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Slaine: Demon Killer by Pat Mills, Glenn Fabry, Greg Staples and Dermot Power

1/07/2010. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

Buy Slaine: Demon Killer in the USA - or Buy Slaine: Demon Killer in the UK

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pub: Rebellion/2000AD. 160 page softcover graphic novel. Price: 14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-906735-41-8.

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Slaine is a mighty warrior with a punk rock hairdo and a huge axe called Brainbiter. He is chief of a Celtic tribe living in Ireland in pre-Roman times. Pat Mills' Celts are completely free of bourgeois middle-class suburban values for they like drinking, wenching and fighting. There are still a lot of modern Celts like that. These fierce fighters do not fear death because they believe in reincarnation so for them it is not the end.

This collection is basically the story of Slaine and Boudica with a prelude and an epilogue. It opens with 'The High King' in which Slaine is grumpy because it is the feast of Samhain and he is not allowed to indulge in violence. He does his best to provoke a fight by insulting and thumping various subjects but they ignore him. A man is gorily sacrificed though and revives from death to tell our hero he will soon go on a mighty quest to help Queen Boudica fight the Romans. Slaine is happy at the prospect of some slaughter.

So the Earth Goddess has Slaine leap into a deep well and, after a slog through some damp tunnels, he emerges in Roman Britain. The Romans, called Caesarians by the Celts, are aided by Elfric, an evil green demon who tries to sacrifice Slaine to some dark Lovecraftian gods, beings from the stars.

So much for the plot, which rolls along nicely. As for character, frankly I found Slaine a bit hard to take. Unlike Conan, who does his share of killing, Slaine does not spare women and children. Roman collaborators are penned in a giant wicker man and burnt to death without even Edward Woodward to try and save them. I admit that Pat Mills challenges my bourgeois working class values with all this gore but that is probably his intention. Part of the raison d' tre of fantasy is to portray different societies with different values and that is well done here. Indubitably, folks in the old days were pretty bloodthirsty. The Celts did not write things down so the only records we have of them were written by their Roman enemies and are generally not flattering. The lack of real historical knowledge gives writers plenty of leeway to make things up.

Pat Mills might have portrayed worthier Celts even in a genre that demands action. There's a bit too much blood for my taste. Red ink or paint or computer program abounds in the art which is excellent throughout. The work of Glenn Fabry is particularly brilliant but Greg Staples and Dermot Power serve up gorgeous pictures, too, mostly in colour. Pat Mills, of course, is a founding editor of '2000A.D.' comic and has been a mainstay of that worthy organ since the last century.

It is possible for a reviewer to recognize that something is good even when it does not quite suit his own taste. This here is not my cup of blood but sword and sorcery fans who are not as soft as me may well enjoy it.

Eamonn Murphy

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