Overview

Slaine: Demon Killer

Review

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Slaine: Demon Killer

Credits

  • Words: Pat Mills
  • Art: Glen Fabry, Greg Staples, Dermot Power, Nick Percival, and David Lloyd
  • Publisher: Rebellion
  • Price: $14.99
  • Release Date: Apr 14, 2010

In his introduction to this latest collection of Slaine tales, writer Pat Mills makes a point of drawing a distinction between his creation and other comic book gods and heroes. He notes that while characters such as Marvel’s Thor and Hercules have been sanitized to make them accessible to younger audiences, Slaine remains one of the few and arguably most famous myth-based characters to remain uncompromising in its treatment of the source material.

Mills maintains that from the beginning, Slaine was designed as a fantastic vehicle to promote a true champion of the British Isles, one who lives up to the singularly strange and often violent mythology of the Celts. What this means for the reader is a collection of stories that doesn’t shy away from presenting its protagonist in a less than flattering light. Slaine Mac Roth, although king and hero of his people, is at his core a bloodthirsty killing machine for whom the massacre of an entire city is never “too much.” 

Slaine: Demon Killer is a collection of thematically linked stories compiled from the character’s numerous appearances in 2000 AD. More than simply a cycle of bloody carnage though, Mills' mandate is to present Slaine as a response to the British people’s tendency to embrace the history and romance of their occupiers from Rome, Saxony, and Scandinavia, over the rich mythology of their own Celtic forebears. At the center of these tales is the theme of noble sacrifice and the hero-king’s accountability to his people or subjects, through their mutual love and stewardship of the land.

This premise of Slaine as a Celtic “nationalist” hero is best exemplified in the collection’s titular tale and its companion piece, “Queen of Witches,” in which the berserker is ritually murdered, in order to travel forward in time to stand by Queen Boudicca’s side, in her fight against the occupying “Caesarians.” Set against the historical massacre of the Roman-occupied city of Colchester, the stories are more than just an excuse to let Slaine succumb to his “warp spasm” and lay waste to a multitude of enemies. Mills’ bias is obvious but he refrains from sermonizing, painting both sides of the conflict as savage warriors bent on each others’ total annihilation. His narrative paints a startling picture as the Celts raze Colchester, killing every man, woman, and child within its walls. It’s Mills’ (and the Celts’) reasoning for the wanton devastation that prevents the story from degenerating into a simple bloodbath.

As he states in his introduction, some readers may be shocked to find Slaine leading the charge in such a vicious massacre. Mills’ justification for his protagonist’s participation in the destruction of an entire city is as simple and brutal as his hero. Up until Boudicca’s revolt, the Celts had been severely oppressed by the Roman invaders, their beliefs outlawed, their woman and children raped, their warriors murdered. Slaine, Mills states, would never stand by and watch the widespread abuse of his people and would gladly lop off as many Roman heads as possible in response. The Celtic tribes call for vengeance and Slaine gives it to them. Mills reminds us that such an extreme response was justified in the minds of Slaine and Boudicca and unlike the Mighty Thor, there would be no holier than thou moral compromise to save Colchester. There would only be blood – lots of it. The Romans had raped an entire people, murdering their way of life. In Slaine’s eyes, Colchester only represented a good start.

Mills’ overarching agenda of presenting Slaine as a grass roots Celtic hero sounds like pretty heavy stuff but the lush, over-the-top artwork prevents the book from taking itself too seriously. Fabry, Power, and their colleagues render the ultra-violence Slaine regularly unleashes in broad yet detailed strokes. Blood and mayhem may reign supreme in these stories but each artist seems to realize that tongues must remain firmly planted in cheeks to prevent the perpetual gore from appearing gratuitous. Like any good Irish legend, there’s a fair bit of humor and exaggeration tempering the darker underlying themes and overt violence.

Fabry’s depiction of Slaine, in particular, exemplifies the mania, ridiculousness, and violence of the main character and his unique realm. His use of exaggerated musculature even extends itself to the characters’ faces and comes in quite handy during Slaine’s grotesque warp spasms. Fabry clearly defines each individual muscle lending his characters superhuman physiques grounded in a brilliant understanding of human anatomy.

This attention to detail encompasses all aspects of the artwork, with Fabry and his colleagues filling each panel with decorative ribbonwork, realistic period buildings and clothing, and beautifully rendered weapons and jewelry. All of this reinforces Mills’ celebration of Celtic myth and tradition and his promotion of Slaine as a cultural hero.

Unlike the convoluted hierarchies of the Norse and Greco-Roman pantheons, Celtic mythology doesn’t attempt to explain misunderstood natural phenomena or define the unknown. Rather, the Celts seemed more concerned with chronicling their perpetual struggle against the endless waves of invaders that threatened the British Isles. In Slaine, Mills has created a primal Celtic hero in the tradition of the greatest Irish legends of Cú Chulainn. He does so without apology, embracing the Celts’ turbulent history and rich storytelling tradition, warp spasms and all.

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