Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Bad Company: Goodbye Krool World (2000AD #500-519, #548-557, #576-585) PART TWO

"I was dead inside and surrounded by darkness" - Danny Frank's Diary

So, here is part two of my look at this collection of the first (and best) three story arcs dealing with future humanity's war with a genocidal race of aliens called the Krool.  Bad Company were a team of misfits fighting on the planet Arrarat, led by a huge brute of a man called Kano who has had half his human brain removed and replaced with half a Krool's giving him a special hatred of them.  At the end of Bad Company, most of them were killed taking out the Krools main base on the planet Arrarat.  Kano's whereabouts is unknown while the most "normal" of Bad Company, Danny (our POV character), Mac and "Mad" Tommy also survived and escaped the dying Arrarat in a Krool spaceship.  Now it's two years later, both Earth and Arrarat have blown up and humanity is reduced to a few "ghetto" colony planets and the Krool remain a major danger for them.  It's decided that a new Bad Company will be formed with Danny, Mac and Tommy as the basis of this new team. The first arc - The Bewilderness - concentrates on the collecting of the new members and Kano's struggles with the Krool side of his brain periodically taking him over and driving him to commit heinous acts outside of his control.
The "mysterious" being.
Danny, Mac and Tommy arrive on the planet Flow My Tears where General Honda assigns them their first mission, which is to find and destroy a beast that has been travelling between planets, killing Krool and human alike.  We see the masked "beast" in action, it is obviously Kano, accompanied by a tiny, mute, flying fairy-like alien.  General Honda then shows them their first recruit, a Protoid.  He is a shape-shifting alien with a symbiotic ship, which will be able to sneak them past the Krool ships in space.  Honda then transforms into Protoid, who had been impersonating him and the real Honda appears.  Mac wonders what Protoid's motivation is.

Danny: "Maybe there's no such thing as motivation anymore. Maybe that only belongs in books and plays. Maybe real life is badly plotted. The story all wrong.  Just a meaningless string of meaningless unrelated incidents."
De Racine and Protoid
The four of them then go and find their next member, an Elite called De Racine.  He is hanging out at the Kano Kult Klub and when he is attacked by some members, fights them off via his battle upgraded body.  Poison darts in his tongue and lethal poison for blood.  He agrees to join, but states he will kill Protoid who he sees as an abomination, once their mission is over.  Protoid is not scared by this, but looks forward to fighting him.  The story keeps cutting back to Kano as he loses control time and again. He finally mutters to himself:

Kano: "The wilderness.  I must lose myself in the wilderness. It is the only safe place.  No more people.  No more Krool.  I must lose myself in the bewilderness."

Back with Bad Company, they collect their next member, Rackman.  He is a human survivor of a Krool torture camp, who says he learned to enjoy the pain they dished out on him and now chases that pain by always wading into where the fighting is hardest.  They then head out to get their final member, a woman called Sheeva.  She is a human woman with psychic powers, a "Boom Baby", one of a few created as an experiment and the only one left alive.  She is able to blow things apart by "making the atoms dance" but she also has empathic healing abilities as well.
Rackman.  Can you tell he loves pain?
Before they collect her, Bad Company have a battle with some Krool.  Protoid points out that they are looking strange, because the Krool Heart, which is the entity that links them all telepathically is old and corrupt.  A new Krool Heart will be growing in it's belly ready to bud off when the old Heart dies and the shared conciousness transmigrates to the new, fresh Heart. Protoid knows this because he shares all his ancestors memories and "six cell splits ago" one of them visited the Krool Heart and saw it happen.

As they leave to collect Sheeva, Mac queries the motives of their fellow companions:

Mac: "An alien who hates humans.  A human who hates humans. A man who loves pain, and a madman who's a total pain. Just what or who are this lot fighting for Danny?"

"Don't know, Don't care" is basically Danny response, he himself is fighting for revenge.  They find Sheeva caring for some sick aliens.  She demonstrates her explosive powers then as they leave Mac steps on a landmine.  When he comes to, he discovers he's lost an arm.  Sheeva comes to comfort him, saying his arm is part of the universe now, creation and destruction, the cosmic dance.   But as Mac bitterly notes:

Mac: "That still doesn't help a one armed man untie his boots at night does it?"
Kano is on the planet All Our Yesterdays killing Krool, while things are less than harmonious in Bad Company.  De Racine made a move on Sheeva and now she wants to kill him.  Danny orders her to stand down, but she tells him to move or she'll kill him too. But she can't and faints.  Danny says he thought she might have formed a psychic link to him that would prevent her killing him, similar to falling in love. "Better pray she doesn't go off you" snipes Mac.

Later, after getting a lead on where Kano is, Bad Company fly to All Our Yesterdays.  There Kano has been restrained by a gang of humans and is allowing them to hurt him, he's given up and wants to die.  But one of the humans kills the little fairy that had been Kano's companion and this sends Kano into a rage and he starts lashing out, then comes face to face with Danny.
So we meet again...
Danny puts Kano back in charge of Bad Company, then Sheeva does some healing and calming work on Kano's mind, while Danny looks wistfully on.  Later Sheeva comes up to Danny and says she loves him, they kiss then "Sheeva" turns into Protoid, who has done it for a laugh.  When Danny retaliates by attacking him, Protoid grabs him snarling he's been too long denied a human kill.  But Kano comes up behind and disables him:

Kano: "I know something about Protoids. There's one spot on the back.  Grab it hard and right and you're useless aren't you.. can't even change shape."

Later round a fire, Kano tells them about his losses of control.  Protoid calls them "neuroflips".  Kano's travelling to the Krool dungeon where half his mind is while the insane Krool half takes over Kano's body and lashes out indiscriminately.  So Kano, now resolute gets up and says:

Kano: "I'm going to a reunion party Danny.  I'm going to the Krool Heart."

He tells them that if he can learn to control the Krool he shares a brain with, he can do serious damage to the Krool Heart now it's at the end of it's cycle and weakened and corrupted. They decide to test it by tying Kano up in a restraining cage and letting him deliberately neuroflip.  Alas the cage is not strong enough and Kano bursts free and with the Krool in charge of his body he ends up killing Mad Tommy before he can regain control.  They commit Tommy's body to the stars and carry on towards the planet of the Krool Heart.  And so ends The Bewilderness arc.
So speaks Kano.
It's hard to assess The Bewilderness arc on it's own, so heavily tied to the next that it is.  It's mainly setting up the characters for pay-offs that happen in The Krool Heart arc.  Still, it's very good.  While the first Bad Company arc was Danny's story of losing his innocence and turning from fresh faced, naive soldier into the dead inside revenge seeker we now see him as here, with the other characters only lightly sketched around him.  Here we have a smaller number of more well defined characters with more complex motivations and it feels more like a team story than before. With the death of Mad Tommy showing us that the "anyone can die" nature of the series is still there, we're left wondering just how our gang of misfits can take down the Krool when the might of the military had failed.  And so onto the final arc in the book, The Krool Heart.

