Review by Eamonn Clarke.
Here is an nice collection of one of the weirder strips to appear in the early years of 2000AD. This ran in Progs 185 – 218 from 1980 to 1981 and the short version of this review reads: “Brilliant. Buy it”.
Written by Malcolm Shaw with superlative art by Jesus Redondo and lettered throughout by Bill Nuttall, it also has a very cool title font on each of the 34 episodes that makes me wonder if it was designed by the late Jan Sheapherd. The plot is fiendishly complicated with a deep space vessel encountering some form of wormhole which transports it to a planet covered in frozen bodies, some of which look like horned devils. Proving that the crew have never seen John Carpenter’s The Thing they carve out one of the bodies, defrost it and then somehow manage to produce two clone kids from it. One of them rapidly evolves to became The Destroyer, a creature of pure evil, while the other appears to be a normal human called Amtrak who may be the only person who can end his malevolent twin’s reign of terror. Along the way Amtrak will pick up a one-armed robot sidekick called Seeker, a good looking human companion named Eve and, of course, a magic sword.
It’s all just bonkers and I haven’t even mentioned the space pirates yet. It moves on in a frenetic fashion packing miles of story into each five page episode and proving that you can tell a sprawling space opera epic in this limited format. It’s so complicated that the introductory text box in the first panel of each instalment soon fills up with smaller and smaller text trying to bring the new reader up to speed. It is tremendously exciting for a children’s comic book story from 34 years ago and Mr Shaw was clearly a scribe with a very vivid imagination. Some of the stuff is quite terrifying, proving that kids do love a good scare in the safe environments of their comics, books and films.
And all of this is beautifully presented in Redondo’s stunning black and white line work. There is one colour two page spread where this story made the centre pages for one prog and the colour adds very little, in fact I prefer the monochrome pages. Redondo was another Spanish master in these early Progs and I hope we learn a little more about him in the forthcoming Future Shock documentary.
Of course the art does suffer in places from being shrunk down from Prog size to fit a trade paperback which makes some of the panel layouts look a little dark and cluttered. There are also a couple of lettering glitches where words seem to have dropped out or be missing letters and I’m not sure if that is due to the originals or the reproduction. In terms of extras we get the four colour covers that Return To Armageddon appeared on at the back of the book, the usual one paragraph creator bios, but no introduction. I know the margins must be tight on these Rebellion trades but could they not find room for a one page introduction? I’m sure there would be fans from the forum queuing up to write one for free.
Minor gripes aside this is a lovely trade collection of one of those bizarre gems from the halcyon days of 2000AD. Give Rebellion your money and get a copy, you won’t regret it. Five star stuff.