My thanks to the numerous comic fans and members of the 2000ad fan community who assisted in researching this article.
Step with me through this two-part exploration of Alan Moore’s Future Shocks, encompassing key characteristics, techniques, allegations of plagiarism, and some wonderful sci-fi tropes established from the 1920’s on.
In part 1 we’ll define Alan Moore’s Future Shocks, examine the context in which he wrote the stories, identify the key themes that characterise this work, and discuss four key points in summary.
Future Shocks are short ‘twist in the tale’ science fiction stories, up to six pages in length, published in the British weekly anthology sci-fi comic 2000ad. Moore wrote thirty of these at the beginning of his career, coming out steadily over three years and three months from June 1980 onwards.
He also wrote numerous other short standalone 2000ad stories: Time Twisters; Ro-Jaws Robo-Tales; Aberlard Snazz adventures; miscellaneous one-offs like The Hyper-Historic Headbang (Prog 322 – 25th June, 1983 – 6 pages. Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Alan Davis ) and Hot Item (Prog 278, 21st August 1982 – 5 pages. Script: Alan Moore, Artist: John Higgins). But it’s the Future Shocks that concern us here. Looking at Moore’s work from this perspective uncovers some surprising truths.
A Holiday in Hell‘ (2000 AD Sci-Fi Special – 1st June 1980 – 5 pages – Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Dave Harwood) was not only Moore’s first Future Shock but also his first printed 2000ad story. Moore happily churned out twenty-nine more till his final Future Shock was printed on 3rd September 1983 (Look Before You Leap –Prog 332 – 2 pages – Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Mike White). ‘Final’, that is, unless there’s somehow time for more now he’s finished with Jerusalem? Let’s see what the snake god has in store.
A complete list of Moore’s Future Shocks:
- A Holiday in Hell 1 episode (2000 AD Sci-Fi Special 1980) 5 pages Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Dave Harwood
- Grawks Bearing Gifts 1 episode (Prog 203) 5 pages Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Ian Gibson
- The Return of the Two-Storey Brain 1 episode (Prog 209) 5 pages Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Mike White
- The English/Phlondrutian Phrasebook 1 episode (Prog 214) 6 pages Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Brendan McCarthy
- The Last Rumble of the Platinum Horde 1 episode (Prog 217) 5 pages Script: Alan Moore, Artist: John Higgins
- They Sweep the Spaceways 1 episode (Prog 219) 4 pages Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Garry Leach
- The Regrettable Ruse of Rocket Redglare 1 episode (Prog 234) 6 pages Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Mike White
- A Cautionary Fable 1 episode (Prog 240) 5 pages Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Paul Neary
- Mister, Could you Use a Squonge? 1 episode (Prog 242) 6 pages Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Ron Tiner
- Twist Ending 1 episode (Prog 246) 2 pages Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Paul Neary
- Salad Days 1 episode (Prog 247) 2 pages Script: Alan Moore, Artist: John Higgins
- The Beastly Beliefs of Benjamin Blint 1 episode (Prog 249) 2 pages Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Eric Bradbury
- All of Them Were Empty 1 episode (Prog 251) 2 pages Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Paul Neary
- An American Werewolf in Space 1 episode (Prog 252) 3 pages Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Paul Neary
- The Bounty Hunters 1 episode (Prog 253) 3 pages Script: Alan Moore, Artist: John Higgins
- The Wages of Sin 1 episode (Prog 257) 6 pages – Read Online Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Bryan Talbot, Letters: Tony Jacob
- Return of the Thing 1 episode (Prog 265) 2 pages Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Dave Gibbons
- Skirmish 1 episode (Prog 267) 2 pages Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Dave Gibbons
- The Writing on the Wall 1 episode (Prog 268) 2 pages Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Jesus Redondo
- The Wild Frontier 1 episode (Prog 269) 2 pages Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Dave Gibbons
- The Big Day 1 episode (Prog 270) 2 pages Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Robin Smith
- One Christmas During Eternity 1 episode (Prog 271) 2 pages Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Jesus Redondo
- No Picnic 1 episode (Prog 272) 2 pages Script: Alan Moore, Artist: John Higgins
- The Disturbed Digestions of Doctor Dibworthy 1 episode (Prog 273) 3 pages Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Dave Gibbons
- Sunburn 1 episode (Prog 282) 5 pages Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Jesus Redondo
- Bad Timing 1 episode (Prog 291) 3 pages Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Mike White
- Eureka 1 episode (Prog 325) 5 pages Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Mike White
- Dad 1 episode (Prog 329) 2 pages Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Alan Langford
- Buzz Off 1 episode (Prog 331) 2 pages Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Jim Eldridge
- Look Before You Leap 1 episode (Prog 332) 2 pages Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Mike White
Alan Moore at the dawn of the eighties
Moore wrote these stories during a resurgent period for science fiction. Star Wars mania reached a crescendo as The Empire Strikes Back premiered; Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica flickered across TV screens; The Hitch Hikers Guide to The Galaxy became a radio and paperback phenomenon; Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds sold millions as a symphonic concept album. And 2000ad was in its pomp. Every six weeks on average a new Moore story dropped – sharp or funny – and the sheer volume and dexterity of his work led to his reputation growing swiftly.
