Wednesday, 21 December 2016

True Faith (CRISIS #29-38)

"You just can't rely on anyone these days" - Terry Adair

Merry winter solstice blog faithful!  And what better series to celebrate Saturnalia or indeed the birth of the baby J than a (teenaged) Garth Ennis one about organised religion. Oh stop, it's not as bad as it could have been.  I don't actually think it's offensive because it's such a weird concept.  It takes the idea of someone having a massive crisis of faith and going utterly mad and who for some reason drags a misfit teenage boy into his crusade against the church, makes some vaguely cynical noises about God and the bible and ends with a literal bang as the misfit schoolboy discovers what truly he has faith in. Along the way Ennis swats his verbal hands at Margaret Thatcher, the S.A.S and dozy, uncaring parenting in a rather scattershot selection of targets that only hang together as well as they do thanks to Warren Pleece's superb and striking artwork.  This series ran in the lefty political comic CRISIS although I don't think Ennis's politics were/are very leftwing (nor rightwing, I'd describe him as a humanitarian liberal which he'd probably hate) but CRISIS was the most successful of the glut of adult orientated UK comics that appeared at the end of the 1980's, with this strip running in 1989.  So lets get this Xmas party started.

We begin in a church, where Terry Adair is praying.  Then we cut to a secondary school and our main protagonist Nigel Gibson is being taunted over his desire to go to a scripture because he fancies a girl in it.  Then he bumps into the P.E teacher who heard him say "wankers" and fines him fifty lines about swearing.

Mr.Hunt: "You really are pathetic Gibson. You never do anything worthwhile.  I never see you on the rugby pitches.  You don't dress properly.. you've got no respect for yourself."

He tells him he should go to the scripture class.  As he leaves Nigel notes the teacher will be there too eyeing up the talent.
Alienated teenager Nigel Gibson.
Back with Terry in church.  He thanks God for his job as a toilet cleaner salesman.   And he asks the Lord to watch over his wife who is currently giving birth, "please keep them safe Lord I love them more than anything. Um except you."

In the scripture class Nigel notes that everyone seems like "bloody zombies" spouting brainwashing material.  Then Angela Hyman, the girl he's attracted to gets up to make a speech.  She tells everyone that learning God's lessons when you are young helps stop older people leading you astray when you get older.

At the hospital, Terry is given terrible news.  His wife died in childbirth and the kid only lived a few minutes before dying as well. Terry goes into deep shock.  After scripture class, Nigel walks with Angela and asks her about the whole "women are wicked" thing. She says everyone has their place in the eyes of the Lord.
Deeply traumatised Terry Adair.
Nigel says that if it was a politician you wouldn't believe this stuff.  "But it's not a politician, it's God" counters Angela.  Nigel asks if she ever feel about cutting loose.  "I can't be weak Nigel, it's a sin" she responds.  He tentatively invites her to the pub and she agrees to come saying she is allowed to have fun.

Terry's wife and child are buried.  At the wake afterwards a couple of the people say that everyone there is mostly the wife's friends. Terry has no one to help him get over it.  Later when everyone is gone, Terry goes and kneels by the two graves.  He then yells at the sky:

Terry: "Are you listening God? I swear on their graves I'll kill you for this!"

Nigel arrives at the pub to meet Angela only to find she's bought along some of her fellow bible bashers.  "Ah shit" he says to himself "she thinks I want to be a bloody Christian". He orders himself a beer and sees Terry hunched over the bar and thinks, "I don't know what your problem is mate.  But you look just the way I feel."
An unbearable loss.
Nigel sits with the group and downs his beer.  One of them says that when he decided to become a Christian he faced ridicule.  Nigel says he hasn't actually joined.  Another asks exactly what he wants to know:

Nigel: "Just little things really... how do I find faith.. what being a Christian means in todays society... which prayers do I use... And of course why you think I'd want to follow such a mindless cop-out philosophy as Christianity anyway. You pricks."

They get into an argument as Nigel insists God doesn't exist and the bible is bunk.  Mike, the jock and "Golden Boy" according to Nigel tells him "his sort" never do anything of their own and make fun of those who do.

Mike says he's better than Nigel because he's on the rugby team, he's doing well in his A'levels and is nearly done doing a Duke of Edinburgh award.  Nigel says he is arrogant to think everyone should care about achieving the same things "just because you want it, everyone else has to want it".

Terry overhears Nigel's criticism of the God squad.
Terry is listening intently to their argument as Nigel carries on putting the verbal boot in saying "I've got my own values."  He doesn't get them from a vicar handing them out on a plate.   Nigel says "God looks after people, all he asks is that they give him their love". Nigel retorts "and their free will".  Then Terry lurches over to them and tells Mike to shut up.

Terry: "Bollocks!  He doesn't give a shit! You wait! You just wait until your rising main stop valve is loose!  Because that's when it counts, son. That's when it matters. And when you're disappearing round the 'S' bend and God still hasn't turned up with a half inch spanner and a plunger.  Well.  Then you realise how much the Lord cares about you".

He then tells them he's going to kill God and leaves.  Nigel gets up to follow him.   When Angela tells him not to, Nigel says he only invited her out because he wanted to "get into her knickers" not have a bible study class.  And he follows Terry out of the pub thinking "he's probably completely harmless".

He ends up in a derelict flat, on the table is a shotgun and under the table several molotov cocktails.  There is a diary there as well which he picks up and starts to read.  Up to the birth of his son it's normal stuff.  Afterwards it's paranoid ranting, he writes that "God has become a blockage.  I need a plunger."

His plan is to go and create havoc in the houses of the Lord until he can get Him to show his face.  We cut to Terry fire bombing the inside of a church, sticking two fingers up at the burning crucifix and blasting the vicar with a shotgun.

Terry's diary: "He will want to meet his nemesis.  And then I will look into the face of God. And with all the reverence due to a blockage in the 'S' bend of the world.  I will unblock him.  I will snuff him out."

Terry upon reading this starts to make a run for it only to bump into Terry returning from his church burning excursion.  Terry tells him to sit down and listen.
Nigel stumbles into something bad.
He remembers Nigel from his arguing with the bible group.  He asks his name and is told it's "Nigel Gibson".  Terry says he could kill Nigel now he knows about his mission but feels a "certain kinship" with him.  He then starts ranting about his word being Law and Nigel needs to keep his mouth shut and obey because he has a twelve bore shotgun standing very near him.

He then lets Nigel go and he flees.  On the way he comes across the burning church and realises Terry's crusade is a very real one.  He gabbles to the police constable there that he knows who did this.  The cop says he'll take a statement after he's checked the alleyway.  Nigel hears a scream and goes to look only to find the policeman dead, hanged from a fire ladder by Terry who says "Lawbreaker" to him.
Terry practices what he preaches.
Nigel runs again, while Terry mulls over the fact he'll run home to the warm and get his father to phone the police.  We then get a look at Nigel's family.  His parents seem unconcerned that it's eleven o'clock at night and he's still out.  His sister says he's a "weirdo" and embarrasses her.

Back with Nigel, he's being stalked by Terry as he heads home.  He runs thinking to himself that his pet dog will attack Terry only to find his dog crucified on a saltire.  He runs again in absolute terror as Terry muses that "his four footed angel of deliverance has fallen too far to do any good."

Terry ends up cowering in a dead end alley as Terry approaches him Nigel says he gives up, Terry can obviously kill him anytime he wants.   Terry says he won't kill him, Nigel is Terry's son now, "we should make merry and be glad."  He embraces Terry saying he will help in his mission to deal with the blockage, "my son".
Not cool Terry!
Sometime later we see Nigel helping Terry make molotov cocktails as he silently laments what has bought him to this situation.  If he refuses to help, Terry will kill him:

Nigel: "He convinced me of that last fact beyond a shadow of a doubt.  I believe him.  I have faith in him. Great faith."

