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: 97 – DEAR MUM
Script: John Richardson
Art: John Richardson
Letters: Peter Knight
Plot: A humanoid writes home to his mother after 5,000 years of ‘exile’ on a planet after having committed the first murder in a society that had discovered everlasting life. He recounts how he managed to make a primitive shelter, hunt wild animals for food and eventually build himself a large impregnable structure high on a hill. He tells her not to worry, his 20,000 year sentence will pass, meantime he has had a nap…
Shock: ..and is heading down to ‘the village‘ for a ‘bite to eat‘. Our mysterious correspondent is none other than Dracula.
Thoughts: John Richardson becomes the second person to fulfill both scripting and drawing duties (Kevin O’Neil, FS 11, Prog 35) in this rather abrupt odd tale of Dracula’s back-story. The third Shock to feature vampires (FS 9, Prog 34; FS 30, Prog 60) the story is played straight and with the vampire looking at the reader in with a menacing salivating contemplation. The strip has several problems – obviously the society who had discovered ‘eternal life‘ had not encountered stakes, sunlight or garlic bread and there is a strange panel showing a stone hut that Dracula had constructed, obviously a tomb-reference, which is made from slabs of stone far too large for a single person, or presumably vampire, to lift. However despite the disjuncted nature of the ending the art is effective and polished, again very much in the traditional boys comics mold, and the idea of Dracula writing to his alien mother has a certain charm. Some impact is undoubtedly lost by the reveal panel being merely a quarter page panel and very static; a large image of Dracula chomping down on the locals would have given the story some dramatic impact. The most striking aspect of the strip is that, despite the context of Dracula coming from a foreign planet, through a combination of art style and topic the strip doesn’t feel like a 2000AD story.
Shock’d?: The only shock Richardson intended was the fun final panel of the fanged Count eyeing up the readers and, despite the space limits of it being on a half-page, it is nicely done. From a story-telling point of view, with the exception of the tomb image, absolutely anything could have gone before that final panel.
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.