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.
PROG: 89 – CHILDS PLAY
Script: Mike Cruden
Art: Trevor Goring
Letters: Steve Potter
Plot: Johnny and his parents are out on a day-trip and he has completed a circular ‘building’ with his ‘building bricks’. As his mother rests by a large stone formation his father demands he hurry up so they can get off home. Johnny is pleased with his effort which his parents praise as ‘unusual’ and ‘imaginative’.
Shock: Johnny’s imagination will continue to attract interest years in the future as he has constructed none other than Stonehenge
Thoughts: A real disappointment of a Future Shock from two talents who had previously produced excellent tales. Cruden’s story is a less interesting re-hash of FS 11 with building bricks / Stonehenge replacing The Moon / Billiard Ball as the object of ‘the problem of scale’ scenario. Cruden’s strip, which once again places a young subject the age of the readership at the core of the tale, has a tough time of convincing that the stones of Stonehenge were once ‘building bricks’. The family are shown in 60s/70s clothing so large lumps of stone seem a curious childs toy for such an ‘advanced’ civilization. However while the script is barely re-fried seconds the art really jars and ensures this is a story to be forgotten. Trevor Goring’s final appearance on art chores in a Future Shock is a real let down, the various family members all appear static and light-boxed from photo-reference; the mother in particular straight from a 70’s Freemans catalogue. Even more frustrating their positions relative to each other continually changes from panel to panel in contrast to the flow indicated by their dialogue. A final oddity is that in one panel the mother seems pressed, in fashion-faux ecstasy, up against a giant rock face.. therefore one that is presumably 100s of miles higher than the tiny ‘Stonehenge’ being built at her feet. Strangely his granite mountain doesn’t appear to have survived to 1978’s Salisbury Plain while some tiny ‘building blocks’ have. Given how excellent his other two strips were the art here must have been down to some external factor such as time pressure or toying with a new technique. Those wishing to see just how good a 2000AD artist Trevor Goring could have been should look to his previous two Future Shocks.
Shock’d?: Cruden’s regular focusing on characters of the same profile as the reader may have engaged the then readership with the story and delighted with the ‘shock’ but to a contemporary audience the whole family are dull, lacking character and frankly boring. That the son builds Stonehenge is mildly amusing at best but, like the whole of the strip, poorly executed compared to both FS 11 and it’s subsequent third rehash (Dominoes / Stonehenge) in Prog 371’s The Domino Theory.
PROG: 83 – The Mote In God’s Eye
Script: Roy Preston
Art: Puchades & Martinez
Letters: Tom Frame
Plot: Valkahar is a dying planet and its advanced warrior inhabitants have targeted Earth for invasion. Scoffing at Earth’s primitive technology, that has only just facilitated Moon-landings, they launch their warp-enabled battleships confident they can handle any defences Earth can muster. Upon landing they are confused by the vast barren plains, absent life or any of the seas and mountains their scientists had predicted. Then a vast flood of rushes towards them..
Shock: The waters destroy them and they cruse mankind for having the technological ability to use vast oceans as weapons. Meantime a small boy wipes a tear from his eye, which had formed due to the tiny Valkahar space fleet crashing into his pupil. The invasion force had miscalculated the size of the earth and were ‘no bigger than an insect compared to man‘; the flood that had drowned them were his tears.
Thoughts: Editorial Droid Roy Preston steps up to scripting duties, after a brief turn on MACH 1, with the first of 3 stand-alone shorts he would write for 2000AD. Preston, who along with Nick Landau and Kevin O’Neil kept 2000AD running while editor Kelvin Gosnell was overseeing the launch of Starlord, appears, at most, to have been a part-time author with his credits appearing sporadically at 2000AD and Eagle. The story itself is a poor rehash of FS 2‘s ‘problem of scale’ and is decidedly inferior when contrasted with that earlier story. This tale, written from the perspective of the invasion force, offers no conflict, no action and no tension, whereas its predecessor is packed full of those qualities as the ‘invaded’ rush to deal with the news of the alien’s arrival. Here there is a very dull looking humanoid invasion force blasting off, one spaceship exterior shot and a lot of talking heads discussing their ‘superiority’ before a flood despatches them in a single panel. The story certainly isn’t aided by very uninspired clean-lined artwork from Puchades & Martinez , agency artists who clearly weren’t lobbying too hard for a regular appointment. The Shock, as with its immediate successor and FS 21, does mark one of the rarer occasions when the stories featured central characters of the same age as the then target readership so gains some credit for that. That factor aside the tale is derivative, somewhat incoherent – scientists looking for habitable planets managing to miss that this one is thousands of times bigger than their own – and worst of all, dull.
Shock’d?: The Shock scores kudos for being an ‘over-the-page’ reveal’ but instantly loses it for being about dull looking protagonists the reader has no engagement with and for being the rehash of an existing Shock. A new reader may find it exciting that an ordinary kid destroys an alien fleet but a loyal fan would, unlike the child hero, have ‘seen it coming’
PROG:58 – The Juggernaut
Script: Hunter Tremayne
Art: Garry Leach
Letters: Tony Jacob
Plot: Several tanks enter a training exercise not realising they are mere cannon-fodder for a new behemoth of a tank, The Juggernaut. With its new tracking system and ability to fire over 20km the super-tank soon disposes of its targets however just as they are about to end the test another massive tank shows on the tracking system’s sensors. Feeling The Juggernaut has been duped into a final test against a similar super-tank the Commander orders the ‘detector missiles’ to be fired
Shock: The novice crew had miscalculated their new range-finder and the tank on their sensors was their own. The detector missiles swing back and destroy their target: The Juggernaut.
