Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Ampney Crucis Investigates... Vile Bodies (2000AD #1611-1616, #1666-1671) NSFW

NSFW:  Warning, bare boobies on show!

"It's time to show these cornershop Napoleons the true meaning of fear" - Ampney Crucis

Not just one foppish occult detective this month, but two. Ampney Crucis Investigates... Vile Bodies is a slim volume containing two arcs, "Vile Bodies" which introduces Ampney, his manservant and his background and "The End Of The Pier Show" which showcases his intelligence and abilities in greater detail.  Ampney Crucis Investigates is set between the wars in the 1920's.  Ampney's background is that he's a member of the upper classes who fought in World War One.  During his time there he saw something grotesque, huge and demonic looming over a battlefield that basically broke his brain.  On returning home with severe PTSD and bouts of full on madness, he found he had the ability "sense the prescence of beings beyond imagining" and along with his trusty and gleefully stereotypical working class butler Eddie Cromwell he begins to investigate various magical threats to the Britain of all classes.  The writer is Ian Edginton and the art is by Simon Davis, and once again I am forced to admit this painted artwork looks lovely with Davis being able to switch between mundane normality, fantastically expressive portraiture and freaky magical goings on with equal ability. This book was also a gift from my good friend Lucy.  Cheers Lucy! Anyway let's begin.

VILE BODIES -  The story begins with a woman being chased through some corridors by a giant wasp like creature, which she then blows away with a shotgun.  Then we're thrown into the nightmare that was The Somme in 1916 World War I.  A soldier missing a leg is trying to crawl to safety when suddenly a huge, repulsive monstrous, lamprey like creature appears, towering over the battlefield and it sucks the soldier up and spits him out as a skeleton.  We see Ampney screaming his head off as he witnesses this, then cut to him in the now, screaming as he wakes from his nightmare.
Ampney's recurring nightmare.
His loyal manservant Cromwell greets him and tells him he's had a phonecall from "the Lady Wykes", Ampney wonders what "Calliope" wants with him:

Cromwell: "She's fine, guv.  In the pink.  Well apart from the fact she's just topped her husband!"

So they drive to Surrey, to the local police station.  Before Ampney can enter he's greeted by a portly chap called Ambrose Chutney, a school mate Ampney looked out for during their time then.  He jovially takes his leave and Ampey enters the police station and greets Lady Wykes who turns out to be the woman being chased by a monster at the start of the story.
Ampney meets with Calliope Wykes.
She says she worried that Ampney wouldn't come because they were engaged to each other before the war, but she broke things off when he came back a raving madman, and married the much older Lord Wykes instead.  She didn't have to sleep with him much until his cousin "Sir Devon Redvers" gave Lord Wykes an aphrodisiac to boost his libido and he started wanting it all the time, keeping her a prisoner in the house before finally turning into a literal moster.  She killed him out of fear of what he might do to her.

Calliope: "I can't tell anyone - they'll think I'm mad.  It's the gallows or the asylum.  You're the only one I can turn to save me Ampney. My life is in your hands."

That night Ampney and Cromwell break into the Wyke's manor for a look around.  Suddenly a huge bee-like creature bursts in.  They battle with it, Ampney manages to break off it's stinger, but the bee-creature seems more intent on something else, and vomits an acid substance over a pile of papers on the table, before departing.  Ampney says it was sent to try and cover something up and notes what's left of the papers is a correspondence between Lord Wykes and Sir Redvers regarding the Wyke's sex life.  With not enough evidence to help her Ladyship they decide to go and confront Redvers.
Humungous Mutant Bee's.  The worst kind of bee.
As they drive, Cromwell notes there are two guns in the glovebox, meaning they'll be "in for more of yesterday's fracas".  Ampney believes his senses which are tuned to the prescence of "unnatural things" in the world are telling him that they need to be ready for something even more abnormal that what they have so far experienced.

They arrive at Redver's estate and everything is covered in thick vines and foliage.  They drive right up to the manor house and go inside.  There is a room full of billions of bees and then they bump into a nude lady.  She has a bowl of fluid which she drinks from then uses her mouth to pass the liquid into the mouth of a man hanging upside down from the ceiling, bound tightly in vines.  There are quite a few other women feeding similarly trapped men.
I have nothing to add to this image.
Then some giant bee-men attack Ampney and Cromwell.  They fend them off with their guns but are son out of bullets.  Just when it seems they'll be killed, Redvers appears and calls the be-men off.  Redvers says to Ampney he heard whta happened with Wykes, who was an idiot with his brain in his "John Thomas" as far as Calliope was concerned.

