PROG: 161 – DROIDS ARE DISPOSABLE
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Script: Gary Rice
Art: Brett Ewins
Letters: Tony Jacob
Plot: The spaceship Freya has crashed hundreds of miles from the nearest base and the robot EZ1 combs the wreckage to see if it is the only survivor. Finally it finds the badly injured Lieutenant Nash, the sole human left alive, and, picking up his broken body in its arms, EZ1 begins the long trek to get Nash to safety. Nash is disgusted at being aided by a robot, making clear that he hates machines like EZ1; but, as EZ1 fends off predators and fierce weather conditions to protect the Lieutenant, gradually he comes to respect his metallic guardian. WIth its power supplies nearly depleted, EZ1 finally arrives at the base. It’s circuits breakdown as it enters the safe-haven having successfully saved the life of Nash.
Ending: Lieutenant Nash comes to in the camp’s hospital and enquires into how EZ1 is doing after their arduous trek. After being told he was ‘put to good use‘ the Lieutenant looks down at his first meal and see’s EZ1’s serial number stamped on the plate. EZ1 has been scrapped because ‘droids are disposable‘.
Thoughts: Gary Rice’s second Robo-Tale is a nicely executed story which returns to a theme of early Future Shocks – that humans are utter bastards – in a tale that echo’s much of the humanism Sci-Fi of the 1970s. The story of Nash and EZ1 bonding through survival is not so much traditional buddy movie material, as Nash is incapacitated throughout, as A Boy and His Dog or Silent Running. It’s a well executed tale with the antagonism to EZ1, despite his heroics, foreshadowed by Nash’s own initial reactions. The script throws in a fight with a winged beast to keep the tension high as well as reinforce why Nash learns the lesson the people at the base then neglect. In terms of story the use of a robot talking to itself is a tad clunky but this expository device is thankfully curtailed by the discovery of Nash. Ewins’ art is more problematic than the script, there is a major issue with the relative scales of Nash and EZ1, sometimes they look 1:1, sometimes EZ1 seems twice the size of the human. There also seems a complete inconsistency in the inking, sometimes faces are over-inked and at other there is a very clean line deployed. EZ1’s face also seems some peculiar mix of malleable human and Hammerstein, an unfortunate case of neither fish nor fowl. Ewins does appear to have drawn a USB connector and slot some 20 years before their ubiquity which at least draws a smile. One very effective panel is of EZ1 clutching the limp Nash to its chest. Filled with powerful symbolism of the robot as guardian this panel centers the emotional lesson of the story and, whether it was the choice of the artist or in script, the decision to focus page two around this image makes a very strong impact right at the half-way point of the tale. As ever with Brett Ewins any criticism of his early art comes attached with the acknowledgement that he would go on to be an excellent artist for the Prog.
Thrill Power?: Sadly the art rather dates this otherwise nice if functional tale. It’s a solid script and one an aspiring art-droid should maybe have a bash at re-drawing for a trial submission to Tharg.
PROG: 157 – Revolt of the Tick-Tock Monkey Bomb
Script: Gary Rice
Art: Dave Gibbons
Letters: Tony Jacob
Plot: Having been accidentally built with an advanced logic circuit, a ‘Monkey Bomb’ anti-personnel device brags that he isn’t going to detonate around the neck of the enemy human he is deployed against but will use the threat of detonation to get out of the war-zone and into a better body. As planned he attaches himself to an enemy solider and uses his ‘tick-tock’ noise as a threat of detonation to ensure he is taken to a safe factory where he can be transplanted into a humanoid robot. En route the Monkey Bomb forces the solider to kill anyone standing in their way, but eventually the recipient body is ready..
Ending: Just as the robot is about to transplant into his new body a commander at his army’s headquarters notices he has failed to explode when deployed and operates the remote detonation. The Monkey Bomb and his nearly-freed host solider are consumed in the massive explosion.