Nigel asks Terry what he will do when God comes down to face him.  Terry says God is powerful because he is an idea.  Destroying the idea behind him requires a potent symbol and he picks up a revolver.  He points it at Nigel and recites Clint Eastwood's "do you feel lucky punk?" Dirty Harry speech.  He says the idea behind those words has power, "they are equal in the minds of the people to the words of God. They are my weapons to destroy him".

They firebomb another church, as it catches fire Terry shoots the vicar in the leg then grabs him and smashes his head into the font repeatedly screaming "blocked!" As they leave they are grabbed by some men dressed all in black and dragged into a van.  They are dumped in front of a sinister looking man who says they have been burning churches and that "I think we're going to be very good friends indeed."  Nigel thinks to himself:

Nigel: "What Terry Adair does is illogical.  It's insane.  It's stupid. It causes the death of innocents and the destruction of all they hold dear.  And all of that means nothing to him whatsoever.  I think Terry Adair is the nearest I'll get to actually meeting a god."

But as he and Terry kneel before the sinister man, Nigel wonders what that makes him.  The man introduces himself as Cornelius Garten.   The men are his commandos and they've decided the source of the world's sorrows much be removed.
The sinister Cornelius.
That source is God.  After some more subtle attempts to influence peoples views on him they decided to take direct action and go after the churches. Imagine his surprise when someone else started doing what he'd planned.

Terry asks what he wants, Cornelius says "recruits". In his view God is a cancer.  "Blockage" says Terry, "Cancer" says Cornelius until Terry gives in and says "cancer" too. Then Cornelius shows them a huge number of guns and molotov cocktails he has stored up.  Then they go on a church burning expedition.  Cornelius says he's impressed with them an Terry mumbles "thankyou Cornelius".  Nigel puts his head in his hands and thinks:

Nigel: "I thought Terry Adair was a god.  He threw off his religion and thought for himself. And, even though he was off his bloody rocker, he wasn't being led like a sheep anymore.   But with that bastard Cornelius.. well now Terry's back in the flock. Which means I'm even further up shit creek".
Happeeee Christmas!!
We then cut to a mass of newspapers all leading on the spate of church burnings.  Mrs. Thatcher in shadow is asking some of her cabinet what they know about this. One of them suggests that it's Satanists.  Thatcher says no, she asked Norman (Tebbit I assume) about it and he says it definitely wasn't them, at least not from his coven. Heh. Thatcher says she's not interested in why this is happening, only what they can do to stop it happening. "It's time to take action" she says.

Meanwhile a depressed and run down looking Nigel gets ready for school.  His parents say he doesn't seem himself lately.  As he leaves, his dad says it's probably just a phase.  His sister says, "He's been in a 'phase' all his life dad.  He's a real dippo".  Sadly Nigel leaves the house and drags himself to school.
Nigel's life sucks.
At school he has the piss taken out of him by some sneering aresholes.  He ignores it.  Later he is sitting alone in the dressing rooms and Mike the jock confronts him over what he said to Angela back in the pub a while back. He yanks Nigel up and says, "I hate you Gibson.  You and all the scum out there like you".  He pushes Nigel off the bench and walks off, Nigel spots a cricket bat and smiles.

Then we cut to him in the headmaster's office.  He's being raked over the coals for bashing Mike over the head with the bat. Nigel lies and says Mike exposed himself to him which enrages the Head.  He says Mike is vital to the rugby team, top of most of his classes and a committed Christian.  Nigel is a "reptile" who nearly killed him and for that he gets two weeks suspension.  He tells his parents this over dinner, they react mildly telling him to "buck up a bit".

Back to Thatcher, she is observing a conversation two of her ministers are having in the toilet via a CCTV camera in there.  She has a bank of monitors in front of her.  She ponders the comment one of them said that she was overreacting, then she gets on the phone and calls for the S.A.S.

While his family watch the news, Nigel gets a call from Cornelius saying tonight he has to come along, Terry insists.  Then we cut to a room full of S.A.S men, they have men undercover at several major targets.  If they are attacked they'll call and they can be there in minutes. They are told that if the arsonists aren't carrying guns, they need to make sure they are once they are dead.
The attack commences.
Nigel arrives at Cornelius's place.  Tonight they are planning an attack on "the big one." Nigel regards the passive Terry with irritation thinking for all his big talk he folded up in front of Cornelius.  "Mind you, you had me on a roller coaster ride to hell long before he came along" he thinks to himself.

The big one turns out to be Saint Paul's cathedral.  They go inside and start throwing fire bombs.  They shoot the man who comes to see what's going on, but he's actually one of the undercover S.A.S and as he lies on the floor he calls for them to come.  He then gets up and reveals he's got a machine gun.  Cornelius shouts to Terry and Nigel to run back to the van.  But the way is blocked by a wall of gun toting S.A.S men who open fire upon them.

Cornelius, Terry and Nigel run into a side room as the rest of the their "soldiers" are gunned down.  They crouch down and Nigel starts gibbering "oh shit" over and over.  Cornelius calls him a "worm". Terry meanwhile stands up and declaims that the blockage is coming forth "and it's like unto a great and mighty number two".  Cornelius tries to snap him out of it.

We get a quick cut to his parents discussing Nigel, they think he'll do better when he starts work.  But they aren't even sure when he goes back to school causing his sister to facepalm.  Back with Nigel, Cornelius shouts at Terry that his wife wouldn't have wanted this.

That snaps Terry out of it, because he never told Cornelius about his wife.  He wants to know how Cornelius knows and Cornelius says, "I killed her."  He paid off the doctor to "balls up the birth".  He wanted Terry to lose his faith so he could become a true commando.

Cornelius: "That's how I got them all... Find someone who's utterly devout. Inject a bit of personal tragedy to kill off their faith.  And bingo!  Instant fanatic!"

Cornelius rambles on that in two thousand years there could be a religion about what was written of his methods.  Nigel asks "why" he did all this?  Cornelius shouts that God killed his wife in the middle of childbirth, "do you think I'm goning to let him get away with that?!"
But the S.A.S swiftly end it.
Terry lets out an anguished scream which alerts the S.A.S as to where they are. He says sadly, "I've been mad.. I've been mad.. I've been insane for so long."  Cornelius grins at him as Nigel makes his escape through a small window, and says that he is still insane himself.  Terry points his gun at Cornelius but before he can shoot, the S.A.S burst in and kill them both, Terry's gun flies up and out through the window and hits Nigel who picks it up and makes his getaway.

Next day Nigel is at school even though he is still suspended, drinking vodka.  Angela comes up and asks him if he is Ok saying he doesn't look well.  Nigel has a serene quality about him and when Angela says there is something odd about him today, Nigel says she wouldn't believe how odd.

