A Long Strange Trip
Tripwire’s contributing writer Tim Hayes takes a look at Rebellion’s Revere, out now…
Writer: John Smith
Artist: Simon Harrison
At one point in Thrill-Power Overload, David Bishop and Karl Stock’s book on the history of 2000AD, the comic’s early-1990s enthusiasm for painted art in the wake of Simon Bisley’s work on The Horned God runs up against the limits of the paper stock and printing available at the time, and the visual results are summed up in one word: mud. Revere appeared in 1991, shortly after Bisley had changed the game and right at the point when the potential for mud was highest, with densely atmospheric art by Simon Harrison that challenged both the printers and any buyers looking for an undemanding read. Now the whole short but potent series is back via Rebellion’s series of digital-only reprints, which if done properly should present the art at its best – while also completely changing the work’s original analogue form into something with a very different digital aura, in a story well stocked with metaphysics already.
John Smith said that he wrote the climax of Revere in the aftermath of a bad LSD trip, but the rest of the story hovers on the edge of hallucination anyway. It’s peppered with talk of the coming Aquarian Age, which was a throwback even in the Nineties, but at the same time it’s fully a reaction to 1991 Britain, a country flattened by twelve years under the same Tory government and with recession imminent: Revere is about change, renewal, improvement and ascension. Revere, the “witchboy” of a post-apocalypse London where scavengers roam the streets in search of medicines but the clubs are still open, is set on a path of self-discovery by a mystic figure called The Hermit, the first of several archetypes from the Tarot that Smith summons up – the loose roadmap here is a well-established approach to Tarot, with the Major Arcana cards as a novice’s journey from ignorance to enlightenment. Beguiled by a pretty woman, Revere ends up in conflict with the Lanzers, techno-villains with cultural surnames like Kneale and Heller and Lem, literature apparently having been turned to destructive purposes in this bitter world. Smith is clearly working with an eye on Steve Ditko: Revere takes a trip in his astral form early on, and the story involves conquering phantoms of self-doubt and weakness and failure, the same central instruction as countless Ditko comics. Revere ultimately meets a vast marine entity which says it embodies evolution and progress, so not that far from Eternity in Doctor Strange. But at the same time Smith has Revere be a martyr, lined up to rescue the World. The witchboy dies for three days before embarking on his task, which is to sacrifice himself for your sins, a goal about as far from Ditko principles as you can get.
Simon Harrison’s art summons up all this fever with painted acrylics, mixed media, montage and marks made directly on the paper, all of them jostling for space. Hints of other artists pass by too – Gerald Scarfe, Francis Bacon, Dali, Dave McKean. The first chapters are all fragmented pages of hot reds and yellows, before pools of cooler greens and blues take over later; but the characters are often rendered differently from one panel to the next, their shifting inner life made plain on the outside. Plus, Revere is a comic where change requires violence. The novice Revere chews on broken glass and then spits black acid into the face of an enemy, his body contorted like an insect; after illumination he ferociously kills several employees of the Lanzer organisation and stuffs one of them into a sink.
John Smith is gone from 2000AD, at least for now, but intellectual property always lives on. Rebellion passed Smith’s Indigo Prime on to writer Kek-W in 2017, and Revere plus some of the supporting cast – his disembodied Motherhead, the exposition-inclined Astrologer – all walked onstage in that series, one whose cast of multiverse psychonauts could theoretically encompass absolutely anyone. There is a lot to be said for Lee Carter’s Indigo Prime artwork, with its crystalline sharp lines and modelling of the impossible, but it makes Revere himself look fixed and defined, issuing orders and asserting authority as one of that strip’s esoteric Mission: Impossible force. Back in Revere he was a more interesting thing, a work in progress from a Britain needing a reset, standing in for anyone with all the right questions but only some of the answers.
Revere is out now from Rebellion