The Krool Heart arc differs from the others in that as well a excerpts from Danny's diary it is told in a manner that implies a flashback, from an omniscient narrator who's identity is revealed at the end.

Narrator: "I have no face.  But the route of this story will define it's contours and show me who I am."

They land on a planet near the Krool Heart one and find a huge torture camp.   Their pain is being distilled and collected in a pit of "universal suffering".  Danny decides to rescue everyone but during the battle Kano neuroflips and knocks Danny into the pit.  After the battle is won they pull him out and he tells them what it was like.  It was "wonderful".  He tries to describe it, that it hurt so much it became unbearable bliss instead.
The pit of pain.

Sheeva: "A religious experience Danny.  You have been behind the curtain."

Danny: "And now I know it's not pointless. There's something beyond all this suffering and pain.  All this means something."

The others are somewhat skeptical and they arrive at the Krool planet.  Restrained, Kano neuroflips into his Krool body and takes control of it and starts to cause mayhem in the Krool ranks. Kano's body starts to change much to Protoid's amusement, who expected this. Rackman, Sheeva and Danny head down to the planet surface.  Rackman's feet are trapped in some rapidly growing vines.  He falls forwards and a crevice opens up beneath him and his hands are secured on the other side.  The crevice starts to grow, stretching him painfullly.  Danny and Sheeva can't free him and realising he is going to die, he reveals his terrible secret - he wasn't tortured by the Krool, the Krool made him torure other humans as his punishment and he has been seeking redemption via pain ever since.  Sheeva puts him out of his misery and she and Danny move on.

Kano's Krool "brother".
Sheeva and Danny then get trapped by some stone walls that spring up around them.  Sheeva says she is close enough to the Krool Heart to enter it's mind and free them.  She and Danny kiss passionately then she starts to meditate.  An image of her appears to Krool!Kano and warns him about Protoid, then she manages to get into the heart and bring down the walls.  But the psychic backlash mutates her face horribly and maddens her.  She tries to kill Danny but the psychic link they have protects him and she self destructs.

Back on the ship, Protoid reveals his true colours and attacks the rest of Bad Company.  Mac blasts a hole in the side of the ship and gets himself and the caged Kano out.  De Racine is not so lucky and Protoid immobilises him before snipping his head off with his hand that had transformed into scissors.  Kano returns to his body and Danny reaches the heart.  Protoid appears and knocks him down saying he plans to replace the growing baby Heart and have all the power of the Krool birthed into him. But Kano and Mac appear and together the three of them kill Protoid.
Even Protoids have groins it appears.
Kano leaves to find the Krool he shares a mind with and kill him.  Before Danny and Mac can destroy the Krool Heart, Protoid's ship smashes it's way into the chamber.

Danny: "Protoid isn't a creature with a ship, but a ship with a creature!"

Kano is losing the battle with his "brother", but manages to take control of him long enough to steer him over the edge of a cliff.  The Krool dies, leaving Kano finally free. In a panic over Protoid gaining control of the Krool Heart, Danny runs towards it and hurls himself at it.

Danny The Krool Heart:
"Danny hardly feels his legs beneath him.  Is barely concious of the heart before him.  It's as though he's been running to the heart all his life.  Something within the aging heart makes a decision.  It choses Danny.  It knows it will die.  It knows it's offspring will be killed and now I know who I am!"
Danny jumping into the Krool Heart.
Danny crashes into the heart and it absorbs and reforms around him. He becomes the Krool Heart, telepathically in control of their entire empire.  He immediately starts freeing the human prisoners and ends the war between human and Krool. It seems like a happy ending, but this is a 2000AD strip, so nothing is ever that clear cut and a note of caution is thus struck.

Danny The Krool Heart:
"See how already I am letting the people breathe the air of liberty.  I can create whatever universe I please. Not with force but with persuasion. I can see some people will cause problems.  Some people won't understand.  I will make them understand."

Danny tells Mac and Kano to leave in case they try to hurt him.  They do so, with Kano saying that Danny fought Krool his whole life, now he's defeated them by taking over their empire. But all that power...well let's hope this time it does not corrupt.  The story ends with a full page of Danny The Krool Heart thinking to himself.

Danny The Krool Heart:
"I will always remember who I am.  I am Danny Franks.  I am the Krool Heart".
What an ending!
And with that Bad Company II and the collected volume ends.  It's a fantastic ending for the series, I'm not sure why they had to bugger it up with a much later storyline freeing Danny from the Heart.  I love the nasty. perverse things this volume throws up like the line between pleasure and pain being explored and the horrific S&M death of Rackman.  I love how Danny doesn't do what he does in the end because it's the right thing to do, or because it's noble, or because he seeks redemption or any high falutin reasons.  He does it out of sheer, blind survival instinct, the whole story has been about survival and Danny achieves the ultimate form of survival thanks to his sacrifice.  Another strand to Bad Company has been about transformation, the change in Danny from fresh faced "raw" to battle hardened veteran to a virtual death seeker and finally he transforms into the enemy itself, but changes their nature and transforms them in return.  He who fights monsters indeed.  It goes without saying that I love this storyline, the ending is brilliant and thematically sound and it ties itself off nicely with it's final words.  This was one of the best examples of a strip running during 2000AD's mid-to-late eighties heyday and still stands up to this day.  It's grim, it's depressing and it's incredibly cynical, 2000AD then in a nutshell.  If you're interested at all in the best 2000AD has to offer, check it out, I hope you won't be disappointed.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Bad Company: Goodbye Krool World (2000AD #500-519, #548-557, #576-585) PART ONE

"No! I'll never be like you!" - Danny Franks

Looking back on the months this blog has been active I was suddenly struck by the fact I hadn't done any 2000AD stories yet.  I immediately had to recify that because, although I had casually read US comics my uncles bought when I was a young kid, it was 2000AD and the strip that ran in Doctor Who Magazine that really got me to notice different artists and their styles as well which writers did the stories I liked best.  They were the comics that turned me into a "fangirl".  2000AD probably needs no introduction, but very briefly, it's a sci-fi comic that debuted in 1977, running first weekly, then fortnightly then weekly again as of now, and is most famous for a) giving the world fascist lawman Judge Dredd and b) nurturing a whole generation of British artists and writers who then went over to the US industry and stuck a rocket up it's behind.  What was so different about 2000AD as well, was unlike the spangly heroics of the US superhero genre, 2000AD was dark, brutal, and to quote Lance Parkin in Magic Words his biography of Alan Moore - "virtually every strip rammed home the message that the world isn't fair, life is cheap and people are mean".

