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The Stainless Steel Rat by Kevin Gosnell and Carlos Ezquerra

1/09/2010. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

Buy The Stainless Steel Rat in the USA - or Buy The Stainless Steel Rat in the UK

author pic

pub: Rebellion/2000AD. 208 page softcover graphic novel. Price: 15.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-906735-51-7.

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Here is Harry Harrison's famous stainless steel rodent, Slippery Jim diGriz, adapted in comic form by scripter Kevin Gosnell and famous Judge Dredd artist Carlos Ezquerra for the pages of '2000AD'. This is a collection of three stories, 'The Stainless Steel Rat', 'The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World' and 'The Stainless Steel Rat for President'.

The story is set 30,000 years in the future and the galaxy is essentially at peace. The stainless steel rat thief is recruited by the Special Corps in the eponymous opening story. The Corps is headed by Harold Peter Inskipp, a legendary criminal of the past and a hero to Jim who tells him that every one of the organisations top operatives is a former criminal. The Corps equips them with various gadgets that would make James Bond green with envy. While doing routine office work, diGriz discovers that someone is illegally building an empire battleship, far superior to the small, modern peacetime navy. He tracks down and arrests the villain, Pepe, but his beautiful secretary Angelina escapes. She kills a dozen men and takes over a ship. It turns out that Pepe is the dupe and Angelina is the real mastermind, an early feminist slant by Harry Harrison. Jim goes after Angelina and eventually ends up marrying her! Modern psychological techniques straighten out her murderous personality traits but she retains a bent for thievery.

In 'The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World' people start to disappear. It turns out that someone is meddling with the past causing them never to have been. Jim is sent back to 20th century Earth where the problem seems to originate and after some trouble with bikers and a bank tracks down the culprit...He. Jim chases He through various time periods and the story ends with one of those now achingly familiar paradoxes whereby he sends himself help from the future and then goes back and sends himself help because he did. Like 'Doctor Who' at the end of the last series. As far as I'm concerned, this is nonsense. You can't do something because you did it. To be fair, Harrison wrote the story in 1972 and the trick was not such old hat then. Heinlein started it all with 'By His Bootstraps' in 1941 which he described in a letter to John Campbell, editor, as 'a neat trick, sure, but cotton candy', implying that it had no substance. He was right.

Anyway, in 'The Stainless Steel Rat For President' someone is murdered and Jim and Angelina are sent to the backward planet Paraiso-Aqui to track down the culprit. The planet is a corrupt military dictatorship so they decide to liberate it and the best way to do that is by becoming the dictator. Jim stands as a candidate in the presidential election. The art in this one got a bit wonky even by Carlos Ezquerra's standards but the story was okay. At one point, the rat is pumped full of painkilling antibiotics. Unfortunately, antibiotics do not kill pain (they fight infection) and painkillers are not antibiotics. Perhaps they will be in 30,000 years time so this is a small flaw.

I enjoyed some of the original Rat books in the distant past and looked forward to reading the adaptations. I enjoyed this collection, too, but alas, the sweet innocence of youth has long gone and those things which were terrifically funny when I was twelve are not so great now. Moreover, I don't think this brave attempt quite captured the charm of the original work.

Even so, I recommend it, especially if you have kids. Its light-hearted, nostalgic fun for adults and children of a certain age should enjoy it, too. I'm not sure what age though as I have not been cursed with offspring and avoid modern youth like the plague. I only know what I see on the news. Shortly after they have learned to read, they all seem to be stabbing each other and having sex but into that brief, innocent interval this harmless tome might be neatly slotted. If they like it, they might even go on to read the books and then other books, too! They might soak up spelling and grammar and get treble A star Doubleplus Good in their English A level! This cheap, reprint edition could change a child's life. Buy it now.

Eamonn Murphy

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