“FEEL THE FLESH.” COMICS! Sometimes I Wanna Know What Love Is!

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A very special throwback this time out! As requested some time ago by someone whose name I've mislaid I finally look at a series from way back in the mists of 1990-91. This one is for everyone who has a very special place in their heart for John Boorman's ZARDOZ. This one's for all the dreamers! WORLD WITHOUT ENDby Higgins, Delano and Starkings


Art by John Higgins Written by Jamie Delano Lettered by Richard Starkings Coloured by John Higgins DC Comics, $2.50 each (November 1990 – April 1991) World Without End created by John Higgins and Jamie Delano The WORLD WITHOUT END THE COMPLETE COLLECTION is currently available on Comixology or on paper with hard covers (ISBN 978-0486808390)

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Now Adam told Eve, "Listen here to me, don't you let me catch you messin' round that apple tree." Oh yeah, ever since the world began a hard headed woman been a thorn in the side of man. Lyrics from "Hard Headed Woman" by Claude Demetrius (1958)

In 2016 Dover books optimistically released World Without End as a hardcover; as this was the series’ first collected appearance since it ended in 1991 we can probably draw some unkind conclusions about how well it originally sold. Don’t let that put you off, fearless reader! Having read Identity Crisis and Civil War I don’t hold with Brian Hibbs’ oft-trumpeted belief that “If it’s good – it’ll sell!” (tell that to Rich Tommaso!) and if you’ve read Identity Crisis and Civil War nor should you. I guess World Without End didn’t sell, yet that’s no indicator of quality; but it is a shame because DC had obviously put some serious weight behind it; the single issues had stiff glossy covers and the paper within was superior stock sporting fully painted art. It was prestige stuff with a prestige team. (But World Without End is not quite your actual Prestige Format as that had a spine, not staples.) It now being 2017 it’s probably best to remind you of that team’s prestige. You know what with us all having slept since then.

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WORLD WITHOUT ENDby Higgins, Delano and Starkings

In 1990 series scribe Jamie Delano was just winding up a (roughly) four year stint on the ongoing Hellblazer; a spin-off series from Moore’s splendiferous Swamp Thing run featuring the sarcastic magician John Constantine (created by Alan Moore and Stephen R. Bissette). Delano’s run was a loquacious interweaving of horror and the socio-political, as cheerfully unsubtle as it was darkly entertaining. Having also previously replaced Moore on Marvel UK’s home-grown Captain Britain strips to good effect, Delano must have looked like a strong contender for breakout superstardom; a kind of mini-Moore. Slightly less of a sure thing from the American POV was John Higgins. In the UK Higgins was known for a string of swell artjobs for 2000AD, so much so that I often forget he coloured Watchmen (1986) and The Killing Joke (1988); which in 1990 must have been his chief claim to fame in America. (He made the jump to colourist after colouring an ABC Warriors short in 2000AD Annual 1985; “Red Planet Blues”, drawn by Steve Dillon and scripted by one Alan Moore. I guess Moore liked what he saw, eh?) World Without End wasn’t Moore, but it was written by someone who had picked up a couple of the artistic reins Moore had dropped and had successfully chivvied the abandoned nags a few yards further. Better yet, it was drawn by someone who had worked with Moore. If DC were after more “Moore”-esque product they were destined to be disappointed, because what they got was very Jamie Delano and very definitely John Higgins. Hoo boy, the lads go all in on this one.

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WORLD WITHOUT ENDby Higgins, Delano and Starkings

World Without End is about Women and Men and how they just don’t get along! Which in 2017 should be a hilarious reminder of how daft we all were back then; a quaint throwback of purely historical interest. But since, as of 31 July 2017, it appears a female Marvel editor can’t post a picture of herself enjoying a milkshake with her gal pals without being inundated with creepazoid comments, well, maybe Men and Women are still having problems? So maybe World Without End still has a point? Why, yes it does; many of them, and it relishes making them. Oh, World Without End does not shirk from social commentary and nor does it abscond from allegory. It gets stuck right in. World Without End may be a little recherché for today’s comic audience weaned as it is on product that recoils at the thought of actually challenging the reader. In a Golden Age of Comics As (Huxley’s) Soma, World Without End sticks out like Norman Mailer at a local book club. (“This Harry Pooter is fucken bullshit. Where’s this kid’s balls? In the goddamned tuck shop? The fuck is a tuck shop anyway? C’mon you dumb suburban fucks! Let’s wrassle!” Like that, obviously.) World Without End is demanding, pompous and not a little pretentious but weirdly entertaining and endearing for all that, is what I’m getting at. It demands your attention, it demands your concentration. Be in no doubt of that. All of which makes it sound about as appealing as a face full of fox shit, which is wrong. There’s a great deal of fun to be had in the World Without End.