Moore started his artistic career participating in the Northampton Arts Lab, contributing poetry and illustrations to handmade publications Embryo and Fitz Rovel. He wrote a two-page essay about The Shadow for a fanzine called Seminar and contributed ‘underground’ strips to alternative local journals Anon, The Back Street Bugle. and Dark Star. He married in 1974 and, shortly before becoming a father in 1978, quit his job at a gas board subcontractor to try and make a living from cartooning and comic strips. He was no doubt delighted to sell a regular half-page strip to the national UK music paper Sounds in March 1979 (the wonderfully named Roscoe Moscow in “Who Killed Rock n’ Roll?”). Further work came his way in August as he began a six-year stint drawing and writing Maxwell the Magic Cat in the Northants Post. All these were created pseudonymously, not least so he could continue to collect unemployment benefit.
When Moore quit his job he’d also began writing and drawing various science fiction epics which never saw completion. His work as an underground cartoonist convinced him that he’d never be a fast enough artist to make a good living, so following the birth of his second child in 1980 he decided to concentrate on writing. With the help of his friend Steve Moore (no relation) he began submitting scripts to 2000ad, where sub-editor Alan Grant (who went on to prolifically write for 2000ad himself) spotted real talent. After several rejections and rewrites, Moore sold his first Future Shock. He was twenty-six years old.
Moore subsequently described his attitude to 2000ad on BBC Radio 4’s Chain Reaction (Series 1 episode 5 of 6, BBC Radio 4 June 21 2009):
Alan Moore’s Future Shocks – an overview
Before we discuss the specific themes of Moore’s Future Shocks, let’s establish a general framework:
- I read most of Moore’s Future Shocks in my youth, and re-read them all last week for the first time in decades. Most are collected in the inaccurately named The Complete Alan Moore Future Shocks, and one I located online. A few I’d forgotten or never seen, but most were as familiar as old friends. Overall, I was happy to find how well they still worked. I still have a great deal of affection for these stories, which formed a seminal part of my own discovery of sci-fi and comics.