So what better strip to start with than one that first blew me away in 1986 and remains one of my favourite 2000AD stories ever, the grim future war story Bad Company, created by John Wagner and Alan Grant, written by Peter Milligan and drawn by Brett Ewins and Jim McCarthy.  This trade paperback collection contains the three black and white arcs - Bad Company, Bad Company II: The Bewilderness and Bad Company II: The Krool Heart - but not a much later sequel storyline that crapped all over the amazing end to The Krool Heart and which I have taken out of my own personal canon.  I've also split this review into two parts, this first part deals with the intial Bad Company arc, part two will cover the two arcs of Bad Company II.
Introducing Bad Company. Left to right: Shrike Thrax, Mad Tommy, Kano, Scummer, Dogbrain, Flytrap and Wallbanger at the back.  Not pictured, Malcolm and Gobber.
Before I go into more detail, I must just say how much I loved and still love the artwork.  The thick, heavy black lines are almost like medievel woodcuts at times and this is a brutal, brutal story pushing boundaries of showing violence and suffering that are amazing to see in a comic ostensibly aimed at older kids and teens like myself at the time.  Every character is rendered beautifully, making the whole "band of misfits" thing even more obvious and when they perish, you miss them because they felt so real and interesting.  It's a comic that needed to stay in black and white (which might be the other reason the post-Krool Heart series feels so wrong), even if the titular Bad Company have shades of grey themselves, the Krool are so utterly alien and evil they look good by comparison making it a black and white conflict.  So onto the first storyline then.

It's a simple enough tale.  During the battle against the Krool, a sadistic alien race with no redeeming features whatsoever, on a planet called Arrarat a squad of men are cut off behind enemy lines.  One of the is called Danny Franks, whose diary provides the narration for the ongoing story.  They are saved by Bad Company, a gang of mainly ugly, mutated soldiers led by a huge brutish "man" called Kano.  The rest of the story catalogues Danny's slow transformation form naive newbie into a battle hardened Bad Company member where only survival matters and compassion is a weakness that will get you killed.  The newbies join Bad Company because their commander takes some Krool prisoners, but the Krool kill him, and Kano unloads into them, shooting them over and over even when dead.  With little choice left the men join up, but only Danny, Mac and the shortlived Trucker are ever deemed important enough to name.
The Krool live up to their name.
The strucure of the first story is very much geared to the fortnightly nature of the comic, generally something awful happens and then there is a massive gunfight, and Bad Company move on.  Bad Company II, both parts has a more overarching storyline, but the first Bad COmpany is simply about who will survive to the very end.  The first named character to die is Scummer, who flips out after they cross the Golotha Plains that can induce madness via visions.  He grabs the black box that Kano carries with him at all times and starts to look inside it.  Kano guns him down, making it clear that the topic of the box is OFF LIMITS to Danny.

The Company bext attack a Krool camp and Kano and Danny find a Krool experimentation ward/torture chamber.  One horribly emaciated and scarred victim pathetically asks Kano if he is his dad come to take him home. Kano says he is and Danny realises he means he is going to blow the place up.

Kano: "I promised the boy I'll take him home.. and I will.  To the only home he can rest in peace."

The camp is blown up and afterwards Kano thanks Danny for keeping quiet about the experimentation ward, noting that he's "learning".

Danny: [thinks] "Yeah I'm learning.  How to blow up your own wounded, then eat your rations like nothing happened."
Danny's start of darkness
Time moves on and more raws die.  One day Kano asks them all why Earth doesn't just blow Arrarat out of the sky.  It's not because they care about the native Gobbers, they want Arrarat as a place to move too.  Earth is dying and the Elite want Arrarat for themselves.  They then go and attack a Krool convoy which turns out to be a trap and Gobber is killed.  Bad Company kill them all despite this loss.

Later Bad Company camp out underneath a "Blitz Bubble" which protects them from the Krool shelling.  Malcolm, the least crazy of the original Company chats with Danny, saying if they survive this war they can maybe stop the Elite taking over somehow.  Thrax gets pissed with one of the raws and kills him causing Danny to ask Malcolm how he can live like this?

Malcolm: "The main rule is 'don't get friendly'. You have to hate your comrades guts.  So when he is killed - no problem, it's just another soldier gone. I'm newer than most, but I learn quick - you can only bury so many friends without going crazy."

Then the Blitz Bubble is breached and they all scatter and Danny suddenly realises he doesn't have his diary and goes back for it.  Malcolm knocks him out of the way of some bullets and is killed.  Danny reflects that he "got too friendly to stay alive" and buries him.
Malcolm Ex..
The Company moves on.  Later Danny tells Trucker about his two older brothers who enrolled to fight but were killed when their transport shp exploded on the way to Arrarat.  Suddenly a zombie rises up from the ground in front of them.  Lots more zombies attack and Krool too.  Bad Company fight them all off, although Trucker is killed during the battle, leaving Danny and Mac as the only "raws" left.  Kano tortures a Krool they captured and finds out the Krool can create instant war zombies using gas and a special "beat".

The Krool are gearing up to attack Sector 8, the lynchpin of human defence on Arrarat.  Bad Company use a vehicle to get there quickly.  One the way they are atacked by a gang of humans gone native called the "Skull Posse".  They easily fight them off, but the leader swears they haven't seen the last of him.  They find themselves back where they were in the Blitz Bubble, but when Danny goes to check Malcolm's grave he finds it empty.

Danny's Diary:
"I no longer see people.  I see blood and guts wrapped in soft skin.  And sooner or later that soft skin is burst, or scorched, or torn and the blood and guts just flow."
Arrrgh! Bring my brown pants!
They arrive in Sector 8 and Danny notes the troopers treat him with fear like the rest of Bad Company.  Wallbanger says that using the soldiers equipment he can block the zombie beat.  The beat starts up, reviving dead humans but the Skull Posse also attack and start fighting the zombies.  Then the Krool attack too, but are also attacked by the Skulls.  The Skulls put up a good fight, but are finally defeated.  Then Malcolm reappears as a zombie as they attack the camp.  Wallbanger shuts down the zombie beat although Danny thought he saw the old Malcolm come through at the last minute and stopped himself from killing Danny.  Danny buries Malcolm again after removing his head and Bad Company leave Sector 8.

After an interlude where they all get drunk off the processed mud they eat as rations, ominously, Flytrap's grafted on plant arm starts to succumb to disease. Wallbanger then drops the bombshell that this is indicative of the fact Arrarat is dying and has maybe days left before it explodes.  Kano then makes plans to hit the main Krool base.  This is too much for Thrax who leaves with his sycophantic partner Shrike in tow.  Flytrap asks to know what is in Kano's black box, but dies before Kano can tell him.
Kano's last stand?
They arrive at the main Krool encampment, and Thrax and Shrike reappear, with Thrax saying he came back to see the Krool kill Kano.  As the attack is depicted, Danny's diary narrates it but is being written by someone else who isn't Danny.  Bad Company is gunned down one after the other, but take out all the Krool in the process.  Danny and Mac are swallowed by a crevice that opened up and re-emerge after the battle is over.  They find Danny's diary and Mac notes it's been written by someone as pretentious as Danny.