Thoughts: Dave Gibbons 2000AD career is known for two phases, his early work on The Harlem Heroes & Dan Dare and then his iconic work on the initial Rogue Trooper stories. In the period between Dare ending and Rogue Trooper‘s début he would complete a Dredd (The Mob Blitzers, Prog 130), an ABC Warriors (Cyboons, Progs 130-1) and a welcome number of beautifully drawn Robo-Tales of which this the first. Gibbon’s art elevates a fine but simple tale, one marred with a very poor deus ex resolution, into something worth reading many times. The wonderfully titled Revolt of the Tick Tock Monkey Bomb is a real Curate’s egg of a script. It has a great premise, a delightfully mean-spirited protagonist and carries itself entertainingly, but it’s resolution is among the very worst of the genre. The ‘suddenly someone at base remembers to hit self-destruct’ is such a hoary old cliché that the fact the strip has entertained so much until that point makes it all the more disappointing. With a great set-up and central character it is a shame Gary Rice couldn’t think of anywhere else to take the tale. Gibbon’s art is fantastic, and in formal terms a notable change to most of the art so far seen in the series. He uses techniques such as splitting a single image over several frames, removing backgrounds to emphasise emotion, and breakout frames in a restrained and masterly way. As with much of his work there is a convention and tradition evident in every panel, never too grotesque, never too flashy, always a beautiful story-teller. The manner in which he manages to combine modern techniques with a traditional illustration style makes his art very appealing to both reader and fellow-professional. Gibbon’s début on the series is a sign that good times are ahead.
Thrill Power?: A really good tale, another of the gems of Tharg’s back catalogue. The out-of-the-blue ending is frustrating but the Monkey-Bomb has the same malevolent charm as the Robo-Hunter‘s Teeny-Meks, Dredd‘s SAMS and all the other vicious smart-talking explosive robots. It is a grand 2000AD sub-genre and Tick Tock … is, largely due to the beautiful art, a fine entry.
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: 51 – GALACTIC GARBAGE
Script: Richard Burton
Art: Trevor Goring
Letters: Tony Jacob
Plot: Arthur Upshot operates as a salvage merchant in near earth orbit, collecting what little there is of value and ‘shooting’ waste off into space. He finds a unrecognisable probe lodged amongst his waste and, regarding it worthless, fires it away. Arthur is unaware that the probe was leading an advanced alien invasion fleet to earth – the probe was fed sufficient data for the aliens to locate earth and their fleet is fast on its tail.
Shock: The probe, and the following fleet, plunge into the sun, where Arthur has been disposing of all his worthless waste.
Thoughts: Hey, its famous editorial droid, and future Tharg, Richard Burton in his only credited script for 2000AD. While doubtless his re-write pencil featured heavy on many scripts over his long tenure at the Command Module this was the only time his name was to appear on a script. Galactic Garbage isn’t a bad effort however it does need some indulgence both logically and in terms of storytelling. The script has a strange device of showing that the Alien’s homeworld is notified of the fleet’s destruction before it occurs in the Shock, with the event , following the probe into the sun, being the shock reveal of the strip. In terms of storytelling it just about gets away with it, logically it is hard to believe an invasion fleet would ignore the technological signals coming from an inhabited planet and head into a sun. Had the strip had them warp into the probes position then that would have been a device to excuse it but there isn’t any sort of explanation; they simply ‘follow’ the probe blindly. The script also calls the aliens ‘very alien’ but they do seem to be wearing WWI gas-masks and Roman helmets so maybe the script’s description could have been a bit more ‘alien’. However it is well paced and the excellently titled ‘Arthur Upshot’ is nicely portrayed as frustrated and hard-done-by so he’s an unlikely saviour of earth. Trevor Goring again does a fantastic job on the art with beautiful space-craft and several wonderful close-ups of Arthur’s resigned facial features. The script certainly could have been tighter but Goring’s superior art places this firmly in the pantheon of excellent early Future Shocks.
Shock’d? The space fleet plunging into the sun is pretty obvious given we’ve been told the fleet is destroyed and we’ve seen Arthur fire off the probe so it’s not much of a shock but what mystery there is by the time the reader turns to the final single panel page is still nicely enough played. The sun is at least different to the fleet being eaten by a small dog.