- It’s exciting to find some of the key elements of Moore’s later work in these early strips. There’s a good deal of meta-fiction (The Regrettable Ruse of Rocket Redglare, The Wages of Sin) playing around with the history of pulp fiction; a character called Rorschach (Sunburn) ; a love of repetitive puns and dual meanings (Sunburn ); alliteration (The Disturbed Deliberations of Doctor Dibworthy, The Beastly Beliefs of Benjamin Blint. The Regrettable Ruse Rocket Redglare) there’s an ‘alien idea’ that ‘If all time is simultaneous and all events happen in a single instant, then time is but a figment of mind and...’ (Eureka) This latter concept runs through the core of Moore’s masterworks such as From Hell, Watchmen, and Jerusalem . Knowing a little about how a writer’s mind works, it’s no surprise to find it referenced early on. Comparing the line from Eureka with an interview with Moore from 2011 is illuminating (Interview with The Magus, 18th May 2011): “I remember during one of my earliest magical experiences, my very first one in fact, where I actually felt I was outside time, and I understood what it meant to say that all time was simultaneous, that it was all some fourth dimensional hyper moment that we were all suspended in, and that I’d been writing about this for years. I realised that I’d been writing about it in Watchmen, that I’d been writing about it in two or three Future Shocks for 2000ad, and yet I hadn’t realised. If time is as I think it is, a solid, that actually has no arrow, other than the arrow of the orientation of human consciousness, then it makes sense…So yes, time and space is an obsession…pictures are space, the words are time…so comics is a particularly useful medium for talking about these things, but back at the beginning it was an intuitive understanding rather than some grand plan.“
- The absence of female characters in these stories is striking, though that may say as much about 2000ad’s editorial guidelines than Alan Moore. 2000ad was an action-adventure comic aimed at boys, albeit one slowly morphing from its original conception, but that doesn’t explain why almost every single one of the key characters in these Future Shocks are male. Including the aliens. Women, on the rare occasions they do appear, are nagging or humorous wives, mates, or gullible ‘motherly types’. It was a different time, of course, but in a medium ostensibly open to original depictions of the future it’s somewhat depressing.
- Despite a smattering of fresh ideas, it’s surprising to see how little Moore’s Future Shocks gave us in the way of new science fiction concepts. Moore’s invention often lies in the imaginative and skilful execution of an idea, rather than the idea itself.If you consider the revolution in prose science fiction at this time it’s clear how lacking in true vision these short comics are. Moore’s subsequent work would suggest that’s a consequence of the parameters he was working within, trying to establish himself by fulfilling a brief, rather than the limits of his imagination. Indeed, he did much to push the boundaries of the Future Shock itself in new directions, if not sci-fi, right from his third offering which takes the format of an alien phrasebook (The English/Phlondrutian phrasebook -Prog 214 – 20th May 1981, 6 pages. Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Brendan McCarthy) Meanwhile, in the late seventies and early eighties, William Gibson, Rudy Rucker, John Shirley and others were creating s a new genre of science fiction and a language to describe the modern world – cyberpunk. It’s clear that at this point in Moore’s career the ground-breaking work occurred elsewhere.
Allegations of plagiarism
A few of the plots, themes and tonal elements in Moore’s Future Shocks are regurgitations of science fiction stories previously published by other writers. The Return of Two-Storey Brain (Prog 209 – 25th April 1981 – 5 pages. Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Mike White ), the only Aberlard Snazz story to run as a Future Shock, is taken from a sequence from the R.A. Lafferty novel Space Chantey. The Disturbed Digestions of Doctor Dibworthy (Prog 273 – 17th July, 1982 – 3 pages. Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Dave Gibbons) is lifted from Harlan Ellison’s novella By His Bootstraps. And Moore’s two-page A Second Chance (Prog 245 – 2nd January 1982 – 2 pages. Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Jose Casanovas ) is startlingly parallel in almost every respect to the two-page strip The Day After Doomsday, written by Len Wein with art by Jack Sparling, which ran in DC Comics ‘The House of Secrets’ #86 June/July 1970.
Both stories concern the last two people left alive on a post-apocalyptic Earth, tasked with restarting the human race, with the gag being the guy’s called Adam and the girl’s called ‘Mavis’ in Moore’s version, and ‘Gertrude’ in Wein’s. Beyond that, the correlations between the length, visuals, and sequential rhythm of both stories goes far beyond the coincidental:
In the case of The Return of The Two-Storey Brain Moore publicly confessed to inadvertent plagiarism and asked that it never be reprinted. He discusses this in The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore by George Khoury
“I was rereading an anthology of R.A. Lafferty stories and suddenly realised to my horror that I’d swiped the whole idea…. I mean, I’ve got a very good memory. And I retain no end of stuff. Almost every story I’ve ever read or written is somewhere in the soup at the back of my head. That’s the only example I can think of immediately; there might be others…I’ve got to do it quick, the idea came to me, I banged it out, and it was published….these things happen. It’s only if they happen a lot you have to worry.”