Ampney: "Your aphrodisiac turned him into a monster!"

Redvers: "He already was.  I simply let what was inside, out!"

He then realises Ampney was the war hero who came home "broken and barking".  He tells Ampney to come with him and "please don't be so vulgar as to make me resort to threats."  Ampney doesn't want to leave Cromwell, but Cromwell, now surrounded by nude women, says he can "handle this lot".  So Ampney follows Redvers further into the house.

Redvers say he's spent the last ten years in search of some "higher truth".  He says nothing has changed in the wordl after the Great War.  "This species is no longer fit to steer it's fate". Ampney wonders who Redvers wants in charge.  Redvers introduces him to a huge, tentacled cactus thing.  He say he is her prophet and Ampney can be her first apostle as he is the first person to lay eyes on her and not go mad.
Redvers the loony.
Redvers tells Ampney he has "the touch of God upon you" and then gets a glimpse of the lamprey thing Ampney saw during the war, and says that Ampney was choosen to be it's vassal. "I am no monstrosity's pawn" retorts Ampney.  But Redvers open his shirt and reveals a mass of writhing vine-like tentacles and says Ampney should embrace his destiny.

He tells Ampney he was travelling across the South Pole when he had an accident that lead him to an altar with seeds upon it.  He ate the seeds and they took root in him, showing him the truth of the Old Gods.

Redvers: "They're not evil, but some abstract other.  They can guide us, make us one mind, one purpose".

He says the whole world would be at peace and with just a few people needing to be sacrificed to the God to appease it (which does sound a lot like the "Jasmine" plotline in Angel season four...).  Crucis disagrees with Redver's plan for mankinds and as he tears the vines out of Redvers chest he yells:

Ampney: "You're right, things must change. But not to kow-tow to a bloody aspidistra!"

Unfortunately he has no idea how to deal with the cactus plant God and it grabs a hold of him and opens its "mouth".  Suddenly there is an explosion and Ampney is thrown free.

He lands close to Cromwell, who is hanging from the ceiling.  Ampney helps him down and they hear artillery fire.  They escape outside and find Ambrose Chutney overseeing the clearing of the estate with gasmasked troops killing and burning as they go.  Ambrose tells Ampney they'd been watching the house for a while, but Ampney's involvement forced them, ie: The Government, to act.  The soldiers finish things off by setting the manor house on fire.
Time to kill it with fire.
Ambrose tells Ampney that Calliope has had the charges against her dropped in exchange for her silence.  As Ampney and Cromwell leave, Ambrose speaks to a mystery man who says:

Mystery Man: "For now Lord Ampney Crucis has the potential to become our greatest ally or enemy.  We must wait and see what he chooses".

And on that sinister note, the arc ends.

THE END OF THE PIER SHOW - The story begins with Ampney playing host to his three aunts who nursed him back to sanity after his experience seeing the lamprey God thing during his time in the trenches.  Cromwell brings the post and there is a postcard for him amongst the letters. It's from an old army buddy called Fred Chipps who has been dead since his first day on the front when he was shot in the eye.

The action then moves to Blackpool and over an image of people enjoying themselves on the pier is a voice over of a spell being cast, a chant to "Hecate".  Rising up from everyone is black smoke which turns into ghostly forms that congregate over a house with four naked women in it performing the spell.
The inciting incident.
We then cut to Ampney and Cromwell also in Blackpool now.  Ampney says he owes it to Cromwell to investigate this strange postcard from a dead man.  Cromwell says there is no chance Fred is still alive as he was there and witnessed Fred's death up close.  They go to the house of Fred's mother, Cromwell shows her the card and Mrs. Chipps faints.  They take her inside and Ampney says he can smell "sorcery" in there.

Outside a couple are walking down the street and the woman starts to say she feels "queer".  Her boyfriend thinks she's drunk, but she says she hardly had a drop.  Then she takes out a hairpin and stabs him in the neck with it and begins to speak in German.  Meanwhile, Mrs. Chipps has recovered and admits what she and her friends did.  They didn't think it was fair or right their boys mouldering away overseas.

