Thursday, 23 June 2016

Devlin Waugh: Chasing Herod (2000AD #1149-1157)

"What were we thinking of all those years ago?" - Devlin Waugh

"Chasing Herod" is the first in a linked series of storylines starring the titular Mr. Waugh but I shall be eking them out across future UK comics months same as The Ballad Of Halo Jones, oh I am such a furious tease.  Rather like Devlin himself in fact, a flamoyantly gay, incredibly muscular and virile man who used to work for the Judge Dredd world's Vatican City dealing with matters of the occult.  During the events of Swimming In Blood, which I have covered previously, he became a vampire as well and retired from his Vatican post to enjoy a life of aesthetic pleasure and cat breeding in the company of handsome young men.  Becoming a vampire doesn't really affect him, it's just gives him one more fluid he likes to feed on (oo-er missus) and he has no shortage of admirers willing to let him sup from them.  "Chasing Herod" sees him somewhat unwillingly dragged back into the kinds of things his former job required him to deal with, but the inciting incident is such an immediate threat that he can't help but risk everything to try and stop it escalating into something far more horrific.  If you've checked out his first storyline you'll notice that the art style here is rather different.  I think it's because by design "Swimming in Blood" was a deliberately over-the-top homoerotic paen to muscles, blood and guns, parodying the then envogue fashion in comic book art for completely unironic muscles, blood and guns.  With this story coming several years after we all grew up a bit, and with the subject matter being more about spiritual horror than body horror, Steve Yeowell's art works that much better.  John Smith is back on writing duties as well, Devlin being very much His character.

We start with a prologue reintroducing the character of Devlin to the reader.  It's been narrated in the form of a last will and testement of a journalist called Ronson "Ratso" March.  It was twenty years ago he first encountered Devlin in action, in Brit Cit fighting "Ghost Dancers" inside a "Spirit Cage" round a church. 

He gets too close and is attacked by "qlippothic larvae" and spends three months in deep sedation, when he comes to, he is blind.  This proves to be a blessing in disguise, he gets enhanced bionic eyes and becomes one of the top five photo journalists in Europe.  He's followed Devlin's career ever since.
Devlin defends his 'tache.
His next big photoscoop was when "The Cult of the Purple Fist" kidnapped Devlin's mother and "threatened to expose her to the Black Mirror if he didn't shave his moustache off on world sat-TV".  However Devlin tracked them to their lair and defeated them.

Ratso goes through some more of Devlin's triumphs including Olympic Gold for Flower Arranging despite a scandal later when he was found having abused steroids.  His announcement of his retirement after the Aquatraz incident suprised everyone, but then he is discovered to be a vampire, "but that doesn't make me a bad person" says Devlin at a press conference confirming the rumours about him.
Ratso is sad he retired, "the world was a duller, greyer place without him".  Devlin withdrew completely to his Cote D'Azur retreat, which was seven years ago.  Ratso writes that there have been "whispers and rumours of war".

Ratso: "They say something is coming.  Something from the outside.  Something hungry for the world.  I fear for the future.  Who's going to save us now?"

And he puts a gun in his mouth.  The next panel is black.  With that done, we start the story proper.  At Fortress Neuschwanstich in the Bavarian Alps, "Lady Fading Light" is welcoming "The Fakir".
The Fakir and Lady Fading Light.
She wants him to steal some occult relics deep in the Vatican's catacombs.  The psi-defences are state of the art, but they have a "sleeper" in place.

Lady Fading Light: "We're using Red Sect ritual in conjunction with Dreamshopper Voodootronics.  A Delta-T satellite array broadcasting the signal.  We can activate our Trojan Horse anytime during R.E.M sleep."

She says they relics are for an auction, the invitations have been sent and in three days time anyone who is anyone in the occult underworld will be there, "all we need now is the merchandise".
The Vatican night shift.
We then cut to the Vatican where the night shift is beginning. A dark skinned woman in tigerstriped clothes and glasses called Lucy Melmoth says "everyone in Rome is having nightmares".  They are picking up broadcasts of some kind of "EM Cypher pulsed at key brainwave rhythmns".  She says if she was paranoid they could be looking at "Mindwar".

We are introduced to "Jenny Hanniver" who lives in a flotation tank and "dreams of other places.  Soft places between worlds".  She babbles that "they're coming". Lazlo Fuerst checks the I Ching with trepidation. Then we meet a sleeping "Cardinal Agrest" who shouts "get out of my head!" as he has nightmares.  Lady Fading Light orders him to wake up, he is their Trojan Horse.

Then we join Devlin and his latest gentleman friend, Antonio as Antonio reads him the various begging letters Devlin gets asking him to perform exorcisms and the like.

