Luke (nee Seth), decides that he hasn’t done a potted history for quite a while. So, he takes on his favourite 2000AD character
Nemesis The Warlock : A Potted History Part 1
Origins, “The World of Termight”, phantoms, bizarre tube journeys, Book 2 is MIA and “Big Jobs“
By Luke Williams
It’s been over two years since I last wrote of these. Despite your indifference, I decided I’d knock one out again. I know you have been the veritable ravening horde at the gate, demanding more, more!
Or perhaps, you know, not.
My favouritest character from 2000AD and a linchpin from the early years. Nemesis is groundbreaking in its originality and the early strips are some of Mills and O’Neill’s best work. In short they created a classic.
Some of this strip is over 30 years old, but consider <SPOILER WARNINGS> in place.
Just in case.
Thankfully, Nemesis’ continuity isn’t as convoluted as Rogue Trooper’s for example. No unnecessary reboots or revamps, and it maintains a high standard of script and art for much of the run. For better or for worse it was guided from beginning to end by one guy : Mr.Pat Mills and, as we will see, some incredibly talented artists. Handily, Rebellion has collected all of it (except the recent episode in the 2000th Prog) in three “‘phone book compilations”, which are still available digitially on the 2000AD online store.
But to begin at the beginning, a bit of background :
Nemesis is a member of the titular unimaginably powerful alien race. Their powers stem from the use of the dark arts, magic and worship Khaos. Nemesis leads Credo, a resistance movement fighting the ever expanding Termight Empire: Earth thousands of years in the future. Termight is ruled by the despotic Tomas De Torquemada, who leads his fanatical “knights” the Terminators on a never ending crusade, to “cleanse” the galaxy of deviants – aliens.
Both Mills and O’Neill drew on their experiences being educated within or by the catholic church for their inspiration for Torquemada, his terminators and their creed. The strip has strong themes of anti racism and anti authoritarianism. This is early Mills, and whilst hardly subtle, the sledgehammer delivery and soapbox pontificating of his later years is missing. You can see it creeping in as the strip progresses, particularly in book 9, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
The origins of the strip can be traced back to the “Fall & Rise Of Ro Jaws and Hammerstein” and a sequence where our heroes escape from their Human masters in a ship called the Satan Dart. 21st Century road systems had been replaced by “tubes”, tunnels where vehicles could travel on the ceiling, run along the sides or along the floor. A disorientating chase sequence which, according to Mills, management hated. This was the inspiration for the tubeways of Termight.
Resurrecting the “tube” concept, Mills and O’Neill came up with the idea for “Comic Rock”. “Comic Rock” was intended to be a series of short strips where the creators would let their hair down on the comics equivalent of a musical “jam” , but without the self indulgent back slapping, and the seemingly endless, tiresome, noodling of its’ musical counterpart. Short, sharp, riotous, fun, something Mills and O’Neill excelled at.
The first strip, entitled “Terror Tube” subtitled “Going Underground”, was inspired by a song by “The Jam”. It introduced the world of Termight, Torquemada as the chief of Police (Grandmaster was a few promotions away), Nemesis and the Blitzspear in a bizarre world where the Earth has been riddled with travel tubes that allow superfast travel across the planet and to other worlds. Racing the Blitzspear through Termight, Nemesis intercepts a Terminator prisoner transport, ramming it to free its occupants. Pursued by Torquemada and the Terminators into the bowels of Termight, Nemesis heads into the Black Hole Bypass, and escapes to the stars and freedom. In 6 pages, Mills and O’Neill established the world, the conflict between Nemesis and Torquemada and the foundation for the entire strip. But Nemesis remained unrevealed, an enigma esconced within the Blitzspear, Seth.
A sequel, ” Killer Watt” followed soon after. Following a crash in a tube liner, Torquemada is left stranded on the surface of the planet, but heads home via the teleport wires system. But Nemesis lies in wait. Pursuing Torquemada down the line, Nemesis comes under attack from Terminators seeking to save their leader. Nemesis escapes to Purity Brown’s apartment, but Torquemada is caught in the crossfire, and not for the last time “dies”.
The strip’s popularity and the universe’s scope was such that it demanded a more expansive run, and “Comic Rock” was put on hold.
However, Nemesis had still not been “seen”. The first sighting of the Warlock wasn’t in the prog’. It was in 2000AD, the strip was on the last page of “Olric’s Great Quest”, published in the Sci Fi Special 1981 which also introduced Nemesis’s weapon “Excessus” the Sword Sinister. This strip and the “Secret Life of the Blitzspear (all found in “‘phone book 1” from Rebellion) act as a tremendous introduction to the character and its bizarre and unsettling universe, particuarly when delineated by the mad genius that is Kev’ O’Neill.
Nemesis Character Development Sketches
I seem to remember reading a theory that Nemesis was a Deadlock substitute after management prohibited Mills and O’Neill from using the ABC Warrior. In the 1992 Titan “Nemesis : The Beginning” collection, Mills refutes this, but it kind of makes sense, head on their faces kind of sort of look alike (yeah? maybe? Okay, please yourself).
Next up was the first proper serial, entitled appropriately Book 1. Nemesis again doesn’t appear for a few progs, the first episodes setting the scene and building the universe. Nemesis crashlanding on a planet populated by Humans, not speaking a word, he is tortured and seemingly executed. But one by one his captors meet a grisly fate. Returning to the Warlock, the locals find that Nemesis is unharmed. Terrified, they release him and he leaves the planet.
In the meantime, Purity Brown, member of Credo, is on the run through Termight. Pursued by Terminators and accompanied by her friend Googly, she reaches sanctuary in a safe house. There, Googly collapses and the phantom form of Torquemada rises from his body. Purity and her allies are imprisoned.