Mrs. Chipps: "So we decided to do something about it.  Me and a few friends, lost mothers to lost boys.  We decided to bring them home."
Mrs. Chipps.
Ampney says it took "potency and power" to bring it about.  Mrs. Chipp's says she's always had "the sight" and she took her nan's old spellbooks and found a plea to Hecate to restore their sons.  They stole time from the living and sticthed together a patchwork of days to make new lives for their children.  But their sons didn't want them.  They wanted to keep fighting and what's worse, when they opened the door, others came through "by the score".  And the women couldn't stop them.

And the action cuts to outside where the previously happy crowds are fighting each other with rage.  Ampney says they've been "torn from whatever peace the afterlife gave them" and returned to all they know, raw hatred and fear.  "What have I done?" says Mrs. Chipps.  But Ampney kindly doesn't accuse her.  She asks what she can do to make it right and Ampney says he wants her to assemble her "cosy coven" again.  Two are nearby, but Francis is on the pier at the coconut shy.
I've been to Blackpool, I've seen Hen parties more violent than this.
Ampney decides to go and fetch Francis and he and Cromwell take a shortcut via pedalo to the pier to avoid the warring crowds.  They ascend the peir via hook and rope and clear a path using Ampney's explosive snuff.   They arrive at the coconut shy but Francis has been beheaded and her head placed on one of the stands. Waiting is a blood soaked female, stripped to the waist.  Who greets Cromwell thus:

Fred: "Hello Eddie-boy.  See you got my card.. Don't remember saying y'could bring a chum though."
Nice tits Fred.
Cromwell tries to explain that he and Ampney are here to help.  But Ampney realises Fred killed Francis so the spell that bought them here couldn't be reversed.  Fred rages that the whole world needs to be punished for what happened to them during the war.  Cromwell asks why?  Isn't he sick of all the killing?

Fred: "War's what makes us human!  Animals don't do it.  It weeds out the weak.  Makes you red in the bone.  Only the strongest can come back."

Fred wonders why Ampney and Cromwell haven't changed, then realises Ampney is immune somehow.  Fred goes to attack him and in the ensuing punch-up, Ampney and Cromwell dive back into the sea and return to their pedalo.

Back on dry land they walk back to Mrs. Chipps.  Ampney wonders if the souls haven't been "infected" somehow.  The trauma of a violent death led the souls to have less resilience and somehow an "abstract form of infection" a need for war has taken hold.  They reach Mrs. Chipp's house but it is now on fire.
Bye Francis!
Mrs. Chipps is still alive.  She had got the girls together and was returning home when she saw her house was burning and a woman (Fred) throwing Francis's head into the fire.  Then the fighting hordes stopped and dropped their weapons and started marching off somewhere.  Ampney asks to be shown where they went and the hordes are headed towards a pink dome.  As the possessed reach it, they get absorbed by it.  Ampney muses:

Ampney: "Suppose the diseased souls, now in infected flesh. Start to build the body of a beast not meant for this world.  A being that is war incarnate."

Ampney says he knows from first hand experience that when such beasts breach our dimension they can only exist here for a short time.  But this one is having a body built for it so it can survive and thrive here.  The others wonder what can be done against it.  Ampney says they must make it afraid and to do so, he needs the help of the remaining women of the coven,  oh and they all need to be naked.
War.  What IS it good for?
The other two women are a bit reluctant to get naked in front of a man.  But Mrs. Chipps bullies them into it.  They are hiding in the local brothel which is the one place their sons wouldn't think to look for them.  With all of them nude, Ampney begins to cast a spell.

Fred realises what is happening and the embryonic "War Child" hatches out.  Fred leads it to where Ampney and the others are and he and Cromwell get into a fight.  Ampney and the women finish the spell and conjure up a vision of the huge lamprey-God that was Ampney's original battlefield vision.  This terrifies the War Child and it breaks apart into the humans that made it up.  It also cleanses the people of Blackpool of the savage souls possessing them.
War Child goes to pieces.
Cromwell wonders how all the carnage will be explained.  Ampney cynically says it probably won't even make the papers.  A terrible fire, a riot fuelled by drink and loose morals.  The truth will be "too terrible to recall."  Mrs. Chipps reappears now fully clothed and asks Ampney about the thing they conjured up. 