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WORLD WITHOUT ENDby Higgins, Delano and Starkings

How could a comic as excessive as this not be fun? Delano and Higgins’ joint imagination is deliriously unrestrained. Delano’s wordfloods perfectly complemented by Higgins’ queasy visuals. The World Without End is not just a world different to our current one, it’s a world of living flesh. The sea is called The Chemotion, which is proper wordplay right there, and the landmass, The Host, is a huge kind of suppurating steak adorned with  bone towers and pocked with cavernous fistulas fizzing with infection. All this is portrayed by Higgins in its nauseating glory via gangrenous greens, jaundiced yellows, plum purples and reds the rusty red of dried blood. And upon and within these meatily beating vistas, like tiny mites, swarm strange tribes. Among the bone spires of the city of Bedlam live The Gess, a hypermale society so misogynistic that misogyny’s dainty in comparison. Here women are bred for use purely in rutting rituals, dehumanised to the level of submissive meat. So small a part do woman play in this highly segregated society that a caste of males adopt the trappings of femininity. (They look like fat rouged fools.) Another class in the rigid hierarchy do the science stuff, another bunch fly about in wingsuits in a military fashion and so on, while perched above all others are the Guild Masters, withered old white men who make Tomás de Torquemada look like Uncle Grandpa.

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WORLD WITHOUT ENDby Higgins, Delano and Starkings

But out in the contusions and welts beyond Bedlam something stirs! Something moonruled and…feminine!  Something called Rumour, curseblessed with the power to create, and with that power comes the power to destroy the virile bliss of The Gess. Faced with the Ultimate Woman The Gess unleash The Ultimate Man. This guy, Brother Bones by name, is a bit of a scene-stealer. It’s pretty fun reading about Rumour wandering beneath the flaps of The Host, discovering the scabbed over ruins of the pastdays, accompanied by her tinman, cowardly lion and scarecrow genemeat equivalents, before running into a bunch of sturdy ladies dressed in sexy doilies and philosophically descended from a cranky Woman’s Studies tutor in a 1970s Polytechnic. That’s all fine and dandy but reading about Brother Bones is better. Brother Bones is a great blunt force trauma of a man. And he’s all man. All the worst bits of man. Which are the best bits, the most entertaining bits. A brutal thug solving all his problems by killing them. While other characters get a bit of syntax fiddlin’ to suggest futcha spik Brother Bones gets his own font, artfully designed by Richard Starkings. So bunged up with testosterone are Brother Bones’ verbal ejaculations they even require a key in the back of the book. Like I said, you’re gonna need to bring your wits to this. The scene is set for a final showdown in the foerever genderwar! Will Men and Women find a way to coexist that doesn’t involve bickering trips to TKMAXX and sullen lawn mowing? Or will their hormonally fuelled ructions tear the world asunder? Or is there…another way? Reading World Without End is the only way to find out, brethren!

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WORLD WITHOUT ENDby Higgins, Delano and Starkings

World Without End is some trippy shit, m’man. The art and the writing are overheated to the nth degree. Delano likes his language, perhaps even to excess. But in an art form where many of the most successful writers seem to have all the vocabulary of a road sign, it would be churlish to chide someone so enamoured of language as Jamie Delano. Fitting the fleshy theme perfectly the prose here isn’t just purple it’s the deep, dark purple of a bruise. It’s like Delano is on a personal mission to use every adjective in the English language. If he can get an adjective in there he will. If he can get two in, all the better. Three and, well, now we’re getting somewhere. Maybe this is why there is such a dearth of range in modern comic writers’ vocab; Jamie Delano used all the adjectives up back in 1990-91! At first his words seem to resist incorporation into the art, the level of synergy seems lacking. There’s a picture and there are some words atop it, and it takes a bit for the switch to flip, but flip it eventually does and the feverish intensity of both art and script intertwine to create an erotically charged and grotesquely violent paean to  the pleasures and the terrors of the flesh. Higgins' art can fall into the muddy and Delano's script is overly verbose but ultimately they feed off each others heated energy to create a whole so ostentatiously Out There!!! it pummels you into submission.

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WORLD WITHOUT ENDby Higgins, Delano and Starkings

World Without End is a funny one; possibly a bit  too rich for many a palate. There’s plenty wrong with it, but it’s fundamentally redeemed thanks to its disarmingly large ambitions. There’s no getting round the fact that World Without End is ridiculous. But it is magnificently ridiculous, shamelessly so. Unlike most creator owned comics today World Without End is not just the artistic equivalent of the creators presenting themselves like submissive chimps to the rapacious attentions of Television. No, they mean it, man. They really mean it. It’s idiosyncratic stuff that runs roughshod over conformity and then explodes a paint factory just to seal the deal. Flaws and all, World Without End is madness of such driven beauty that even though there is a scene where Rumour asks if this is "what you call...Love?" it is still VERY GOOD!

NEXT TIME: Something, something, COMICS!!!