Mad Tommy: "Sorry about the literary style Danny.  Pure mathematics is more my forte."

Danny and Mac are surprised, because all through the time they have known him Mad Tommy has been acting like he was fighting in World War 2, hence his "mad" monicker. Tommy explains that once upon a time he was part of Kano's unit.  Kano took some Krool as prisoners of war, which resulted in everyone in the unit bar Tommy getting killed and Kano taken to an experimentation camp.  Kano escaped but not before the Krool had taken half his brain away and replaced it with half a Krool's. 
The secret of the black box.
The human half became dominant, and with his enhanced strength, Kano fought his way out and was discovered by Tommy who took care of him for three months while Kano was delirious.  Kano made it clear he would kill anyone who knew his secret so Tommy started acting mad as a way of keeping himself safe from Kano.  He also gave Kano a black box with half a brain in it, saying it was Kano's and he had got it back from the Krool, although it was just some random dead soldier's brain.  Kano and he then formed Bad Company:

Tommy: "And Kano did the only thing left to him that had any meaning. He killed Krool."

As they have been talking, they have been coming across the dead bodies of the rest of Bad Company strewn across the battlefield.  They don't find Kano though.  Danny believes he has escaped and the three of them depart in a Krool spaceship, with Danny leaving his diary alongside Kano's black box saying they belong on Arrarat.  End of Bad Company's first arc.
...For Now
It really is heady stuff. There is no camaraderie amongst Bad Company, they hate each other, hate their leader, but hate Krool more which is all that binds them together. The various weird and wonderful characters of Bad Company were very popular, so killing everyone bar the "normal" human ones was a brave decision.  I assume plans were vaguely in place for a sequel and Kano's dual nature and brain transplant will become extremely important during the final Bad Company arc.  Even if there wasn't a sequel the story here comes to a satisfying conclusion with Danny irrevocably changed by his experiences, still clinging to humanity but with a grim fatalism ground into him by the events he's caught up in. The revelation about Tommy's "madness" is a superb twist, explictly showing us that the craziness of the war and their surroundings requires some surrendering to madness, he just took to extremes to survive.  There are questions left to be answered, with Arrarat gone and Earth doomed, how will humanity win the war with the Krool?  These questions are answered in Bad Company II, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Darksiders II: Death's Door

 "I am known as Death.  The Reaper Of Souls." - Death 

Yes, it's time for that regular monthly feature you all hate - the videogame tie in comic!  No wait, come back. It's a short one and this time the videogame in question has a genuine link to the world of comics by virtue of the creative mind behind the series, one Joe Madureira.  He's one of the western comicbook artists who rose to prominence in the 1990's who added a manga influence to his superhero art, resulting in a very recognisable style.  He's was the creative director of Vigil games who created Darksiders: Wrath Of War and Darksiders II the games.  His gorgeous, chunky, styalised designs make the games a real treat to look at and although he only provided the cover image to this comic based on the second game, the interior art does a good job of aping his style.  So although it is only a slim volume, it is nice to look at and provides a little backstory to Death the star of the second Darksiders game.

The plot behind the Darksiders games so far is that there are four horsepersons of the apocalypse, Death, War, Fury and Strife (Fury being female) who are Nephilim and agents of Balance, being neither for Heaven or Hell.  I believe the idea was to have each Horseperson star in it's own game telling the same events from different angles, but the collapse of publisher THQ and the sale of the franchise after just two games may have thrown this into doubt.  Anyway, the first game started with War being tricked into kicking off the apocalypse on Earth too soon.   The Charred Council who are responsible for the Horsepeople let him go (one hundred years having passed on Earth since), although stripped of his former power (part of the game is getting those powers back) and allow him to figure out who tricked him and he uncovers a conspiracy by Heaven to bring the Apocalypse forwards to ensure Heaven was not defeated in it's ongoing war with Hell.  Humanity is wiped out by this point in time, Death's adventure in Darksiders II takes place during War's imprisonment and follows Death's journey to try and restore humanity and save his brother.

The story begins with Death hanging out in Heaven's White City. And like all cities, it has it's "back alleys".  Death introduces himself via narration:

Death: "I am one of the four. I and my brothers and sister, War, Strife and Fury have helped maintain the balance between Heaven and Hell.  Charged by the Charred Council we wait patiently for the Seventh Seal to be broken.  After, we will bring about the Apocalypse when the era of man will end in blood and destruction."

Abbadon the Angel suddenly drops down and attacks him (Abaddon is one of the prime movers of the first game, he is part of tricking War into starting the Apocalypse early, but it rather backfires when he gets killed and reicarnated as a monterous demon thing). Abbadon here though is merely tesing Death's martial prowess.  Satisfied, they talk and Death wants to know what an angel wants with a horseman.
A Wild Abaddon appears!
Abbadon wants Death to hunt and kill a demon for him which is causing havoc on Earth.  When Death enquires if Abaddon's soldiers can't take care of it, Abbadon replies "no".  Death says he cannot go to Earth without sanction. Abaddon says he wouldn't be the first Horseman to slip his reigns.  Death calls him a fool and says "give me a single reason I would accept this quest". Abbadon says he would be in Death's debt.  Death says he does not value Abbadon's patronage.  Finally Abbadon says do it if he values "the Kingdom Of Man".  So Death reluctantly agrees, as he has a bit of a soft spot for mankind and a demon on Earth exterminating mankind sounds like something he should deal with. He says his scythe would be useless on Earth, so Abaddon tells him to find Vulgrim who can supply a weapon that will work there.

Death: "Very well.  But take care Abaddon.  If I smell treachery on your part you will discover first hand that I am very aptly named."

Death visits Vulgrim, purveyor of demonic goods, serving "the black markets of the Underworld". He requires an exotic fee for providing Death with a blade that will work unsanctioned on Earth.  He demands the toungue of a Leviathan that dwells in the depths of the River Styx.  Death, being a badass, complies with this request and gets his blade.
One fresh tongue delivered to your door.
Death rides his awesome horse, Despair to the "Far Fields", where the Custodian of the wilds horses dwells.  He wants the Custodian to open a "Serpent Hole" to Earth as Death can't do it himself while working without official sanction.   The custodian reminices about the time when the four horsepersons came and tamed their horses.  Death was the first to do so and the Custodian notes that he still seems to be the "rash one".

"Your causes have always been just horseman.  I have no reason to doubt your word now. But know that the Charred Council has little forgiveness for defiance, and when the heavens tremble with rage it is always the Earth that suffers."
A portal to Earth is opened
Death travels through the hole and finds himself in Marseilles, France 1722 in amongst a vast number of corpses.  Investigating, Death finds a clue, a four blade pendant one of the dying men is wearing.  He disguises himself as the more traditional form Death is known to humanity by and bumps into Abaddon's "Demon".  Turns out to be a female Angel.

