Slaine – The King (Trade paperback)Published by RebellionPrice:£12.99
When I was a kid I used to love 2000AD; it was the comic that got me into comics, and I remember taking a copy on holiday with me and reading it cover to cover every day. This was, of course, back in the 1980s, when Dredd, ABC Warriors and of course Slaine ruled supreme in the comic. And while ‘newer’ characters like Nikoli Dante, Durham Red and Sinister Dexter are all cool, there is always a place in my heart for the ‘classics’.
Going back through the archives, Rebellion have dug out and dusted off numerous classic stories, reprinting them in shiny new trades and I must admit the gloss of the pages do indeed make for easier reading. Still, there is something lost in these reprints; I guess that the nostalgia of reading these news-printed books with ink-blacked fingers filled with adverts for Space Raider crisps and Crusha milkshakes cannot be captured in new print processes.
While nostalgia is a great thing, and while the aforementioned heady days of near-bog-roll-quality printing cannot be bought back, what we do get with these reprints is some of the fantastic stories that were told in the pages of the book, and this one is no exception. ‘Slaine – The King’ reprints some of the later stories from our Celtic barbarian.
Whereas prior stories such as ‘Horned God’ had Slaine firmly rooted – quite literally – in the Celtic dark ages fighting other barbarians, tribesmen and warlocks, the later adventures reprinted in this book have him ‘warping’ around different ‘Conan-like’ worlds tackling eighth dimensional gods (in the first story – ‘Tomb of Terror’) as well as ‘wetting his blade’ on mythical monsters straight out of a Fighting Fantasy book in the second story ‘Spoils of Annyn’. This he does in company with his loyal companion Ukko and fellow ‘dungeoneers’ Nest, Moorgrooth and Murdath.
It is this influence of role-playing and fantasy that makes these stories so appealing, and fans of this genre will also get a kick out of the fact that all the stories in this reprint can be ‘played’ out as the original Tomb of Terror RPG game (including rules and character sheets and stats) which is reprinted at the back of the book.
While it’s great to read these stories again after nearly fifteen years of tasting and testing other comics, going back to these stories is like a blast from the past and this gives me mixed feelings. Jumping into The King, you are supposed to have some knowledge of who Slaine is and what he does; while I was a huge fan of the character back in the day, this probably isn’t the best book to start with for the average or casual reader, since you are literally thrown into the deep end with no explanation of who is who, what is what, or why on earth a woad painted Celt is wandering around strange and alien lands.
While we can forgive the absence of a little re-cap as a useful but not essential adjunct, the stories, scripts and writing style are admittedly a little basic and very dated. Chock full of adolescent ideas, Pat Mills’ stories really do beg, borrow and steal from every fantasy cliché, and while the idea of ethereal swords, dragons, runes and mystical lore seem great on paper, the actual pacing and characterisation rather lack sophistication.
Slaine drinks, kills and womanises and is essentially a moody thirteen year old trapped in a psychotic, brutally violent, sword-wielding maniac’s body. Though it may seem that this would not appeal to many people, you have to remember that most of those who did read 2000AD were indeed moody 13 year-olds who would indeed have liked nothing more than to be trapped in a psychotic, brutally violent, sword wielding maniac’s body, and to go drinking, killing and womanising.
Admittedly I have great affection for this book, and seeing these and other stories of my childhood reprinted by Rebellion does fill me with rose-tinted nostalgia, making it difficult for me to be objective as to the real quality of these reprints, which read like an adolescent power-trip written by a spotty teen for a CGCE literature project – and, funnily enough, very much like an episode of ‘Metalocalypse’ (for those who have never seen this on Adult Swim, check it out).
Mills appeals to his audience and demographic with hundreds of monsters for Slaine to plough through whilst spewing one-liners and comedy come-backs, (‘Kiss my axe’…genius!); piles of gold and treasure to grab; and nubile maidens to save and ravish, all of which are drawn to perfection by Glen Fabry, whose grotesque style and ability to draw ‘ugly’ makes the weird and wonderful world Slaine inhabits looks like the dirty, scabby dark-age/medieval worlds Terry Gilliam showed us in Jabberwocky and Holy Grail.
The King is a great blast from the past that admittedly feels a little dated and maybe a little too basic for some readers nowadays. But for the 33 year-old tempted to dig out his Dungeon Master guides…?
To me Slaine was (and still is) great, and for those of us who were fed a diet of Iron Maiden albums and Knightmare on TV, there was nothing better than reliving these adventures, handily collected in one book without thumbing through piles of comics. But it really it’s debatable how good the books will appear to the casual reader.