Exorcist Devlin Waugh operates in Judge Dredd’s world, but his artificial ennui and style looks back to a far earlier age, the name bringing to mind the minor nobility found in the works of 1920s novelist Evelyn Waugh. Given he’s a man of impeccable tastes, the thought of having to dirty himself dealing with a vampire infestation in a prison miles beneath the sea really is too tiresome.

John Smith establishes early that these vampires aren’t going to be seen off by the usual garlic and crucifixes, and that Waugh certainly isn’t going to set about them before he’s finished his cup of tea. Smith cranks up the camp and gives Waugh a sharp line in biting dialogue to accompany his utter confidence, and that’s what drags readers through Swimming in Blood rather than any great thrills or twists to the plot.

Although not his earliest work, Sean Phillips was still a relative novice when he painted Swimming in Blood, which makes his strong character design notable. Phillips dresses Waugh impeccably down to his spats. The distinctive gap between his front teeth and the cigarette smoked through an affected holder is based on post-war British comedian Terry Thomas, and there’s some Freddie Mercury in there also, perhaps in the poses. Waugh is completely confident in his own capabilities, which is reflected in the upright way he stands, muscles rippling. Given Phillips later became an exemplary storyteller, it’s interesting to see it all over the place here, with frequent connection of caption and random image. The talent, though, is obvious.

Smith drags the plot on far too long, travelling in circles to enable Waugh to spout another few smart remarks or regret the loss of his golden truss. Anyone enjoying that won’t care too much about the plot, and enjoy it while you can, as it would later be toned down.

Swimming in Blood is two interesting creators showing promise, but doesn’t stand up on its own merits. However, the promise was recognised, and Waugh was gradually refined. This Mandarin edition is long out of print, but for fans of Phillips’ art it’s desirable for being published at album size, whereas three subsequent printings may feature additional stories, but they’re smaller format. The 2004 Rebellion edition of Swimming in Blood differs from the 2014 publication, and the Judge Dredd Mega-Collection version is hardcover, and switches the line-up again.