Then the P.E teacher appears and says him being there drinking gets him an audience with the headmaster.  Nigel tells him to "go and fuck yourself".  The P.E teacher rounds on him for swearing only to be faced with a gun pointed right at his head.  He whimpers and Nigel pulls the trigger blowing the man's brains out.
I hated my P.E teacher too, but even I wouldn't have shot her.
"Holy shit" shouts Angela, and Nigel says "that's the whole point Angela."  He goes outside and sits on the steps.  He hears the alarm and knows the police are soon to be on their way. Getting the kids out "so the police marksman can do their job".  He thinks to himself that they went look for God in the wrong places, he's inside of us all because "we invented him."  He thinks that Terry, for all his madness, showed him something:

Nigel: "He just did whatever the hell he wanted. And I guess that's the lesson I learned from him.  So here I am.  Free. And that's the way I'm staying. I've got faith in myself at last.  True faith. But then I was bound to say that sooner or later."
It began with anger and ends in calm. Only the warm embrace of death waits for Nigel.
Well there you have it.  Is it in poor taste me bunging up a post in which one of the main characters compares God to a giant poo stuck in the 'S' bend of life during what for some is a very God orientated celebration?  Maybe.  My family celebrate Festivus, we put up our aluminium pole and take part in the annual airing of the grievances and the feats of strength so I feel a little naughty this time of year.  This is I think only the second series Ennis had done after the excellent debut Troubled Souls which I have already covered (I'm not sure when he took up regular writing duties on Judge Dredd post-Troubled Souls).  I feel like he was torn between wanting to say something profound about religion  and wanting to let his more grotesque sensibility off the leash for the first time and ended up falling between the two stools. Although it does feel like a trial run for the Preacher series many years later which starred a man of faith who wanted to find a runaway God and take him to task for his perceived failings. Nigel is the most well drawn of the characters, even if his story is incredibly depressing, with the ending implying all he has faith in is the gun and that he intends to die now, taken out by a police marksman. Maybe if I put my feminist hat on we can figure his plot arc out. Perhaps prolonged exposure to Terry's madness as a surrogate father figure railing against the ultimate patriarch affected him because his parents barely care about him, his sister is embarrassed by him, he's mocked by his peers and is unable to score with the girl he fancies who is dating the arsehole jock.  It all creates a brew of resentment stoked by a culture of toxic masculinity that finds its final expression in the power vested in him by the possession of a gun, the ultimate phallic symbol.  And he uses it to murder the P.E teacher and head of the rugby club, the alpha male if you will, taken out by the belittled and humiliated beta male.  So in the end, not a series that was really about religion at all, just plain and simple male entitlement.  You can breathe a sigh of relief now.  Happy holidays peeps, see you in the new year. 

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Devlin Waugh: Reign of Frogs (2000AD #1158-1169)

"It was a bloodbath... it was all too ghastly for words" - Devlin Waugh

This is the middle part of a series of three linked storylines starring good old Devlin Waugh, following on from the first part Chasing Herod which I have covered previously.  If you don't know who Devlin is, he's a English gentleman, a flamboyantly gay man and a vampire (thanks to events that happened in his first storyline Swimming In Blood) who sort of works for the Dreddworld Vatican City as an expert in matters of the occult.  He keeps trying to retire, but events in Chasing Herod dragged him back into action.  In that storyline the Vatican was robbed and an item that summons a huge golem like creature called "The Herod" was stolen and auctioned.  Before Devlin and the Vatican City strike team could stop it, The Herod was summoned it killed several people and beat Devlin very badly before the others rescued him.  An avalanche temporarily brings it to a halt.  Now it is in the hands of a mysterious group who, at the end of the previous story, stated they will need to be ready for July 23rd, "and then.. we change the world".  Devlin, usually so smooth and composed is utterly terrified of The Herod, which he helped bring down in the past although we don't yet know how.  So before we find out what he is up too, there is a prologue introducing a new character to the series.  John Smith once again is writing, Steve Yeowell is also still doing the fantastically psychedelic art.

We're first introduced to one "Eddie Whyteman", a psychic detective from Megacity One who has been gambling and whoring in Indo-City.  "If luck was a lady, she was my goddamn ex-wife" he bemoans to himself as he is brought before Miss Kapoor of "Bollywood Heights" who is going to hire him so he can pay off his gambling debts faster than doing porn.
Eddie Whyteman
One of her prize Shi-Tzus has disappeared and she wants him to find it.  He drops in on the city's Grand Hall of Justice first but is told they can't even spare resources to find lost children let alone animals.  And dog flesh is tastier than rat.

He makes some inquiries on the streets and finds out a lot of dogs have been going missing, so he returns to his hotel room and gets out his old dollar bill so he could use the Illuminati Oracle and he performs the "XIII* ritual" to operate it.  It points him towards a meat packing district.

He hotwires a hover rickshaw and travels across the "radlands and mutant jungles of Western Ghats".  He ends up north in the uplands of Ahmadabad, "where my world came tumbling down".  He sees the dead dogs having their heads cut off and then the flesh removed in an acid vat.
Jack Of Knives.
A strange humanoid dressed like a clown with a distorted face and long knives for fingers is picking skulls out.  "It was Jack of Knives and he was building a bomb" thinks Eddie as he observes Jack putting together a pillar of dog skulls.  Jack starts the incantation to a spell, some sort of "spirit-bomb" synchronised with the lunar/cthonic current.

Unable to think of what else to do, Eddie pulls his gun and waits for a clear shot.  But Jack of Knives sees him.  It fires at him but in the long moment before the bullet hits  Eddie manages to send out a "garbled psychic distress flare."  Then the wind is punched out of him, the water comes up to meet him and all goes dark.

We then start the series proper with Devlin on his island off of East Samoa.  He's yelling at his two exquisite boys Luke and Phillipe that the haven't done the magical rites to protect his island properly.  They calm him down and he moodily says that "this place gets me so terribly down" and that "if this is life, I'm starting to envy the dead."
Devlin, hiding on a tropical island.
At the Vatican City a young man called Lazlo is making a presentation to the assembled Your Graces of footage of The Herod in action. It is shown tearing its way through a bunker designed to sit out a nuclear war in, a safehouse being used by targets, which are people born on the 23rd July.

We cut to Jenny, she is a woman who is very psychically sensitive and lies in a water tank in Vatican City. She starts detecting something.  Back with Lazlo he says when The Herod was last incarnate, Devlin and his brother Freddy defeated it.  Now Devlin is in self-imposed exile hiding from the The Herod it's up to the other Vatican operatives to stop it.

One of the cardinals asks how it is possible that The Herod has killed people in Cairo, Bejing, Istanbul and Buenos Airies in the last 24 hours.  Lazlo says it travels via mirrors.  Occultists know this but they haven't made it public in case they induce mass panic.
Jenny and Lazlo.
Lazlo is asked what this genocide means, Lazlo says they don't know yet but have several agents think it may concern "the world energy grid in some way" but they have no evidence yet. Then Jenny is hit first by Eddie Whyteman's psychic cry for help then the full force of what Jack Of Knives set off before the others detect it.

Lucy comes rushing over to Lazlo saying Jenny's had some kind of fit and he needs to come and look because the whole mainboard has lit up like a Christmas tree:

Lucy: "It's India. Psi-Sats and Groundwatch both confirm it!  The Centre of Pestilence in India has just gone critical!"

The effects of Jack Of Knive's "bomb" is shown.  At 200 miles, shockwaves and Earth tremors. AT 100 miles, hallucinations, blindness, temporal lobe seizures and spontaneous combustion.  50 miles, hysteria, madness,  anti-gravity effects, earthlights and poltergeist activity. At Ground Zero, death. "One down.  Six to go." thinks Jack.
Pussy Willow in action.
While this is going on Devlin is getting more drunk and self pitying.  Luke and Philipe get him to bed. At the Vatican City Lazlo and Lucy talk about what happened.  Lazlo says it's not confined to India so they have been given "full sanction to send in Pussy Willow". Lucy protests saying she's not right in the head, but Pussy calls in and says "his Holiness has spoken so you're stuck with me aren't you?"

Lazlo asks her what things are like where she is.  She says it was a "dirty bomb" and she can't get within a mile of the blast zone.

