Devlin Waugh: Swimming in Blood

Devlin Waugh: Swimming in Blood
Devlin Waugh Swimming in Blood review
  • UK publisher / ISBN: 2000AD - 1-90426-517-0
  • Volume No.: 1
  • Release date: 2004
  • UPC: 9781904265177
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no
  • CATEGORIES: Horror, Science-Fiction

While not the first work from either creator, John Smith and Sean Phillips were not long into their careers when they introduced the Vatican’s finest camp exorcist. He exists in Judge Dredd’s world, but in the opening adventure there’s little to connect him to Mega-City One other than the trappings allowing for the fantastic.

Both Smith and Phillips were promising in 1992 rather than fully-fledged creative talents, and it shows in the title story, yet both have absolutely nailed Waugh. Phillips draws him as a proud physical specimen revelling in who he is, while Smith provides a constant stream of camp dialogue, pithy responses and bitchy observations. Coupled with Phillips’ poses, they’re a delight. However, Smith’s plot about vampires infesting an underwater prison extends the foreplay too long and lacks a strong punchline, but ‘Brief Encounter’ otherwise effectively introduces Waugh to Dredd’s world via the man himself.

‘Fetish’ is primarily a Judge Dredd story in which Devlin Waugh turns up near the end, really for no other reason than Smith promoting his own character. Infusing Dredd’s world with African sorcery is a good idea, but it never sparks into life, and Siku’s painted art never copes with storytelling. It’s absent from all other Swimming in Blood collections, but can be found as the album-sized Judge Dredd: Fetish, and Judge Dredd Complete Case Files 26.

Smith is very good at exploiting an aspect of Waugh’s personality allowing the most casual mention of atrocities that it’s clear don’t bother him in the slightest. An example occurs opening ‘A Mouthful of Dust’ a rare 2000AD strip drawn by an American artist, Michael Gaydos. It’s in shadowy black and white, and the excess of Waugh’s character escapes Gaydos, whose version is tame, turning his world into a more Lovecraftian realm. It’s a shame as it’s Smith’s best story yet.

The improvement continues into the two text stories closing this collection, both featuring illustrations by Phillips and both interesting, although at times unpleasant reading.

This is a really frustrating collection. Waugh is a strong character and has some hilarious dialogue, but either due to a novice writer or unsuitable art the potential is never reached. Only ‘Brief Encounter’ works as intended. Smith continues in the 2005 collection Red Tide. Swimming in Blood and Red Tide are also the titles of collections from ten years later in which the stories are mixed around. The 2015 Swimming in Blood hardcover as part of the Judge Dredd Mega-Collection changes the line-up again.