This inadvertent plagiarism Moore describes is a credible phenomenon. What’s less credible is the inability of someone with ‘a very good memory’ to spot the other ‘swiped’ stories and give appropriate credit. Not just in the Future Shock’s but also the similarities between D.R. and Quinch (D.R and Quinch Have Fun on Earth – 1 episode – Prog 317 – 21st MAy 1983 6 pages – Script: Alan Moore – Artist: Alan Davies) and National Lampoons O.C. and Stiggs, and between The Reversible Man (Prog 308 – 19th March 1983 – 4 pages. Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Mike White) and Mr F. is Mr F. by J.G. Ballard (Science Fantasy, August 1961, Volume 16, Number 48). Though of course in the latter case the idea of a man living his life backwards was already well established in stories like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F.Scott Fitzgerald, published in 1922.
The young Alan Moore could have had no reason to suspect that these ‘throwaway’ short comics would still be in print more than thirty years later, being picked over by enthusiasts. Stories he’d read, whether internalised and inadvertently plagiarised or not, may have seemed fair game for repurposing in order to make some much-needed cash selling short strips to a weekly boy’s comic. People paid less attention to this kind of thing in a pre-internet age, when the links between intellectual property were less obvious and ‘disposable’ pulp fiction was less venerated. Without Google, what you retained in your mind was what you knew.
Moore is famously well-read on subjects like magic, Fortean phenomena, space-time theory, and pulp fiction. It’s reasonable to imagine him using all that knowledge to come up with ideas, original to him, which other people had previously created independently. The nature of the brief – ‘tell me a twist-in-the-tale sci-fi story in less than six pages’ – inspires a certain structural and conceptual conformity. Repetition would be remarkable by its absence.
Taking an idea and developing it in an original direction is a legitimate means of artistic expression, as long as you’re clear about your process and give credit where it’s due. But that’s somewhat different to taking other people’s stories and rewriting them as your own, without acknowledging the original author. ‘There might be others.’ Indeed, there are. Disappointing.
Key Characteristics of Alan Moore’s Future Shocks
The pervading theme throughout all Alan Moore’s Future Shocks is a warm embrace for the science fiction media he’d consumed thus far. Readers recognised this, subconsciously or otherwise, and warmed to Moore’s imaginative reinterpretations of science fiction history. There’s a cosy, humorous feel to many of these stories, many of which would have worked just as well in the fifties or sixties, which allows Moore to subvert established plot conventions and knowingly allude to their artificiality.
By affectionately satirising the science fiction stories of previous decades Moore allows us to enjoy them all over again. This shared celebration of sci-fi’s tropes and conventions, warts and all, explains why some of these stories resonate so warmly.
Flash Gordon (1934) was devised as an answer to Buck Rogers (1929) – and Dan Dare (1950) was a riposte to both strips (espousing British, Christian values designed to educate and excite boys about science and wholesome living). These strips share many common qualities, not just in their stories , villains, and settings but also the square-jawed appearance of their handsome caucasian male protagonists. Moore’s deconstruction of this ‘Buck Rogers’ archetype in The Regretable Ruse of Rocket Redglare reflects not just the comics, but its manifestation in other media such as the bombastic alliteration (“Steel-eyed Sentinel of the Spaceways”) that defined the Buck Rogers radio show. By using nostalgia, retro-futurism, meta-fiction, and surreal humour Moore affectionately satirises the plot conventions and iconic meaning of these characters in a way that allows us to simultaneously enjoy their original qualities.
Moore contrasts the quotidian reality of Rocket Redglare’s fanciful existence with his fictional legend. The readers are in on the gag, a knowing accomplice to the cheerfully exciting ludicrousness of the characters and their relationships, which are driven by the necessity of sci-fi plot convention. The strip plays nostalgic tribute to the youthful Rocket Redglare, thirty years ago in diegetic time, in much the same way readers are nostalgic for the simple certainties of their youthful heroes. The characters themselves are aware of their responsibilities as fictional characters, often depicted like actors playing a role, until the story is simply resolved by the double-cross of the arch-villain actually being an arch-villain all along. Well, of course he is.
