Friday, 12 June 2015

Devlin Waugh: Swimming In Blood (The Judge Dredd Megazine #2.01-2.09, #2.26)

"The names Waugh, Devlin Waugh.  I'm here to steal the show." - Devlin Waugh

This first arc from way back in 1991, introduces someone who has gone on to become a very popular 2000AD character.  He's a muscular dandy who's openly and flamboyantly gay.  He's ridiculously English even though he is employed by the Judge Dredd world's Vatican to deal with occult outbreaks and various devilish goings on the normal Judges can't cope with.  I own this arc both as the original Megazines and also the Swimming In Blood trade, from which I am taking the scans from.  I intend to cover the rest of the trade at a later date, as the next three arcs in it are all linked in one major storyline with an entirely different art style, then it ends with a short standalone black and white arc.  But this introductory arc is fascinating because it really reflects the style of the time - painted artwork, grisly and disturbing violence and a veritable bounty of homoerotic depictions of the naked male body, which given writer John Smith's previous work with gay and bisexual male heroes in it (The New Statemen from a couple of years earlier for example) was probably entirely intentional in this case.  If Judge Dredd has always has a little of the repressed "Tom Of Finland" vibe about him, Devlin Waugh is out and proud about it.  I'm also including the Sean Philip's painted one-shot that ran in 2000AD soon after as well.

Hegalian dialectic theory gives us thesis, antithesis and synthesis.  If we take Quentin Crisp as thesis and Arnold Schwartzenegger as antithesis, put them together and you get synthesis in Devlin Waugh.  He reminds me very much of a gay male TV star from the late eighties and early 90's (the same era this series dates from) called Julian Clary, who, though he dressed very over the top, was very much open and frank about the physical aspects of being a gay male unlike the sexless TV poofs previously who had covered their gayness with family friendly innuendo.  Unfortunately for him he pushed it too far when he made a joke on a live Tv award show about fisting the then Chancellor of The Exchequer backstage ("Talk about a red box") and turned himself into TV poison for the next decade.  You can only take your gayness so far it seemed back then. With the one-shot that followed the Swimming In Blood story you can almost feel John Smith gleefully trying to bait homophobes in the same way. Anyway, onto the story.


The story begins with Devlin lying facedown having a massage asking if the Cardinal can't send someone else.  He's told the Precogs (Judges who can predict the future) have pinpointed something needs attending to in the Bahamas and he's their only operative not busy with something else.

We then go to Aquatraz, an underwater prison just six miles of the coast of the Bahamas.  Inside a quite prisonner called Landis is being abused by another called Keyes, who calls him "Bugman" and squishes a cockroach in front of him.  This cause Landis to get up, grab Keyes through the bars and rip half his face off with his teeth, killing him.  Landis gets put in a straitjacket and put in a padded room, but he still has control of his cockroaches so all is well for him.
Snack time!
Keyes is being autopsied when suddenly, minus his guts he comes back to life and attacks the morgue staff.  An exterminator called Murray is up above placing traps for the cockroaches and sees this happening.  He tries to report it to the prison governer Meerchum but he just locks himself in his quarters and ignores him. Devlin arrives from above and comes through the airlock introducing himself to the assembled guards.
It's the panto walkdown darling.
Devlin presents his credentials then asks if he can be set up in a small room, which he decorates with various knick-knacks he bought with him "a genuine home way from home."  Meechum refuses to come out of his quarters and meet with Devlin who says it sounds like he's having a "schzoid breakdown".

Devlin Waugh: "An old friend of mine once nailed his family to the lawn with a set of croquet hoops.  Ruined a perfectly decent weekend."

Meanwhile more inmates, freed by guards who have turned are being vampirised.  "It spreads like a fever".  Keye's heads to the isolation wing where they keep the "monsters".  Three inmates there are named specifically, Frinsey/Hemmings, Mr. Dietz and Clayderman.  On the surface the fact the prison has gone into quarantine mode has reached the media.
These vampires don't fucking sparkle.
Now appraised of the real nature of the threat the inmates now pose, the guards with Devlin note that the infirmary has been sealed off and people may be alive down there.  Devlin himself is more interested in a spot of brunch.

