By Pat Mills, Simon Davis, and Ellie De Ville.
In his youth, Sláine was exiled for following his heart. He came of age in time-warped wastelands among thieves, murderers, and mammoths. Outliving his punishment he returned home to his tribe, uniting his people against tyrannical sea-demons and winning a place as High King of Ireland. After ruling for seven years he was ritualistically executed, that his spirit could serve the Earth Goddess throughout the ages. Queen Boudicca, William Wallace, Maid Marion, all found their forces strengthened by this antediluvian warrior. The turning wheel of life eventually brought Slain back to his own era, ready once again to battle invaders from beyond the waves. As the dust cleared, Sláine returned to the life of a wanderer. He turned his path and axe to the isle of Brutania, where foes old and new drew plans against him…
That brings us to The Brutania Chronicles, of which Archon is the fourth volume. Make no mistake; this is not a self contained book.
For those preferring to read Sláine from the very beginning, 2000ad has reprinted all thirty-five years of the character’s stories. Archon is the eighteenth collection in the series and all are available in both physical and digital editions.
Others may wish to skip straight to The Brutania Chronicles. This is an understandable urge given the vibrant art and the intoxicating smell of these paradoxically soft feeling hardbacks. Such new readers are encouraged by the reflective nature of this arc. Adversity forces Sláine to look back over his life, and in doing so gives the audience a quick summary of the story so far.
Well, ‘quick’ is perhaps not the right word. The recounting of past plot points forms the backbone of all four of these first Brutania books. Around this spine is laid a foundation for new stories in the books to come. Sláine slaughters his way across the Isle of Mann, halfway between his native Ireland and unexplored Great Britain. So too are these books caught in a difficult middle ground, fighting for an uneasy balance between the old and the new, between continuity and accessibility, between the author’s aims and what he actually delivers.
These conflicting interests are common ground for Sláine. Pat Mills, the Elon Musk of comic writers, never hesitates to let his contradictory world views seep through his work. It is a mistake to attribute the views of characters to their authors, but Mills is a strong advocate for politically vocal comics. It is hard, therefore, to ignore that Sláine is among 2000ad’s most conservative strips, steeped in gender essentialism, anti-intellectualism, and glorification of a false past. Mills is, of course, entitled to his opinions, but he uses his platform as ‘the godfather of comics’ to insist that he is an establishment-fighting ‘radical’. Readers buying into his publicity beware, you are entering reactionary territory. Archon itself follows Sláine’s quest to find the true identity of his father. Given that Mills has always objected to the social consequences of inheritance, the answer may surprise you!
Those unfazed by Mills’ politics will find much to enjoy. Archon closes the opening chapter of The Brutania Chronicles, providing a complete story that can now be read without pause between instalments. Having been originally published in weekly episodes there is the usual fast, twisting pace at which 2000ad excels. Moments of internal struggle are set against the backdrop of cosmic war, with action and violence carrying the reader swiftly between moments of quiet character development. All these elements are served masterfully by the art, which stands tall above all else as the main draw of this series.
Simon Davis continues the theme of mixing the old with the new. Sláine has long been known for painted art and a titular character that looks suspiciously similar to his artist. Davis continues both traditions while bringing fresh vigour with his distinctive style. Previous iconic Sláine painting has focused on soft washes and smoothly blended colours that obscure both the brush-strokes and their artist. Davis brings the confidence to show his working, revelling in the mess of his medium. Each distinctive stroke is calculated to enhance dynamic moods and movements. Colours are vibrant in light and shadow, verdant foliage lending striking contrast to plentiful sprays of blood. Mills seems to have crafted his script specifically to showcase Davis’ work, most pages restricted to three or four panels to allow the artist to really let loose.
The art is further enhanced by high production values; superior paper and printing luring in even owners of the original comics. Letterer Ellie De Ville shares these benefits, fonts both fluid and inflexible sitting much more happily on the page. Words spoken by the Archon itself jar the eye into recognising the alien nature of the entity. Cursive scripts used by both Goddess and Drune Lords remind the reader that both sides are more alike than they would care to consider.
This introduction to the Brutania Chronicles ends with the promise of a fresh start and new adventures to come. Divisive as ever, but regular readers will get exactly what they want; while those who have drifted away from the series are offered a chance to return to the fold.