Review by Tony Keen
This Titan volume contains the first Book of Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill’s superb Nemesis the Warlock. Mills and O’Neill had previously worked together in the British weekly comic 2000 AD on Ro-Busters and ABC Warriors, and Nemesis began in 1980 in the same publication, with a couple of tales intended as one-offs. ‘Terror Tube’ and ‘Killer Watt’ (both included here) were spun out of the sort of ideas found in the earlier series (and the central idea of ‘Terror Tube’ would later be recycled in the Doctor Who episode ‘Gridlock’). These first entries in the Nemesis canon weren’t intended particularly seriously. This can be seen in the differences in tone and art style from what followed, these stories being lighter and more cartoony.
Mills has frequently and joyfully referred to the difficulty of seeing the concept through editorial opposition, and the stories’ immediate acclaim by readers, who demanded more strips about the mysterious Nemesis and his fight against Termight, Earth thousands of years into the future. They soon got what they wanted. A short Michael Moorcock pastiche, ‘The Sword Sinister’, appeared in 1981, the first story to show what Nemesis actually looked like. Nemesis Book One, subsequently named ‘The World of Termight’, duly appeared later that same year. In the developed comic, the concept was significantly reworked, and Nemesis became a parable of racial intolerance and genocide, drawing heavily upon the medieval Crusades, and introducing a strong sword and sorcery element. The result was an instant hit, and eight more books followed in 2000 AD between 1981 and 1989, with a tenth in 1999.
It has been argued, with some considerable justification, that Nemesis lost its way towards the end of its run, but here both creators are firing on all cylinders. Some of Mills’ dialogue, especially his captions, are a bit florid in retrospect, but that was the 2000 AD style in those days. There’s a rollicking adventure story, but Mills never forgets the humour that was always part of 2000 AD, including moments in the script that are laugh-out-loud funny.
Torquemada is one of the great comics villains, but Mills makes it clear that Nemesis, whilst fighting on the side of ‘right’, is in many ways just as bad. O’Neill’s art is like nothing seen before in 2000 AD, and worried IPC’s censors, who thought it too violent and disturbing for the early teen audience at whom the comics was then targeted. But it’s brilliant. He provides a gallery of grotesque aliens, their appearance often hiding their more pleasant inner nature, and equally grotesque uniforms for Torquemada’s Terminators, underlining the twisted hatred at their centre, all along lightening the disturbing nature with little humorous touches. This might not be as technically accomplished as O’Neill’s work two decades later on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but he has rarely displayed more imagination, or created more iconic panels (see sample image).
This collection represents some of the best British comics published in the 1980s, and among the very best work Mills did for 2000 AD. This series of paperback collections continues with the next O’Neill-drawn volume, Nemesis the Warlock, Book Two. However, that material was originally published in 2000 AD as Book Three; the actual Book Two, drawn by Jesus Redondo, can be found, together with Book One, in Nemesis the Warlock: Death to All Aliens. Book One is also reprinted in Nemesis: The Beginning, The Complete Nemesis the Warlock Book 01, and in slightly different format in Nemesis the Warlock: Deviant Edition. ‘The Sword Sinister’ was also selected to represent Nemesis in 2000 AD’s Greatest: Celebrating Forty Years.