Review by Jamie McNeil
If you made a movie trailer for Sympathy for the Devil, the Rolling Stones’ track of the same name would be the perfect backing track for the last volume in what has proved a highly entertaining series. The Romanov threat has risen again thanks to the technology of the family weapon crests, wreaking destruction on Nikolai Dante’s allies and taking Tsarina Jena Makarov prisoner. The Revolution is far from over and Nikolai is leading his ragtag Army of Thieves and Whores on a campaign against the new pretender to the throne, but the former Tsar Vladimir the Conqueror has escaped. He’s determined to claim his throne or die trying, sending Nikolai Dante to Hell in the process. And just who is the devil of the title – Tsar Vladimir, the newly re-emerged Romanov threat or even Nikolai Dante himself?
Robbie Morrison spent over a decade writing Nikolai Dante for 2000AD and eleven volumes later he brings it to a close, doing us the favour of recapping the entire series in a matter of a few pages. It displays how far the feature evolved over its fifteen year run, but you also see just how well his co-creators Morrison and artist Simon Fraser developed as writer and artist respectively. Fraser revisits his earliest styles but as the recap progresses the art also progresses into its current form, utilising big frames and spaces, letting his imagination escape onto the paper, swapping easily from gritty realism to bright colour. Fraser has come a long way and yet instead of taking it easy on his last Dante story he ups his game to deliver some of his best work. That level of dedication is inspiring and shows real respect for his partners, his subject matter and the fans. Fraser has so captured every little detail of Nikolai Dante that his art has become quintessentially Dante. This is unfortunate for John Burns and his last story. It is among his best on the title, a well illustrated rip- roaring irreverent romp that is his forte, but Fraser’s styling completely upstages him. Credit where it is due though, the contrast wouldn’t have been so obvious in Dante’s original serialisation when the two stories were published weeks apart. Both artists have been consistently good over the last two volumes.
Nikolai Dante seemed a fairly straightforward and predictable concept when introduced, relying on irreverent jokes and high octane to keep it going. While it has had those elements in bundles, Morrison has always managed to sidestep those pitfalls neatly, to keep us surprised, entertained and, more often than not, moved by events. He has consistently provided a witty, even thoughtful, dialogue set in a decent plot that has regularly hidden social commentary or posed some difficult philosophical questions. Admittedly that has been surrounded by bawdy decadence more common to a Carry On film, but it hasn’t relied on that to make it work. It has simply been an absolute blast to read!
Sympathy for the Devil has a little bit of everything that makes Nikolai Dante work and is a poignantly sad farewell to a character that dethroned even Judge Dredd for the crown of Favourite British Character. Here’s to Nikolai Dante – devastatingly sexy, too cool to kill and a whole lot of fun!