Like Watchmen, The Regrettable Ruse of Rocket Redglare is a story celebrating the history of genre fiction – but the parallels go beyond that. Both stories are heavily infused with nostalgia, and utilise a good deal of retro-futuristic sci-fi technology. They feature overweight, aging male protagonists with problems satisfying a woman. The world no longer celebrates them as heroes, kids no longer know who they are, but without them the world is in peril. The villain is a close colleague or friend, and the hero comes out of retirement to deal with them.
Both stories showcase a glamorous faded beauty in a leading role. Beneath the sexy and exotic façade is an earthy, working class, materialistic woman. She’s nostalgic for her younger days, proud of her youthful allure and the opportunities it brought, bur emotionally insensitive to the needs of her family.
The Wages of Sin is similarly reliant on the contrast between reality and fiction for its very funny gags. It celebrates the conventions of arch-villainy throughout science-fiction, horror, and fantasy media by using parody, irony and characters who break the fourth wall. Chief among these is Tharg himself, the alien editor of 2000ad, who bookends the story by inviting readers to apply to ‘famous villains school’. In doing this he refers to other comic-book stories (They Sweep the Spaceways, Judge Dredd, and Dan Dare) from 2000ad and The Eagle, and invites readers to cut out a form printed at the end of the story and send it to a fictional location.
This technique is used in a number of Moore’s Future Shocks, and in numerous other 2000ad stories. Indeed the meta-fictional connotations of Tharg, a Quaxxan alien bringing science fiction stories to Earth, are fundamental to the fabric of 2000ad itself. He appeared on the very first cover, and in the 1977 advert for the comic, has introduced the comic in almost every issue since, and answers reader’s letters. Forty years on, in prog 2000, he walked ‘between’ each story in single-page strips and revealed they were all fictional realities, events happening elsewhere in the multi-universe, which he was magnanimously letting readers witness.
They Sweep The Spaceways utilises the same techniques at The Wages of Sin, an explicit prequel of sorts. In Mister can you use a Squonge Tharg appears in the final panel to sum the story up, though that’s more to explain away a weak ending than make meta-fictional points. Tharg plays the narrator in A Cautionary Fable to similarly straightforward effect. Even in Eureka, an interesting science-fiction storied played straight, Moore undermines his carefully constructed reality (futuristic explorers meeting aliens who are merely ideas) with a meta-fictional full stop. In the final panel a balloon with an alien ‘idea’ in it is obscured by a ‘censored’ caption box. Tharg appears and warns readers that the Future Shock is too dangerous to continue. When you’re looking for a final narrative twist, breaking the fourth wall is a useful option.
Moore uses the same strategy without Tharg in Return of The Thing in which a housewife turns to the readers in the final panel and addresses them directly, under the pretext that they’re also housewives and the entire strip’s been an advert for a futuristic pressure cooker. It’s an underwhelming finale, providing little more than a weak laugh and a full-stop.
In Bad Timing (Prog 291 – 20th November 1982 – 3.5 pages. Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Mike White) Moore gives us R-Thur, a desperate scientist on the dying planet Klaxon, firing his “blue-haired son” into space only to witness Klaxon not explode and the escape rocket trigger World War 3 on Earth. It’s cheerfully silly stuff, played entirely for laughs, and less affectionate in tone than Rocket Redglare. Perhaps that’s why it’s less well remembered today, notable chiefly as Moore’s first unofficial story within the Superman mythos.
Moore’s Future Shock concepts are steeped in the iconography of the past, whether it be the Mongol Empire inspired Platinum Horde (The Last Rumble of the Platinum Horde), the Buck Rogers inspired rockets, armadas and ‘golden haired guardian of the galaxy’ from The Regrettable Ruse of Rocket Redglare) or the Lone Ranger cowboy imagery of The Wild Frontier (notable also for being one of Moore’s earliest stories to blend genres). Fifties-style flying saucers descend in ‘Return of The Thing‘, ‘Salad Days‘, and ‘A Cautionary Fable‘, something that seemed incredibly dated and old fashioned when I first read those stories as a youth. I bought 2000ad to see the future and was impatient and dismissive of fifties iconography. Now, it seems rather charming.