Devlin: "Enough! Enough! Why should I be forever expected to martyr myself for the worlds misfortunes when I can't even decide which cravat to wear?  Whatever will they want next? Blood?"

And he grins, showing his fangs and asks Antonio is there is a chance of some "liquid refreshment" before the premiere?  Antonio says he is drained from last time, but allows Devlin to drink from him anyway.
How can you resist Devlin wanting your bodily fluids?
Back with Cardinal Agrest, now under Lady Fading Light's control, he dresses and walks down to the restricted area and gains starts to gain access.

At Canne a TV reporter is telling viewers that Devlin is making a rare public appearance because the film being premiered is called "Swimming In Blood" and based on the Aquatraz vampire outbreak seven years ago.  There are lots of fans there screaming for Devlin.

He walks down the red carpet basking in the adulation, with Antonio by his side.  Antonio is the actor playing Devlin in the film which, as a TV anchor says, "despite being a retro action flick, the film is hotly tipped to win the Palm D'Or."
At the Vatican City Cardinal Agrest is moving through the many levels of security to get to the relic room.  Meanwhile Jenny is freaking out, "the b-black rope! The King of Skin!  I can see him!"  Finally Cardinal Agrest reaches the relic vault.  Lady Fading Light asks if The Fakir is ready?  He says he's had thirty-six lifetimes to prepare for this, he is more than ready.
Cardinal Agrest, the sleeper.
At the party before the Cannes premiere, Devlin and Antonio are mingling with various guests and reporters.  They are bing bothered by a female reporter who snidely says to Antonio that she never expected him to be "fraternising with vampires."  Antonio responds that the entire industry is full of bloodsuckers, "at least Devlin's open about it".  She says they'll see if his devotion is warranted when the film goes on general release in three days time.

Devlin: "In three days you'll be killed in a car crash when your chauffuer has a heart attack at the wheel. So I'm afraid you'll have to do your gloating from the other end of a ouja board."

They leave her and move on while she is left lost for words.  While over at the Vatican, Cardinal Agrest is vomiting up a length of rope.
Rope vomit.
The rope stands up straight and a portal opens up at the top of it and The Fakir appears and climbs down it.  The Fakir then tells the bamboozled Cardinal Agrest "welcome to Kali Yuga.  The beginning of the end of the world."

The hugely fat man called Chubby in the control room with Lucy says he thinks something isn't right.  He says he feels sick and he is hearing Jenny shouting and screaming in his mind.  Lucy says it's probably the crazy signal, but she'll recheck the defence protocols just in case.

Then an alarm goes off, a foreign aura has been detected in the "Iso vault zero".  The Fakir using the still confused Cardinal Agrest takes the relics he has been tasked with stealing.  He says he's been detected and has three more minutes before the Judge Inquistor get to them.  As security rush there, Lucy puts the Vatican on full lock down, "the exus are on the prowl and this creep's out of luck..."

Deviln tires of his fans.
At Cannes Devlin is regaling a group of admirers with tales of his exploits.  They all demand more stories from him, but he makes his excuses and goes and joins Antonio saying they should go for a walk.

Devlin: "If I am forced to recount yet another dreary tale of my mispent middle age I will be violently sick all over the canapes."

In the Vatican's Iso-vault Zero, Cardinal Agrest's body has been found dead, but still warm, killed minutes ago.  Lazlo Fuerst demands to know where the killer is.  They have psi-blockers and teleport suppressors an every level and the vault was locked from the inside. "Could we be looking at a shining window?  Perhaps somekind of untradimensional entity?" he wonders. 
Checking what was stolen.
They recognise the cord that strangled Cardinal Agrest as belonging to a Thuggee cult that worships the death aspect of the Goddess Kali.  A Judge checking what was taken says it wasn't much, but it included a skull marked as Artefact 666.  Lazlo freaks and says they should have destroyed it thirteen years ago when they first acquired it.  Lucy says they better get in touch with Devlin, "if anyone needs to know about this it's him".

Devlin and Antonio are out for a stroll.  Devlin says he hasn't been this "deliriously happy" since boarding school.  Before Antonio came into his life, he had resigned himself to one of quiet desperation with his painting, cats and well-stocked wine cellar.

Devlin: "Now I shouldn't care if the moon fell or the stars stopped in their tracks, just as long as you were beside me.  Antonio, I think I might be falling..."

But he is cut off by an interuption from a messanger bringing him a phone with a call from the Vatican waiting to be answered.  Annoyed, Devlin says he is done with all that "beastliness" but he picks it up and speaks with Lucy anyway.

She get straight to the point and tells him, "it's the Herod... someone's stolen the Skull of The Herod".  This sends Devlin into a despairing panic as he remembers facing off against The Herod before, a huge creature he fought in Bahrain.

