It’s 2017! To start us off I cravenly pander to the swing of things to the Right Wing by looking at a comic with a
Alt-Right Nazi as the good guy. Because only in Hell...
REQUIEM VAMPIRE KNIGHT by Ledroit, Mills & Collin
REQUIEM VAMPIRE KNIGHT VOL.1: RESURRECTION Art by Olivier Ledroit Written by Pat Mills Lettered by Jacques Collin Nickel Editions, Comixology:£2.49 (2000) Requiem Chevalier Vampire created by Olivier Ledroit and Pat Mills
Personally I blame Pat Mills. For my entrenched amour de la bande dessinée that is, not the parlous state of the world as we settle in for the long, long slog through 2017. Christ, nigh on forty years back now, in 1977, Pat Mills broke my juvenile mind with the first issue of 2000AD; oh, he’d been experimentally tapping it with a creative cudgel earlier via Action and Battle, but 2000AD did the trick. I never did put my mind back together, there was always a bit missing, a bit the comics would fill from now on. Ah, lovely, lovely Pat Mills. The day Pat Mills is no longer around to pursue his quirky herd of hobby horses with his unfashionably fiery passion Comics will be a smaller, dumber place. I may not agree with everything he’s caught up in (Réincarnation? Je ne vois pas de quoi que ce soit pire!) but I like the cut of that man’s jib. Fucker’s got fire, and I like that. That’s a quick refresher on my default position on Pat Mills, so how magical to have it confirmed so thrillingly with Requiem Chevalier Vampire, a comic I never even knew existed until it went on sale on the ’Ology.
While I was familiar enough with Pat Mills I’d never heard of Nickel Editions, which is no surprise as after a bit of research (AKA le googling) it transpires that Nickel Editions make Fantagraphics look like Marvel©®. Or they did when Requiem Chevalier Vampire started back in the year 2000. Nickel was formed by Pat Mills, Olivier Ledriot and Jacques Collin in order to get Pat Mills into that sweet, sweet French comics market by publishing (Prenez une proposition! Rapidement!) Requiem Chevalier Vampire (Aw, trop lent!) Since Mills and Olivier created the actual comic I’m guessing Collin handled the (lettering and) business bits, and since Wikipedia tells me Collin had previously founded Zenda Editions I’m upgrading that guess to a hesitant certainty. Founded in 1987 Zenda’s catalogue of DC, Dark Horse and British reprints, together with original works by budding French talents, had proved successful enough for it to be snapped up by Jacques Glénat in 1994. While still an independent entity Zenda had handled Marshal Law, Slaine and A.B.C Warriors reprints dans la belle France, all of which series most of you will know were co-created by one Pat Mills, additionally Zenda also first published the work of one Olivier Ledriot. Mills & Ledroit had also worked together on Sha (1995-7) for Zenda. I’ll be a monkey’s uncle, it looks like everyone got on despite their different nationalities! Collaborating with Johnny Foreigner! This chappy Pat Mills needs a refresher in good old British Xenophobia. Report to your nearest Conditioning Centre, citizen Mills! Wait, one comic? I mean I know roughly shit squared about publishing but surely that’s some heavily swinging balls right there; you publish one comic you’ve got precisely one chance, so you better have the right comic. I guess Requiem Chevalier Vampire was the right comic because after being on hiatus since 2011, it’s due to end in either 2017 or 2018 when the final two volumes will be released. Traditional as a Sunday roast, I started at the beginning and took a look at Requiem Chevalier Vampire Vol 1: Résurrection, or Requiem Vampire Knight Vol.1: Resurrection, as it is in the language of Shakespeare. Forsooth!
Ledroit and Mills’ begin as they mean to go on, leaving subtlety to slumber and splashing a honking great swastika at the top of the first page. And, Buddhists be damned, there’s nothing lucky about that spiritually devalued sign for Heinrich Augsburg, a German soldier whom we first meet splayed in the Russian snow unconscious from a headwound. Roughly awakened from his chilly torpor by a thoroughly uncouth Russki looter, Augsburg tries to save a picture of his sweetheart, Rebecca, and succeeds instead in catching a bullet with his forehead. A wound he won’t be waking up on this earth from any time soon. Luckily anyone worried that they’ve just bought a very expensive and very, very short comic about the inadequacy of love to trump the inadvisability of invading Russia in winter, finds instead that in the world of Requiem Vampire Knight death is not the end. Ausburg does wake up from his wound but not in this world but the next. Résurrection, to give that world a name. Although “Hell” is used interchangeably with “Résurrection” throughout, despite it acting a bit more like Purgatory than the conventional Hell. Still it’s not like we’re talking about a real place, rather a fictional construct so whatever Pat Mills says goes, and he can call it “Betty” if he wants. Anyway, the setting is definitely where (most of) the dead are dumped before going anywhere else. Mills has time run backwards in “Hell”, probably as a wee nod to the Dresden chapter in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5, or the entirety of Amis fils’ Time’s Arrow; both of which go on about WW2, and the latter of which is specifically about Nazi death camp atrocities. Fret not, Mills spares the reader the headache of actually writing the comic in reverse. Mostly then we get the odd caption like “yesterday”, which essentially means “the next day”, or “two years earlier” which means…ah, you’ve got it. The upshot is that (most) characters age backwards, losing memories as they do so until they wink out of existence or move on to wherever. The topsy turviness doesn’t stop there though! There’s a physical inversion for the revivified dead to contend with. The landmasses and the seas are also reversed, so America in “Hell” is a big sea of blood while the Pacific is a landmass of fiery offal, etc. I think Mills is pushing for “Hell”, as does war, distorts reality so far out of the normal human frame of reference, that only by reversing it, or some similar mental gymnastics, can any sanity be clawed back. Oh, and here war is “Hell”, literally. Wars require factions and Mills serves up plenty of them; a great squirming mass of unsavoury types. I'll not go into them because the comic does that, but I will say I liked the Yoda mentor who was a big evil baby with skin like a verruca and teeth like a diseased dog.