She sets a mob of humans on him, saying he is responsible for their suffering, he fights his way through them, though he does not kill them - yet. He has eyes only for the Angel and knows he must kill her.

Death: "I have come for the Angel and she will not be my first - though I have often fought besides the armies of Heaven. Killing monsters... demons.. brothers alike. It matters not, as long as there is balance."

There must be an angel, playing with my heart, ye-e-ah.
Although Death carries on pondering this state of affairs, admitting that he has doubts sometimes, "what kind of creator would set the world on such a wretched fulcrum."  That is why he is on Earth now, only in death there is balance.  Death finds the Angel in church.  She dismisses Abaddon as an "old fool" obsessed with guarding the White City. She tells Death her motivation:

Angel: "The humans lack faith. They lack goodness. THis plague is but a symptom of their unending sin.   With each soul lost Heaven's light is diminished.  But faith can be reborn. Mankind can be purified.  This is what I have given them. You shall not take it!"
As they fight, the Angel flashes back to an earlier battle, when the Horsepersons fought alongside the Angel's against the Nephilim. She saw a darkness infecting everything but her, whispering to her to go to Earth and save humanity. Death finally kills her, but is troubled. He takes the four bladed pendant that was her symbol to Abaddon.  It protected those who wore it and poisoned those who did not "a novel way to encourage faith" admits Death. He wonders why Abaddon didn't tell him it was a rogue Angel he was after.  Abaddon gives a lame excuse that he thought she was a Demon because she killed ten of his best soldiers.  Death ends the book with these words:

Death: "There is something out there.  Something dangerous.  No longer bound by shadows. It controlled your Angel and drove her to madness. This corruption ebbed when the Angel was slain.  It will return."

And return it does.  In the second game that stars Death, dealing with sticky black corruption that has infected various places and people is a large part of the gameplay and that Death will act withou the sanction of the Charred Council if he finds the cause to be just.  This book also sets up some backstory for the first game, namely the fact that Abaddon is somewhat untrustworthy and prioritises protecting Heaven at all costs.
Abaddon, the shifty bugger.
While the book looks very nice, it makes no sense if you haven't played Darksiders: Wrath Of War, nor the sequel.  If you are a gamer, I would heartily recommend both games, they are lush, goth inspired games based on the Legend Of Zelda template of large overworld's with various dungeons that can be revisted and plundered further, as you progress in the game unlocking new abilities as you go. With fantastic character designs and high quality voice acting, they are both favourites of mine of the Xbox 360/PS3 era of gaming.  I hope the franchise is resurrected as it'd be fun to see what Fury and Strife might get up to, though I think probably War and Death will remain at the forefront as the more marketable names.  The comic is throwaway fun and doesn't really tell you anything the games don't, which is a common problem with prequel's.  Still, I enjoyed it, and I am surprised that two games which are the brainchild of a famous comicbook artist don't have more in the way of tie-in merchandise like this.  Ah well.

Friday, 10 October 2014

City Of Silence (#1-3) NSFW


"The future is bad for you" - Narration.

Cyberpunk as a genre, can often seem more impenetrable than most popular science fiction is today.  I think it seems that way because the stories tend to take place "Twenty Minutes In The Future" as the trope would have it, making a world that is recognisably our own seem alienating and alarming.  This can make for good satire and examining the social impact of technology is one of cyberpunks defining traits, extrapolating current trends for good or bad (usually bad) and anticpating the results when these trends are taken to extremes.  However writers are not omniscient and this means that cyberpunk, with it's events generally due to happen within our own lifetimes date very badly when technology takes a leap in our world that was not forecast outside of geeky scientific circles (author William Gibson himself admits this is a flaw in Neuromancer the 1984 novel that kicked the genre off, where he did not foresee how huge computer memory would become for example).  There isn't anything wrong with this, but it can turn your average cyberpunk novel, comic, videogame or film into an "Unintentional Period Piece" to quote another trope.

And this is why I find Warren Ellis's three issue miniseries City Of Silence to be so very, very 90's, despite it being published in 2000.  Interestingly this was before I found out that it was actually written and drawn in the mid 1990's (cheers wikipedia) but the original publisher folded (Marvel's Epic imprint), leaving Image to pick it up for publication a few years later.  Because to me this tale of the future is as 1990's as dial-up internet, the Spice Girls and the Playstation One. And City Of Silence does fall into this hole a couple of times, although frankly the slang and terminology used here is so weird that it avoids some of the worst pitfalls simply by being so hard to understand.  But I'll do my best to tell it like it is for ya.
The Silencers: Litany, Gitane and Frost
Narration: "This is Stealth...the city that survives on silence.  here the exponential curve of techonological invention went straight up. The more new idea and tech appeared...the more the masses got a junkies lust for more, more, more... and stealth became a place where one alien idea.. could utterly lobotomise anyone who read it.  Stealth, unsafe from even the smallest invention of it's populace, revived the oldest profession... the secret police.  They called them silencers, and mandated them to quieten dangerous ideas.. and their owners".

That's a long quote, but it does set the scene well.  The three Silencers who are the stars of the book are two women called Litany and Gitane, and a man called Frost.  They are called in by the police chief of Stealth to investigate a Pentagram found on a dead teenagers body, the Pentagram in question being made up of circuitry and wired into the brain, which leads the policeman to think "satanic computer abuse" is afoot and that he wants them to find out who made it and "silence" them.
The Silencers are debriefed by the police.
They begin their investigation.  Frost goes and speaks to the police who dealt with the body.  He finds out the victim was called Static Joe Ramirez and he drank in a bar called the Blank Skull.  Litany is in a grotty alley filled with information junkies.

Narration: "They huddle with their fixes.  Their adulterated palm top games machines.  The screens strobe in trance inducing light patterns".

I knew Nintendo was bad for you!  Anyway, Litany questions one of them who says Joe was a "Shadowjack", who writes "computer code based on real magickal formulae".  Gitane is with a Native American who read coming events from the patterns in moving traffic.  He tells her to take a hard right next time he sees her.  They all then meet up to compare notes.

Frost: "This 'hired facist bastard' bit is getting old.

Litany: "D'you reckon we're going native?"

Gitane: "Maybe we're just pig-sick of offing folk just because they had an idea."

They go to a hotel and cuddle things out.
It's amazing how these relaxed, post-coital, entirely bare breasts are far less prurient than the almost bare, stripper tits featured in Voodoo.  Context people.  It's everything.
Thus refreshed they go to the bar Static Joe drank at.  By the smell of Snakebite they detect that the denizens are all virgins (bit harsh on Goths that). They find a Shadowjack who tells them they are writing code to summon Satan to "ignite a computerised holocaust".  Gitane then blows his head off, and the three of them lay an epic beatdown on the rest of the Shadowjacks in the bar.

