PROG: 135 – Time Trap
Script: Roy Preston (as P. Wildbeest)
Art: John Cooper
Letters: P. Bensberg
Plot: Johnnie Collins plays with his toy metal frog while his mother prepares a special meal for his father’s return from work. However when Jim Collins returns home he curtly informs his wife that his project with The Time Monitoring Department means he will have to go straight to his study and continue working. As Chrissie Collins explains to young Johnnie why his father has come and gone so quickly she breaks into tears and is comforted by her son. Johnnie, with his toy frog, march to his father’s home lab as Jim Collins is about to start another time machine test. His father angrily shouts at him and smacks ‘Mister Frog’ from his hands. Jim then finishes working on the control desk and moves to enter the time machine capsule. Convinced he can stop the machine, Johnnie moves to the desk to reverse his father’s settings.
Shock: Johnnie’s well-intended meddling firstly places his father in an infinite loop and then accidentally break the controls. Jim Collins is trapped in the time machine in his basement, free to be seen by his family all day, every day.
Thoughts: The final Future Shock before a year and a half absence from the Prog is an unsatisfying meld of various established tropes. Mechanical problems with time machines have been seen several times and John Cooper has been the ‘go to’ artist for Shocks involving small children twice before. However a key element of the script’s failure to engage is that this time the child isn’t a cipher the reader can identify with. Whereas previous stories with children have had stroppy, defiant, independent kids, here Johnnie Collins is a wimpy mewlling child carrying around ‘Mister Frog’ much like Linus does a blanket. It seems unlikely any reader who thrills in the action of Dredd or has picked out a favourite ABC Warrior is going to have much time for Johnnie Collins. An additional problem is that the shock itself, in terms of the fate of Jim Collins, isn’t really well explained. Is Jim trapped in a ground-hog day scenario? Is he in stasis while the world grows old around him? Why is there a smiling image of Chrissie and Johnnie on the screen? Regardless of how negligent a parent and partner he had been, wouldn’t they be upset that he is trapped? Can’t the damage be undone by fixing the damaged box? With three pages there was more than enough room to have set up a clearer fate for Jim’s comeuppance but the strip is too busy showing weeping gal and Johnnie in their emotional distress. Cooper’s art is of its usual excellent standard, Chrissie Collins being a particularly pretty young mum and Johnnie as wide-eyed as it is possible for an innocent child to be. However three pages of talking heads and one panel of violence against a child is pretty hard to make interesting.
Shock’d?: The cause of the shock, the well-intended meddling of an upset child, is a novel one but the actual execution is neither clear nor visually very interesting. A more central problem is that Time Machine Shocks only end a limited number of ways and this one is particularly obvious and not very engaging.
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: 50 – The Guardian
Script: Mike Cruden
Art: John Cooper
Letters: Peter Knight
Plot: It is the 21st Century and a small boy wants to go outside his house, his father agrees provided he is accompanied by the large ‘Guardian’ robot. The robot, with long flexible arms, constantly refuses to let the boy engage in youthful japes, such as climbing an old tree, citing ‘Negative! High Danger Factor!‘ The Droid does agree to go through the old abandoned town on the basis that the mutant inhabitants only come out at night and that he is programmed to keep the boy within reach at all times. As they walk through the deserted sector the ground gives way and boy and robot crash into an underground passage. The boy starts to make his way up to the opening he has fallen through.
Shock: The long flexible arms of The Guardian refuse to let the boy out of his reach. With the immobile robot stranded on the mine floor the boy will never be allowed to reach the surface, and in the dark mutant eyes twinkle…
Thoughts: Mike Cruden, in the first of eight Future Shocks he would write for the Prog, delivers a Terror Tale before its time. The simple concept, that a trapped robot programmed never to let the child out of its proximity thus traps the child, is well executed and, importantly for what was still a kids comic, aimed directly at the reader. There is no name given to the child nor his father, in essence this is ‘every’ child, at least ‘every’ reader, and his simple wants for fun, climbing a tree, are the same as the readership. Up until this point Future Shocks had exclusively featured adult protagonists so Cruden deserves a lot of credit for thinking to connect with his audience. John Cooper, in his second shock in three issues, draws his usual 50’s Sci-Fi styling and a wonderfully grumpy thwarted kid who scowls his way through the entire strip. Every panel features his petulant unhappiness until, in out final view of him, his face is one of sheer terror and fixed with a look that ensures that, regardless of the reader’s age, there is a timeless pleasure in this bleak ending.
Shock’d? There is no real shock in the tale, just a fantastically terrifying conclusion that must have kept more than one squaxx up at night.
PROG: 47 – Enemy Agent
Script: Nick Tufnell
Art: John Cooper
Letters: Peter Knight
Plot: At the Kremlin, Downing St. and White House the Heads of State confer with their Intelligence Chiefs over the recent capture of Enemy Agents in their territories. However under integration the captured men all decompose; seemingly after an alien hand has sent out a signal. Panicked the order comes down to shut down any investigation into what has gone on. However British Agent Mike Walsh, having witnessed the strange ‘melting’ of the spies decides to covertly pursue the only lead in the case – that the spy apprehended by the British had come from an Australian town. Soon he arrives at an outback roadblock where he is overpowered by a group of men who are the identical ‘twin’ of the captured spy. They take him to a deserted mine-shaft that contains the only Alien survivor of a UFO crash. The Alien reveals the synthetic men are part of his plot to come to power and Walsh starts a fight to halt the fiendish plan. He finds and hits the mystery button seen earlier.
Shock: In the Kremlin, Downing St and the White House the Heads of State all melt.
Thoughts: A mysterious script Droid, Nick Tufnell in his sole appearance in 2000AD, writes a very different Future Shock that manages to encompass a great deal of detail and adventure as well as a more traditional ‘Flash Vs Ming’ confrontation between man and alien. A likely pseudonym for another writer, Tufnell delivers an excellent script with a nice ‘repeated panel’ intro and conclusion on pages 1 & 4 to show the ‘concerned’ Heads of State and then the very same men melting away. As a Shock it works well as Mike Walsh’s traditional-style adventuring has taken the reader away from the role of these characters. The ever excellent John Cooper, still drawing Future Shocks 30 years later, brings his traditional square-jawed men to the proceedings and helps produce a very polished Future Shock with a very british boys-comic feel to it.
Shock’d? More of an adventure yarn with its consequences but the impact on the President, Prime Minister and Chairman of the Communist Party has been nicely disguised by the focus on Walsh so there is a shock as they melt away in their executive offices.