Unlike V for Vendetta, or Watchmen, there’s little to reflect the times in Moore’s Future Shocks. They are amusing escapism , simultaneously subverting and celebrating sci-fi tropes and characters established in comics, prose, and cinema from the late twenties onwards. The only clue these stories were written at the dawn of the eighties comes from a couple of throwaway lines (“Is it going to burst out of Milton like in that Alien movie” from Mister, Could you Use a Squonge) and “some of my older readers are finding difficulty finding suitable employment” in They Sweep The Spaceways.) and a few of the eighties film inspired titles and concepts (see Horror and Sci-fi Films).
Moore’s most common approach is to explore a science fiction idea from a humorous or silly, angle; to build it up as serious and undercut it with an amusing dose of quotidian working-class reality. I don’t mean ‘silly’ in a pejorative sense, more in the Monty Python tradition of fooling around with surreal humour. You can almost hear seventies-era John Cleese playing some of the characters in these stories. They’re genuinely funny.
They Sweep the Spaceways and The Wages of Sin are the best examples of this, two of Moore’s funniest Future Shocks. A lot of his more wacky ideas stem from Moore’s origins as an ‘underground’ cartoonist, with surreal visuals like giant hands descending from an alien ship to destroy a spacecraft with a mighty clap – the kind of gag more commonly found in Mad Magazine.
Part of this surreal mood is expressed through ridiculous names: “Invasion of the Death Gerbils”; “Lamont Cosgroose” (Twist Ending) “Rorschach Skubbs”; “Clabezius Toglu” (Sunburn) or from alliteration: “The Regretable Ruse of Rocket Redglare”; “The Disturbed Digestions of Doctor Dibworthy“; “Pistol Packing Polypoid” (The Wild Frontier).
There’s an unmistakable air of British sketch comedy about the framework for a lot of Moore’s Future Shocks. Moore’s wordplay, repetitive puns, character choices, and settings evoke The Two Ronnies, and his surreal humour and mocking of authority figures is Pythonesque. The social scope of his cast and settings are surprisingly narrow, especially if we interpret some of the aliens as thinly veiled contemporary references (Grawks from Grawks Bearing Gifts are Australian tourists – Phlondrutians from The English/Phlondrutian phrasebook are simply ‘untrustworthy foreigners’). Moore gives us blustering majors, sly politicians, eccentric scientists and writers, well-meaning but incompetent husbands, conniving, bored, or silly wives (sometimes in rollers and dressing gowns) unemployed men, rotund and glutinous schoolchildren, hi-jinks with the British consul, Benidorm, warmongering Asians, Arabs, and cartoon cowboys – an overwhelmingly white and male selection. It’s far from progressive, and sounds remarkably like the cast of any number of British comedy sketch shows from the sixties onward.
Holidays and Recreation
There are a striking number of holidays in Alan Moore’s Future Shocks. Perhaps this is merely a reflection of his light approach to the material, a fun thing for people to do in a sci-fi future. Or perhaps it reflects the old-fashioned view that technology would lead to a life of leisure for humankind. That idea had largely died by the eighties, of course, but Moore is principally homaging science fiction ideas from previous decades. From a practical angle, a Future Shock tends to end in mental or physical destruction, disaster, and death – so starting with a fun, happy set-up provides an effective narrative arc.
This trend began in his first published tale, A Holiday in Hell, in which a man travels to ‘Murderworld’ to recreationally kill robots only to find that a robot replaces his wife and murders him back on Earth. The theme continues through Grawks Bearing Gifts, The English Phlondrutian Phrasebook, Christmas in Eternity, No Picnic, and Sunburn – all centred around sci-fi holidays on near-future Earth, Phlondrutia, Earth in 2596AD, future Easter Island, and the Sun respectively. Even Buzz Off focuses on ‘where flies go in winter’. Needless to say, whichever company organised these calamitous trips is probably now out of business.