Pussy Willow: "I'm reading high radon and widecast Zothyrian level emanations and there's all kind of levitation effects showing up.  Feels like gravity keeps switching itself on and off."

Checking closer she finds that it's not just a  "grid point activation", they have gone deeper and "locked the original grid down." She goes in closer still. "I don't know whether this is hell or the foundation stones of heaven.  But we've got trouble."
Devlin is visited by the League of Shadows.
Devlin blearily wakes up and hearing a noise, goes and looks for Luke and Phillipe.  He finds them dead, frozen solid by a group of nefarious individuals who have transported in. The leader introduces himself as "Dr. Nevermind" and a white-suited man with a halo called "The Catechist" puts a vampire killing knife to Devlin's throat.

In India, Pussy Willow reports that she needs to be pulled out of there, her ship isn't able to stand up to what's happening.  Lazlo tells her about the message received from Eddie Whyteman and could she go and find him?  She uses her special earring to track him down via his heartbeat.

Back with Devlin, the assorted people who transported in are all wanted by the Vatican City.  But the threat of The Herod has caused them all to band together against the greater threat and they want Devlin on their side as well.  One of them says The Herod is just one piece of the puzzle and someone has "struck fear into the massmind of the world." They know enough that everyone is under threat.

Devlin won't play ball however.  He's content to sit in the dark and drink while the whole world falls apart. "That's precisely what I intend to do.  Chin chin!" snarls Devlin. Watching this, Ralph Beerbohm says he's going to have to "bring in Stella."
He refuses to play ball though.
At the Vatican, Lucy is performing a rite of "feeding the Exus" when Lazlo interrupts saying "The League of Shadows" have got in touch, their arch enemies have declared a truce. Lucy says it's great news, then goes back to her ritual.

Devlin is still being intransigent. The others try to talk him into coopertaing but he says nothing they could say will convince him.  Then Dr. Nevermind activates "the Eschersphere" and someone comes through it.  "Mother?" whispers Devlin:

Stella: "Don't you 'mother' me.  I was at a whist drive in Biarritz before they dragooned me into this and I'm not in the mood for any of your crap Devlin.  Now stop gawping and fix me a drink and we can get this whole bloody mess sorted out."

We then travel to Thailand.  A man in a flowery shirt is saying he sees drowned cities, "man crawling back to meet his maker".  Then a man with no legs informs him he's detected  unusual "aetheric activity" in the South Pacific where Devlin Waugh is.   The flowery shirted man orders an "earthquake level event" targetted at Devlin's location.  "They won't know what hit them" he says.
 Stella gives him a piece of her mind..
Devlin's mum Stella chews him out for his behaviour while Devlin protests.  She says he's "bringing shame" on the family name with his "grubby self-serving behaviour". Then the vatican City call and warn them something huge is headed their way. The man with four arms who was out on the beach runs in and says the tide has gone out, which is impossible on a small island.  And a huge tidal wave bears down on them.

We then jump forwards to Devlin, his mum and The League of Shadows safely at a hotel in Timbuk2.  Stella's diary records that they all managed to get in the Eschersphere before the wave crashed down.  She doesn't know how, "but he has my deepest respect."  Investigators up in space find the satellite that caused the wave, it's "HekTek".

Pussy Willow then shows up with Eddie Whyteman, he's injured but patched up enough to now to interact with people normally. Bewildered by all the strange people, Stella leaves them and goes to find something to drink.  Everyone else sits round a table and start to figure out what is going on.

Lazlo says that "Lord Benjamin Hekt" is behind everything. He apparently started to go off the rails with the building of Timbuk2, he's obsessed with the place.  Hekt has his fingers in many pies but his real interest is in "enviromental engineering".  He's been setting up satellite and ground based transmitter sites all over the world, but Pussy says they had no idea why until he suddenly powered up the "Centres of Pestilence." Eddie says that's when things get "seriously weird."
A loose end from part one tied up.
We then cut to a Vatican expedition on a boat where a wolf-headed man and a snake bodied woman are making out.  A Judge brings something they have found to their attention.  it's a floating shrine to Kali. Someone tried to escape through it and they shot him.  it's the Fakir from the first part of this storyline who stole the Herod skull and kicked everything off.

Timbuk2:  Eddie carries on talking.  He tells everyone about the "Dogon", an ancient people who migrated to Mali thousands of years ago from pre-dynastic Egypt.  They are "practically on their doorstep" and why Hekt chose this place to build Timbuk2. The Dogon's secret knowledge is about the dog star Sirius:

Eddie: "They believe civilisation was bought to Earth 15,000 years ago by amphibious extra-terrestrials from the Sirius system."

Others have heard of this alien race, the "Nommo". Eddie is asked what makes him such an expert and he says he is half Dogon himself on his father's side.  His father was a high priest before the "credit wars" forced him to relocate to Megacity One.

So he knows why Hekt is tripping the Centres of Pestilence.  He's "lighting the beacon that will summon the Nommo back to Earth".  The key is July the 23rd, which is when the hyperspace link between Sirius and Earth is at its strongest.  As well as other occult links with people born on that day being sensitive to "influences from the outside", July the 23rd is Hekt's birthday:

Pussy Willow: "And he's convinced that by snuffing out the competition he'll be the only channel to receive the Sirius transmission. An astral lightning conductor earthing the current himself."

Before the Nommo arrive, Hekt has to prepare the planet and that's what he's been doing setting up all the transmitter sites and seismic weapons.  Pussy Willow says he plans to flip the magnetic poles and flood the Earth.
The League and Vatican representatives try and figure out Hekt's plan.
Eddie says thousands of tonnes of meltwater will be released and there will be mile high tidal waves.  And when it ends the mass landings will begin.  Devlin however is somewhat dismissive of the idea of an alien invasion.  Pussy Willow admits maybe its not something to be taken literally, that it's something in their DNA.

The Catechist says maybe both are right, he sees it maybe a something to do with sex, "erotic symbolism which concealed intercourse with cosmic beings".  Devlin snaps at him that he doesn't believe his "satanic flim flam".  Eddie says they are all blinkered by their magickal dogma, "it's hard to know who's right and wrong".

Eddie then goes onto say that Hekt must have found out about the Nommo from "the Toad in the Stone".  A guardian left behind by the Nommo, which was to monitor mankind in their abscence.  It was sealed beneath the Spinx but is now somewhere under Timbuk2 and Hekt has tuned into its wavelength somehow.

So what does the Herod have to do with this?  It's the "Opener of the Way" killing everyone born on July 23rd.  But Hekt has been killing those people for decades now with specially engineered viruses which killed 40% of people born on that day. "A quiet war waged with silent weapons" muses Lucy.

Elsewhere in the hotel a couple have checked in, although they were told not to bring in a mirror, the woman has smuggled one in.  Bad move, the Herod comes through and crushes her, then goes rampaging in search of his real target. Dr Nevermind panics, he was born on July 23rd.  Lucy summons the tree-like Exus to fight The Herod as they run.  Dr. Nevermind flees at great speed and Lazlo admits July the 23rd is his birthday too.
The Herod squishes people with ease.
The Herod catches Dr. Nevermind and crushes him, then heads towards Devlin's mother.  Lazlo asks how Devlin and his brother stopped it last time.  Devlin says his brother sold his soul to the devil to find out its "protocult codes" and nuked it with an "art/life virus".

He then uses his amulet on the Herod even though he thinks a fertility spell won't be much use, but some things grow from the ground an attack it and another of the group uses an ice spell against it which temporarily slows it down and Devlin's mother can get to safety.  Another of the group has his cockatoo transform into a pterodon like monster which fights the recovered Herod as everyone runs again.