Narration: "The funeral pyres.  Oil fires in the nuclear desert.  Firestorms and black rain and corpses stacked like timber.  Charpits burning... Hell on Earth. Herod in the ruins."

All Devlin can say in reponse to this news is "God help us.  God help us all".
The prospect of the Herod getting loose turns Devlin serious.
The news media have got hold of the story that there was a security breach at the Vatican's occult tracking facility and that at the same time Devlin was called away from the Canne premiere, an admirer said "he's back in the driving seat just like the good old days."

Lucy and Lazlo are watching the news, Lucy grumbles about where these people get their information from, the 0800 psychic hotline?  Lazlo says it is probably the skull's doing:

Lazlo: "There's over two thousand years of sickness stored up in that thing.  Bringing it into the open must have scorched the massmind for miles around."

Chubby announces that Devlin is here.  Lucy says she's always wanted to meet him, he's been her hero since pre-school. 

Devlin comes storming in yelling "You utter bloody fools!" They've allowed the most dangerous destructive force since the A-Bomb to be stolen.  He says he should have fired it into the sun, "and to blazes with psychoarchaelogical study."  Lazlo says they still have a chance, the skull takes skill to reprogram, if they can intercept it before that the damage can be contained.  Devlin says he is afraid and wants to run away to a desert island and put his head in the sand:

Devlin: "But The Herod would murder the world if it could.  Where do you hide from something like that?"

At Lady Fading Light's fortress she thanks The Fakir for taking special effort to conceal his trail back there.  He asks if it is true about her "psychometric" talents.  She says yes, her people (the Masai) can "divine the history of an object by touch."  The Fakir tells her in that case be careful of the skull, "it bites."
The loot.
At the Vatican they figure out the thief used "tantric death magic" to open a door into the vault.  After praising Lucy's work on the case, Devlin says he had an expert of his own look over the cardinal's autopsy reports. The M.O. is the same as a killer they have been trying to catch for years, The Fakir:

Devlin: "I refuse to go into detail about his perverse yogic practices.  But he is able to fold himself through space like some kind of fantastical contortonist".

He think though he may have left traces in the astral fluid.  So with the help of Jenny he is going to go on an out-of-body reconnaissance mission, "we shall follow his spoor straight to his front door."  The all go down to where Jenny is.  Devlin asks what happened to her? Lazlo says:

Lazlo: "She was left quadriplegic six years ago after an allosaurus attack in dinosaur park.  She's been like this ever since.  She may seem spacey and strung, but when it comes ti the high strangeness cases she really knows her stuff."

Devlin links up with her and their astral projections fly of together and quickly find Castle Neuschwanstein.  He praises the place which was built by a lunatic, as a "marvellous location for a secret base."
Devlin and Jenny astrally project.
The auction attendees start arriving.  Devlin indentifies them or sends images of them back to Chubby to indentify as well.  A man with four arms is "Harry Kiri" who Devlin bested in a martial arts exhibtion match some years ago.  Chubby says the dwarf with him is "Vicomte Henri Labas" he was born in Paris in 1849, but catapaulted into their time during a sex magic ritual gone very wrong.

A man with four horns is "The Jack of Mice".  Devlin says he's killed him twice, but "you can't keep a good cloneshark down".  A parasite creature attached to a human body is one of "The Sunless Ones", a qlippothic lifeform that shouldn't be in their reality. A woman with the lower body of a snake is "Countess de Borjaque" and her lover is a werewolf called "Lovebite" who can only communicate in barks and growls so she translates for him.

The last one to arrive is "Mr. Zurich, The Blind Watchmaker" who seems to sense Jenny and Devlin watching them.  But he dismisses it after a moment.  Lady Fading Light assures him that the Castle itself is protected with "hunter/seeker systems at every level".  Devlin wants a look inside the castle, Jenny cautions against it:

Devlin: "The skull of Herod is down there somewhere and I refuse to be deterred by schlock horror fear frequences and infra-psionics".
Devlin tries to peek inside the castle but is repelled.
He starts to push his way through the black barrier surrounding the castle when a many mouthed and multi-tentacled creature attacks him sending his astral form fleeing back into his body.  Once there he collects himself then tells the others:

Devlin: "Assemble a strike team, right away.  We've done all we can in the spirit.  I think it's time we payed a visit in the flesh."

The guests for the auction are mingling and chatting.  Lady Fading Light goes to meet the final attendee, "The Catechist".  Now the auction can begin.  As the bidding starts on the various relics, The Jack of Mice tells the Countess he is after Herod's Skull.

Countess de Borjaque: "Not you too? Herod is the name on everyone's lips it seems.  I think we'd all give our pound of flesh to get our hands on that thing".

