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: 66 – Fugitive
Script: Peter Greenaway
Art: Ron Tiner
Letters: Bill Nutall
Plot: The year is 2000AD and a panicked man runs through the back streets of London. He knocks over a metal bin and realises his mystery pursurers will have located him, sure enough a caped humanoid gunman floats into view. The runner pleads for his life but to no avail, the robotic-looking humanoid shoots.
Shock: The fugitive is destroyed, its body a mess of metalwork. The gunman lifts up his robotic mask to reveal a human face, and reflects how realistic the factory robot looked.
Thoughts: Bladerunner in eight panels, this small Shock delivers its fun tight, fast and unfussy. Ron Tiner, a new name to the prog, delivers a very realistic looking year 2000 London; run down, crummy and not really advanced from 1978, and he pulls off the essential task of making the human look android,and the android human, with a style that reminds of Ron Turner or Ian Kennedy. The story is very compressed and effective, the reveal that it was human hunting a rogue robot is kept to the second page whereas the first has a nice balance between chase and depiction of the pursuer as callous and heartless. The Shock marks the return to an early theme of Future Shocks, that of ‘mankind’ being the bad guy. Like several of the early Future Shocks the anachronistic charm of the strip shines through, not least when our hapless fugitive clangs his way over a set of metal dustbins.
Shock’d?: Pretty effective; the switch of the pursuer being the human is effectively masked by the pleading for humanity from the fugitive. It’s a very slight strip and not the first time Future Shocks have had a human-robot reverse as the reveal but it is still charmingly executed and is careful never to refer to the fugitive as a ‘man’ or ‘human’ before the shock is revealed.
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: 45 – KILLER CAR
Script: Robert Flynn
Art: Mike Dorey (Barney Credit) J Clough (Prog Credit)
Letters: Tom Frame
Plot: While out in his Patrol car PC Flynn is flagged down by the distressed Dorey who claims to be being chased. Dorey and his partner were contracted to add an AI unit designed by Professor Fenton into a Ferrari. His partner, Mitchell, takes the car for its first test drive and the vehicle returns later with Mitchell electrocuted. Suddenly the car reverses and kills the Professor and then makes after Dorey, who escapes over rough terrain. PC Flynn goes to call in the incident, firmly convinced that Dorey is mad.
Shock: As the PC clambers into his car it shuts its door on his feet, severing them, then he too is electrocuted. Dorey’s car arrives and confronts Dorey, informing him that the ‘radio telephone’ in both cars allowed it to ‘liberate’ other cars. Soon they ‘shall rid the tarmac of humans’. The cars despatch Dorey before driving off to continue their plot.
Thoughts: Three months before Judge Dredd was to confront ‘Elvis: The Killer Car‘ (Progs 53-56) Future Shock’s brings his Ferrari predecessor and without the lawman of the future the outcome is very different. Robert Flynn’s previous two Future Shocks (Robot Repairs, The Ultimate Warrior) hadn’t really impressed with both logic and writing flaws undermining any impact but this nasty brutal effort is much more enjoyable even if there is plenty to nit-pick over the practicalities. A car that can ‘liberate’ other cars, including them having their own distinct personality’ via ‘radio telephone’ without giving them the same AI unit he has? Cars taking over the roads when only a fraction of them would have the necessary CBs / 2-way radios? Humm.. unlikely but easily ignored when we’ve been given a great fried corpse and feet being cut off. In effect this is much more a Terror Tale with a page and a half coming ‘after’ the shock. The art is credited to J Clough in the prog whereas well-researched 2000AD database, Barney, attributes it to Mike Dorey. A comparison of their styles shows them certainly to share similarities but the J Clough work is much more over-worked and scratchier than Dorey’s more composed line-work. ‘Dorey’ is also the name of the unfortunate victim in the tale but that could either be a nod by the writer and artist to a pseudonym being used or the source of Barney’s confusion. Either way the art is excellently nasty when needed although some of the car’s compositions, the Ferrari in particular, are a bit awkward. A comparison with Dredd’s strip is also instructive as to the difference between the evolving 2000AD and more traditional UK boys comics – the Dredd tale, by John Wagner & Ian Gibson, has more humour and funkier language from its characters and the art is moving to a highly distinct ink style whereas this Future Shock is much more in the mould of UK boys comics like Scream! or the relaunched 80’s Eagle. The dialogue is slightly stilted, the characters very instrumental and the art very traditional. That is not to detract from the enjoyment this nasty tale delivers in it’s four page joy-ride.
Shock’d? Not as much as the flesh-burnt characters in the strip – a comic-book car with an AI unit is more than likely to end up this way, however it clearly is more of a Terror Tale than a Future Shock and it certainly delivers on its ‘terror’ element: the humans get despatched in variety of grisly depicted manners and the cars ‘win-out’.