of Chris’ scramble when the technology goes mad. Both story and art are above average, if not quite in the top-tier, and this successful Shock is definitely one of the nastier dark efforts to be presented to the young early-2000AD readers.
Shock’d?: The focused nature of the story’s set-up: his mother complaining about Chris doing nothing but watching TV, the introduction of the new technology etc all means it is pretty clear what is coming; however that doesn’t detract from it being joyously executed and with a real impact on readers of Chris’ age.
PROG:60 – Timeless Secret
Script: SJ Grimes
Art: Ramon Sola
Letters: John Aldrich
Plot: Professors Stein and Grahame enter a tomb that has been sealed for centuries. As they unsuccessfully try to open a ‘strange coffin shaped box‘ they quibble over whether its contents would prove that Earth had been visited by aliens or proof of a previously unknown tribe of humans. Turning their backs and continuing their academic squabble they fail to notice the sun has gone down and the coffin-shaped box opening..
Shock: A vampire emerges and moves in to devour them.
Thoughts: FS 30, marked another 2000AD regular artist’s departure from the series with an even poorer story than FS29. SJ Grimes’ script has no logic to it whatsoever and can only be indulged by considering that its young readers must be very easily satisfied. Ramon Sola’s art is great and he draws a lovely menacing Nosferatu style vampire with balding head, bat-wing ears and powerful clawed hands; but the story is threadbare and confused. First of all the tomb is clearly Egyptian; hieroglyphs and Egyptian symbolism are littered liberally in the depictions inside and outside of the tomb. Given this, why two academics should be postulating that a coffin-like enclosure evidences either aliens, or more bizarrely ‘a tribe previously unknown to man‘ rather than, say, Egyptians is hard to grasp. Maybe this was Sola going off script and not knowing how to decorate a tomb but that seems unlikely. Having read the script he would hardly have decided to set it in Egypt when he knows a what would happen and a dank dirty cave would have sufficed. And this ties into the second key fault because, completely randomly, a vampire appears and the narration says ‘ but then the idea that the coffin was the home of a creature that could inhabit the surface of the earth only after the sun had set, was ridiculous‘. Yes, it is. However if anyone could envisage such it was probably Professors Stein and Grahame because they’re already squabbling about aliens and unknown tribes when surrounded by Egyptian artefacts. However the reader is left admiring Sola’s slavering ghoul and wondering where the hell it came from and what has it been doing in a tomb sealed off ‘for centuries‘. So poor is the story that’ SJ Grimes’, in his sole credit for 2000AD, may well stand for Alan Smithee.
Shock’d?: The difference between ‘shock’ and ‘random disconnected deus ex machina‘ couldn’t be better evidenced than in this tale and it stands as an exemplar of how not to write a Future Shock.