They leave the hotel and find The Catechist in a truck. He disses God and says he's not afraid to die and rams the truck into the Herod.  They carry on running but find they can go no further.  Lazlo decides to face death with dignity, but then Jenny in her mobile tank rams the Herod who tosses her to one side.  Then he murders Lazlo and departs through a nearby nightclub mirror.
Lazlo is killed, Jenny badly injured.
The final part of the story is narrated by Devlin in flashback.  When he cast his spell he left traces on The Herod that allowed them to track it down to where Hekt was hiding. His base was in the salt mines under Timbuk2. The team from the boat which found the floating shrine join them and they went to investigate hoping for a quick "snuff job".

Jenny, despite losing her body's arms and legs wass still alive and traveled with them via her astral projection. "There was a foetor to that place - a reek of dissolution - and as we pushed further onwards it grew interminably worse" he recounts.  Then they were attacked by creatures with many arms and legs.

They managed to wipe the creatures out but sustained casualities as they did so.  With no other options they pressed on.

Devlin: "For the longest time it was eerily quiet - the kind of quiet you only find underground - the sense of all that rock pressing down. Then Jenny muttered something in a strange fluting voice and I knew then we'd found it.  Our quarry's lair.  The heart of darkness.  The house that Hekt built".

There was a massive geode cracked open outside the perfectly normal looking house.  They ventured inside with weapons primed, but a voice warned them they shouldn't have come here.
Something was inside that thing...
The voice then said before they died would they "like to meet Ixnaar.  I know he'd like a word with you".  Then the lights went out and there was a "damburst of ultrasonics".   It caught them unawares and had a terrible effect on Jenny distorting her astral form before she could pull back to her body.

Devlin then admits he can't remember much of what happened next. But as he fled he glanced back and saw a giant frog-like monster, which is obviously the Nommo Monitor Eddie spoke of. Devlin says that how he got out he doesn't know, "some things are so terrible.  So big and sharp and ugly they're not meant to fit in our heads."

They sent "the movers" down there the next day but Hekt and the Nommo were gone.  Jenny never regained her higher brain functions.  Devlin says sadly that "he beat us.  Trounced us like we were amateurs".  Nevermind, Lazlo, The Cathechist, Furor all dead.  Jenny as good as dead.

Devlin: "We have six days before Sirius rises and the outer gateways flung open. Time to bury our dead and grieve before the final curtain".
And the mosnter is revealed.
And that brings this middle part of the trilogy to a doom-laden close.  This is not an easy read.  I must admit I only picked up on certain things when I was writing it up having missed them on my first casual perusuals.  Despite the serious nature of the overall story there is some humour with Devlin's mum being unleashed to get him to step up and help in the battle against Hekt.  Also Eddie Whyteman is an interesting character who I'd like to see more of, a shabbier and more low rent magician than the stylish gentleman Devlin.  Also once again praise is due for Devlin being depicted as an obviously gay man, we still need more of those in comics.  John Smith really goes wild with Escherspheres, monster clowns, killer golems and a range of weird and wonderful magical characters and Steve Yeowell depicts them all in a clean, crisp way.  More detailed than his hi-energy work on Zenith, he and Smith make an excellent pair.  If I had one criticism, the huge info-dump about the Nommo is somewhat inelegant, although obviously it was needed, I wonder if it could have been presented a bit more excitingly than people sitting round a table.  But I carp pettily.  This is great stuff and has really set up what seems to be an unbeatable enemy, so if you want to know how it all ends, I'll be covering the final part in mynext UK comics month.  This storyline is also collected in the first Devlin Waugh trade paperback "Swimming In Blood" too.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Chopper: Song Of The Surfer (2000AD #654-665)

"Sorry Charlene... so sorry" - Chopper

We return to Dreddworld now with a haunting tale of death and destiny as Marlon "Chopper" Shakespeare, a once youthful and rebellious Sky Surfer, returns to compete in "Super Surf 11" which is taking place in Megacity 2.  Sky Surfing is exactly as described, surfers travel through the air on flying surfboards and Super Surf takes place around the globe each year to find the best of them.  On the run from the Justice System he escaped in Megacity One, Chopper has been living the the Australian "radback" where he had ended up after escaping Dredd at the end of Supersurf 10 and making friends with and re-racing Jug who he lost to in Supersurf 10 (he wins the rematch and gets a new love interest called Charlene too).  He stays in the radback, and when circumstances combine to encourage him to take part in the event, it turns out this Super Surf will be a little different from the others.  Bankrolled by a blind bilionaire called Stig, there will be bullets, snipers, spikes, rockets and lasers all pointing at the competitors.  Signing up will mean almost certain death, but the reward for winning is a huge amount of cash and glory.  Will Chopper embrace his destiny in taking part?  Or will he bow out like his friend and the current world champion Jug?  On writing duties is John Wagner and Colin McNeil is on art chores with a less painterly look than his later works at least at the start, it gets more painted as it goes on.  This story ran in 1989 round about the time Necropolis was being teased with the likes of The Deadman, as well as the third book of Zenith in which whole parallel worlds were being destroyed left, right and centre, giving the comic at the time quite a doom laden feel.

Out in the radback, Chopper broods on his surfboard.  A newpaper advertising Supersurf 11 has made it out to him.  His friend, an disabled aborigine called Smokie grumbles at him at the food he's caught for them, saying a city boy like him is no help.

Later while the eat, Smokie spies the newspaper and asks if he plans on going.  Chopper answers in the negative but Smokie says he should:

Smokie: "You have the wind dreaming.  You too dumb to know.  But I know.  You follow your songline.  Song bring you.  Song take you away".

Chopper reiterates he's not interested and wants to stay and look after Smokie, who says he's dying soon.  And next day Chopper indeed finds him dead.  Sadly Chopper buries him, says a few words, then leaves to join the other Oz surfers going to the Supersurf.
Chopper reunites with Charlene.
Chopper has an emotional reunion with Charlene as well as Jug and his girlfriend.  Charlene insists Chopper has a bath and treats him for the insects he's got living under his skin.  Jug tells Chopper the prize is one million creds from the new backer and Megacity Two ought to be safe for Chopper.

Washed and dressed, Chopper meets up with the rest of the Oz surfer continginent who are all very cheerful and friendly.  They tell him there's a boy from Brit-Cit who is a real contender.  Charlene notes that Chopper seems distant from the rest.  Chopper says he's just "following the songlines."

As they travel with the other surfers to Megacity Two, Chopper tells Charlene that he doesn't really understand it but Smokie says each person is descended from an ancestor which gives them their dreaming.  Smokie's was a wombat, but Chopper's is the wind. So he's a "child of the wind" says Charlene.  Chopper agrees and says he has nothing better to do so why not follow the songline?  And they snog.
Megacity 2.
Once they are at Megacity Two all the surfers take part in a flypast, then someone sets off a firework display which catches the skysurfers unawares.   It results in one dead and three seriously injured.  Afterwards Chopper darkly says he doesn't think it was an accident the fireworks went off and this has resulted in more publicity for Stig, the man behind this Supersurf.

Chopper: "It's all a circus... once it was just a race... no money, just man against man and that was enough.  Now everybody's out to screw what they can."

He's speaking to Dora, Jug's girlfriend who admits Jug's "off the boil".  He drinks and barely practices.  He's trying to pretend it isn't over.

