Review by Frank Plowright
The early years of the 21st century were difficult ones for the UK’s long-running SF anthology 2000AD. Some poor editorial choices in the 1990s had diminished the brand, and while editorially things were back on track by 2004, the comic was between audiences, and there was a tendency to under-rate some of the new features. Caballistics Inc. first appeared that year, and as The Complete Collection rapidly proves, Gordon Rennie and Dom Reardon’s horror selection stands up very well.
It’s admittedly a slow start, with a conflicting team of supernatural specialists pulled together as pastiches from assorted forms of horror fiction, their opening adventure ordinary beyond their abrasive personalties. These clash as intended and continue to do so throughout, with mistrust, secrets and deception integral to the tension. By the time each team member receives their own brief spotlight about seventy pages in, Rennie has hit his stride and one horror gem after another follows, the tone of the menaces varying and the arch and cynical commentary via the cast consistent. Starting with a character who’s unlikeable, dangerous and callous about the wellbeing of his team mates is good, but making another a victim of demonic possession is better. Rennie keeps introducing interesting new characters to play off them, while being unsentimental about the fates of others he feels have served their purpose.
Mike Mignola is the most obvious touchstone for Dom Reardon’s loose, jagged people and the slathering shadows of black ink, but there’s some David Lloyd there as well, combined with a strong sense of both graphic design and character design. A demon is integral to the series, with humanoid form, and Reardon supplies a monster, yet when a human monster is required near the end, Reardon’s equally good with someone more ordinary, a liver-spotted octogenarian. Police Inspector Harry Absolom is a wonderfully dissolute old Einstein, whose solo career ran to three graphic novels beginning with Ghosts of London. Part of the reason Caballistics Inc. is so good is the presentation of some ridiculous old tosh with a straight face, and Reardon ensures the mask never slips.
Two earlier collections, Going Underground and Creepshow, presented roughly two-thirds of the Caballistics Inc. story, but for over a decade fans have had to hoard the original serialisation in 2000AD for the remainder until The Complete Collection. In his introduction Rennie talks about how why his enthusiasm for the cast diminished, but it’s not apparent in the finale, a consistently clever story tying up all the loose plots along with some final revelations. Two codas follow, the ambiguous ‘Nativity’ produced shortly after the series concluded, and possibly a disappointing ending at the time for suggesting more, and the far better ‘Visting Hour’ for a 2000AD special issue a decade later. It really does wrap everything up, and it’s interesting to see how Reardon’s line has become more delicate and how the black ink has retreated to a degree.
Some 2000AD material hasn’t aged well, successful on publication because it was so attuned with the times, yet dating equally rapidly for the same reason. Caballistics Inc. drops into the bracket of the timeless thrill, largely ignoring passing fashion and stronger for that. That it investigates so many forms of horror so well means it’s more than earned a place on your bookshelf.