Review by Jamie McNeil
While Judge Dredd is most associated with British comic 2000AD you cannot dismiss the Celtic warrior Sláine. Sláine’s success is counter-intuitive since his is an epic fantasy story in a science fiction comic. Maybe that’s why he became so popular. Becoming the first character to ever surpass Dredd in popularity, Sláine remains a firm favourite, his early stories collected here in Warrior’s Dawn.
Creator Pat Mills bases Sláine’s world on the Cycles of Irish and Celtic Mythology narrated by Ukko the Dwarf, Sláine’s friend/business partner and frequent punch bag so it’s best to let Ukko introduce him. “And so it begins, the Saga of Sláine Mac Roth of the Sessair- mercenary, cattle rustler and battle smiter, who rose to become a legendary king of the tribes of the Earth Goddess.” Mills takes Sláine and Ukko through a series of adventures in the Land of the Young, the series constantly evolving and improving from one off stories into an ongoing serial. With a strong sense of direction Mills develops his leads into robust characters with surprising sides to both of them. Typical of 1980s comics in some ways, Warrior’s Dawn still holds an ethereal brutality and raw energy rarely found in comics of any era. More characters were introduced, histories and societies developed with clear lines drawn in a battle between Good and Evil. Even then the “good” characters often operate within grey areas determined by the harsh reality of their landscape. You can see the influences of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian, but where Conan’s morality makes him quite predictable, Sláine is harder to pin down and surprises with some of his actions. Often opening with a crisis or event then exploring the repercussions thereof, Mills doesn’t interfere with the art trying to tell his story.
It’s the art that’s most debated on, with opinions divided. Angie Kincaid (see sample left) created Sláine’s classic look in ‘The Time Monster’, her art redolent of fantasy art legend Frank Frazetta yet in ways similar to the children’s stories she illustrated professionally. Her strength is telling the little stories occurring in the corners of the panel whether it is the shadows in an alley or figures on a distant hill. In his foreword Mills heaps praise on her for defining Sláine, stating that without Kincaid there would be no Sláine. Now recognised as co-creator, Kincaid is a woman ahead of her time. You can only wonder how she would have developed had she stayed on. Italian artist Massimo Belardinelli took over on ‘The Beast in the Broch’, employing less fine detail with lighter art in a European style. Creating Sláine’s warp spasm (his berserker rage) Belardinelli produces some fantastic horror-fantasy art, simultaneously gruesome and darkly beautiful. Mike McMahon joined at ‘Warrior’s Dawn’, his art different with a mixture of the highly detailed and the simple. His beasts of burden, ranging from pigs to mammoths, are outstanding though his work really impresses in ‘Sky Chariots’ (sample art right).
While Rebellion have reprinted Sláine in chronological order, in the past Titan Books published this material at a larger size as Sláine Book 1. It was also combined with Glenn Fabry’s work on Sláine the King as The Collected Sláine and copies can be found with a little diligence. The adventure continues in Time Killer.