Nemesis the Warlock: The Final Heresies
Pat Mills, John Hicklenton, David Roach, Kevin O’Neill, Carl Critchlow, Paul Staples, Chris Weston, Clint Langley & Tony Skinner
Review by Luke Williams
So. Here we are, a year or so after release date. The third and final volume of the lovingly bound collections of Nemesis the Warlock. Handsome volumes that they are, these stories have been collected numerous times, so the question is does this add to the collections you may already have?
This final sequence, though stretched out over a period of 10 years or so, begins in a period of transition for the Prog’; the mid 500s – early 600s just before Slaine : The Horned God. We have Zenith and ABC Warriors “The Black Hole” (referenced here) but we also have Rogue Trooper : “The Hit”, significantly, it also saw the launch of Crisis Fleetway (2000 ADs then publishers) first move into “mature” comics, with a significant contribution from Nemesis co creator Pat Mills on political strip Third World War.
As far as Nemesis is concerned, Bryan Talbot had already left, his startling and talented replacement John Hicklenton had made his bonkers and controversial debut on the strip with “The Two Torquemadas”. If the difference between O’Neill and Talbot was jarring; and the subsequent switch to Hicklenton fried your brain, then the shift from the LSD nightmare that was Hicklenton to the smooth, beautifully rendered and finely detailed art that is David Roach’s debut is instantly sobering.
Considering the subject of “Purity’s Story” Hicklenton could have been a poor fit. Roach’s work is far easier on the senses than the overload that is Hicklenton’s art, and, to be completely politically incorrect, Roach draws beautiful women. It’s Purity’s origin story; detailing from her perspective how she and Nemesis met, and her connection to Torquemada. It’s a breather in what had become a protracted and increasingly personal chase / battle sequence between the two mortal enemies. The inherent contradictions in Nemesis’ character are further explored and some home truths are explained to Purity as Mills and Co set up the series for its denouement.
John Hicklenton is back in the saddle for “Deathbringer”, book 9, where his craziness in the later episodes comes to the fore in character design and the fight sequences, it’s really quite disturbing. Its also here that there is a little bit of cross pollination between Mills’ strips – not directly, but definitely in tone. Mills buy now was writing Third World War in Crisis, the plot – such as it is; is that Nemesis & Purity have trailed the Grandmaster to an alternate 1989. Due to time dilation (or something) Torquemada has been in Britain for many years and now heads up a paramilitary police force and owns a chain of bed and breakfasts. After the inevitable fight, drawn in lovingly gory detail the relationship between Nemesis & Purity is forever changed. One things is for sure, Hicklenton could draw an incredibly grotesque Torquemada.
And then; in the Prog at least; nothing.
Not for years.
However, this volume collects the abortive attempts to build to what was inevitably going to be the climax of the strip. It seemed like either editorial or probably more likely Mills had lost interest, Slaine was riding high following the massive success of “The Horned God”; ABC Warriors with Bisley and SMS had been a hit with Kev Walker fully painting the next storyline (admittedly a few years away), Toxic was a twinkle in his and partners’ eye, and Mills and Kevin O’Neill had found cult success in the US with “Marshal Law”.
First off is the “Shape of Things to come” drawn by Paul “Finn” Staples from Prog 824, 4 years after the “Deathbringer”. “SOTTC” effectively resets the strip back to its roots, eschewing the development by Talbot, Hicklenton and Roach. Three parter series “Hammer of the Warlocks” drawn by a young and lurid Clint Langley, picks up the plot thread from “SOTTC” and… doesn’t do a lot with it.
The highlights from this period, included here as a coda rather than within the main storyline are “The Tomb of Torquemada” – full colour Kev O’Neill originally published in the short lived series of Poster Progs. “The Bride of the Warlock” drawn by great “should have been” Nemesis artist Chris Weston – which sees Candida recovering from her breakdown and being wooed by the Warlock. It’s a bit silly, but has fantastic visuals by Weston.
On the other hand, possibly the most painful to read would be the single episode “Warlocks & Wizards” and the series “The Enigmass Variations”, both painted by Carl Critchlow, the latter co written by Mills’s then creative partner Tony Skinner. Both strips were hampered by poor printing technology making the art very dark, or as it has been described, like someone painted with mud, which unfairly reflects on Critchlow’s work. But more crucially, the stories are just hammy, painful dialogue and a silly plot.They aren’t part of the storyline proper, but they are probably the character’s nadir and presumably included for completeness.
The strip finally ends in 1999 with Book X, imaginatively titled “The Final Conflict”, drawn for the most part by genius Henry Flint – “the 2000 AD artist’s artist” –perfect for the strip and of all the artists who followed Kevin O’Neill on the strip, probably the one most in spirit with its co-creator. As you’d imagine, this is the final battle, were back in Termight, but this time it’s a three way fight, Purity, Torquemada and Nemesis, before a suitably appropriate fate befalls the mortal enemies, the final episode fittingly drawn by Kevin O’Neill for the first of the bumper end of year progs: Prog 2000, celebrating the new millennium.
Also in this collection is the pseudo sequel Deadlock starring the titular ABC Warrior, again drawn by Henry Flint, but this time chasing a serial killer and being tracked by President Purity Brown, who is finding life as a politician more It means the strip has gone full circle, as Mills & O’Neill had mooted the idea of Deadlock being the character zooming around Termight in the early days.
Finally, Mills and O’Neill returned to Nemesis and Torquemada one more time for Prog’ 2000, the 2000th issue, which didn’t really add anything to the story, but is fittingly the final strip in this book and of course, sadly, it was the final Nemesis strip O’Neill drew.
And that… is that.
There are some extra bits and bobs in here that may be of interest. There’s a nice collection of covers and pin ups, including work from artists not usually associated with the strip, such as Garry Leach, Liam Sharp, Colin Wilson & Simon Bisley. The introduction from Pat Mills gives nods to his artistic collaborators and how Torquemada as a villain has influenced his other strips.
There’s no doubt that the strip had begun to lose its way from Book 6. Collected, readers new to the strip may not be able to see the effect that extended break had on the strip, or perhaps this long term reader is overplaying it. What is clear is that the one offs and short series between Books 9 & 10 indicate that Mills and editorial didn’t know how to wrap this up, or perhaps had just lost interest.
It’s a handsome, hardback and book ribboned; sitting attractively with the other two on the shelf if such things matter to you. Better print quality, the reproduction of Carl Critchlow’s pages aside, and a more appropriate size tan the “phone books” volumes that previously collected the strip. Whether these volumes are the best reprints is another argument, if it wasn’t for the fact that the Titan volumes seemingly were designed to fall apart after 2 readings I’d say they were still the best.
Worth buying? Well, yes – if you are a Nemesis fan and have the other two it seems silly not to get the last one doesn’t it? Assuming of course you can get one, Rebellion says they were limited to 350.
It’s a beautiful package, only let down by some of the story content, and occasional poor colour reproduction.