Ampney says the "lightless worlds" have a pecking order and the War Child was a minor being compared to the lamprey God.  Ampney thanks Mrs. Chipps for her help and says he's placed a "hideously large amount" in her post office savings account and she should use it to have some fun.  And with that Ampney and Cromwell depart and this arc comes to an end.
Ampney explains... stuff.
Ampney Crucis Investigates, is on the strength of these two arcs, an extremely entertaining series.  The second arc is the stronger of the two, as it allows Ampney to take a much more active role in the defeat of the monstrous being and uses his bravery and intelligence to do so.  He is also a kind man, envinced by him refusing to point the finger of blame at Mrs. Chipps and rewarding her for making things right instead.  Loyal Cromwell is everything you need in a man servant when you fight Lovecraftian horrors, down-to-earth and asks all the questions that need to be asked so Ampney can explain things to the reader. The art is excellent and the stories zip along in the way all the best 2000AD series do.  I'll certainly be checking out more Ampney Crucis Investigates, if and when they get compiled and released that's for sure.


  1. thats awesome art! and lots of boobs as well :D

  2. That second story it was hard to find a panel without boobs in it. The boobs in story one were entirely gratuitous though...

  3. Part of the reason why I like this series is that it's such a perfect metaphor for the awful, almost super-real or preternatural nature of World War One. In a way it would be better if we could blame some eldritch abomination for the whole ghastly affair. Ampney's basically someone who once saw how horrible life can be and can't stop seeing it afterwards, so he has to use the rest of his life to help people in trouble because he can't not see the horribleness.

    If Eddie Cromwell is stereotypically working class he might be intended to remind readers of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's Chancellor, who was the working-class son of a blacksmith. He helped to de-establish the Catholic church. Or he could be a descendant of Oliver Cromwell, the regicide. Definitely a subversive name anyway :-D

    I'm glad you liked my gift. Simon Davis' art is very good. Doesn't matter whether or not it's painted. It's the right medium for him. Equally, that doesn't mean that paint is necessarily the right medium for anyone else. Someone criticised Davis in the latest 2000 AD and I was very cross, because I reckon they were blaming him for faults in the story. Or maybe they were just used to Masssimo Belardinelli drawing Sláine and doing movement/motion lines round everything. It's good that you can see that paint can be used to convey movement just as well as inks.

    The WWI monster sucks the skin off men and dumps them back on the ground as empty husks. That's a very effective metaphor, and in an SFF comic it doesn't come across as heavy-handed, because that's what SFF is like.

    Calliope is the muse of epic verse, and Morpheus' girlfriend (in Neil Gaiman's Sandman anyway).

    I have nothing to add to that image either, except that that lady has what I believe is traditionally referred to as a 'swan-like' neck. Only she's probably a bee. Or a flower.

    Redvers has daisies growing out of his chest. Seems oddly prosaic. Mind you, I bet daisies gave Ampney flashbacks for a long time afterwards. I think that this first story is basically about bad masculine forces (war, guns, force, male agents of the government) versus bad feminine forces (a giant plant-vagina thing, absolute maternal control that allows nobody to think independently). I could be wrong, though.

    Disappointed that you didn't scan the picture of full-frontal male nudity :-D

    It's scary to think that Ampney Crucis' monster is somehow even more horrifying than war itself.

    If more Ampney Crucis TPBs are published I'll buy them and give them to you after I've read them.

  4. Yeah, it's interesting that in just two storylines they've filled in enough details about the Eldrtich Abominations that you are fascinated to find out more about them, how they have intefered in humanity existance, like did Ampney's monster somehow help cause WWI just so it could feed? We know it's one of the top monsters of the heirarchy as just an image of it makes War Child break apart, I hope they explore more about the uber-lamprey in later storylines.

    Eddie Cromwell is a cool dude. I like that he and Ampney have a friendship across class lines, and that they'd obviously die for each other.

    Full frontal MALE nudity? Madam, I have Standards! :D

    This book (and collected version of Devlin Waugh) has definitely made me appreciate painted art again. Though I hope my tumblr posts from TOXIC show how and why I soured on it back in the day. Actually what I now like about painted art is that it feels a very UK specific type of comic art, for some reason I've rarely read a US comic that utilises the media (only Bill Sienkiewicz's "Stray Toasters" springs to mind, I'll have to cover that one day). I think it's because UK artists don't split their workload between an inker, penciller and colourist very often so you get a more auteurist art approach for better or worse.

    I hope there is more Ampney Crucis to come (and would be much appreciated, thanks!), I love a Lovecraftian horror series, and setting it during the period Mr. HP was writing his Eldritch stories was a stroke of meta-genius.