Friday, April 22, 2011

Greysuit: Project Monarch

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Greysuit: Project Monarch (Rebellion, 2011).

I end up writing an awful lot about Pat Mills' comics in this blog, because there are so darn many of them and they're so darn good. Also, the older ones keep getting reissued in nicer new editions which I keep buying, that too. But Greysuit is one of the newer ones. Two stories of this brutal super-agent have appeared in the pages of 2000 AD, the first in 2007 and the second in '09. Issue 1540 of that comic was one of its high-water marks, because that featured the debuts of two brand new Mills series, this and the excellent Defoe, which has proven more popular, but that shouldn't be taken to mean that Greysuit is anything less than special, too.

Greysuit is a pretty wild amalgam of secret agent fiction. The protagonist, who goes by the handle John Blake, is a superhumanly powerful agent for Great Britain, his mind and memories wiped to serve as a very brutal enforcer of whatever Her Majesty's government has sent him to do. In many places, it's incredibly brutal. Artist John Higgins doesn't shy from illustrating what would really happen if somebody with this kind of strength punched somebody in the jaw. Oooh, it is a nasty comic. While he's out on a mission, some of Blake's programming and mental blocks break down, and when he subsequently learns that a senior member of the government is responsible for some heinous crimes, Blake hunts him down.

Obviously, this is a comic with lots of obvious sources and influences, even down to the main character's initials (James Bond, Jason Bourne). But none of it is played for laughs or parody, as this is a mean-spirited and inventive storyline with the usual Mills trope of bouncing new and wild ideas at readers as often as the plot will allow it. They don't always work - there's a subplot about a character known as "the ginger ninja" which is just so darn weird that it beggars description - but for sheer volume of wild ideas in a compact space, Mills is in a class by himself.

Rebellion's new collection contains the entire series - two stories - of Greysuit to date. A third story has been suggested but not yet confirmed, and sadly the book leaves a heck of a lot of subplots open for one. There's still a pile of wild ideas that Mills can develop further and readers certainly hope that we'll see it again, and new readers will definitely want to be caught up when that time comes. Definitely recommended.


Anonymous said...

I took a while to warm to Greysuit, but - as I usually find with Pat Mills' writing - the sheer bonkers inventiveness and sly humour eventually sinks in...
I'd love to see more of Greysuit, preferrably not written to fill in a ten issue space in 2000ad's schedule, but simply written as long as Mills feels he needs to tell his story. I've recently been re-reading and indexing the last 5 years of 2000AD as I've been getting them bound into collections, and the stop-start nature of most of the stories really becomes clear. Some stories I believe really do need to run for than the standard 8-10 weeks at a time. I think I recall Pat Mills has said he isn't keen on ever-changing artists, but I still reckon there are enough good 2000AD artists with simpatico styles for Mills to run amok on a year-long story line if he wished.
On a tangent, I'd be interested to know whether the long gaps between stories are becoming a bit counter-productive with the need for even long term readers as myself to re-read older issues to try to keep up with some of the storylines...


G.G. said...

Well, they're driving *me* nuts, anyway.

I actually wrote Tharg about this a week or so ago. With strips like Red Seas and what Sin Dex has evolved into, and plenty of others, the writers are focusing more on the long game than with making each individual titled storyline a proper story in its own right. It's all subplot, and the huge gaps between them really do work against them, forcing writers to spend more time in long recaps.

What I'd do, I'd give those two stories semi-permanent residencies, myself. Just run them until they conclude. Quit even pretending it's episode three of "Gods and Monsters" or whatever, just have Red Seas in every issue and some Future Shocks lined up when Yeowell misses a deadline. Worked for the eighties.

I think Mills is more comfortable with sixty-page "books" - it's what he wants from his French comics - but yeah, Greysuit would definitely benefit from the same approach. If overwhelming the artist is a problem, then have ten weeks of Higgins, a three-week break for some Damnation Station, then ten more weeks of Higgins. I could totally live with that. But I think that since Mills just has so damn many series in production right now, doing each title sixty pages at a time works best for him. I think so anyway.

Anonymous said...

I got lost with The Red Seas ages ago, and whilst I feel it is mildly entertaining to read when it does appear (since I love the mix of influences Edginton throws into it), if it stopped tomorrow I probably would be too worried, since I don't care about it enough anymore.
The best comparison for what Red Seas could have been (should have been?) for me is Meltdown Man...we knew there was an ending, but we got taken on a long wild ride getting there.
I really miss that feeling from 2000AD now, as it seems that no sooner than one warms to a story, it ends and vanishes for 6 months or more.
I appreciate that the trend now seems to be to leave the same team on a story so the eventual collection is one coherent creator entity and I also don't think there are any 2000AD stories not written now with the intended aim of collection, so given that, why not let Mills and others write their complete stories before they're serialised in Tooth, let the artists get ahead beforehand, and then let the story run to its natural conclusion. (NB, I wouldn't suggest this if I wasn't fairly sure at this point of editor Matt Smith's ability to pick a quality story in the first place; the caveat being that if say after 10 weeks, a story really is going off the rails or it is unpopular then it should be ruthlessly culled or rejigged and returned later).
The more I think about it, the more I think the current structure of placing and timing stories n the weekly is becoming a straitjacket - one similar to that straitjacketing US monthlies, with the difference that 2000AD being a weekly can presumably change much more quickly than a monthly can.
Related to this topic too of the weekly reading experience, is the interesting discussion on Colin Smith's blog about "double dipping" - buying and reading both the weekly and the collections, so I'll note that I only buy the weekly and have no desire to buy any story twice.