Chopper muses that he didn't race the real Jug MacKenzie then and Dora says she guesses not.  Chopper was in the cubes during Jug's top form in Supersurf 8 and 9.  Then a Judge comes in to their room asking for Chopper.  He says Megacity One won't press for Chopper's arrest as long as Chopper doesn't try to go back to Megacity One.  "Fat chance" says Chopper.
A message from MC1
Elsewhere there is a large gun enplacement being set up. We discover that Stig's assistant has bribed the Megacity Two judges to make this Supersurf more lethal than the others and to look aside from the setting off of fireworks during the flypast which was completely intentional.  She has also paid off the injured surfers though one is proving a little more intransigent than the others.  Stig's assistant has taken responsibility to give Stig deniability and when he asks if it's time, she tells him it is.

The surfers all gather in a giant hall.  The Brit-Cit kid "Sonny Williams" is pointed out to Chopper.  He keeps to himself, Charlene thinks he looks lonely.  Then Stig gives a bizarre speech to them.  He tells them that the public want blood, that together they'll "paint a masterwork of carnage across the sky".

Stig: "And when it is over, one of you will be a hero - a true hero. Forged in the heat of battle!  Be the most famous person on this Earth!  Is that not worth making sacrifices for?"

Stig's assistant takes over and confirms that there will be snipers and guns along the route.  The surfers are angry and ask about the fireworks and she says the matter has been investigated by the Judges to their satisfaction.

The form to sign up will absolve Stig Inc. from death and injury caused before and during Supersurf 11.  Jug rips it up saying he'll have no part in this.  For a moment it looks like all the other surfers will join him, then Sonny signs his, and after a long pause and to Charlene's horror, so does Chopper.
The race is on.
Later, while in bed together, Chopper reiterates his intent to take part to Charlene albeit unenthusiastically.  She accuses him of wanting to commit suicide, he says he's just "following the songlines."  She says they can't be telling him to die.  But she can't talk him out of it.

Next day Chopper is out practicing, he is having difficulty adjusting back to city surfing after being in the country so long. He has a chat with one of the other surfers who says seventeen have signed up now.  Then he finds Sonny Williams and rides his slipstream for a while looking for a weakness, but Sonny doesn't show him one.

The competitors gather and check out where the various guns are going to be.  Stig has one of his own despite being blind, "he reckons he's going to feel us out" says one.  Chopper thinks to himself that he isn't sure why he's doing this.  Maybe because Stig called them cowards, maybe because he didn't beat Jug at his best, "that need to be number one.  An unquenchable fire still gnawing away inside him". 
Chopper starts practicing.
He realises that Stig had thrown down the gauntlet and the need to push life to the edge, "that was the song of the surfer."  The competitors then line up in front of Stig and all moon him.  His assistant tells Stig, they're "just showing you the target" when he asks what's happening.

The action jumps forward to four days before the event and now twenty-nine surfers have signed up. During practice a watching woman drops her baby off one of the sky scrapers.  Chopper and Sonny both dive to rescue it and Sonny gets there first. Then it's two days before.  Another surfer has died in "Porcupine Alley" the tunnel of spikes and Stig has offered a one million cred donation to charity for every surfer killed.
Charlene tries to walk out on Chopper.
Chopper and Charlene are fighting, she's packed up and is leaving. She tells him she loves him and begs him to give up.  He says he can't.  She says nothing matters to him but the race and has she thought what it's going to be like for her watching him die.  She walks out and slams the door behind her.  There is a pause, then she opens it and comes back inside.  She hugs him and says:

Charlene: "All right Chopper... you win. I won't run out on you.  I'll be here.  I'll stay with you, and I'll love you, and I'll pray for you. And then I'll bury you."

Race day and a drunken Jug has decided he wants to compete saying he's been called a coward. Chopper gently shows him into the cupboard and locks him in it.  He then leaves to prepare and Charlene says "got a spare cupboard Dora?"

The surfers all line up ready.  Chopper has a flashback to just before the race.  He saw that Sonny Williams was actually terrified so he provoked him to rile him up and get him ready for the race.   The starter's gun goes off and away they fly.  Two surfers decide at the last moment not to compete and another two are immediately chewed up by gunfire, four down and the race has barely begun.

The surfers fly into another barrage of gunfire and a big name "Dallas Williams" is killed, her head blown apart.  Blood rains down on the spectators. Two more are taken out and Chopper picks up an injury that takes out his left arm, most likely shrapnel from Dalla's shattered head.
Badly injured right at the start.
He uses his belt to tie down his dead arm and flies through the next barrage to the first obstacle, the windmills.  The blades are razor sharp and one surfer has the engine of his board shorn off but manages to land safely, if no one else makes it he might be crowned the champion by default.

Another surfer is killed and falls knocking Sonny off his board.  But he is attached to it via a cord and is able to pull himself up and get back in the game.  Chopper flies over and kicks the sniper who had targeted Williams, knocking him out.  Chopper is now in the lead by quite some margin even with that detour.

Then it's through "Death Canyon" and another surfer is vaporised leaving only his feet behind.  There is chaos of napalm and death and another four surfers are gone. Jug, Charlene and Dora are watching on TV in utter horror.  This is "flamin' murder" says Jug.
Several surfers wipe out together.
Chopper is still in the lead, twisting his board to avoid sniper fire. In the following group Sonny Williams manouvres himself between the sniper and another surfer so that surfer gets killed and he takes third place. Chopper is starting to feel the loss of blood from his arm and Porcupine Alley is the next obstacle up.

Chopper enters the alley as the back end of the surfer group is wiped out by the napalm.  He carefully negociates the spikes, although he gets gashed by one he makes it through... only to be struck multiple times by bullets on the other side.  Charlene lets out a cry and runs out to go to the stricken Chopper.  He's down but still on his board.
Surprise! Ouch.
Then Anderson and Sonny Williams the joint second placers collide with each other at the entrance to Porcupine Alley.   Both land on spikes, run through by them. There's another collision at the entrance by the next batch of surfers, blocking access.  One of the last place surfers, Negri gets back on his board and could be the last one left in the race as he flies through.

But he's blasted to bits by the same guns that got Chopper.  One of the machine gunners has a live grenade for an earring as the race commentators admiringly comment on.   Sonny Williams has managed to pull himself off the spike he's impaled on and lying on his board flies it out of the tunnel. Before the machine guns can get him, Chopper surprises one of them and uses his gun to kill the other one but not before Sonny is mortally wounded.
Chopper takes out two gunners.
Chopper apologises to his body, the other surfers left have decided to opt out of the race.  They fly down to where Chopper is, who guiltily says he thought he did Sonny a favour getting him psyched for the race.  Then Chopper gets back on his board.  He's the only one left now and he plans to go to the finish.  "You crazy nong! Noooo!" shouts Charlenne.

The toll the race has taken is incredible.  The commentator reports thirty-one dead, three alive but seriously injured and four withdrawn.  The commentator declares Chopper the "greatest Sky Surfer who has ever lived!".  But there is one obstacle left.  He falls from the board, but painfully climbs back on and lies on it for a while.
Chopper exacts explosive revenge.
He thinks back to Smokie and him telling him about following his songline.  He stands back up and slowly flies towards Stig and his gun.  Stig doesn't open fire.  Chopper tells Stig he made a promise to some of the guys and reaches into his suit and brings out the live grenade he took from the machine gunner he surprised.  He tosses at Stig and it kills both him and his assistant.

Then Chopper turns and heads for the finish line.  He feels numb now, and running through is head are the words of Charlene calling him selfish and he realises he was dumb now.  He collapses to his knees as the finish line comes into view.

