Thursday, February 14, 2019

No. 128 Chris Lowder aka Jack Adrian

First Prog: 34
Final Prog: 374

Total appearances: 70
-including strips in StarLord, but not his prolific output for Eagle or any other IPC comics.
NB He's mostly credited as Jack Adrian, but he used his own name a few times, not to mention a handful of bizarre, typically one-off pseudonyms.

Creator credits:

Lowder in a nutshell - time travel antics meet a gruff response.
Art by Ian Kennedy

Other writing credits:
Dan Dare
Judge Dredd
Future Shocks and Time Twisters

Notable character creations:
See, I want to write down the main guy from TimeQuake here, but I can't quite remember his name... Jack Blocker, perhaps?
More notable, for sure, was his idea to fill up a Judge Dredd story with copyright-bearing characters used in advertising, most famously the Jolly Green Giant.

Lowder himself says this story was derived from 'the Island of Dr Moreau' -
crazy creatures brought to life that then run amuck. It's a great hook for a 2000AD story!
Art by Brian Bolland

Notable characteristics:
Plot twists, especially involving time travel, people being selfish, stupid, mean or even all three.

Here's two counts of stupid plus one count of mean (not to say evil!).
Art by Jesus Redondo

On Chris:
In the early days, Lowder (rhymes with soda, not with powder) was something of a go-to man for Tharg. A dependable scripter for most of the series than ran in the early years, plugging schedule gaps on Invasion, MACH 1 and even Dreddwith relative ease, although not necessarily making a big splash. By 1978, he was near the top of Tharg's 'on-call' list - he's one of the few droids credited with three strips in a single Prog!*

I'm old enough to remember when the idea of a Channel Tunnel was the peak of sci-fi nonsense
Art by Ian Kennedy
Perhaps Lowder's true ticket were his early contributions to Future Shocks. It's not the easiest format to master, and frankly some of the earliest efforts a a bit shonky. But Lowder's were decent, especially under the pens of Carlos Ezquerra and Brian Bolland. In fact, there's something to be said for Lowder as exemplifying the comics truism that great art cannot save a poor script, but great art can make a decent script come to life. Lowder's work is reliably decent.

This Future Shock hews rather closely to the first ever episode of the Twilight Zone,
but it's pulled off with enough visual aplomb to give it a pass.
Art by Brian Bolland

Lowder turns straight to the military option (the more to show its limitations, natch)
Art by Frisano

Lowder's first 2000AD foray into time travel fun times!
Art by Frisano

Lowder seems to suit a certain kind of protagonist, typically someone who's looking to gain something for themselves, and generally is not heroically single-minded as your Savages, Probes or Dredds.

In theory, that would make him a poor fit for Dan Dare, a heroic hero if ever there was one. Except, this era of Dan Dare is quite the strange beast. Deep into the 'Lost Worlds' section when Lowder took over the scripting reins, Dare and his crew are exploring strange, new worlds, and invariably falling foul of evil monsters (not to mention evil crew members), often ending in genocide and murder. (If you want a flavour of these strips without actually reading them, I point readers to early episodes of Space Spinner 2000, who expressed great glee for this run of Dan Dare!).

Attack of the giant tentacle monster!
Art by Dave Gibbons

Attack of the secret worm monster!
Art by Dave Gibbons

The point is, Lowder is not so interested in exploring Dan Dare's character or general mission (inasmuch as there was a mission). Instead, he wants to give young readers the good stuff: shapeshifting worm creatures, death planets aplenty, and people going space-crazy. It's good, unclean fun, and probably exactly the sort of thing that really soured any readers who had grown up with original Eagle-era Dan Dare. I hadn't, and this era is my favourite Dan Dare for sure.

Uncomplicated shooting action... in space!
Art by Dave Gibbons

Art by Dave Gibbons

I'm a sucker for villains who turn into giant killer worms.
Art by Dave Gibbons

Meanwhile, Lowder finally got to deliver his own series, beginning in the pages of StarLord. It's time-travelling coppers in TimeQuake! Again, it's not so much about the characters as it is about the plots. We meet a somewhat generic 2000ADish 'hero' from 1970s Britain who is trigger happy, a bit selfish, and generally grumpy, who finds himself kidnapped by the Time Police to help them capture a time-travelling crimelord from the same era. 

Blocker is pretty much the archetypal 2000AD protagonist:
quick with his fists, hot tempered, and will not take orders!
Art by Ian Kennedy

Cue lots of 'what the hell's going on' type dialogue, and something of a romp across the more fun bits of world history, especially Aztecs and Nazis, because that's what you do in time travel stories.