If aliens aren’t on holiday they’re trying to invade. This happens surreptitiously in Eureka (contagious ideas transmitted through speech), Grawks Bearing Gifts (‘Australian’ aliens culturally subjugate Earth via tourism) and Mister Could You use a Squonge (abandoned aliens grant super intelligence to whoever ‘wears’ them, driving humans mad). It also happened overtly in the likes of The Regrettable Ruse of Rocket Redglare (in which an arch villain double-crosses our hero and invades earth after bearing a grudge for thirty years) , The Last Rumble of The Platinum Horde (a marauding space army don’t realise space is circular till they loop round and destroy their own homeworld) , Salad Days (Alien vegetables want to eat humans) and Skirmish (an alien armada accidentally warps into a Space Invaders machine and is destroyed by gormless youths). If they’re not invading, aliens are trying to kill us in Look Before You Leap (a hunter is trapped by an alien using the same trick he uses to catch his own prey) or The Bounty Hunters (aliens searching for a shapeshifter are witlessly eaten by their own ship). This latter story posits the idea that the shapeshifter could be the very planet they’re standing on, an idea Moore used later in a Tales of the Green Lantern Corps story “Mogo Doesn’t Socialise”.
Post Apocalyptic Futures
The idea that humanity was soon to be decimated in a nuclear exchange with the USSR held a powerful sway over the eighties – an idea that informed both V for Vendetta and Watchmen. It’s a recurrent, though not major, theme in Moore’s Future Shocks. In All of Them Were Empty we’re given a world in which sentient cars have made humans their slaves, manning the petrol pumps. It’s a flimsy premise, the twist being that you don’t realise what’s happened till the final panel.
In A Second Chance Moore powerfully portrays the horrors of a post nuclear wasteland before executing his climactic gag, and in a number of stories man’s urgent need to colonise the stars (see Terraforming) is portrayed as a given.
Sunrise, Dad, Eureka, Bad timing, The Big Day, Return of The Thing, and An American Werewolf in Space, all reflect the view that man will need at some point to colonise distant planets or moons – even the sun. This latter idea is one of Moore’s most memorable science fiction concepts , what he calls a ‘list story’ where he runs through a number of ideas arising from the central conceit of living on the Sun. Perhaps because of this, the plot is simply a husband who murders his wife running across the holiday resort before being roasted alive.
The future dwellings Moore gives us are often disappointingly familiar: cosy suburban interpretations of home complete with wallpaper and pots of tea (The Wages of Sin), or 2001: A space Odyssey style minimalist space-craft or moonbases (Dad, An American Werewolf in Space, Eureka).
Horror and Sci-fi films
Flash Gordon was released in the cinema with enormous fanfare and a bombastic Queen title song in December nineteen eighty, and the publicity building up to that may well have inspired Moore to dissect that kind of heroic archetype in The Regrettable Ruse of Rocket Redglare. An American Werewolg in London was released in November 1981 and, judging by the title, that probably inspired Moore to write his own story about werewolves in An American Werewolf in Space. John Carpenter’s The Thing was released in August 1982, which may have sparked an idea which turned into The Return of The Thing
Additionally, Dad has a very 2001: A Space Odyssey feel about the technology and the murderously paternal computer, and The Wages of Sin pays wonderful tribute to the villains of sci-fi and horror in its language, iconography, andcharacters (see Meta-Fiction).
For decades our fascination with space came from humanity knowing so little about it. This led to the projection of all kinds of fantasies and fears: What kind of wonders lie on Mars? What horror lurks beneath the clouds of Venus? Will we traverse the galaxies to seed life on other planets? As man answered these questions within relatively dull parameters the interest in space exploration withered, even as science proved the true nature of the universe ever stranger. Moore doesn’t engage in any serious thought on these issues, preferring to adopt the same simple ‘fantasy’ approach to concepts like interstellar travel seen in other sci-fi. The trope is that space is simply air, or the ocean, by another name, through which man sails or flies, navigating much as oceanic explorers did. This is evinced by the space ship, longitude and latitude of Eureka (Prog 325 – 13th July 1983 – 5 pages. Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Mike White.) “Our cruising speed was .005c approaching grid reference lat. 103.91 degrees long. 85,42 degrees axis 31.98 degrees with a displacement factor of oh four”. The ship even has a “dorsal stabilizer” the crew needs to fix, as if water or air were flowing over it.
