Review: All-Star Future ShocksA comic review article by: Jason Sacks
It's always a lot of fun to read early work by creators who have gone on to do amazing work. I've long been intrigued by the dozens of short anthology stories that my favorite comics writer, Alan Moore, wrote for 2000 A.D. These stories may not be the most compelling or brilliant things that More ever wrote, but it's fascinating to see the ideas that he was playing with in his younger days in the twist-in-the-tail "Future Shocks" stories.
Moore's "Future Shocks" stories have been in print for a long time; now 2000 AD have released a new anthology book featuring "Future Shocks" by a slew of other beloved British creators.
Aptly labeled as "All-Star" Future Shocks, this book generously includes an eye-popping 50 short stories by such comics luminaries as Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Alan Davis, Mark Millar, Brian Bolland, Frazer Irving, and a slew of other creators. Most if not all of these stories have been reprinted in previous collections of "Future Shocks" stories, but this is a nice collection of pretty good early work by a whole bunch of great British Invasion creators.
The thing is, none of these stories are exactly great. Pretty much by definition, these short tales were created by these writers and artists during the early days of their careers, in a length ranging mostly from 3 to 5 pages each, so each story is much more motivated by the need to tell an entertaining little story with a clever twist ending than to explore innovative storytelling concepts or explore character. The creators were learning their craft with these stories, so there are moments that seem awkward and occasionally unpolished in these stories
But even with those flaws, there are all kinds of Easter eggs in this book for us longtime comics fans. The 13 stories in this book written by Grant Morrison include two, "The Invisible Etchings of Salvador Dali" and "Fair Exchange", that pivot around the world of art and seem to presage his concepts of the Brotherhood of Dada and the Painting that Ate Paris in his Doom Patrol. Another story, "Return to Sender", draws Morrison into a story about a letter that spans the multiverse and triggers intergalactic wars. Yeah, the story is pretty dorky, but it's easy to see Morrison playing with another idea that he would famously explore just a few years later. Meanwhile, Morrison's "Big Trouble for Blast Barclay" is a clever take on the postmodern deconstruction of action heroes that Morrison himself engaged in during the 1980s and '90s.
Neil Gaiman only wrote four stories for 2000 AD, but all four are reprinted in this book – meaning that All-Star Future Shocks is a must-have for any Gaiman Maniac who doesn't already have these stories. Gaiman's six-pager "I'm a Believer", is a clever piece about belief and how that belief can overcome technology. "What's In a Name", another six-page strip by Gaiman, is a clever piece about writers using aliases (and maybe can be read as a bit of a tease for Alan Moore, Gaiman's mentor). Neil's "You're Never Alone with a Phone" ponders a world of sentient smartphones and feels ahead of its time a bit, while his two-page short-short, "Conversation Piece" is just a mere trifle of a story.
The extremely prolific Peter Milligan is well-represented in this book as well, with ten short stories that range from one to five pages. We're all used to Milligan telling surreal and sometimes existentially challenging stories, and some of his stories ("Nerves of Steel", about a war fought by robots; or "Car Wars", about sentient cars that have romances with their owners) are about body image and managing the futility of one's existence. Others are rote stories that generally entertain just fine.
Along with some wonderfully written stories we get quite a few with beautiful art. For my money, the loveliest story in the book is Frazer Irving's "The Last Supper" (written by Steve Moore), an absolutely gorgeous use of black and white with fascinating shading and a wonderful sense of humor.
The editors unfortunately only give us one story illustrated by Irving, as well as one piece each by the incomparable Brian Bolland and the always-slick Alan Davis. Bolland's story is only three pages, but his depictions of tortured people are gorgeous – several scenes look like they come right from his Camelot 3000 series of the same era – while Davis's story feels like a lost refugee from the best '80s DC horror anthology comics. It's a real treat.
Obviously a book like this is going to be basically the definition of a mixed bag. Some of the stories are crap and some of the art and storytelling is really rather terrible. But if you're a fan of Morrison, Gaiman, Kevin O'Neill, Alan Grant, Glenn Fabry or most any creator who worked for 2000 AD, there will be at least a few stories in All-Star Future Shocks that you'll enjoy. For me, this book was like a big bag of M&M's. The 50 quick little stories in this book gave me a nice bit of flavor but never made me feel filled up.