They go to Static Joe Ramirez's place and find a pile of the electronic pentagrams and a box that allows electricity to be stolen and sold on the underground. The police chief they bring it to says this is the work of the "Voltage Monks" and that the Silencers should "find them, and bury them".
The panel just makes me happy for some reason.
The comics have text pages at the back of each issue that provide more flavour for the setting.  Issue one includes a profile of Litany, most notable for saying she listens to DAT's, a type of music format that never really caught on with the public and was made obselete when MP3 players came along. The second issue then begins with the Silencers going to visit the Riot Grrls (ah, that takes me back.  What a very nineties incarnation of popular feminism).  Frost can't come along though as they hate men.

Litany and Gitane accuse the Grrl's of being a "psychorunic revolutionary cell" who use stolen electricity.  The Grrl's say the monks give them the electricity for free as they are searching for information.  They need to find the porn obssessed Father Tungsten.  Discussing this turn of events in a bar later, the Silencers come to the following conclusion:

Frost: "So where does a porn obssessed priest go to buy his filth supply?"

Gitane: "Harry Phosphordots.  No one beats off in this city without Harry owning a part of their fist."
Ahhh, this takes me back...
You can definitely tell this was written before the internet made porn availiable to the masses anonomously and for free via the internet. So anyway, they rent a swish car and find Harry, but he won't play ball and a car chase ensues. Gitane suddenly sees the Native American and they take a hard right.  Harry crashes into an "arrest portal" that has suddenly opened, apparently the doman of "necrolux" and is taken away by two shadowy figures.

The Silencers follow and Frost observes that time moves faster inside the portals and Harry might be dead now.  He isn't, though he is being hung over a fire and tortured.  They rescue him and take him to hospital.  Obviously he agrees to help them because the action jumps to the Silencers in Father Tungstens flat.  They torture him.

Narration: "He tells them about the Voltage Monastry.  Its location in the ancient mining tunnels under Stealth.  All he wanted was to exist gently, within the quiet love of his God.  They light their cigarettes on his burning lungs as they leave."

The Silencers mount an all-out attack on the Monastry, using cannons that fire off poisonous radioactive material. With only one man left alive, called Father Anthracite, they demand to know about the knowledge they stole electricity for.
Silencers vs. The Voltage Monks
Father Anthracite: "We possess an incomplete set of plans for a fax line to Heaven. We freely gave our liberated voltage to anyone who might provide data useful to our task."

A "fax line" eh?  Well, I guess the Church might be a bit behind the times when it comes to technology.  Anyway, the Silencers want to know who their biggest customer is, and it turns out to be the mysterious "Metal Ghost" a person sitting on the biggest store of information in Stealth City.

The final part begins with a fairly graphic sex scene between Metalghost and Fausta, leader of the Riot Grrls.  He describes the sensations of making love in unessecary detail, then the Silencers appear and rate his performance.

Gitane: "No technique, no style, barely competant even as basic hows-your-father. We are not impressed."
Passion killers!
They question him about the murder of Static Joe and Metalghost says he killed him, because Joe was going to blab his secret.  He then breaks a drug capsule filled with a drug that messes with perception.  When it clears, Fausta is dead and Metalghost is on the run. He races off on a motorbike, but the Silencers catch up to him in a helicopter. They don't shoot him though and Metalghost surmises they want him alive.  He arrives at a warehouse where his mainframe is stored.

Metalghost: "My machine. Every banned and hidden thing I know encoded in it.  My machine, speaking Enochian into occult modems, poised to drag every last secret from the base of the world to the light of the day."
If this was written now he'd totally be doing it via wi-fi
The Silencers and the army burst in to find him hooked up via plugs in his body, to one hundered wires.  He plans on overinding Stealth City's one hundred Tv channels (only one hundred?) with information.

Metalghost: "Information wants to be free.  I am arranging it."

The rush of ideas starts killing everyone who isn't the Silencers.   They rather graphically unplug Metalghost using axes, chisels, a drill and a chainsaw.  As he dies he asks why they weren't affected by the flood of new ideas.

Litany: "Because we knew it already!"
Our "heroes" after a job well done.
City Of Silence is a strange beast. It's genuinely amusing, even if the humour is a little on the sour side. But strip away all the jokes and invented future-speak and what you have is the story of three psychopathic secret police waging a war on a city's various counter-cultures and repressing the spread of ideas ostensibly for the people's own good.  And because they look cool, snarky and awesome doing it, the script seems to be on the side of Litany, Frost and Gitane. And because they are so cool, snarky and awesome and know everything anyway, the flood of information doesn't affect them like it does the average peon who are best left ignorant for their own safety. Hmmmm. And some of it does feel like the comic equivalent of a grouchy old man shaking his fist at those damn young people and their newfangled technology.  Still there are some great ideas at work though when the story isn't pulling you up short with a badly dated reference and it goes without saying that Gary Erskine's art is fantastic, it really captures the freaky nature of the city and it's denizens.  The sickly colour palette of greens, pinks and yellows adds a lot to the atmosphere as well.  Shame they went with the archaic looking CGI models on the TPB cover instead of one of the original covers.  In summary then, weird and imaginative but with an oddly conservative message especially when viewed twenty years later in the light of our own information rich online computerised world.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Ronin (#1-6)

"Let this trial hone your spirit, your fighting skill.  When you are a mighty warrior, avenge my murder. Let my soul rest" - Lord Ozaki

I don't really want to dwell on it, but it's not a very controversial thing to say that in recent years Frank Miller's work hasn't been as good as in his heyday of the 1980's.  The Dark Knight Strikes Again, All Star Batman and Robin The Boy Wonder and Holy Terror have all been pretty badly received.  And he didn't do much help for himself when he intemperately described Occupy Wall Street as a band of "theives" and "rapists".  But today I'm accentuating the positive and looking back at one of his more overlooked projects, the miniseries Ronin.  Sandwiched between his acclaimed run on Daredevil and the game changing Dark Knight Returns, this story of a masterless samurai and the demon who killed his master transported through time to the dystopia that is New York in 2030 is quite superb and although the cyberpunk aspects feel a little dated now 2030 is in sight, the story is compelling and the structure of the book very much ahead of it's time when it was first published by DC in 1983-1984 (although I own it as a UK first edition trade paperback, published after The Dark Knight Returns was such a big hit).

