Review by Frank Plowright
This is the third Devlin Waugh collection titled Swimming in Blood, and each time the page count takes a considerable leap. Mandarin’s 1993 version just presented John Smith and Sean Phillips’ title story, while the 2004 Swimming in Blood included Waugh’s following few appearances, including a team-up with Judge Dredd, absent here.
Either this or the Swimming in Blood that’s part of the Judge Dredd Mega Collection partwork are the best options as they’re selective about content. Smith nails Waugh’s excessive and sharp character from the start, and he delivers some wonderful lines in the title story, but it takes too long to arrive at the payoff. By the time he wrote most of the remaining material Smith had learned how to pace a serialised story.
That said, incorporating the Vatican’s premier exorcist into Judge Dredd’s world during ‘Brief Encounter’ is a stylish outing from Smith and Phillips (sample art left), only lacking a killer punchline.
By the time of ‘Chasing Herod’ in 1999 Waugh hadn’t had a solo outing in six years, Phillips was unavailable, and the fad for painted art had run its course, so it’s Steve Yeowell’s polished pencils and inks on illustration (sample right). Smith now has his balance right. The dialogue still sparkles, and the humour is broadened beyond snarky comments, such as the opening chapter’s run through of assorted ridiculous cases presented as flashbacks before an abrupt switch of tone. Smith takes the gap between strips into account, having Waugh come out of retirement to attend the film premiere of the title story. As that’s happening there are rum goings-on at the Vatican, and the result is an unutterably evil sorcerous object back in the world.
Although it’s largely set-up, ‘Chasing Herod’ is a lot of fun. Smith creates a cabal of occult evil, the members all well designed by Yeowell, and a parade of tongue in cheek supernatural objects for what has the same sense of absurdism as Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol. However, it works equally well as an action plot, leading into the more seriously intended ‘Reign of Frogs’ and ‘Sirius Rising’. For these Smith modifies Devlin’s personality. He’ll still come out with a witty epigram, but what he’s seen has taken its toll, and the formerly contrived ennui is now genuine. A considerable and imaginative supporting cast is employed, and if there’s a concern it’s that Waugh becomes lost in the ensemble until rallying for a pivotal role during the closure. It’s not a fatal flaw. The earlier stories had potential, but Smith and Yeowell’s trilogy is the promise come to fruition. It forms the bulk of the 2004 Red Tide collection, and of the Judge Dredd Mega Collection: Chasing Herod.
The book ends with Michael Gaydos drawing ‘A Mouthful of Dust’, which fits better here than in earlier editions where the transition between Phillips’ Waugh and the modified Gaydos version was too stark. It’s a decent story from Smith, but the tongue in cheek nature seems to escape Gaydos.
Red Tide continues with a now refreshed Devlin Waugh.