Narration: "Darkness closes in again.  Enfolding him.  The windsong rises and falls in his ears... calling him back to the ancestors."
He slumps forwards saying he's coming Smokie and just inches from the finish line his board comes to a halt.  Charlene stands underneath it and can only look up in despair as blood trickles down his arm and lands on her tear streaked face.  The camera pans out.  The race and the story is at an end.
Powerful stuff.  And it's such a fitting end for Chopper that it was understandable when he returned in a story in the Megazine people protested.  Especially as said story was written by Garth Ennis who admitted later it wasn't a great story and really Chopper's story should have ended here.  After that he featured in a couple more stories but in Judge Dredd Megazine #302's "Twenty Years to Midnight", set in 2132, Chopper makes a background appearance on a talkshow. The teenagers in this story are unaware of who he is, and view the show as being for adults; the POV character believes Chopper looks tired and lost, looking at footage of "when he used to matter".  Which is in someways even sadder than having him die at the end of this story where he could have at least gone out as the Greatest Sky Surfer on the Planet fulfulling a destiny following the songlines of his life to the bitter end.  Despite the horrific nature of the race it is actually exciting to follow and the build up is suitably thrilling as well.  Also giving Chopper a girlfriend who decides to support him the whole way rather than have her walk out and leave in a somewhat cliched way was a great idea and of course leaves us with her showing the full emotional cost of the race on the final page.  Great writing, great art, this is collected in the Chopper: Surf's Up trade paperback along with several other of his best stories.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

The V.C.s Book 1: Back In Action (2000AD #1301-1306, #2003)

"You're hit. You're dead" - Steve Smith

Long ago in ages past (the 1980's) trade paperbacks weren't really a thing, so 2000AD exploited its back catalogue by providing a monthly collection of a random serial for about fifty pence.  In this way I caught up with on-going series such as Slaine and Nemesis The Warlock as well as being introduced to serials that were over and done with such as The Ballad of Halo Jones and the V.C.s.  The V.C.s (short for "Vacuum Cleaners" due to their reputation for clean kills with little debris) was very early story dating back to the 1979-80, a future war saga that introduced us to a motley collection of human soldiers hailing from various Earth colonies, throw together to fight the insect-like aliens the "Geeks".  The viewpoint character was an Earth native called Steve Smith, who had to fight their prejudice against Earth based humans (his nickname was "Earth Worm"), and the cost of the war was very high as by the end only Steve and Jupe the sergeant and ship's captain, a certified badass who wasn't really slowed down by being rendered blind survived from the original crew.  Now a major, Steve led an an attack on the Geek homeworld that ended the war and the original strip, and I covered the original series during my last UK comics month.  But many years later in 2002, 2000AD scribe Dan Abnett decided it was time to give the concept another go round and thanks to my very good friend Lucy who gave me the trade paperback collecting the first three new Books of the V.C.s ("Back In Action") I can write about the sequel storylines as well.  I'm covering Book 1 first, plus the related one-shot "Escher's Well".  The further books will be covered in further UK comics months.

Throughout this story, Steve is haunted by the ghosts of four of the original V.C.s, Hen-sho, Ringer, Dwarf Star and Loon.  Only Steve can hear what they say and they only appear if he hasn't taken his medication.  Through this plot device current readers are able to get some idea what the original storyline was about and how the current situation compares.
An aged Steve Smith.
It's fifty years since the end of the Human-Geek war.  Now an old man, Smith is working as a maintenance person.  He tells his ghosts that the war, "screwed me up and I'm screwed up still."  But he hasn't taken his pills so he can "shoot the breeze with you guys".  He tells them he could get a job in the military but:

Steve: "Because times change.  For one thing, the modern corps is a place for hot-shot college graduates with Masters in Gravitics and Astro-Physics.  They don't have a place for grunts like you and me.  We're a dying breed".

Steve is summoned into the ship he's cleaning and told he has a visitor.  He is alarmed to find it is a Geek and freaks out a bit.  The Geek apologises for upsetting him.  He is just a historian composing a work on the Human-Geek war. 

Because next month is "Peace Day" celebrating fifty years of peace between human and Geek, he believes the time is right.  He wants Steve's input because he played such an integral part in the end of the war.

Geek: "I want to reflect the human history.  Like many of my generation I am ashamed of the brutal behaviour of our fore-fathers."

He says in the past fifty years the Geeks have not rearmed, nor have the stirred dissent, the war "is a shame we will bear for a long time."  He asks Steve is he is going to Peace Day.  Steve says probably not, though he has been invited.  The Geek says he'll see his old comrades again, Steve says he sees them plenty.
Keege the friendly Geek.
Later that night he wakes from a dream of battle with all the ghosts watching him.  They want him to attend Peace Day, Steve flatly says "No!"  We then cut to him at Peace Day, he is assigned a Captain Johnroe from the Galatic Combat Corps for the day.  Smith takes a look at the powerful looking ships in the sky above and asks what they are like to fly, Johnroe says they only get to fly them in simulations, there hasn't been a "hot war" for years.

He takes Steve to an old Star Ship of the kind Steve flew during the first war.  There are only fifty left in service and will all be taking part in the Peace Day fly-bys.  Onboard, Smith meets Jupe, now with eyes again, "cheap graft jobs".  Jupe asks when they get to fly. But Johnroe says the Air and Space museum has insisted that only their staff operate the antiques.  "We're all antiques" comments Jupe to Steve.
Jupe and Smith feeling like relics of a bygone age.
Jupe and Steve chat as they look out of the window.  Jupe says this might be the day "The Polity" invite humankind to join.  Steve says he never knows what to make of them since they made contact thirty years ago.

Steve: "This enlightened confederation of alien cultures.  With ten thousand years of peace and harmory beind them and technology that makes us look like cavemen.  Where were they during the Geek war?  They could have stepped in.  Stopped it.  Saved lives."

Jupe says humans are an infant species and needed to prove "we were worthy of contact not rescue."  Then the Geek flotilla arrives, Jupe comments how relieved he is that they aren't allowed weapons.
Steve however notes the ships are starting to pair up, looks "like an assault formati-"  he is interupted by a huge explosion.  Smith initially thinks he is hallucinating because he didn't take his pills that day.  But he looks out of the window and sees the Geek ships tearing the human ones apart and realises they are at war again.

He returns to Jupe, who calmly says they are losing badly.  The Geek Blink ships are way beyond their capabilities and even the ships from the original war have some kind of bleeding edge shielding, "Smith, we're losing so frickin' bad it's not even heroic" comments Jupe.

The ship they are in makes Landfall on the moon.  The Captain tells them to keep calm, Jupe says the veterans came through a war, they do calm pretty well.  The Captain, behaving like an arsehole, invites them to "come and observe how we do combat these days.  If your hearts can take it."  Meanwhile Steve is given an idea by Hen-Sho's ghost and sneaks off.

The Captain shows the Geeks infantry on the moon coming for them via an advanced scanner.  He lists off all the modern technology their own soldiers are equipped with, but when they and the Geeks clash, the Geeks easily wipe them out much to the Captain's horror.  Smith then appears in an old V.C. suit.  The Captain demands to know what he's playing at and Jupe snaps.

Jupe: "No idea Captain.  But he's the only man I can see not dying or talking out of his ass".

Steve leads a group of similarly suited up soldiers out on to the moons surface.  Jupe asks if he has a plan, "We put out the mat, and start cleaning" says Steve.
Time to get cleaning.
Some soldiers are pinned down, reporting that their body shields don't offer protection and the Geeks are shrugging off their plasma rounds.  Some Geeks bear down on them and Smith's squad blast them to pieces.  Steve says the Geeks weren't expecting anyone to be using "antique killware".