What's so impressive about revisiting this comic thirty years later is how modern and fresh it feels.  There are techniques used in the book that didn't really become widely used in comics until much later.  There are pages made up of sequences of panels that run the width of the page, now known a the "widescreen" style.  He makes effective use of splash pages and two page spreads and the final sequence of events is so epic it comes on a fold out page, several pages wide.  He also uses pages made up of much smaller panels, around sixteen to twenty a page which would be something that he also used in The Dark Knight Returns.  It even uses "decompression" effectively, the longer length of the issues allowing him to slowly build mood and tension.  There are no thought balloons, narrative captions or sound effects, it relies totally on the dialogue and art to tell the story.  And what art it is. This is fully Frank Miller's vision; he wrote, pencilled and inked the entire book, with his then wife Lynne Varley providing a vivid colouring job.
Now in glorious widesccreen!
Considering the time it was put out, it's definitely one aimed sqaurely at adults.  The violence is graphic in places but not gratuitous, and Miller proves he's one of the top fight scene choreographers in western comics really capturing the feel of a Japanese chanbara movie on the page.  The language pulls no punches either, the racial slurs "nigger", "honky", "chink" and "nip" are all used making the denizens of future New York come over as unpleasant possible it being a dystopia and all.  Finally there is near nudity of both the male and female variety, used not to titillate but hammer home how vulnerable the characters are at that point.  So the sum total of all this is that Ronin is and was most definitely not a comic for kids.

The story begins in 13th Century Japan.  Lord Ozaki is out travlling with his bodyguard, a serious young samuai who is never named, and is his body guard.  They are attacked by masked men, but the samurai cuts them down.  Lord Ozaki explains that his sword is a "blood sword", it feeds and gains power from blood.  It is the only thing that can kill the demon Agat, but only when it has been first whetted with blood from an innocent soul.  Ozaki and the Samurai then stop off at the equivalent of a strip club and Ozaki leaves to have some sexy time with a geisha.  Sadly for him the geisha turns out to be Agat who kills him.  When too many people appear he retreats saying he'll get the sword at a later date.  Now in possession of the blood sword, the samurai now a Ronin, contemplates his future:

Ronin: "I failed Lord Ozaki.  My shame is deep.  My choice is simple.  To wander the land.  Dishonoured.  Masterless. A ronin. Or pray to all the Gods for forgiveness and offer my life as payment."

It looks like he intends to commit seppuku, but Ozaki's ghost appears to him telling him to live and train and one day avenge his death.  So the Ronin chooses that option instead.
Billy, the sortof star of the book
The action then moves to the "present", sometime in the 2030's. A limbless man called Billy is hooked into the computer core of a sentient computer called Virgo inside a huge futuristic complex called Aquarius.  He tells her about the dreams he's been having about the Ronin, immediately casting doubt on whether what we just saw was real or not...

We then meet the leader of Aquarius's security teams, a strong, black female called Casey.  A Frank Miller heroine that is neither a teenager, a prostitute or a teenage prostitute.  In many ways she is the star of the book.  Anyway she is showing representatives of another company around, showing them the powerful security measures they have in place.  They are taken to see Billy who shows them what he can do with cybernetic limbs.  When they are gone however he asks Virgo why she didn't tell them he was controlling them with his mind.  She says they are working on a way that will allow everyone to do what Billy can do and for now he should just sleep and dream.

So he does.  The Ronin is now much older and more experienced.  He rescues a woman being attacked by Agat's men and tells her his story, before going the next day to Agat's lair.  He fights his way to him, but Agat mocks that he can't kill him and grabs him from behind.  The Ronin says he can if the sword tastes innocent blood first and impales himself and Agat, using his own blood to power the sword.  Before they both die, Agat casts one last spell and traps them both inside the sword.
I could look at this twopage spread all day.  The sense of pain and sacrifice it conveys is amazing and the composition and colours are outstanding.
When Billy wakes and tells Virgo about the dream, she tells him she came across a news video of the sword being discovered two weeks ago and subjected to testing for mystic powers.  A laser struck it and it incinerated everyone close by.  Billy says the souls have escaped and the Ronin is coming to take over his body.  Virgo shows him Agat appearing in the complex and fighting his way through the security measures, meanwhile the Ronin has taken control of Billy's body, changing his shape and building cybernetic arms and legs.  Before Agat can kill him, Virgo fires Billy/Ronin into the sewers.  Agat decides he will stay in the complex for now, meanwhile in the sewers, the Ronin stands up, his transformation complete and no trace of Billy left at all.

The Ronin staggers through the ruins of New York, unable to say anything but "tachi" which is a type of Japanese sword.  Virgo tells Casey she must find the Ronin as he is out there "alone and helpless".  She tells Casey what happened with Billy, and Casey is somewhat sekptical.

Virgo: "Casey, Casey, Casey. You're acting like a computer yourself.  One of the old style ones.  Not the real kind but the ones from the movies that short out if they're faced with a new idea.  It's the twenty-first century Casey.  Try to keep an open mind."
Introducing Casey.
Ronin meanwhile gets into a tangle with a neo-nazi gang who badly beat him and leave him for dead.  Next we are introduced to the owner of Aquarius, Taggert, who is dictating a memo about working with the Sawa corporation and how he will have nothing to do with their military work.  We don't really get to know his character apart from this pacifism as he is killed by Agat who then takes his place.

Casey sends out a security team to retrieve the Ronin, who is currently being dragged to the workshop of an eccentric man who wants to use his cybernetic limbs to power his spaceship.  Ronin awakes and kills him, and handily the man has a samurai sword in his possession.  Now armed, the Ronin returns to the nazi gang and slices them up.  Then the security accost him.  We don't see what happens next, we just hear the report to Casey that he killed three of the team and escaped.  This displeases Casey who takes the death of her men personally.
Miller would use this technique of near black and white with splashes of vivid red in his later works.
In one of New York's parks, Ronin has found a horse and manages to tame it. Meanwhile Casey reviews footage of his fight with her men and notes that one man was fatally injured by his gun exploding.  Which means the Ronin has access to Billy's powers. Taggart reiterates to Casey that he wants the Ronin bought in alive. Ronin meanwhile has hooked up with an old hippy who has managed to "liberate some threads" for him.  Handily this includes samuari armour and kimono, so he looks super-badass especially when riding the horse.  The hippy then offers his services to the Nazi gang who are fighting with the black gang - The Panthers over territory.

Back at Aquarius, Casey is spending some quiet time with her husband Peter (a white man, so an interacial relationship, another daring inclusion in a comic of this era), the man who invented the bio-circutary that makes up the complex and Virgo herself.  The circuitary is alive and can reproduce itself and Taggart tells the Sawa representatives that it could also have considerable military uses.

Back with the Ronin, the hippy sends him into a bar and tells him to loudly say a word.  That word turns out to be "nigger" and the head of the Panthers doesn't take to kindly to it being said and Ronin is forced to kill him to defend himself.  He is angry at being used like this by the hippy but sticks with him for now.  Doing this deed impressess the nazi's and gets Ronin and the hippy somewhere to stay at their bar.
Another great use of colour and black and white as the Ronin psychically attacks.
After Casey and Peter have made love (and there is melancholy rather than an afterglow, like they are growing apart and neither know what to do about it), Virgo tells Casey she has found the Ronin.  Casey and her team move out, Virgo notes that Casey has an antique magnum with her.  They confront the Ronin and a big fight ensues.  The tasers bring him down but he manages to make all their equipment explode except Casey's magnum which is the only weapon not based on the bio-circuitry.  Before she can kill him, the gang knock her out, strip her and dump her and a couple of her surviving team down a hole in the ground.  When the Ronin is able to stand, he angrily tosses the hippy to one side and jumps down the hole after them.