While it would be unfair to say that if you’ve read one Pat Mills comic then you’ve read them all, it’s probably okay to say that if you’ve read one Pat Mills comic you’ve read bits of them all. And Requiem Vampire Knight is nothing if not a big hot comics pudding studded with the currants of Pat Mills’ anger misted mind’s eye. Thrill to the appearance of a rag tag bunch of cannon fodder misfits with comically distorted familiar names. (Al a Gangreen in Marshal Law. ) A hero who isn’t one, and by the end of the series can practically be guaranteed to be as big a shit as his Big Bad. (We all loved edgy alien terrorist Nemesis, but by the end he and Torquemada deserved each other. Power corrupts. Absolutely!) A smart arsed sidekick of reduced stature. (Ukko, ok?) Physical manifestation of the protagonist’s inner savagery. (Slaine’s warp spasm.) A less than chivalrous romantic relationship. (Too many past examples to mention. I fear for Pat Mils' bruised heart.) Satirical blunderpussing of whatever the patented Pat Mills Wheel of Disgust stopped at on that particular day. (Authority! Hypocrisy! Complacency! Mrs Brown’s Boys! Etc etc.) It would be wrong to put this down to a lack of, well, anything other than intention. Mills’s pursues these recurring themes and aspects so assertively across so many series that it can’t be anything but intentional. As a result Mills’ work is very Moorcockian with the same people and concepts seemingly being reborn across all the disparate Millsverses, forever entwined in the Eternal Conflict. At a first cursory glance Mills might come off as Manichean, but he’s smarter than that. When he sets up Good and Evil you can be sure each is tainted by the other. Ah, tthe ‘shades of grey’ so beloved of folk who don’t want to commit themselves to a course of action, one might think. But not so, rather an acknowledgement that there is Good and there is Evil, but you have to keep your eye on the ball, people, or before you know it a, say, harmless bit of politically expedient scapegoating of minorities can quickly turn into industrialised mass murder. And it’s kind of hard to walk back from that one. (Not that there’s likely to be any politically expedient scapegoating of minorities in 2017, after all we all know better now after Nazi Germany. We sure don’t need people to point out that that is wrong. Right?) There’s subtlety and nuance in Mills work, but, yes, it lurks under all the gaudy grand guignol and bombastic polemics. Or maybe he’s just saying people are dicks and ever will be dicks. He probably wouldn’t be wrong.
Even if you find Pat Mills' hectoring tone a turn-off there's still the attraction of Ledroit's art. Art which is kind of eye boggling in its intensity and clarity of detail. Here Ledroit’s art assaults the reader with a blend of fully painted images and mixed media mayhem, with a bit of technological jiggery-pokery to boot, I bet. Panels float atop sheets of sigils, maggots and gore, with cryptic backlit script making much of the book resemble an illuminated manuscript penned by the very Devil himself! In short it looks a lot like the work of Dave McKean’s troubled nephew, the one who plays Motörhead too loud and can’t be trusted around pets and sharp objects. It’s atmospheric stuff, imagine the world of Elric set in an abattoir; no, belay that, it’s a sword and sorcery comic set inside the mind of a serial killer, I don’t know, it’s a child playing soldiers with mismatched action figures on a carpet of something red wet and steaming that just ceased screaming; you’re getting the gist of the thing, yes? The art may be heavily redolent of offal but the result is very far from awful. There’s a gory grandeur to the thing with the soaring cathedrals of black stone and the mammoth air galleons pushing your belief capacitors to the limit. Think of the floating heads of Zardoz flensed to the skull and plated in chrome with a shine as sharp as a razor, now picture them scooting over a landscape resembling an untended butcher's shop window at the height of summer, firing blasts of disco-hued energy at a chaotic riot of screaming rot. There's a bit of Enki Bilal in Ledroit's chalk skinned and razor cheek-boned Nazis, a bit of Clint Langley in the fusion of flesh and metal, but ultimately the bulk of the wide screen insanity is Ledroit's alone. Nice. All of which is a long-winded way of saying REQUIEM VAMPIRE KNIGHT VOL.1: RESURRECTION is as crazy as it is entertaining which can only be VERY GOOD!
Ultimately you can tell it's set in Hell because there aren't any - COMICS!!!