3 out of 5
Alan McKenzie, then-editor of 2000 AD, in which the strips collected here first appeared, rather summarized my initial reaction to the concept best: one-shot, science-themed strips with twist endings – isn’t that Tharg’s Future Shocks? The wrinkle Mark Millar suggested was to do it up EC Comics style: have a host, linking the stories, and then to streamline it even further with a shared artist. Tales From Beyond Science was thus born, with narrator Hilary Tremayne narrating to us from ruined homes, or oddball labs populated by monstrosities, and Rian Hughes illustrating eight different ‘science gone wrong’ stories from MacKenzie, Millar, and John Smith. It’s still pretty Future Shock-y, though, or perhaps directly akin to something like Tales from the Black Museum, which also features a narrator…
Regardless, a good one shot – whether themed or truly standalone – is a good one shot, and this setup also allowed for straying from the general futuristic setting of 2000 AD, which was certainly more fitting for Hughes artistic approach. The eight stories cover various kooky ephemera, from secret government mind control projects to singers who possess their crowds to all-seeing, uh, nipples, and each writer has a slight tone of their own: Millar with his undercurrent of mean spiritedness; Mackenzie leaning more in to pop culture, John Smith’s very random tendencies (as displayed in Indigo Prime) turn out to be the best fit and best vehicle for Hughes, making the tale both visually interesting and topically bizarre, such that his entries don’t just lead to expect Twilight Zone twists.
It should be noted that Image’s collection of this highlights Hughes’ involvement over anyone else’s. He contributes pulp comic cover mockups inbetween stories, and the clashing orange and blue colors of the trade dress are as grabbing as any of his design work. His interiors, though – a cross between Allred’s 60s slobbering and the looser surreality of Shaky Kane or Brett Ewins – excepting the bits with Smith, feel mismatched to the concept; things never quite seem odd enough in his lightly cheeky style. The material feels like it needed a classic EC type (more detailed; more shadowed) to really serve its stories, but then again, most things dreamt up by Millar have a sort of tossed-off attitude to them, so perhaps the juxtaposition was purposeful.
Printed slightly oversized, with an intro from Hughes and Mackenzie. As the strips are fairly average overall, perhaps functions better as an art book, hence it being promoted under Hughes’ name.