Devlin tells the guards that vampires have advanced since the middle ages, they are very nearly unstoppable.  They are highly adaptive and have extraordinary regenerative abilities.

Devlin: "The body goes on and one, until the nervous system has had a complete thrashing."

So he's come equipped with a high calibre shotguns to kill them with.  The nurses and doctors are still barricaded in the infirmary while Devlin and the guards try to work out how to get to them.  Murray suggests a maintenance lift that leads directly there and Devlin thanks him for putting his mind at ease and gives him an affectionate slap on the bottom.
Introducing..... Errol!
The vampires breach the infirmary the same time Devlin and the guards get down there.  They take the vampires down and Murray starts trying to free one of the patients strapped to a bed.  A guard says they don't have time and they argue, then Devlin interrupts them, with a vampire slung over one shoulder.

Devlin: "This is Errol, by the way.  Isn't he sweet?  Errol will be coming back with us.  I'm hoping he'll provide us with some valuable insights into our present situation."

They return to a safe area and Devlin starts "interrogating" the vampire who is strapped to a chair.  The surface news broadcast reports that a virus has broken out in Aquatraz, while Governor Meerchum keeps exercising away in total denial of what's happening.  After some vigourous interrogating "Errol" mumbles that he's told Devlin everything "what's ruh-wrong with you?"  Devlin responds that he gets a "sublime thrill" from inflicting pain on other people and starts up torturing Errol again. I hate torture, but as this aspect of Devlin's character doesn't last past this adventure this feels like another swipe by John Smith at the sadism that was infesting both UK and US comics at the time.
A hunger that cannot be sated.
The vampires carry on rampaging through the prison.  Their leader Landis and the first one turned, Keyes are in a room together and Keyes decides it's time to challenge Landis for the leadership position.  Errol tells the survivors that Landis is different from the rest, he's their "Sire" and "Clan Leader", who is very old and has abilities the others don't have.  As Keyes attacks, Landis transforms into a hideous, gargoyle-like monster.

The internal sprinklers go off and start to flood out parts of the prison.  Outside a Justice Department submarine spies a vampire swimming up towards them, they shoot it with a torpedo then leave it for the sharks to finish off.  The fight between Keyes and Landis finishes when Landis pulls Keye's head off.
Keyes and Landis go at it.
Back with Devlin, he is distraught at the water destroying all the lovely things he bought with him.  He throws a queeny fit about being underappreciated.

Devlin: "I shan't lift a finger to help until I've had an apology from each and every one of you."

Landis returns to his human form and choose Clayderman, Dietz and Hemmings (Frinsey) to be his elect cadre and lets them dine on his blood.  In the armoury the survivors get tooled up.  One of the doctors says it's only a matter of time before the vampires get them as the Justice Department aren't going to let them out.  Devlin suggests a group hug to cheer everyone up.  Landis with his cadre created decides it's time to take everyone out, and "warden Meechum dies first."
"A Golden Truss?" John Smith u silly.
Meerchum has suffered a complete nervous breakdown and reaches into his bathroom cabinet for some pills, as he does, cockroaches controlled by Landis and his cadre come pouring out of the sink and kill him.  Back with the survivors, one of the guards tells Devlin that they'll have to go through the section of the prison where they keep the "freaks".  This doesn't dent Devlin's cheerful demeanor.  A guard called Essex notes:

Essex: "You don't like people much do you Devlin?"

Devlin: "My dear Essex, I positively loathe them.  Particularly women.  My brother and I were raised with a healthy disinterest in the female sex."

When I first reread that quote from Devlin, he sounded SO like one of my gay friends I couldn't stop laughing (seriously, I'm his only female friend and that seems to be because he's deemed my an honorary man.  Huh).  Anyway, Devlin goes on to say his brother is the debauched black sheep of the family who went missing on a skiing trip eight years ago.  Then they finally arrive at "The Chamber Of Horrors".
Back to his chipper self, what ho!
After dealing with Meerchum, Landis says they are going to widen their field and go "fishing for Judges" outside.  Devlin's group walk across a grating-like floor, underneath are pathetic, mutated humans begging for help.  Murray goes to try and free them, but Essex sticks a gun in his face saying it's better to leave them.

