To Hell And Back
♦ Tripwire contributing writer TIM HAYES takes a look at Rebellion’s ABC Warriors: The Mek Files 04: The Volgan Wars, out now…
ABC Warriors The Mek Files 04 The Volgan Wars
Writer: Pat Mills
Artist: Clint Langley
Rebellion’s cyclical reprinting of ABC Warriors from 2000AD comes round again to December 2006 and a big moment, as Clint Langley takes over the strip’s art and begins the tenure that has continued ever since. Many fine pencillers had worked on the strip already, with Henry Flint being Langley’s immediate predecessor, but there’s no missing the shift in atmosphere and mood that arrives with the new artist. Langley’s technique can still be divisive, a mix of photo-based models and digital manipulation that he developed on Slaine and elsewhere before bringing to ABC Warriors, and which has evolved further since these strips too. Immersive and muscular, neither purely montage nor modernist but some hybrid of both, it’s not hard to see why writer Pat Mills finds Langley’s art a favourite medium for his political messages.
It’s also a style that suits this particular strip, which has fewer human beings in the first place and a sci-fi industrial setting that’s all grime and smoke and ash, heavy with death and cordite. The story finds the group of war-droids known as the ABC Warriors in the aftermath of a Martian civil war, dropping off a member at Broadband Asylum for therapy before recalling their experiences in the Volgan Wars, an earlier conflict over oil. The writer as ever is Mills and the plot as ever is complicated, since Mills likes to fold existing story threads back on themselves, memories and current events mixing freely and presenting new readers with a bit of a challenge as they unpick the news from the history. By now the robots are deep into a rolling saga of perpetual conflict, of enemies becoming allies before reverting back again, and putting the language and strife of human soldiers into the mouths of sentient war machines is still as effective an anti-war statement as it was when the strip first started.
But back then it didn’t look like this. Langley’s art takes threads from pulp sci-fi covers and extravagant European painted fantasy fiction and splices them with a US adventure comics tradition that seems to be flexing muscles it doesn’t usually have to use. It’s also an evolution of 2000AD’s earlier embrace of painted artwork, pulling that trend in a newly energised and inherently adult direction. And on top of all that there’s a lot of design effort on show, in the fresh detailing of existing characters and the layers of visual artefacts drawn around them, and even in the page designs themselves – this collection adjusts some of the original prog layouts, as if their vibrancy was hard to corral in the available space. Langley’s style has defined the ABC Warriors for over a decade, and its first appearance is still something to grapple with and admire.