He examines one of the Geek's body and finds a shield bonded to the thorax that he takes for reverse engineering.  They start to leave and one of the rescued soldiers says they might still be able to save some of the injured.  "No time.  No point.. One rule, you're hit, you're dead" says Steve.  When the soldier protests, Steve says it's a rule that works.

More Geek swarms appear, but Jupe has a "Blitz Cannon" and mows them down.  This clears the main assault swarm but another is approaching in a canyon nearby.  Using a jump pack, Smith peforms a "D.L.", Detonate and Liquidate with some "Hades Grenades".  With them dealt with, they return to the ship.

On the way one of the rescued soldiers bemoans that with all their state of the art defences and weaponry they were "crucified" while the veterans using antique killware and armour saved the day.  He does admit it was pretty "amazing" though.

Then we are shown a Starship Troopers style propaganda film for the humans.  It informs us they are fighting back.  They are unlocking the secrets of the Geek tech while going back to basics with "old style ships and old style weapons.. all back in style this season!"  Many are volunteering to fight and people like Steve Smith will be leading them, "who better to lead the new generation of troops over the top?"  It ends with two new recruits saying "Earth can take it!"

It's now six weeks after Peace Day, and Smith is meeting his new crew; Ronsalle, Kali, Lin Fu and Ryx.  There sixth crewmember will be with them by the end of the week.  They go out on a exercise patrol and it doesn't go so well.
Steve's rookie crew.
Ronsalle is "hit", Ryx who is supposed to be providing cover fire forgets to take the safety off his cannon and it jams and Lin Fu charges into a fight before checking she has adequate back-up.  Afterwards Steve chews them out and says he is going to Ops and when he gets back he wants Troopers not screw-ups.  As he leaves he says to his ghosts:

Steve: "I know, I know.  Well maybe I was that bad when I started out.  That's not the point. I had you guys to whip me into shape.  You're all gone now.  It's just me out-numbered by those dumbass rookies.  How much worse could it get?"

It does get worse.  His sixth crewmember is a Geek, the same one who wanted to interview him and who specially requested assignment to Steve's crew.  His name is Keege and he says the "current cycle of violence has been initiated by extreme racist factions".  Thousands of Geeks are opposed to them and want to join the fight against them.  Steve angrily responds:

Steve: "Suck it in Keege!  You talk all fine and high-minded.  But there is one detail you can't change.  You'll always be a frickin' Geek!"

However he is forced to take Keege anyway and now complete, his ship and crew go out on their first patrol.
Keege the V.C??!
They encounter four Geek ships and engage them in combat.  They take out three but the last one comes at them from the port side.  Keege is manning the port gun and Steve orders him to fire, but Keege seems to freeze up and doesn't responds.  Fortunately the Geek ship goes wide and the others shoot it down.  Keege explains afterwards, "I didn't freeze up, sir.  I... I... just didn't see it."

Steve is dubious as how he could miss a ship unloading everything at them.  Steve says he thinks Keege just couldn't bring himself to fire on his own people and suspends him from duty, saying they'll drop him off at the nearest supply depot.  Later that night Keege sneaks into the communications room, but Steve is waiting and points a gun at him demanding to know what he is up to.
Keege proving his innocence.
The rest of the crew assemble and want Steve to "vape" Keege there and then.  Steve asks Keege for an explanation.  Keege says he wanted to prove that he didn't freeze up during the battle.  He recalled hearing a low radio noise which his species use to incubate their young.  He thinks the Geek aggressors have developed that technology most likely as a command/control communications net and it temporarily overwhelmed Keege's brain.

The rest of the crew are dubious, but Steve goes to think in private.  He says to his ghosts he thinks that "I'm afraid I'm being blinded by my prejudices".  Then he is called to the Bridge.  Lin Fu and Ronsalle did a sweep for the sound and found it coming from a wreckage field nearby, a "Solar Death Bar" says Steve.  They suit up and go in for a closer look, and find millions of eggs, "The Geeks are hiving in here!" cries Steve in alarm.
Steve calls back to Kali on the ship that she needs to launch a "Nova missile" to wipe the nest out.  They start to fly back to the ship when they are attacked by Geek "drone-guards". They battle their way through with guns and grenades.  Kali is trying to get the ship through the debris field to get close enough to launch the missile.  Ronsalle is hit and the others have to leave him behind.

Kali says she doesn't know how she'll manage to work the missile deck as well, and Keege says he can do it, just cut him free.  Kali refuses at first, but Keege says to "flood the cabin with white noise" to block out the infrasound transmissions. Keege takes the missile deck and when the missile locks on he fires it saying "this is for Ronsalle you frickers". The missile wipes out the spawning hive and the others, minus Ronsalle get back to the ship safely.
Things that make you go boom.
Later they arrive on Mars and Steve tells them to enjoy some R and R before they ship out in seventy-two hours.  Keege asks if he should report back for duty too?  Steve says he'll think about it.  Left alone with his ghosts, he admits his crew did OK.  Ronsalle joins the other ghosts and Steve says, "you guys look after him Okay?  I'll clean up here."

That brings Book One to a close, but there is a one-shot called "Escher's Well" which follows on from it before Book Two starts.

Steve wakes from a dream of an old battle with his old comrades, the dream had turned into a nightmare in which he sees Jupe killed.  Having woken with a start, he calls Jupe up and they meet for a drink at a bar called Escher's Well which uses gravity to work like the Escher picture of all the stairs at right angles.
Escher's Well.
He asks Jupe to promise he has someone the can trust watching his back.  Jupe reassures him he'll be careful and they move on to discussing other things such as what side the Geek homeworld is going to come down on, and will The Polity get involved? Steve doesn't think The Polity will do "squat" to help them, then a trooper called Diderot comes up behind him and introduces himself as Ronsalle's replacement.

Before Steve can say anything to him Keege comes into the bar and the other patrons react poorly to his prescence and Keege is attacked.  Steve punches out the man who attacked Keege which inflames the others but the rest of the V.C.s come to the rescue and soon a full fledged chaotic bar brawl ensues which Diderot joins in with and which the V.C.s win.
Nothing bonds a crew like a good old bar brawl.
They make themselves scarce before the authories can get there.  Steve gives Diderot the thumbs up and when Keege tries to thank him, Steve says that the "V.C.s look after their own".  He and Jupe say their farewells for now and Jupe says that "there ain't no Big Kill Shot waiting for me."  But as he departs Smith thinks of the original V.C.s and says to himself that he wishes he could believe him...

This is a worthy sequel to the original.  I think my positive writes up of Saga, Halo Jones and Prophet show I've a bit of a weakness for grand space opera and the V.C.s was and is enjoyable sci-fi hokum.  It was a very clever idea to have the obselete equipment and tactics from fifty years ago be the only thing to work against a more advanced army, which meant the return of those awesomely cool armoured space suits (that HAD to be a big influence on the look of the Space Marines of Warhammer 40K) and the harsh philosophy of battlefield survival.  We also get a Geek in the role Steve Smith played in the original V.C.s, a distrusted outsider who proves himself loyal and worthy in battle. Finally having Steve talking to his old ghosts helps fill in the backstory of the original series (which is frustratingly out of print right now as a modern TPB) and help us see how much things have both changed and stayed the same.  Dan Abnett's writing is great and it's obvious he has a real love for the original series as he writes in this collection's introduction.  Henry Flint's artwork has a nice "chunky" feel to it, which again reminds me a bit of the Warhammer 40,000 universe I have so much affection for. There are two more Books in this trade so I'll be covering them in future UK comic's months, if you like tales of future war then keep an eye out, this stuff should be right up your street.