The auction continues, but before they get to the Skull a flying ship smashes into the castle and Devlin disembarks, armed, with Lazlo, Lucy and a group of Inquisitor Judges in tow.
Devlin and the Vatican team crash the auction.
Devlin orders the hand over of the Skull, but Lady Fading Light tells her guests the "antibodies are online" and for them to get as far away from the intruders as they can.  In the confusion, The Jack of Mice grabs the Skull of Herod and dodging gunfire, leaps through a window and races off.  Devlin jumps out of the window after him in hot pursuit. He chases The Jack of Mice through a snowy landscape as the Vatican forces withdraw from the castle to go and help him.

The Jack of Mice breaks into a house and kills the couple inside.  Using their blood he draws a magic circle.  Devlin catches up with him and says "if you don't put down that knife I'll kill you here and now".  The Jack of Mice just grins at him and says "too late Devlin.  Say hello to The Herod for me".  And he slashes his own throat.  His blood splashes on the Skull which starts to grown and sprout.  In horror, Devlin can only watch and pray to Christ until The Herod is restored and standing in front of him.
The Herod tosses Devlin through the window of another house with an elderly couple in it.  People come running from surrounding houses to investigate the noise, a badly beaten Devlin yells at them to get away.  But too late, The Herod comes crashing out and kills everyone, "bones shatter like toffee.  Meat of the chopping board. Murder by moonlight".
The Herod keeps killing until only Devlin is left, it starts to approach him but the Vatican ship flies overhead and drops down a line for Devlin to grab on to, which he does and they pull him aboard just as an avalanche hits The Herod.  As Lucy tends to him, he says "Oh God. Oh God.  It's still out there.  Hungry for the world. And it's still out there."
Devlin saved in the nick of time.
We jump forwards three weeks, The Herod is inert in a mystery location being discussed by a man and woman.  The woman says as it was activated by the Jack of Mice, they only had to use his "DNA Decrypt codes" to disarm it so they can get it ready for "The Deluge".  Which can't come soon enough for the man.  The Herod is not at full power yet, they plan on enhancing it too:

Man: "We need to interace it with ambient temperature superconductors and implat an aethyric skeleton key so it can travel via mirrors.  Then it is just a matter of reconfiguring its kill parameters"
And it will need to be ready for July 23rd, to user in an invasion, "and then.. we change the world".
The Herod offline... waits.
And that brings this first part of a three part storyline to a close.  It's not often a comic sends me scurrying for my dictionary but John Smith really goes all out with archaic and strange words which are well suited to a story on magical mayhem. It's interesting how humanising it is to see Devlin, something of a self-centred, overly confident bastard face something that utterly terrfies him.  It shows that a lot of his bluster is just that, bluster, he returns to his old job without a word of complaint once he knows the stakes involved and takes the lead in facing down the threat of The Herod despite his previous experiences with it causing him so much fear.  Once again it's refreshing to see an out and proud gay man starring in his own series, the UK was definitely ahead of the US on these matters.  It's also heartening to think in the future the Vatican would have no qualms about him working for them either.  The mixture of the religious and the occult is interesting, and that policing the realm of the supernatural would fall to the Vatican does make sense if you consider there are still priests out there in our time performing exorcisms and the like. Steve Yeowell's art deals with the psychedelic aspects of the storyline beautifully and the rest is good as well, it's quite different from his work on the Zenith series.  John Smith's scripts are complex, but do feel like the sort of things people would say when existing in that world and with The Herod has built up a creature that is obviously going to cause more trouble in the installments to come...


  1. ok the art is amazing, but the story is abit over my head lol! i preferred Swimming In Blood, I knew what was going on in that one :p

  2. I have to confess when I first read it I was confused as well. But writing out what happened for the blog clarified it in my mind better, there are more parts to come though!

  3. This wasn't really my cup of tea. I found it overdone and OTT.

  4. I know you're not a fan of Devlin Waugh, but thanks for reading anyway :)

  5. You're welcome *bows*

    Apart from anything else... why did John Smith think it was a good idea to write a story about a gay man who literally sucks the blood from a younger man?

  6. I don't know. If I am to make a guess, I think we're not generally supposed to like Devlin much, he just isn't as bad as the monsters he fights. I'm actually surprised he didn't just retcon out the vampire stuff when he decided to revist Devlin, it's not like it adds anything to the story overall.

  7. See? The stories just contain too many bits. They lack the simplicity of iconic stories such as The Dead Man. It's like making a pudding by mixing every single thing in your kitchen that's sweet.

  8. I definitely agree and some decompression might help the story flow a bit better. I do like the end result, but it does cram a bit too much into too few episodes.