The next section is knee deep in blood-slicked water. They are also being tracked by another vampire and Dietz who are trying to head them off by going through flooded sections.  As Devlin's group wade through the water, Devlin grabs Essex and holds him to his bosom and says:

Devlin: "Before we go any further, there's something I feel I simply must confess.  A raving madness has left me feverish...I've tried to fight it, God knows I've tried... you see I'm..."

Being surrounded by half naked men isn't always a good thing.
And a scream from one of the nurses cuts him off as she says she can feel something underwater touching her.  Vampires rise up and the group start blasting away.  Outside another vampire tries to make it to the sub by going for the blindside, but gets shotdown as well.  Inside, Devlin puts his weapons aside, flexes his muscles and prepares to kick ass mano-a-mano.

As Devlin starts to fight and quickly gets surrounded, the other three find an auxillary door they can escape through.  Landis meanwhile is controlling the sharks and uses them to smuggle Hemmings and Clayderman up to the submarine.  The remaining survivors now minus Devlin make it into the arboretum.

Outside the sharks get close to the sub's torpedo tubes and that's the access point the tow vampires use to get in.  Back with the survivors, Murray thinks they can hold out here for a while - "air, heating, plus plenty of water and food."  They still might have a chance.  The nurse sees some divers from the sub outside and attracts their attention, the sub commander immediately starts thinking how they can be rescued.  Then the lights go out.
Whew... I'm a lesbian and even I... gosh is it getting hot in here? *fans self*
A vampire pops up and breaks Essex's neck.  Before he can kill Murray and the nurse, Devlin appears.  He has several bite marks on him but he is still raring for a fight.  He kills the vampire who murdered Essex then takes on the rest that rise up.  Now he is a vampire himself his strength is even mightier and he tears them apart.

As the fighting goes on, Hemmings and Clayderman make their way through the submarine, killing as they go.  With all the vampires in the arboretum dead, Devlin notes that being a vampire has a most "disagreeable" effect on his appetite.  He is craving raw meat.  Landis finally appears and tells him that craving will drive him crazy.  Devlin responds:

Devlin: "Well sir, if you think some ghastly mishap can destroy forty years of impeccable breeding you're very much mistaken.  Shall we?"

And the mostly naked Devlin and the entirely naked Landis begin to fight, sexily.  As they wrestle, Devlin manages to punch Landis through the throat but can't slow him down.  The vampires on the sub in the meantime take control of it and it crashes through the window of the arboretum.
Quite a lot of Man-Happen going on here.
We then cut to the aftermath.  Only Murray and Devlin survived it seemed (and possibly the unamed nurse), picked up by air rescue after they surfaced.  The vampires decided to make the bottom of the sea their new home, while the people in charge of the Bahamas opened a vampire theme park.

Devlin decides to go into semi-reirement and we finish this tale off with him home at Vatican City.  He says he's going to his retreat in Monaco where he intends to live for beauty.  He says to the Cardinal:

Devlin: "Hard cash and easy virtue, Cardinal.  From this moment on, they're the only things that matter in my life.  Do close the door on the way out, won't you?"
Relaxing with a painting of an Exquisite Boy.
The funny thing about this series is that Devlin isn't that much use in the end.  Only one person seems to survive, the vampires escape and Devlin himself gets vamped.  It's almost as if John Smith is saying "look you had your ultraviolence and where did it get you?"  When it comes to later Devlin stories he uses his brain much more than his brawn...