This ends the more dsytopic parts of the book.  Ronin's powers start to make the second half of the book more dreamlike as he and Casey flip-flop out of reality and fantasy.  Down the hole in the dark, Casey realises they have been left as food for cannibal mutants down there.  They come for her, killing the other two men she was down there with, but the Ronin arrives and fights them all off.  The battle scenes last the entire length of the chapter, as it cuts back and forth between them and the goings on at Aquarius.
Tech support isn't usually this badass
There a drunken Peter confronts Taggart over his decision to use his bio-circuitry for military purposes.   He begs Taggart saying doesn't he remember the weekend he, Casey and Taggart conceived Aquarius?  Taggart says he does, then has Peter removed.  Peter then tells Virgo he knows something is up with Taggart as Casey never was at that weekend meeting.  He also dismisses the Ronin story as stupid.  When he tells his suspicions to another friend in the complex, that friend is murdered.  Realising he can't trust Virgo he suits up and travels to her core.  He has one of Casey's antique guns and starts firing at Virgo's memory banks, he demands Virgo show him what happened to Taggart so Virgo does.

Virgo: "Are you beginning to realise what you are up against Peter dear? Are you beginning to realise the limits of your scientific conceit? This is a demon, Peter.  A demon. A creature of magic."

Peter refuses to believe it however and says Virgo must have killed Taggart somehow.  Meanwhile, with all the mutant cannibals dead, Casey and the Ronin share a tender moment and a passionate kiss.  Later he makes a fire and it begins to snow, it's heavily implied the Ronin's powers are causing this as he draws more on Billy's.  He can even speak English properly now.

Casey: "You killed three of my men!  Why can't I hate you? Why do I...what are you doing to me?"

The Ronin says that they should live for the moment.

Ronin: "Our lives are as fragile and as brief as a cherry blossom.  And as fragrant."

And they make love by the firelight.
Sexy times.
Peter meanwhile has been caught and confined.  A therapist is sent to talk to him.  Taggart is annoyed that he did not authorise this, but Virgo is taking more and more control.  She says that the Ronin and Casey are one their way to Aquarius, although a little too soon as "Billy's mind has not been properly prepared".

As Ronin and Casey ride on the horse, he tells her she is a samurai.  Then they are confronted by attackers who look like those who attacked Ozaki and the Ronin at the start of the book.  The Ronin fights them off and Casey suddenly has a sword which she uses to cut down two of them, although she can't figure out how she knew what to do.  Ronin's arm is cut off and reality flips back on.  Casey is in her torn uniform not a kimono and the attackers are just robots.

They cut off all Ronin's limbs, which triggers a flashback to Billy's childhood where a bully made him lash out and kill him with his powers and caused his mother to describe him as a monster.  The Ronin draws on this memory and lashes out too, blowing up the nearby robots, then he reattaches his limbs and goes to fight some more but Virgo sends flying robots that gas him, and when Casey tries to escape into the underground Virgo blows it up.
Reality ensues.
Peter, drugged and theorising madly says that Billy probably repressed most of his power, but he'd be angry and have a rich fantasy life.  Probably one where he'd want to cut off other people's limbs himself.  The Ronin is now imprisoned amongst Virgo's core bio-circuitry.  Casey is alive and coming for him.  Virgo keeps talking to her, trying to dissuade her.  The security team have been told not to let her in, but they are loyal to her, not Virgo and casey suits up and begins travelling to Virgo's core.

Taggart/Agat ponders how Virgo is managing to have such a hold over him when he wants to kill the Ronin now.  Virgo says she keeps him around as he reinforces a certain state of mind in the Ronin.  We then get a converstaion between Billy and Virgo, he is worried about Casey, but Virgo keeps him under her control by saying "you don't want to be a bad boy do you?"

Casey finds Peter, and he tells her that the Ronin is Billy's fantasy made flesh.  To free Billy and defeat Virgo she needs to break down the fantasy and make it fail.  Peter then gets shot and Billy whines that Virgo is making Casey sad.  When it looks like casey will be killed, Billy ignores Virgo and blows up the robots attacking her.  Casey carries on fighting her way to the Ronin, while Billy and Virgo argue.
"Consider this a divorce" (sorry)
The Peter reappears, with his wounds patched up by bio-circuitry.  He finally reveals Virgo's plan.  The bio-circuitry wasn't alive enough for her.  So she used Billy's Ronin fantasy to unleash his true power, with the fantasy keeping him in check while she learned about psi-powers so she could make bio-circuitry the planets dominant lifeform.  Casey then blows his head off.  She tells Virgo it's time to end this and travels to her core.  Virgo says it's nice to have everything out in the open.

Virgo: "You should at least be flattered that Billy cast you in the role of a fellow warrior, rather than some more traditional damsel in distress."

Casey finally arrives at where the Ronin is being held while Virgo nastily asks how it feels to be "a freaks wet dream".  Ronin implores her to free him so he can fight Agat or at she should kill him and use his blood to power the sword.  Deciding to change the script, Casey confronts Agat, and blows his head off with her magnum.  He was a robot all along.  Then she blasts the Ronin out of his prison, and holds Agat's head aloft.

Casey: "Rise, your master has been avenged.  The demon is dead... and a woman killed him for you."
She says he has only one option left, to commit seppuku.  She will be his second - the person who beheads the victim after the ritual stomach cutting is complete.   As he starts to slowly disembowel himself, Billy screams at how much it hurts.  Virgo tries to calm him, but he ends up just screaming "shut up!!" over and over.  When Casey strikes off the Ronin's head, Billy causes an explosion so huge it takes out the whole of Aquarius in a four page foldout spread.  The final image of the story is Casey, sat amongst the ruins, looking up at the Ronin, alive and whole again.
A happy ending...?
It's quite an epic story.  Yet strangely intimate as well.  It goes without saying that Casey is one of the coolest female characters I have ever read in a comicbook, even in this day and age.  Some of the story recapping is a little redundant when reading it in a trade, but back then it was coming out every six weeks and trade collections were not yet a thing, so it's totally forgivable.  The art as I hope my examples show is glorious beautiful and I'd probably credit this book with beginning my fascination with anime and manga and all things Japanese too. This is a real tour de force, by an extremely talented artist and writer.  When I compare it to the hate-filled garbage of 2011's Holy Terror, it makes me sad to think how far Miller's talent has degenerated over the years.  However in the 80's for me he was up there with Alan Moore as someone who made comics that really spoke to me and helped instill a love of the medium that has lasted to this day (obviously). Ronin is still in print and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to find out what Miller was like when he was still respected and not just the punchline to a joke as he is now.  You won't regret it I'm sure.