By Pat Mills, Simon Davis, and Ellie de Ville
Sláine has been in print for over 30 years now and throughout those three decades he’s hacked, slashed, and warped his way into the minds of 2000 AD readers. If you take the original visual creation of Sláine by Angie Kincaid and see the evolution over the years by different artists including (but not limited to) names such as Mike McMahon, Simon Bisley, Clint Langley, and Massimo Belardinelli, they have led the petulant and arrogant young upstart in the beginning into a world-weary traveler now presented by Simon Davis.
To think of 30+ years that Pat Mills has devoted to this character, it is fitting that the art changes with Sláine and the world(s) around him. Enter Simon Davis in 2015 with the first book in this series, The Brutania Chronicles: A Simple Killing. Davis’ Sláine is an older, more grisly and unkempt warrior. He wears his bruises and wounds for all to see while his Celtic warpaint and beard helps give the legendary warrior a more savage appearance. Davis’ art style is striking and bold, consisting of smudged colours and scratched lines and shading. The result is literally fantastic and paints all the demons, undead, and savagery in gory and vivid detail while possessing an almost ‘damaged’ or ‘worn’ property to the pages, as if it is somehow touched by the carnage being conveyed.
In Psychopomp, Sláine is locked in a desperate struggle leading from Book Two, Primordial. The saga and underlying plot of The Brutania Chronicles is an epic one and is set to continue in 2017 within the pages of 2000 AD. It is therefore reassuring that this book flows nicely with a fulfilling fight at the beginning, but takes time to provide more introspection as Sláine battles his own inner demons – often presenting more of a threat to him than any of the physical enemies coming for him. This is orchestrated by the brilliant villain, Cyth Lord Gododin aka Lord Weird.
Sláine has tackled many enemies over the last 30 or so years and in this book, his biggest enemy is indeed himself, including his pride and love for his mother. This enemy wracks his mind and tears through his soul with dramatic effect, all the while Lord Gododin relishes and delivers twisting words that spew forth to bring forward Sláine’s inner turmoil. This has been beautifully lettered by de Ville and those spiky bubbles summon a demonic voice that commands and spits at the other characters.
The dialogue itself can be a somewhat mixed affair though and you are presented with a sinister stream of corruption uttered by Gododin that feels suitably placed in most cases (although perhaps over the top in others) but then some of the dialogue (usually from Sláine) is cheesy and perhaps a little clichéd: “No, I can never be your friend. Not after everything that’s happened… You’re my brother.” Or the fighting banter that seems to be accompanying every swing of an axe. We do need to put this into context though because ultimately, we are reading a Sláine story and bravado and fighting talk is kind of what you come to expect.
Thankfully, while Pat Mills’ epic story of The Brutania Chronicles continues, Mills is not afraid of stopping the action and throwing us a sub-story involving Sláine and his mother. In fact, Macha (his mother) is worthy of her own comic book title and stands out as possibly the best thing about this volume. The reader gets a composed and deadly character, balancing the action in the story against Sláine’s usual go-to weapon, the Brain-biter, with Macha’s superiority with the bow. Sláine must invoke his mother’s skill on several occasions giving the reader some stand-out fight sequences and a chance for Davis to shine with some ‘silent’ panels containing action – this suitably counter-balances those moments of over the top warrior banter with a battle-focused Sláine.
For any long-standing readers, there are some great nods towards older terminology used in the strip back in the 80s delivered by Macha. It’s enough to give a grin as you read and it is welcomed. We also knew of the fate of Sláine’s mother 30 years ago, but it is given deeper meaning in this volume, with fresh artwork by Davis, creating a much more important Macha than we’ve perhaps seen before and it would be rewarding to see more stories dedicated to just her (*hint* Mr. Mills *hint*).
In this book, Red Branch is also bundled in, which originally featured in the 2000 AD 40th Anniversary Special this year. It is more of a distraction piece and is darkly funny in places, but is set around the trials that are faced in order to join the ‘Red Branch’ (the tribe of Warped warriors that Sláine belonged to) so it actually fills in some plot surrounding the relationship between Sláine and his first swordmaster, Trego. It follows Psychopomp nicely without giving anything away of what might be coming next.
Overall, Psychopomp is deeper than you would first expect and Pat Mills is throwing new and emotionally charged challenges at his Celtic berserker. This character-driven adversity makes Sláine a surprisingly refreshing read for 2017; far removed from 30 or so years ago where in his first appearance he is seen hustling and cheating a group of onlookers out of their money as they bet that Sláine couldn’t kill a time-monster. Sláine has matured, he’s thoroughly enjoyable to read and this latest part to The Brutania Chronicles is a rewarding experience.
Sláine: The Brutania Chronicles Book Three is out May 4, 2017, available online, in stores and digitally via www.2000adonline.com