Review by Frank Plowright
This is the fourth Devlin Waugh collection released titled Swimming in Blood, and continues the pattern of the content differing every time. This features the two earliest Devlin Waugh stories packaged with a couple from later in his career.
Sheer force of personality drags Waugh through his introduction in the title story. He’s a freelance exorcist under Vatican sanction whose name conjures up 1920s and 1930s novelist Evelyn Waugh, while his early character is Oscar Wilde as one imagines he was from his writings. John Smith has him live up to that with continually sparkling dialogue, while Sean Phillips designs a perfect physical specimen immaculately styled. It’s early work from both, though, and while the talent and ideas are there, neither has mastered the art of storytelling. A battle with underwater vampires is long in coming, and leaves Waugh changed.
It lacks an ending to match the remainder, but ‘A Brief Encounter’ is a jump up the quality scale. It’s throwaway, the first of two meetings with Judge Dredd, but funny and to the point.
Several stories not included here separate that from ‘Red Tide’, presumably selected as it returns the underwater vampires. They’ve decided they’d like to operate on land as well, and the means to this is a prisoner Waugh is transporting. Smith writes this to the horror template of introducing the threat, trapping the cast and piling up the body count, and it succeeds on that level without having any greater depth. What stands out, though, is Colin MacNeil painted art. The figures can be posed, but the colour choices are bold and immediately hold the attention. Contrary to most horror stories, MacNeil frequently opts for bright shades of blue, green, orange, purple and red, yet creates darkness from them, sometimes layering the same colour over an entire page, and sometimes switching from panel to panel. It enlivens matters no end. Two different Red Tide collections have this as the lead story.
The collection is rounded out with ‘Bite Fight’, actually a two part Judge Dredd story in which vampires are trapped and forced to fight in an arena. Under normal circumstances Waugh can keep his instincts under control, but captured, chained and deprived of blood, that changes. It’s very nicely drawn by John Burns.
None of this material showcases Waugh at his best, but thankfully there’s a second selection in the Mega Collection, and Chasing Herod is better.