Review by Frank Plowright
While considered a 2000AD/Megazine regular, Devlin Waugh’s history is more off again, on again. The freelance vampiric exorcist sanctioned by the Vatican appeared several times in the early 1990s, then teamed with Judge Dredd for Fetish, where he added pithy dialogue, but was otherwise secondary.
Not including that means there was a six year gap between the material in the first Rebellion-published Swimming in Blood collection and Red Tide, and in the intervening years John Smith became a far more accomplished writer. Whereas earlier work showed potential, this is the experienced professional aware of how to pace a plot for serialisation and while Devlin drops into the role of supporting character in his own strip for the middle section, it’s a thriller all the way through.
‘Chasing Herod’, ‘Plague of Frogs’ and ‘Sirius Rising’ are a trilogy prioritising a James Bond form of escalation until humanity across Earth is threatened by a supernatural maniac wanting to bring about global change no matter the cost. All three sections are efficiently and compactly illustrated by Steve Yeowell, who puts in a lot of effort designing a wealth of new characters. The villain of the piece gathers several ill-intentioned and supernaturally inclined allies, following which a team of those acting to preserve humanity come together. Visually, they’re all creepy and disturbing as intended.
These stories are no longer just a vehicle for Waugh’s snappy dialogue. Although that still sparkles, it’s toned down, and different forms of humour emerge, most noticeably the absurdism of the supernatural technobabble. There are hints of Grant Morrison as Smith supplies throwaway objects and situations around which others would construct their entire story, and this adds a richness. These plots are better paced for collection, and Waugh is a more believable character when his contrived ennui is replaced by the real condition induced by the horrors he’s seen. All in all, this is a really satisfying supernatural thriller.
Colin MacNeil is the artist on ‘Red Tide’, reintroducing the concept of undersea vampires. Every artist on the series takes a very different approach, and MacNeil’s painted pages have a totally unique use of colour that shouldn’t work, but does just fine. The figures are occasionally stiff, but there’s no shyness about the application of bright shades across the pages, usually the single colour per panel, but sometimes mixed to good effect.
For this Smith presents a straightforward horror thriller, establishing the threat, providing the desperation, having the cast retreat to a confined location and racking up the killings. It fits the template just fine, but lacks the depth that makes the Yeowell stories more interesting.
The later reissues of Devlin Waugh shunt all but the title story into a bulkier Swimming in Blood, while the Yeowell-illustrated material can also be found in the hardcover Judge Dredd: The Mega Collection – Chasing Herod. The 2015 Red Tide instead features subsequent Devlin Waugh stories.