You want to know the future? I can’t tell you what your lucky lottery numbers will be, but I have seen what befalls mankind. A time of terrible turmoil. Nothing is as you remember. Cities are gone. Humans are scarce and beasts of all kinds walk and talk the Earth.
There is but one saviour in the form of a man named Nick Stone, but he doesn’t belong there. He is out of time, but this man from the past will save our future from the tyranny of Leeshar, one his own kind, and the shadow of the serpent. It will be a terrible price that will be paid. Lives will be lost and there will be plenty of furry bloodshed. In the end, though, I can predict that the legends will talk of the bravery of the Meltdown Man.
Whenever we think of classic 2000AD, it’s characters such as Dredd, Strontium Dog and Rogue Trooper that come to mind, whose adventures and popularity have continued through the mag’s long run. The self-contained stories are often overlooked and Alan Hebden’s post nuclear drama holds together surprisingly well since it was published in 1980.
There’s a real sense of cohesion to the story as a whole, which advances at a fair pace over its full 49 episode year run. At first glance, it seems to be simply a bunch of talking animals with man caught in the middle. But this is more than an Animal Farm in Space, or a Galactic Noah’s Ark in Space or a multi-species Planet Of The Apes.
There’s a social structure to this savage world that is far from cutesy. It’s also a dystopian vision of mankind’s future that can stand as a survivor alongside such films as The Last Man On Earth, Mad Max and even Tank Girl, with her talking kanga partner, Booga.
Our hero, Nick Stone, is an SAS agent who’s caught in a nuclear blast during a Gulf conflict, and the explosion sends him seemingly into the far-flung future of a distant planet overrun with talking animals. These eugenetically-modified creatures are known as Yujees, and whilst they have established their own caste system according to species, they are still answerable to humans.
On this world, it’s the tyrannical Leeshar who rules with the assistance of his loyal Predators and the cobra, Lord Seth. Stone is determined to end his reign and befriends a whole menagerie of allies, amongst them Liana the catgirl, T-Bone the ox and Gruff the wolfman. However, as he travels through this strange land confronting alligator men and savage polar bears, he discovers the sickening secret of where the explosion has sent him.
Hebden, whose other work includes Battle’s Major Eazy and 2000AD’s Death Planet, never lets Stone or his readers rest, keeping him and the narrative moving continuously. And he also lights an unpredictable fuse which offers explosive surprises en route and that includes the characterisation.
Frequently, seeming villains change their colours and become allies. On other occasions, the heroes don’t always survive every situation and many fall in battle brutally or nobly.
However, the greatest joy with Meltdown Man is the sheer inventive relish with which Belardinelli gives flesh, fur and feathers to the Yujee armies.
In Ace Trucking Co, he was let loose on a galaxy of beings, but here he draws a menagerie of creatures that enables him to scamper through the whole animal kingdom with breathless imagination. The pages are overrun with bears, tigers, ferrets, wolves, cheetahs, cats, camels, bloodhounds, walruses, rhinos, gorillas and bats.
Meltdown Man is an overlooked classic that still fights tooth and claw for futuristic adventure.
Meltdown Man is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.
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