Rounding this off is a one-shot from 2000AD "Brief Encounter". It has a fairly basic plot.  Devlin is trying to get into Megacity One for a cat breeders contest.  His ship is full of antiques and the like, plus a lot of blood for him to drink now he's a vampire.  The story unfolds with the Judges thinking they've nabbed a serial killing monster, but when his credentials check out, Judge Dredd still manages to keep him out of Megacity One by saying his cat would have to spend time in quarantine, this causes Devlin to flounce off and leave in a huff. However what interests me most is this image.
Also this image is hilarious, just sayin'
Now I grew up in a small town amongst a load of homophobic teenage assholes.  And I can tell you one thing for sure, there is nothing about gay men that freaks homophobes out more than what they do with their bottoms.  And here is Devlin, a gay man, being acknowledged as having a bottom.  And not only that, his bottom is being penetrated! Of course there is nothing sexual about an unsmiling Judge peering up his flue armed with a torch and rubber gloves.  But the fact that Devlin is taking this all in his stride, completely unhumiliated by it, his modesty protected only by a cheeky speech balloon (so the fact he owns a dick as well is also being highlighted as it forces the reader to look at his crotch area), and you have one very transgressive image considering the comic it's being published in.  Why it's almost as if John Smith was trying deliberately to provoke a homophobic response.  And I'm sure he did in some readers, but actually it says a lot for the readership of 2000AD and The Megazine that Devlin's become one of the most popular characters they have.
John Smith, you are my hero.
This first incarnation of Devlin Waugh is interesting to contrast with his future appearances which were more surreal, cosmic and mystical.  This is a fairly straight forward story with the graphic violence and murder that the era seemed to demand in spades.  Devlin's light-hearted attitude to all the darkness around him feels like John Smith mocking the grimdark era of the comicbook with a character who although a tough fighter and not adverse to inflicting pain and suffering still refuses to let bleak situations affect his love of the finer things in life. I had a problem back in the day with the fashion for painted artwork that infested early 90's UK comicdom, mostly because the paperstock and reproduction techniques of the time made much of it incredibly murky. 

But comparing Sean Philips art in my old Megazines with the modern reprints and it's like night and day.  The art looks so much better now it's untrue and I feel a bit bad for having dismissed Philip's work at the time as yet another poor quality Simon Bisley copycat. I realise that in some ways Devlin comes off as a very stereotypical gay man, but as John Smith is gay himself I see him more as being playful with the Gay Tropes Devlin embodies rather than it being something which is horrible and offensive, though I realise some people do feel differently. 

Certainly back then it was part of gay men and lesbians fight for visibility to take those negative stereotypes and turn them into confrontational positives (incidentally, when I came out in 1993 I immediately became the check shirt clad, bovver boot wearing dyke of Middle England's worst nightmares). You have to remember that back then Clause 28 was fresh on the government books, the police spent taxpayers money on monitoring gay men's supposedly private sex lives and people in power talked openly about wanting all gay men rounded up and put in camps to curb the spread of HIV and AIDS.  So the camp but aggressively virile and sexually threatening Devlin feels like a real "in yer face" response to all that nonsense, his out and proud nature would brook no notion of being pushed into a closet by those who might try to deny his gayness.  And so for me, the muscular aesthete is a guilty pleasure and I'll be returning to his further adventures at a later date.

8 comments:

  1. Damn, thats how vampires should be! cool that there was a gay star of a comic strip back then as well, im surprised there aren't more nowadays though.

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  2. I'm surprised there aren't more too. There have been a trickle over the years but only gay and bi women seem to get their own comics as lead, in US comics at least I can't think of a Marvel or DC comic that has a gay man as anything other than a third stringer. The closest they came was John Constantine during his Hellblazer years who was bisexual, but I'm not sure that aspect of his character carried over into the New 52 reboot versions. Hmmph.

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    1. He's still into hot dudes in the Nu52.

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  3. That's cool, does he still have his own title? I know Batwoman just had hers cancelled, depriving the one lesbian lead of her own book.

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    1. I think he does. Just remember seeing this one page from a Nu52 book, reproduced on the internet, where he tries to hit on a fit bloke in a bar.

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    2. Good to know. Also I just remembered they've launched a Midnighter book, and I think he's still gay in it, although they broke him and his husband Apollo up. (why do you hate marriage DC?!)

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  4. Cool well written article, thank you.

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  5. I'm glad you liked it, thankyou too :)

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