Thoughts: A fascinating Future Shock for all sorts of reasons other than the story itself, although this classic version of the ‘problem of scale’ Future Shock, last seen dispatching an Alien spaceship in FS 3, is by no means bad. The Juggernaut is both impressively named and looking; with a ‘super-gun’ that would have put Saddam to shame. The fantastically monikered Hunter Tremayne only featured this one time in 2000AD as well as appearing in the long forgotten ‘Graphixus‘ (”The Adult Comix Showcase’ which also featured Bolland, Hunt Emerson and John Higgins) comics magazine before seemingly departing comics for literary fiction and writing plays. The script suffers from a bit too much ‘tell’ and not enough ‘show’, the whole initial duplicity against the smaller tanks is dealt with in exposition and some general ‘Juggernaut looking mean’ establishing panels rather than being played out in action but for a first attempt it doesn’t make a bad fist of its premise. More significantly the strip is also the first 2000AD appearance by iconic UK artist Garry Leach (VCs, Slaine, Dredd, A1) ; although the subs droid sadly misspelt his first name in the credits box. Leach came to 2000AD from art school and immediately turned in some unfussy but impressive work on this strip. The panel layouts go a bit awry in the final page and there is a dubiously sitting helmet on the hapless radar operator but the figure work is solid and an impressive variety of angles used in the composition. His style is also quite distinct at this early stage and, as with many of this emerging generation of talents, different to both the traditional British look and the European / S.American style of many early 2000AD artists. Also of note is that a year on from Bill Savage having to fight ‘Volgs’ instead of Russians, The Juggernaut is clearly a soviet machine with the Hammer and Sickle on proud display. This may be because the tank’s soldiers aren’t invaders, just incompetent.
Shock’d?: The ‘other’ tank could indeed have been real opposition although failure to make more of The Juggernaut’s own duplicity against the smaller tanks means this is slightly underplayed. There is no real surprise when the ordnance turns back to destroy the tank but you do think they might have trained their troops a tad better.
PROG:36 – PLAY POOL!
Script: Kevin Gosnell
Art: Kevin O’Neil
Letters: Peter Knight
Plot: While mining for minerals on the surface of the moon it becomes clear that the entire moon is one large grey steel sphere. Pondering this an astronaut considers that the ‘answer’ to why it is so is ‘out there’ in the stars
Shock: The astronaut is right – for across the galaxy a giant alien is lining up a 50 groat bet to pot the ‘grey ball’ planet to the ‘top corner’. The moon is part of a giant game of pool!
Thoughts: Kevin Gosnell, Starlord’s editor and editorial droid at 2000Ad from progs 17-85, was to turn out to be a bit of a master at writing Future Shocks and this initial effort, while relying on a deus-ex ‘shock’ in the final panel, is certainly a nice idea and despatched in a page and a half. Planets as pool balls is hardly a revolutionary concept, although again date wise 2000AD beats Douglas Adams to the gag. Given two of his Hitch-hikers routines have now been published in 2000AD during the time he would have been formulating and writing the initial radio scripts for Hitch-hikers it is interesting to note the overlap. The Future Shock will be of primary interest as another early art outing for Kev O’Neil and some of his trade-mark touches are in evidence – notably the space vehicles are precursors to the style on Ro-Busters and Nemesis. The most enjoyable aspect of the strip are the panel breakdowns which are all over the place but accommodating of the narrative flow of the story – making the main page a very accomplished piece of eye-candy.
Shock’d? After a series of Future Shocks that try to tie the shock into the story Play Pool! is a return to the less satisfying format of a completely left-field event happening in the final panel. As the strip is no-more than an extended one panel gag it can be forgiven that any shock is simply due to the punchline being so abruptly inserted.
PROG 27: FIRST CONTACT
Script: Alan Hebden
Letters: John Aldrich
Plot: At Heathrow airport planes are suspended mid-flight as an alien ship requests to land – the government, seizing the opportunity to make first contact readily agree but as the, still unseen, alien craft comes into land it garbles strange messages about an unidentified forest and being forced to land there. The government agents and military rush around nearby fields assuming the craft to be invisible
Shock : The alien craft is tiny and is crushed under-foot by one of the men searching for it
Thoughts: Third time lucky as seasoned and much under-valued 2000AD scribe Alan Hebden (Meltdown Man, Mean Team, Death Planet) turns in the first classic Future Shock. Beautifully written it’s a great punchy tale packed with fantastic dialogue (‘Man! This is FOR REAL!‘) and several human characters driving the story onwards while teasing all the time at the shock to come. While the problem of scale is hardly a novel one to Sci-Fi here is 2000AD making Douglas Adams’ jokes a year before him. Another anonymous studio European ‘Medraho’ gives great value in terms of characters, locations, a brilliant opening shot of a 747 and a lush final panel of the space-craft about to meet its doom. His art is also rather ‘english’ in its characterisations – more John Cooper than Jesus Redondo, and its a ‘commando’ style that suits the tone of the piece. The story also has some crazy but effective panel layouts and an interesting, if failed, attempt at some lettering effects. As with the original future shock, King of the World, this tale makes great use of that ‘turning the page’ moment only a physical comic can give. Any collection of Future Shocks should open with this classic tale.
Shock’d? Oh yes. The humans keep talking about an invisible craft and the Alien’s have great technology to be able to freeze all air-flight so that they are smaller than a size ten shoe on the last page works really well. For those that are interested the alien’s last words are ‘…..NO!!‘