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Spacewarp! The return of Pat Mills (well, he never really went away)
Pat Mills and a host of British creators have launched Spacewarp. A one-shot anthology intended to remind readers of Mills’ work on 2000AD and Judge Dredd, the title has 60+ pages of stories and fully embraces the advantages of a digital platform on release. From the book’s introduction:
Now swipe or turn the dead tree pulp for 6 DNA-warping stories plus cool stuff!
It’s the kind of effort from Mills that is sure to raise a nostalgic smile with a certain kind of comics reader. Which is interesting, as he argued passionately – and persuasively – on a recent episode of the Bigmouth podcast that the major failing of the comics industry is its catering to an aging readership. Instead of targeting younger readers, teenagers, comics have mined the nostalgia of adult professionals with fond memories of Stan and Jack (or, and let’s be honest with ourselves, Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld!).
Despite Mills’ intentions and the clear effort to use digital and web to attract younger readers with access to tablet devices and phone apps, there is a certain air of mothballed classic British comics of the 70s and 80s to Spacewarp. Which, speaking personally, I would advocate for all the same. But it makes for an unusual sense of a book that is self-consciously anachronistic.
Firstly, the stories themselves. The framing device of Spacewarp is that a race of evil spectator gods the Warp Lords, think Cthulhu Mythos Outer Gods, enjoy torturing humanity in various alternate earths. Challenging them is space-minotaur Slayer, who feels sympathy for humanity. Slayer recruits various champions in the different timelines to fight the machinations of the Warp Lords – and these are the protagonists of the various stories collected in Spacewarp.
It’s all very Michael Moorcock meets Seven Soldiers of Victory (2005 – 2006).
These stories are all written by Mills in collaboration with –
- Gareth Sleightholme (Xecutioners)
- Ian Ashcroft (Hellbreaker)
- Ade Hughes (SF1)
- Mike Donaldson (Futant)
- James Newell (Slayer)
- Bruno Stahl (Jurassic Punx)
Of these stories, Jurassic Punx is aggressively retro-y. In fact, that is the premise of the story. An academic argued in the 1970s that an invasion of dinosaurs from past time was imminent. After his career is left in tatters, the wonderfully named Joe Megiddo is proven right when the Warp Lords crash a dinosaur dimension into Earth. The story opens with Megiddo battling a carnivore he’s dubbed Carney after a rival academic. Jurassic Punx is Millsian in the protagonist’s vocal resentment of the Establishment and theories of knowledge suppression.
This is an issue close to the writer’s heart, particularly in light of British historians attempts to reframe the causes and military consequences of World War I. Megiddo encounters a time-travelling freedom fighter and thief, Dada Derda, who attempts to recruit him for her war against the Warp Lords. Her mention of an ‘Amazon fulfilment centre’, ‘Kindle’ and the groanworthy “Wait! I’m a fan not a stan!” is played for laughs at Megiddo’s expense. But the story itself in its setting, pace, and genre tropes continually reminds the reader that the creators are harkening back to classic 2000AD.
I am confused if this is a dialogue between an established elder statesman of comics with his younger peers and a readership he believes is still within reach – or a knock-off of that 1970 period’s material.
My pick of the collection is Hellbreaker with artist Ian Ashcroft and Michael Donaldson on lettering. The story opens with a trio of damned souls breaking out of Dis (which serves as a tip of the hat to both Dante’s Inferno and my personal favourite Pat Mills work the gleefully perverse Requiem Vampire Knight, with the incredible Olivier Ledroit). We then jump forward in time to discover protagonist De La Rue has been transformed by Slayer into a cosmic assassin. We see De La Rue track his target for karmic revenge, the war-hungry Prime Minister seen sitting alongside Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson lookalikes. The satire of Mills’ script is writ large, three generations of political leaders embedded in British Establishment values regardless of their political party membership (and yes, the PM is clearly intended to be Tony Blair).
But there’s something just effortlessly dynamic and fun about Hellbreaker. It feels like the kind of comic that your Morrisons, MIllars and Diggles who came up through the 1990s would steer-clear of for fear of expressing any kind of passionate engagement with the politics of our day. As Tom Shapira has observed, Mills has a reputation for being too political. Maybe now there is a readership ready for that anger.
Other stories collected here, Fu-tant with Mike Donaldson (set in a boarding school where students are forcibly mutated – half John Wyndham cosy catastrophe, half a transplanted Jack Kirby adventure serial) and SF1 with Ade Hughes (resembling an off-cut of Peter Milligan and Brett Ewins’s Bad Company) retain that anger. And as much as I enjoy revisiting this type of Pat Mills story, I have to say I really appreciate his appearing on different podcasts, sharing his recollections of the 1980s in comics, a time we’re only now starting to reassess culturally and politically.
Mills is also to be commended for his transparency in how the Spacewarp teams were assembled and vetted. If you visit his site you’ll find the original scripts for the stories collected in the anthology, as well as submissions from artists and his assessments of them.
Pat Mills. He’s a good ‘un.
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