Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Slaine: Lord of Misrule

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 Slaine: Lord of Misrule (volume 6) (Rebellion, 2011).

Admittedly, this chunk of Pat Mills' venerable Slaine has aged much better than I remembered, but this is still not a book that I can really recommend very loudly. We're at the point in the saga that somebody once described as "Doctor Who with an axe," in which the Celtic barbarian has been traveling upward in time to major historical events. This seems to have been done to allow Mills the chance to totally geek out on researching the incidents that inspired myths and legends from Britain's history. This time out, Slaine's taken the mantle of Robin Goodfellow, with his ladylove Niamh reincarnated as Maid Marian, a nun. Over the course of the two linked stories "The Name of the Sword" and "Lord of Misrule," Slaine needs to get her out of the convent, remind her of "the laughter in the woods," get back to nature and join with the locals in killing the hell out of a lot of boring and straightlaced Christians.

I have a bias against this period in the first place, because Mills was, in the 1990s, going through a pretty repetitive anti-Christian funk, with everything feeling pretty one-note. There are no memorable villains, or, really, any other characters of note. It's Slaine by-the-numbers. He kills a lot, and doesn't think it too many, and it never really matters during this phase who his enemies are.

It is certainly drawn extremely well, but in Rebellion's new collection of these stories, there has been a stunning revision to the original artwork. "Lord of Misrule" was drawn in traditional pen-and-ink by Clint Langley, then a reasonably new name to the comic. He'd previously painted some Judge Dredd episodes and worked with Mills on the deeply odd serial Dinosty, and he explains in an introduction that he found the assignment much more difficult than anticipated, and was never happy with the colorist's finish to his inks. (As an aside, it was a blown deadline for "Lord of Misrule" that led to then-editor David Bishop, in his superhuman guise of Tharg the Mighty, quickly commissioning a short extension to the new series Sinister Dexter; the added exposure led to the series' surprising popularity and probably set the seeds for its 300+ episode run.)

Given the chance to return to his artwork, Langley has recolored quite a few images. I'm of two minds about this, actually. I can appreciate the opportunity to make corrections to comics as they originally appeared when it is something that really needs a modification - the revised lettering of several "handwritten" captions in a Defoe story when it made it to book form was a great idea, as the originals were practically illegible - but here, I just don't like the results at all. Langley's computer-composite fumetti work, as employed on more recent Slaine adventures and on other Mills comics such as The ABC Warriors and American Reaper is, at least, always interesting, and, particularly on ABC, really thrilling. But I found the new coloring of "Misrule" completely intrusive and it never flatters the original work at all. At its worst, the revised pages just look like somebody slapped some lens flares on the page, and at best, it still fails to complement the original.

It's a good effort, and I appreciate all of the design team's hard work, and I also appreciate Langley making the attempt to rework his art to his own satisfaction, even if it didn't work for me. Sadly, the original material is, while better than I recalled and not really deserving of complete dismissal, still pretty mediocre. Everybody involved has done much better work. Recommended for completists only.

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