Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Indigo Prime: Everything and More

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 Indigo Prime: Everything and More (Rebellion, 2011).

Of all the deliciously high-concept series and serials that have appeared in the pages of 2000 AD, John Smith's Indigo Prime, which weaved its way in and out of its own and a few other stories from 1986-91, is just about the wildest. Briefly, it's about an organization located at the nexus point of all the countless parallel universes and is responsible for policing them from the reality-altering damage caused by things like time travel or breaking-the-laws-of-physics experiments. Basically, if the scientists of your world have split enough atoms to cause jackbooted reptilian Nazis from the Earth's core to emerge and conquer the Roman Empire, these are the guys who come and fix things. For a price.

The original run of Indigo Prime, despite one or two stories that rank among my favorites told in the medium of comics, was a mindbender of a series, with its high concepts frequently told in a deliberately obscure and challenging way. Part of the thrill was guessing what was happening one or two minutes away from the action, learning the background of the action and the relationships of the handful of characters that we met. A much, much larger cast was always hinted at, and even higher stakes suggested, but as Smith retired the concept in 1991, these were left to readers' imaginations. (I discussed the series in much greater detail over at my Thrillpowered Thursday blog a few weeks ago.)

A 2008 Smith-written serial called Dead Eyes revealed, stunningly, that agents of Indigo Prime were still at large. It's been far too long a wait, but September saw the formal return of Indigo Prime in a new four-part adventure that, as patiently as the mercurial and restless Smith can manage it, eases new readers into the incredibly weird and thunderously wild world of this bunch. This reintroduction - actually, it's the closest thing to an introduction that the series has ever seen, as they originally just sort of snuck in like infiltrators and weirded up the place - ran in 2000 AD issues 1750-1753. A second story began in issue 1756 and, at the time that I am posting this blog, is a couple of weeks into its run. Digital copies of these comics, as PDFs or CBZs, can be purchased from Clickwheel or from better comic shops.

Smith's way of easing us into things is to show us the cataclysmic destruction of one reality as a result of Science Gone Wrong. Agents Winwood and Cord, whom we met in the original run, arrive, but this time they are accompanied by a first for the series, an audience identification figure, to whom the characters can explain what the heck is going on. Unfortunately, the in-at-the-deep-end approach is not working for Indigo Prime's newest recruit, and so a gentler way is called for, courtesy of a curious old friend of the new recruit, and two agents who can manipulate dreams.

Settling the new fellow in is just one of the agency's problems. Two agents have just returned from one universe that has been decimated by a planet-killing fungus, and in a prison at the heart of a star, there's some old villain cunningly plotting his escape, and talking directly through the fourth wall to the reader. If this doesn't thrill you and leave you wanting more while simultaneously ordering you to reread every page, something's just downright wrong with you.

Smith is ably assisted by one of the best artists with whom he's ever been teamed. Edmund Bagwell, in turn, has been possessed by a spirit of Jack Kirby the likes of which all of that great artist's many acolytes have just been trying to grasp. With planetary extinctions, crazy phantasmagoria, double-page spreads of impossible technology crackling in the void between stars and a sense of bewildering excitement, Bagwell has knocked this work completely out of the park. His design sketchbook must be twelve inches thick by now.

With a mix of older characters and new ones for new readers to meet - one of whom, in a moment certain to cause double-takes, is a notorious criminal from our world - this first story is certainly busy and full of things to demand readers' attention. But, and I say this as honestly and as objectively as I can, the payoff is completely enormous. The last time that I looked so forward to seeing what would happen next in an ongoing series, it was Grant Morrison's celebrated run on DC's JLA more than a decade ago.

2000 AD's editor has been characteristically tight-lipped about what the future holds for the series, and whether we can expect far more cosmos-exploding fun in 2012 after the second story of this too-short return wraps in December, but I've got my fingers crossed. The story's title, "Everything and More," is remarkably apt. It is truly everything that I wanted from Indigo Prime's return, and a whole lot more. Highly recommended, and I hope it runs forever.


Matt said...

Hi Grant

You might be interested to know that I recently interviewed Edmund Bagwell for a future issue of the Megazine.

He had some interesting stuff to say, particularly about Cradlegrave.

Enjoyed this review, BTW.

Matt Badham

Grant, the Hipster Dad said...

Oooh, looking forward to that. Now we just need to get the Megazine up on Clickwheel more regularly so that I won't miss it! Thanks!