British science fiction weekly 2000 AD has long been a comics talent incubator, and a likely answer to the question, Hey, how come all the best comics writers seem to be British all of a sudden?, when it first started getting asked in the mid-to-late-eighties (You know, back when DC was buying British writers in bulk).
These young, barely-bearded Alan Moore and still-coifed Grant Morrison types were exposed not only to American superheroes, but also to occasionally quite edgy science fiction and fantasy via 2000 AD, and many of these writers spent time honing their craft beneath the stern hand of The Mighty Tharg, the magazine’s Betelgeusian alien editor.
It’s an aspect of the magazine’s history that’s played up in The Best of Tharg’s Future Shocks (Rebellion); in fact, it’s sort of the organizing principle of the collection.
“Future Shocks” are, as Tharg himself explains in the introduction, “scary, snappy tales with a twist ending.” Michael Molcher, who provides another of the several text introductions that split up sections of the book, calls it “a self-contained story with a sting in its tail,” and he and the others play up the one-to-five-page format as a proving ground, a sort of rite of passage that separates real writers from the rest of the pack.
Given the fact that most of the people whose names get bandied about when fans talk about who the greatest comic book writer might be all did their share of “Future Shocks,” well, it’s hard to argue with results.
Rebellion has previously published The Complete Alan Moore Future Shocks in 2006, and this volume contains shocks scrpited by Grant Morrison, Peter Milligan, John Smith (whose few American credits include Vertigo’s Hellblazer and The Scarab and some Harris title), and four by some kid named Neil Gaiman, who only contributed the four Future Shocks before going on to…hey, whatever did become of this Gaiman character? He sure showed a lot of promise…
While these may be among our best writers, these aren’t necessarily their best stories. The very nature of the story—a sort of super-compressed old-school EC horror comic, with a sci-fi veneer—dictates the stories will tend toward the pat and the clever, so finding a Seaguy or Sandman in here probably isn’t a realistic expectation.
What you do find are hints, clues and promises of the stories to come from these genetlemen; Gaiman’s distinct voice in his narration, Morrison’s celebrate/ridicule relationship with the nature of action heroes, Milligan’s dark humor and sense of the grotesque, and so on.
Read in 2008, the stories can be enjoyed as much (if not much more so) from the perspective of a reader who knows the writers better than the characters, plots or contexts; think of them as rough, rough drafts for the overture of these writers’ overall comics careers.
The historical perspective doesn’t apply simply to the careers of the writers (and, in a few cases, the more famous of the artists), however; it’s also always of interest to see the past’s vision of the future, which is now, of course, our own past.
2000 AD launched in 1977, and the stories within this volume begin in 1981, back when the title of the magazine referred to a date a generation in the future, rather than a decade in the past.
Most of the stories within come from Milligan and Morrison, followed by a slightly smaller amount of material from Smith, and the handful of Gaiman tales. Milligan and Smith both provide text introductions to their sections, and the black and white art comes courtesy of Barry Kitson, Steve Dillon, Brendan McCarthy, Steve Yeowell, Brett Ewins, Will Simpson and about 20 others. For some of the more famous names on the list, like Dillon and Kitson, you can similarly see how these stories are sorts of warm-ups for what would later follow, as their now-familiar styles are emerging but not quite crystallized in the works within.