¦ Reviews ¦ Devlin
Waugh - Swimming in Blood
Devlin Waugh -
Swimming in Blood
Smith, Sean Phillips, Siku, Michael Gaydos
this book from Amazon.co.uk
What to Expect:
The Vatican's envoy goes up against a horde of Vampires and runs into Mega
city one's top lawman...
Review by Gavin
As one of the main
new characters to help launch the 1st of many revamps of the Judge Dredd Megazine,
Devlin Waugh became an instant hit with the readers and, in many respects, it's
easy to see why. After all, who wouldn't be at least intrigued by a story that
starred a musclebound, extraordinarily camp, English gentleman as the Vatican's
leading expert in the paranormal. On sheer curiosity value alone, it's worth a
But this first
Devlin Waugh collection is a very difficult book to review. It's almost because
the first tale, Swimming in Blood, in particular has been held up as one
of the great classics of 2000AD's history. It must be said, there is a lot to
praise about the book. Smith manages to build up a large supporting cast well,
giving even minor character a small arc to go through, a notable one being the
Warder who exercises to keep himself from going mad. There are loads of neat little
touches all throughout the storyline that make this a worthwhile read. Plus it's
one of those Dreddverse tales that sits far enough on the sidelines to retain
its own unique identity.
But it's oddly
missing something and part of the reason for this is the character of Devlin himself.
Waugh takes a backseat supporting role in this first adventure, and often spends
time hindering the overall flow of the story (stopping for a "spot of tea"
for example). Even the rest of the time, he doesn't seems to be driving the story,
merely being swept along with it. You can almost see why Smith does this - he
seems to want to keep an air of mystery about Devlin Waugh, so we don't really
understand his intentions. Unfortunately, this makes the reader seem curiously
uncaring about his fate. The same can also be said for the arch vampire Landis.
He uses his minions to do most of his dirty work, and Smith spends a decent amount
of time building up their backstories, but by the time we reach the denouement,
Landis himself is a little understated and doesn't come across as a completely
However, this showcases
the rather incredible art of Sean Phillips, a man who has gone onto many great
things, especially with Sleeper in the States. His painted artwork here
is indeed a joy to behold, even if it does occasionally fall victim to the curse
of many 2000AD painters from those days - that you can have some truly excellent
pages, followed by some clearly rushed ones, and so on. Overall, though, he doesn't
fall into this trap too often and produces a clearly excellent job, that when
taken alone can seem to justify Swimming in Blood's classic status.
same cannot be said for Siku's art on the next main tale in this collection, Fetish.
As opposed to being a Devlin Waugh tale outright, this is a Dredd starred offering,
with only a guest appearance from Waugh over half-way through. Once again, Waugh
takes a background role and in many ways acts as merely an expositional device,
falling into the role of telling Dredd what to do next. As a Dredd tale, it works
well enough, with the overall arc of the story forcing Dredd into another continent
to see how they do judging out there. It's entertaining enough but, once again,
the bad guy's reasoning doesn't seem to be explored enough so when the denouement
comes, you've actually forgotten why he was fighting Dredd in the first place.
The strip doesn't start to really improve until Waugh gets on the scene. He brings
much needed humour to the tale which was starting to grow a little long in the
tooth before his arrival.
As mentioned above,
many 2000AD painters in the 90s fell into the unfortunate trap of looking for
that wonderful splash page. They then appeared to spend far too much time on it,
before suddenly realising there were another 4 pages of that week's tale to go
through. Whether or not this assertion is at all close to the mark, there's certainly
a sense of this in Siku's work on Fetish. Occasionally you'll come across an incredibly
well illustrated page, especially when things reach Africa, but far too much of
the story remains incredibly hard to follow. Even with better printing than the
Megazine would allow, much of the time the reader is left peering through the
haze, wondering what the hell is going on.
There are also
a lot of pages where the action moves horizontally across two pages. This almost
never works in comics unless it's comprised of one big splash image and
I pray for the day when artists (and quite possibly writers) will realise this.
I've been reading comics for way too long now, but there were far too many times
in Fetish where I couldn't work out what panel I was supposed to be reading next.
That's not to say
Siku doesn't have his good points. I happen to rather like his stylised Dredd
look, and as mentioned before, he does occasionally produce some astoundingly
well put together pages. It's just that the quality has a tendency to vary wildly.
And this brings
us to the final tale in the series: A Mouthful of Dust, drawn by Michael
Gaydos. And finally everything seems to click. Part of the reason for this is
that Devlin is finally centre stage. With a narration from the man himself, the
tale is imbued with that sense of 19th century fiction storytelling, where we
are reading the memoir of Waugh as opposed to being more of a bystander. This
story is hugely entertaining, and the closer connection between the two main leads,
Waugh and his friend Jerry Beidekker, makes the whole story much more satisfying.
The art by Michael Gaydos is also arguably much more accessible than either Siku
or Phillips and there's never a situation where the reader becomes lost. A much
simpler structured tale than either Fetish or Swimming in Blood, but much the
better for it.
And I can't end
this review without mentioning the supplements. Finally we actually get something
worthwhile, with a pair of text tales and, more importantly, some background behind
the creation of the character. This sort of thing, very much Thrill Power Overload
in its execution (and may well be pulled from that series) makes an excellent
closing section for the book, and helps to give American readers in particular
some background into where all these 2000AD characters came from. The thumbnail
sketches, too, are another great addition. This sort of thing is sorely missing
from all the other collections I've reviewed so far, and I look forward to seeing
more features like this in future.
So what's the conclusion?
If you're a fan of either Sean Phillips of John Smith, then this book comes as
an easy recommendation. For the rest of you? Much of it takes some stamina to
get into, but Waugh is ultimately an engaging character and one that deserves
the persistence. After all, American comics publishers may occasionally boast
about their gay superheroes in their more obscure books, but only British comics
could get away with as outrageously camp a character as Devlin Waugh.
The next book in
the series features Red Tide, an altogether more accessible Waugh tale, which
comes highly recommended. But if you've never read Waugh before, then certainly
pick up this collection as a taster for the next volume.
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