Monday, February 24, 2014

Ulysses Sweet: Centred

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 Ulysses Sweet: "Centred" (Rebellion, 2014).

As problems go, then if one must have a problem, the Galaxy's Greatest Comic, 2000 AD doesn't have a bad one. For the umpteenth time in recent memory, one of their strips is flying completely under the radar while something else is picking up all the (justified) hype and acclaim. In this case, everybody is talking about a terrific Judge Dredd storyline by Rob Williams and Henry Flint called "Titan," and nobody is really noticing this incredibly odd and gleefully ridiculous work of the old ultraviolence about a "maniac for hire" named Ulysses Sweet.

Sweet was a throwaway character created by Grant Morrison in 1987. He appeared in two stories over the course of three weeks and was retired. I find it really odd, and, to be honest, slightly eyebrow-raising that 2000 AD decided to resurrect this IP after decades in mothballs, and not long after they finally reprinted the writer's long out-of-print and copyright-controversial Zenith. It feels like, after years of impasse, they finally decided to see who was going to blink. Thus far, Morrison has made no legal challenge to 2000 AD's publisher, Rebellion, revisiting his work. Fingers remain crossed.

I mention this because resurrecting Sweet instead of just creating a new character is something new for Rebellion. 2000 AD has not assigned a new creative team to somebody else's character since the late 1990s, and, then, it was often done almost haphazardly, with mixed results and occasional ill will among writers and artists. As a longtime fan and critic of the comic, I was very apprehensive about this move, but Sweet's new creative team - newcomer Guy Adams and veteran artist Paul Marshall - won me over pretty quickly. Their work is just too fun and too silly to get weighed down in troubles.

In 1987, Ulysses Sweet felt like a parody of Steve Moore's outer space tough guys like Abslom Daak and Axel Pressbutton. Now that Adams has actually given him some backstory, we see that he is typically employed as a blunt-object assassin or thug or anybody who will do when muscle is needed without brains. Somehow, he got the frankly ridiculous assignment to serve as a bodyguard, not for some dangerous supervillain or galactic conqueror, but a pop star who had aspirations of taking some time off at a spiritual healing planet.

Comedy series in 2000 AD are often divisive - there are actually people, living, breathing, thinking people, who did not enjoy The Balls Brothers, madly - and reaction to Ulysses Sweet has been very, very mixed. But I thought it was a breath of fresh air. Unlike many of the book's recent inventory of series, this wasn't bogged down with continuity or subplots, and was miles and miles from being serious. This was just a gleefully violent, meanspirited comedy that worked really well for the most part. I think it was perhaps a bit longer than it needed to be, and hopefully, if Adams and Marshall have any more Sweet stories to tell, they'll be shorter and punchier. Flawed, and not for everybody, but a mild recommendation all the same.

No comments: