Button Man : Get Harry Ex
Review by Seth
Has it really been 23 years since the debut of Harry Exton in the Prog?
One of the most celebrated of 2000ad strips and one of the first creator owned series to be published in the Prog. Originally proposed for 2000AD’s short lived rival “Toxic”, it was rejected and submitted to the house of Tharg and it debuted in Prog 780 of the Galaxy’s Greatest. At the time it seemed like an odd fit. But this was the nineties, the Prog’ needed a strong strip with creators of pedigree, coupled with a desire to diversify, it must have made it attractive.
Harry Exton is a former solder and mercenary who is recruited into “The Game”, where the players, the “Button Men”, are pitted against each other in a modern day gladitorial contest for the amusement of rich, powerful and influential men known as “Voices”. Despite the vast financial rewards, Harry soon gets sick of this and wants out – except no one “retires” from the Game alive.
The three stories here trace Harry’s career as a “Button Man”. Starting with his recruitment, his participation in a succession of bloody tournaments and subsequent permanent retirement from the game. Although you can’t help but root for Harry, it becomes clear pretty quickly that he’s not particularly pleasant, verging on the psychopathic and a cold blooded, ruthless killer. Despite the fact that it isn’t ever safe to cross Harry, the Voices never learn and his services are in much demand.
The volume collects 3 of the 4 books in the series. I may be committing heresy here, but occasionally I find that the build up is far more satisfying that the pay off in some of Wagner’s stories, and book 1’s ending is a bit of anti climax. But revisiting it, and in conjunction with the other two strips, they read as a more satisfying whole. Each of the 3 stories has essentially the same plot – Harry gets drawn into the Game, Harry wants out, but with each successive chapter the stakes get higher. Wagner’s terse dialogue and characterisation draws you in.
Ranson is a great artist, a master, but there are some strips he’s not suited to (my second act of heresy). Using some very familiar models for his characters (hello Peter Hogan), his photo realist style with a touch of noir is ideal for the strip and is amongst his best work. Silent panels and metpahor add to the atmosphere
The 4th story: the “Hitman’s Daughter” drawn by Frazer Irving after the retirement of Arthur Ranson, stars Harry and the daughter of one of his fellow Button Men, but Harry’s story truly ends with book 3.
“Button Man: Get Harry Ex” is a great buy. The story doesn’t out stay its welcome and checks out at the right time. Wonderful art and Wagner getting all hard boiled, plus my copy is signed by Mr. W himself.
Not everything from the 1990’s Progs was bad.