Nemesis plans to rescue his allies from Termight, including Purity. Blackmailing a high ranking terminator to aid him, a disguised Nemesis, accompanied by his familiar Grobbendonk begins the breakout during the feast of Zarmakand. Using a portal at the base of a sacrificial fire, the aliens begin their escape, with Nemesis manically creating confusion in the ranks of the terminators.
O’Neill runs riot, the pages bleed with his imagination. From Great Uncle Baals lab’ to the baroque Termight cityscapes of Mausoleum and Necropolis, projecting into the great abyss, grotesque gargoyle helmeted terminators and seemingly impossible (and occasionally, impossibly camp) aliens. Seriously beautiful, savage and imaginative work. Apologies for some of the images, I really need to get a better scanner.
These early episodes estblish the black humour that would eventually be carried by Torquemada and the supporting cast later in the series. See the torturer’s apprentice sequence, the guard opening his heart to his prisoner, the Yologs and N’Kognito the invisible alien.
The strip had short breaks toward the end, the detail must have been taking its toll on Brother O’Neill toiling to complete the series, projecting his fevered imagination onto Bristol Board.
The climactic battle between Nemesis and Torquemada stretches over a number of episodes, Torquemada in his phantom form possesses a series of terminator corpses, as one falls, he relentlessly rises in another, wearing Nemesis down.
Impaled,and seemingly doomed, Nemesis defiantly pulls Torquemada into the fire, both falling to their deaths. Only for the portal door to stay open long enough for Nemesis to escape and Torquemada to be incinerated.
Following on directly from Book 1, Torquemada is still “dead”, and the Terminators are on the run across the galaxy. Nemesis feels that the human race can be saved and sees potential for peace between Termight and the rest of the galaxy. He approaches the Cabal to plead his case, using the example of the Terminators that have been sent to the prison planet of Arachnos, populated by alien spider creatures. Yes, it really is as icky as it sounds.
In the meantime, a very not dead Torquemada reasserts his authority on Termight. Guessing the Warlock’s plan, he heads to Arachnos and enlists the most fanatical Terminators on the planet, assists their escape, kills the head warden and posseses his body.
Nemesis calls the head warden of Arachnos to address the Cabal, to support his claim that humans can be rehabilitated, not realising that it is Torquemada in disguise.
Torquemada spoils the party, with Arachnos escapee Brother Baruda in tow playing the rabid, kill crazy human part to a tee, convinices the Cabal that the war should continue.Of course, Dark Lord that he is, Nemesis rumbles Torquemada’s scheme, there’s a fight, but the result is more of a no score draw. Torquemada escapes, and the war continues.
Jesus Redondo supplies art and a very different tone. Redondo’s art is sublime, he’s got a lot of love on the FB groups and in the forums, but I don’t think he’s an artist that springs to mind when discussing the Warlock. That might be because this is one of the least reprinted of the Nemesis strips. Titan skipped it in their reprint album series. Why? That dear reader, I cannot answer (I know someone out there will). There are no continuity problems in leaping over this book, but it’s a strange omission, especially as it sheds a bit of light on Torquemada’s origins. The Rebellion collections do include it, but sadly the print quality and size don’t do the art justice.
Book 2 has a slight shift in tone, it plays slightly more conventionally than its predecessor. The humour is played down both in script and art and to me it feels less of a collaboration between scribe and artist. Still, undervalued and overlooked.
Up until now, the technology in the strip has been a mix of bladed weapons and starships, low and hi tech. But now we see the introduction of more technology into the strip, most significantly some very, very large robots.
Nemesis has returned to his home planet following a premonition of the safety of his wife, Chira . Chira is challenged as Nemesis’ mate, by her rival Magna. After a savage battle, Magna is defeated, but unbowed and plots her revenge.
In the meantime, the egg that Nemesis and Chira have been incubating hatches, and Thoth, their son emerges.
Satisfied that both Chira and Thoth are safe Nemesis goes to assist the Basilisks, an alien race from the planet Demotika, the latest target of Terminator aggression. The Terminators have employed ancient robots deployed as siege engines to defeat the beleagured alien race. One of which is very familiar to long term 2000AD readers, even if he is in fancy dress :
Nemesis’s arrival is a much needed filip to the Basilisks, the tide turns and the terminator’s attack falters, but the battle settles into a stalemate. Nemesis approaches the Terminator commander Sir Evric, a man under considerable pressure and with a huge inferiority complex, and offers him a deal.
If Sir Evric retires his forces and leaves the Basilisks alone, via his diabolical powers Nemesis would make Evric young, rich and courageous. Sir Evric agrees, the Terminators retreat and Sir Evric gets his wish…..
Meanwhile, Magna has betrayed Chira to Torquemada. Torquemada dispatches Sir Hargan and his terminator assassins to murder Chira and Thoth. Arriving on Gandarva the Terminators heavily outnumber Chira, but she acquits herself well, but the result is inevitable. Chira ensures Thoth is safe, passes her powers to her child and confronts the Terminators in her final battle.
After the battle Sir Hargan finds Thoth, but Thoth brain washes the Terminator into adopting him and taking him back to Termight. Mission successful, Sir Hargan gains favour with Torquemada. Nemesis is oblivious to the fate of his family, but it has serious repercussions for the rest of the galaxy.
O’Neill is back in harness in this book, if anything this is more detailed and grotesque than before, but with a more “feathery” line. But this is effectively his swansong on the strip, with a few select episodes over the years. If Redondo brought a different tone, then the next regular artist on the strip would overhaul the look completely. And the reappearance of one ancient Ro Buster in this book is the precursor to the reintroduction of a whole load more.