PROG: 93 – PANDORA’S BOX
Script: Mike Cruden
Art: Mike White
Letters: Steve Potter
Plot: In 1984, the Prime Minister of the UK celebrates the unveiling of his own Statue with cementing in place a time capsule containing important artifacts of 20th Century culture. Centuries later mankind has passed through a series of wars to emerge in a new ‘Golden Age’ were war is a thing of the past and disease is eradicated. Two archaeologists find the 1984 Capsule and take the unopened box to the ‘Science Centre’ for further investigation. At the Centre this relic from ‘the Dark Ages‘ is immediately deemed to be dangerous and unsuitable for opening.
Shock: One of the Archaeologists rebels, she condemns the attitude of refusing to open the box as ‘being frightened of the unknown‘. In secret she opens the box and she and her colleagues marvel at the culture contained within, claiming that ‘There is nothing dangerous about these things‘. However within minutes the time-sealed bacteria has ravaged their bodies and killed them.
Thoughts: Mike Cruden repeats the ‘gruesome’ final panel trick of FS 43 hinting that the astounding rotting corpse by Belardinelli had been a big hit with the readers. Mike White, best known as the artist of Alan Moore’s Abelard Snazz, turns in a nicely horrific pair of decayed bodies in a final panel which is much the best element of the tale. His first work for 2000AD is marred only by poor layout on the first page that necessitates horrible direction arrows to guide the reader’s eye. Otherwise the strip is well drawn if in a slightly dated orthodox ‘boys comic’ style. Cruden’s strip falls into his series of ‘adults suffering horrific fates’ and while the War Of The World lesson may be clichéd to an adult it probably was pretty eye-opening to a young reader. The strip uses two and a half pages to cram in a lot of elements, from the counter-factual British Prime Minister to the final opening of the capsule and death. Chosing to introduce the main characters on page two is a brave move, leaving page one to be packed full of the alternate history detail but suffering perhaps from a lack of time to establish any character in the various protagonists. Indeed it is only in the fourth panel of the second page that we learn our main protagonist is not only an archaeologist but a very young very pretty Professor. Up until that point the two scientists doing field work resemble more a curious courting couple in a forest, not least because one is seen strumming a Lyre. Maybe it is some sort of high-tech future archaeological kit that just happens to look like a Lyre. Given this lack of characters to invest in, the strip simply turns on the success of the idea and in the context of 1978’s 2000AD it may not be original but it is effectively deployed by the image of the rotting corpses.
Shock’d?: The idea of bacteria from the past / another world destroying an entire species is, of course, a rather well trodden trope in Science Fiction; however for any young reader not yet exposed to it this is a fine little rehash. The Shock is one of the ‘final panel reveals’ that work so well in comics and Mike White’s drawing does the story proud.
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: 80 – Breaking Out
Script: Jan Garczynski
Art: Carlos Pino
Letters: Steve Potter
Plot: Greg Isaacs is a newly arrived prisoner on the penal planet of Titan. Working alongside aliens on a chain gang he is frustrated when his work companion, a bug-eyed alien called Loren, says he is happy and has no intention on escaping. Faced with breaking out alone, Isaacs steals digging equipment and soon breaks through his cell floor into an underground cavern system. As he flees he is attacked by a huge subterranean monster but manages to kill it with his mining axe. Finally he emerges to the surface and heads for the spaceport where he steals an unattended craft and blasts off. As he does so he fleetingly thinks it was all too easy, like ‘a flight of fantasy‘…
Shock: It was a flight of fantasy, brought on by a drug administered by the prison’s doctor as the first step to rehabilitation. Like his drugged fellow-inmates Isaacs will soon be happy with his lot.
Thoughts: An almost ‘classic’ Shock that is somewhat hindered by the writer not focusing sufficiently on the key element of his ‘shock’. Had Isaac’s fellow inmates been human their 1000-yard stares would have signalled to the reader straight away that something was amiss. Thus the shock reveal, that the prisoners were all on heavy sedatives to control them, would have been nicely foreshadowed and consistent. However the only inmates we see are 2 panels of Loren, who is a bug-eyed alien, and one with two other alien inmates and indeed, on re-reading, with drugged looks, but partially obscured by letter boxes, standing in the background and far too ‘inherently alien’ to suggest something is afoot straight away. Trying to convey that Aliens are themselves in an alien state of mind to their usual manner is a very difficult trick to pull off unless there is direct exposition or more time spent developing the ‘strangeness’ of the whole situation. Without this necessary base the story reads mainly as an action-adventure with the key moment the battle with the underground beast. By the time of Isaac’s escape there hasn’t been enough to suggest anything other than that the rest of the inmates are gutless. Stalwart of Spanish and British comics, Carlos Pino (Johnny Red, Invasion, Star Trek, Jonah Hex, Commando, Daily Star’s Dredd) does a sterling job on Isaacs, and draws a fantastic looking alien in Loren although his monster does look like Jimmy Saville crossed with a squid. Re-reading shows Pino is doing his utmost to suggest the aliens are acting strangely but there simply isn’t enough in the script to work with. The whole tale is nicely dark and the first time a Future Shock has dealt with the idea of ‘the authorities’ getting up to something as murky as mind-control and mass drug prescription, it’s just a shame more time wasn’t given to establishing the set-up required rather than the highly traditional flight sequences.
Shock’d?: Given the flaw outlined above the doctor’s appearance is a tad left-field and seemingly only clumsily prefaced by the panel stating ‘it was like a flight of fancy‘. However had the fact that all the inmates were acting strangely from the start been better established then this reveal would have been a beautiful new dark direction for Future Shocks.