What?! A traitor - what an unexpected twist.
Art by Magellanes Salinas
Lowder ladles on this sort of stuff, with an added measure of 'ooh, which one of the 'goodies' is going to betray them / turn out to be a baddie'. More fun than that were the sequences dealing with 'all this mucking about in time is wrecking the entire space-time continuum' stuff, complete with 'am I in danger of erasing my own existence' shenanigans. To some extent it's cliché territory, but to a greater extent this was all quite new at the time (well, I imagine it was to most readers?), and it's handled clearly.

Gotta love those paradoxes
Art by John Cooper

For my money, that first StarLord series of TimeQuake went on a few episodes too long, while the second series, this time in 2000AD proper, was somehow too short. Tharg could have brought it back for more, but I guess never quite found the room for it.

By the time of the second TimeQuake outing, Blocker had evolved into the other archetypal 2000AD protagonist:
completely blasé about all the craziness going on around him.

Lowder was kept busy instead on Ro-Busters, writing a couple of longish stories that ran in the second half of StarLord. He very much wrote 'sarcastic robots doing rescue mission work' stories, which are fine, but they haven't stood the test of time given that Pat Mills took the story back for 2000AD, and essentially ditched any and all 'rescue mission' antics in favour of telling stories leading up to / about class war / robot rebellion against human masters. It maybe doesn't help that these are examples of decent scripts let down by mediocre art.

Lowder's Ro-Jaws gets in the action much more than he usually does.
Art by Jose Ferrer

Art by Carlos Pino

Lowder poking fun at editor Kelvin Gosnell
Art by Carlos Pino

To be honest, all of this is a mere prologue for Lowder's lasting impact on 2000AD, namely his many Time Twisters. A self-confessed fan of time travel fiction, he apparently pestered Steve MacManus enough until he was given free reign to write Future Shocks with a time travel theme that got their own series moniker.

More Lowder aliens having a lark. This one's neither a Future Shock, nor a Time Twister,
but very much falls into both camps.
Art by John Higgins

Yes, Alan Moore is the celebrated author of micro-epics including The Reversible Man, and Chronocops, but Lowder put in the hard graft writing nearly twice as many as anyone else. In the process, he left no classic time travel paradox unexplored! Frankly, if you want a primer in the fundamentals of what unintended consequences time travel could wreak, you may as well read a collection of Chris Lowder's Time Twisters**. The perils / impossibilities of inventing time travel. Accidentally littering history with its own greatest monsters. Discovering that no one actually wrote Shakespeare's plays. The reality that even time-crime doesn't pay.

Sometimes, people just blunder into trouble

This one's a time travel cracker: how do you escape your destiny?
Art by Mike Dorey

The Shakespeare conundrum even made the front cover!
Art by Eric Bradbury

With Lowder, there's nearly always the added bonus of horrible people being horrible to each other, the scheme that goes wrong because of human nature, and human ineptitude winning the day. And, of course, a general undercurrent of comedy. Lowder's basic writing style is exactly in keeping with 2000AD – big, simple ideas, told with mean-spirited people, spiced with violence and humour. Not his fault he was being printed alongside peak Wagner, Grant and Mills, who took the same ingredients to new heights!
Who killed who? It's time travel 101
Art by Carlos Ezquerra

For now, that's where Lowder's 2000AD story ends, set quietly to one side along with other esteemed 'first wave' writers such as Tom Tully, Alan Hebden and Gerry Finley-Day. I believe he continued writing Eagle strips, but unless he has a time travel scheme that'll see a new script emerge one day from the past, those Time Twisters will remain his great legacy.

More on Chris Lowder:
He's on the Thrillcast!
Otherwise there's his profile on GoodReads I guess

Art by Jesus Redondo

Personal favourites:
Dan Dare: Doppelganger; Garden of Eden
Future Shocks: Fangs, What hit Tunguska?
Time Twisters: This is Your Death; the Perfect Crime; the Impossible Murders; Running out of Time; the Contract

OK, it took two episodes and a hell of a lot of 'we caused disaster x' jokes along the way,
but this pun is SO forced it's kinda delightful.
Art by Jesus Redondo

*Prog 78, fact fans. Off the top of my head, there are four others who've achieved this feat. Share your answers on a forum post for the chance to win a... something?

**No such collection exists. Although I remain hopeful that Rebellion's current annual project of collecting ALL the Future Shocks, in order, will include sweeping up the Time Twisters, Terror Tales and other assorted one-off tales. Even if it has to be in a 'Restricted Files' kind of way.