The Hermes from An American Werewolf in Space looks like a cross between a navy warship and a yacht, and the voyage undertaken evokes the Pilgrim Fathers sailing for America: “2000 people…setting off to find a new home among the stars. They were headed for Altair, thousands of light years distant. It was going to be a long, long, journey. Nobody would be coming back.”
The Platinum Horde sail from planet to planet to “Kill! Burn! Pillage!” much as Viking’s travailed the ocean laying waste to whatever settlements they found. But as they blast through space they encounter incongruous signs saying “Horizon: 8 Billion parsecs” as if this were a road trip.
One of the reasons these modes of transport are so conceptually dull is because it’s merely shorthand. The point of these stories isn’t space travel, or space ships, so Moore uses familiar tropes to establish a setting quickly and then moves on to more ‘important’ narrative elements. This is common to many Future Shocks, where limited page counts give little room for manoeuvre and invite the use of familiar tropes and archetypes to establish background elements.
Science is notable by its absence from Moore’s Future Shocks. Rather he uses these stories to express imaginative ideas (Sunburn, Eureka), stirring human emotions (Dad, One Xmas During Eternity) and gags (Bad Timing, The Wild Frontier, The Writing’s on The Wall, Skirmish, The Return of The Thing, The Bounty Hunters, An American Werewolf in Space, Twist Ending, A Second Chance, A Cautionary Fable, The Regrettable Ruse of Rocket Redglare, They Sweep The Spaceways, The English Phlondrutian Phrasebook, Grawks Bearing Gifts).
One of the more otherworldly conceptual ideas Moore writes about is aliens as ‘ideas’ that breed through word of mouth. He successfully makes this rather dry concept feel real, insidious, and emotionally resonant in Eureka (Prog 325 – 13th July 1983 – 5 pages. Script: Alan Moore, Artist: Mike White.) We’ll discuss how in part 2, which will examine Moore’s storytelling technique, but for now let’s simply observe that this ability to make the genuinely outlandish feel tangibly real is key to the success of these Shocks, even when it’s simply the set up for a gag.
The two-page Future Shock A Second Chance relies on a very weak joke that never worked for me the first time round let alone on repeat reading, namely that the last two people on Earth are called “Adam and…Mavis.” But the set up is well served by captions that treat the scenario of nuclear apocalypse as terrifyingly real.
“The bombs fell, the mushrooms rose…and soon where once the proud spires of civilisation had reared against the sky there was nothing, nothing but ruin and desolation…nothing but dust.”
The Big Day uses similar prose descriptions to establish a realistic and credible world, before descending to the absurd (the pillar is part of the ladder Neil Armstrong uses to land on the moon. He crushes the protagonist’s tiny world beneath his boot).
“The planetoid is small and airless, although to the folk who live there it is as big a place as any other… The pillar is vast, rearing up into the star-strewn firmament, it’s top too high to be seen.“
No Picnic begins with the same credible tone, but the twist is one of Moore’s weakest (The stone heads on Easter Island are caused by families burying dads up to their neck in sand before forgetting about them).
“On Easter Island the enigmatic stone heads observe a silence that is centuries deep…”
In his 2011 interview with Dr Chris Murray (Interview with The Magus, Studies in Comics, Volume 2 no 1.) Moore says this about realism.
“If you are going to do work which is taking frankly diabolical liberties with ‘reality’ in some way or another then I think it’s probably best to make it credible, at least on an emotional level so it feels true, even if it is something utterly fantastic. I use realism and absurdity in combination.”
This early-learned skill at establishing credible realities and characters in a few broad brush strokes is key to Alan Moore’s subsequent success, especially where a credible and emotionally resonant tone is sustained.
In Part 2 we’ll look at how Moore was telling his stories, rather than what he was telling them about. We’ll explore the storytelling techniques he was using, good or ill. And we’ll examine how the themes and knowledge gained creating these Future Shocks informed Alan Moore’s later work and collaborations with so many diverse artists.