Stretching the definition of 2000AD related to breaking point, Luke wants to spread the word on this unfairly (in Luke’s fevered imagination anyway) overlooked 25 year old mini, one of former(?) script droid John Smith’s only sojourns across the Atlantic.
By John Smith, Scot Eaton, Mike Barreiro, Stuart Chaifez
Review by Luke Williams
Indulge me, but I think despite this being John Smith’s only extended run for DC Vertigo and it being a superhero title (although in the broadest sense of the term), it has very clear ties to 2000AD, which should soon become apparent. I have a “fondness” for John Smith’s work, and I have talked about it at length on a previous post, veering perhaps into wide eyed fan worship.:
Being MIA from 2000AD means that the Prog’ has lost a bit of that weirdness, creepiness and disorientation that added a little spice to the package.
“Scarab” was originally proposed as an ongoing revamp of “Dr. Fate”, DC got cold feet, told him to create it as a new property and then chopped it to an 8-issue mini.
Louis Sendak is a 78 year old retired superhero from the “golden age”, retroactively inserted into continuity. As Scarab, Sendak teamed up with with Sargon the Sorceror and Dr. Fate, during the forties, but since then he had largely been inactive.
Sendak’s wife Eleanor has been missing for most of that time. Lost in the “Labyrinth”, a huge multidimensional maze, a Dali esque Tardis, behind a locked door. On one of his expeditions into the Labyrinth Sendak’s father brought back the Scarabeus, the source of the Scarab/Louis’ powers.
In the first issue, an ancient assassin has been heading for the Labyrinth to find his way back “home”. Battling Louis in his resurrected Scarab guise he find and badly wounds Eleanor. Louis/Scarab try to save her, but leave her in a coma. Sendak seeks to restore Eleanor and after having hefty (though not altogether helpful) hints dropped by the DC Universe’s medium for exposition the Phantom Stranger, Louis and the Scarab begin to find their way in the world, as Eleanor enters a chrysalis state.
As he explores the powers of the Scarab, Sendak de-ages, he discovers the existence of the “The Net” a psychic planet world wide web which the Scarab can tap into. Louis/Scarab investigates the appearance of Pan and the spontaneous pregnancy of everyone woman over child bearing age in a small American town and the simultaneous suicide of the entire male population, a plot that should be familiar to many Megazine readers.Scarab encounters a Russian plot to weaponise the scream from the victims of the Hiroshima atomic bomb detonation using mute and sensory deprived orphans. In another issue he encounters a fallen angel who had created a torture garden, kidnapping humans, mutilating and transforming his victims into his slaves in the name of art.
As the series draws to a close and Smith curtailed plotlines, two very familiar figures from an organisation called the “Cosmic Coincidence Centre” appear, looking like cast members of a “colourfully” named reality warping organisation from a 2000AD series.
At the climax to the series, Eleanor leaves her coma and is reunited with Louis. At least sort of… Their relationship takes a direction, which opened all sorts of possibilities for further series. Although of course, there weren’t any.
In an interview on the Class of 79 website (Found here), Smith admits that the development, gestation and publication of the series was rather troubled. Editorial wanted extensive and seemingly regular changes, and Smith’s writing was not popular in higher circles and that basically he “borrowed” characters from his other stories to wrap the series up. The letters pages also indicate a mixed reception from the readership, some rabidly enthusiastic whilst others expressed bewilderment. There is no doubt that Smith’s writing can be dense, and lapses into purple prose. But he can also be so evocative, even if his use of metaphor can be disturbing and some times baffling. Journey man Scot Eaton – great artist on “Swamp Thing” did a great job of visualising Smith’s scripts and fevered imagination, Barreiro’s light inks give the strip a suitably scratchy look and Tony Luke and Glenn Fabry’s collaborative covers are suitably surreal.
Unbelievably this series is 25 years old, but it still seems fresh – there is a similar tone to Grant Morrison’s “Doom Patrol”, though not as playful. Far darker and more disturbing. All of the usual John Smith subjects are here, body horror, cancers, mutations, sexual depravity
I’ve seen complete runs for 10-15 on flea bay plus postage, there is no trade collection. I love this series, but I admit, it won’t be for everyone. But if you like John Smith, you’ll be quids in.