PROG: 166 – YE FIRST ROBOT
Script: Gary Rice
Art: Brendan McCarthy
Letters: Tom Frame
Plot: In 1820 an unnamed man mourns the loss of his only child. Whilst brooding over how fate has robbed him of his wife, in labour, and their only child, he decides to create a replacement son from steel and steam. Eventually he emerges from his workshop with a large lumbering humanoid device he calls ‘Robert’, named after his son. Taking the machine to his friend Herr Wilhem he is pleased with its’ reception, even though the elderly gentleman mispronounces its name as ‘Robot’. However, on his return home he finds the local peasants take the machine’s coal fire engine and smokey emissions as a sign that it is the devil’s work. They begin to rally against the defenseless ‘Robert’…
Ending: The locals destroy ‘Robert’, leaving the inventor, once more, all alone. However the whole event has been overseen by two observers, one a dignified aristocrat, the other his man-servant. They ponder re-creating the ‘Robert’ experiment but with flesh and blood instead of steel and steam. As they leave the aristocrat is assured of success by the servant, after all he is Baron Frankenstein!
Thoughts: A very curious Robo-Tale, surrealistically introduced by Ro-Jaws in a Judge’s wig, is written in a most unusual style as a ‘lost journal’ with extensive textual exposition of the images contained beneath each passage. It looks very similar to the ‘illustrated prose’ technique that would be used by Ian Edginton’s Twas The Fight Before Christmas (Prog 2009), or even the word/picture juxtaposition in Alan Moore’s The English / Philondrutian Phrasebook (Prog 214), also illustrated by McCarthy. However by the middle of the second page the separation of text and image has broken down and word-balloons creep increasingly into the story. Adding to the unusual visual effect is the fact that none of the images have a panel boarder and the sides of the pages are made to look like the inside of a ring-binder journal. Why a ring-binder is being used for something seemingly written in 1820 is unclear. By Prog 166 McCarthy had contributed to several substantial stories in the Prog (ABC Warriors, Judge Dredd) but his art here isn’t terribly impressive, certainly a long way from the style that would firmly establish him as a reader favourite. The story itself suffers from having Ro-Jaws act as interlocutor as this limits the narrative’s ability to link the un-named protagonist and the observing Baron Frankenstein. Had not Ro-Jaws told the story it would have made more sense to have had either the Baron or the robot’s builder relate the tale and then explain their link to each other. Certainly it would have been cleverer to have had Frankenstein be a descendant or associate of ‘Robert’s’ creator than just ‘passing by’ as it would have allowed his voice to link into the tale earlier than simply as observing the final act. As a causal character thrown in on the last three panels his presence does strike as an after-thought in a story that was already clearly riffing on Mary Shelley’s classic yarn. The story also loses points for managing to posit Baron Frankenstein being inspired some two years after his own tale had been published in 1818. Basic research from the writer could have set the story in 1810 without altering any key elements. Future Shocks had already re-grounded the Dracula myth (FS 50) so Frankenstein’s turn was always on the cards, sadly this wasn’t the greatest attempt at having fun with the well-trodden source material.
Thrill Power: Pretty minimal. The strange story-telling device makes for a plodding technique which is constantly interrupting the flow of the tale and neither the prose nor the art is compelling enough to compensate. It deserves credit for attempting to play with the form but with the story so obviously echoing The Modern Prometheus and the tacked-on appearance of the Baron constituting the twist it is all quite uninteresting and dull. Easily the best thing about the tale is the unexplained appearance of Ro-Jaws in a Judge’s wig.
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: 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’.
PROG 25: King of the World
Script: Steve Moore
Letters: Tom Frame
Plot: On the ‘Giant Planet’ Jalez the mighty Red-headed Warrior Vikar leads the Reds to violent triumph over the Black-haired Warriors.
Shock : The final page reveals the humanoid Reds and Blacks to have been two sides in an Ant-child’s pet-creature menagerie. The Ant-mother tut-tuts while the Ant-Children say watching the creatures is fascinating.
Thoughts: From tiny acorns and all that…. Pat Mills makes a rare appearance as hero-archetype as the flame-haired blood-lusting leader in this inaugural Future Shock. The artwork from the mysterious ‘Blazquez’ sings of the studio tradition that brought us Redondo et al. The initial two pages depicting the fight are in early 2000AD colour and are subsequently a bit garish but the final B&W shock page is a lovely full page ‘domestic scene’ with lots of fun playing with the ‘Ants-at-home’ setting. The backgrounds to Jalez are a bit termite-hill looking so foreshadow the shock a tad.
Shock’d? Not really. Bit of a ‘he opens the door and a pig eats him’ disconnect between the first two and final pages.