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Home ¦ Reviews ¦ ABC Warriors - The Black Hole

2000 AD - ABC Warriors - The Black Hole
ABC Warriors - The Black Hole
by Pat Mills, SMS and Simon Bisley

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What to Expect: Cool-looking robots killing things and arguing with each other a lot.

Review by Alex Frith
21st September 06

This story is fondly remembered amongst fans of the Warriors (at least, as far as I know), but it’s worth pointing out that it’s a very untypical outing for the characters. It doesn’t follow on from the previous ABC outing at all, and the new reader isn’t given much back story to ease them in. Nevertheless, Pat Mills is at hand with his usual flair for painting his creations with such easy-to-grasp characters that I imagine it’s easy for people to fall in love with all seven (or is it eight?) Warriors by the end of the book, even if the story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Some of the back story can be pieced together in the reading of the book, but it helps to explain the following (NB minor spoilers ahead for anyone waiting on the Nemesis case files - you might want to skip to the next paragraph!): in Nemesis the Warlock book IV, Nemesis found and recruited a number of the ABC Warriors, who had all ended up in a variety of jobs and locations following their adventures on Mars. In the course of Nemesis Books V and VI, they end up travelling through time and defeating the evil Monad, but ultimately fail to stop Nemesis’ son Thoth from tampering with the time control centre, which will cause the eventual collapse of the universe (or something bad, anyway). And so, while Nemesis vows to find Thoth, the ABCs are sent into the time wastes to find the time control centre and undo the damage that Thoth has done, and to fight the Monad again… (end of spoilers).

2000 AD - ABC Warriors - The Black Hole

Of course, this being a Pat Mills story, the overall plot of trying to reach the time control centre and putting right the damage is all dealt with in about 2 or 3 episodes during the ‘Black Hole’ arc. Most of it is reserved for much more interesting fare, such as character studies of each of the 7 (8?) Warriors, and several pages of beautifully drawn violence between robot warriors, men, and zombies. The only failures in my view are the setting up or two or three major villains who seem to just fade away, or at least not live up to their promise of being totally badass and impossible to kill. The ABC Warriors (and arguably all of Mills’ output) is not really interesting for the ‘hows’ of it all, but rather the ‘whys’ and the ‘what the hell are those’ moments.

As well as being an atypical ABC Warriors story, ‘the Black Hole’ even feels a little out of place in 2000 AD. I’d like to say that it’s a very European-style graphic novel, but I haven’t read enough of those to make a fair comparison. Nevertheless, there is something about the tale being told, and especially the sumptuous art stylings that set it apart from 2000 AD. Not necessarily better, just a bit more in love with itself, and a bit less functional (that’s European, right?). That said, it’s important to remember that Britain is part of Europe, and Bisley in particular adds a bizarre mix of Britishness to the strip with Beano-style ‘commentary’ dripping all over his panels. Brendan Mccarthy perhaps started the late 80s 2000 AD penchant for writing all over the art, but Bisley runs with the idea well. Mills, too, grounds the story firmly in British eyes, or at least British slang, whilst as always being high-minded about what he’s using the story to say.

2000 AD - ABC Warriors - The Black Hole
Now, I imagine that what most people remember about ‘the Black Hole’ is the art. It was the first time 2000 AD had been graced by Simon Bisley (curiously credited as ‘Steve’ early on), and the only time by the mysterious SMS, a pair of epic inksmiths, albeit with very different strengths. Bisley was possibly the first to draw the Warriors as curved, sleek and brimming with cool, as opposed to some of the clunkier versions as seen by Talbot in his Nemesis runs. SMS launched into some of the most astounding scene-settings, taking some of O’Neill’s original Termight designs but bringing a very new sensibility to them. Yes, the art for this reprint has been reduced to fit a smaller page, but there’s no loss in quality, so purists take heart. To be honest, I almost feel that I shouldn’t bother trying to describe why the art of ‘The Black Hole’ is amongst the most exciting 2000 AD has produced – just buy the damn thing and see for yourself. Hell, even when Bisley couldn’t be bothered to finish drawing the odd panel it still looks compelling. 

However, it’s actually Mills’ work that leaves me most impressed. He brings a delightful playfulness to the whole thing by not telling the reader who to root for in the story. Hammerstein is explored as a hero – but one who is flawed because he mirrors human contradiction too well. Deadlock is constantly described as ‘the real leader’ (a theme which would develop in future ABC outings, only to have been dropped since the return to Mars), but it’s not clear whether his embracing of pure khaos in this tale is something to admire or to fear, as Hammerstein does. And then of course there is Ro-Jaws, who may appear to be relegated to the status of hanger-on, but whose constant quips and sardonic remarks are surely integral to Mills’ point. Which might be as simple as: whiners like Hammerstein and weirdos like Deadlock can be too full of themselves – sometimes you should just get on with it. Is Ro-Jaws the real hero of this story? That’s for the reader to decide. In any case, Mills gets a lot of stick for preaching in his comics, but in ‘the Black Hole’ he succeeds in producing an interestingly philosophical dialogue, and to his credit it’s never clear if he is championing one voice above the others.

2000 AD - ABC Warriors - The Black Hole
Where ‘The Meknificent Seven’ didn’t really go beyond the basics for each warrior, ‘the Black Hole’ delves deeply into how they got their motivation, and what impact this has on their interactions. The dichotomy between programming and personality of each robot is every bit as confusing as a human’s pull between free will and genetic determinism, and Mills is not shy of exploring these concepts. Thankfully he’s also not shy of good old-fashioned ultra-violence. Philosophy, fighting and even a bit of sex – why have you not bought this book already??

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Original content (c) 2002 Gavin Hanly (contact 2000AD Review).