Friday, 23 September 2016

The Light And Darkness War (#1-6) PART ONE

"War is heaven" - series tagline

Imagine, gentle reader, a time when a comic book fan who didn't reside in the USA would never be sure if they could get their hands on the more obscure comics coming out over-the-pond.  That was my big frustration in my years of hunting up and down in Manchester's two Odyssey Seven shops (alas no more, were taken over by the all conquering Forbidden Planet) for the issues needed to fill in gaps in my Cerebus collection, as well as all the fascinating looking mini-series and stuff from the various indie companies in the years of the late 1980's to early 90's.  The Light And Darkness War was actually bought to my attention by a 1989 Channel 4 TV programme called "The Day Comics Grew Up" a serious look at mature works such as Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, The New Statesmen and this six issue series, The Light And Darkness War.  It also bought anime and manga to my attention as well as an nice bonus.  As the first issue of The Light and Darkness War was released in autumn 1988, it was already over and done with when the TV show piqued my interest and so I only ever found one issue (no.4) in the back issue bins.  I was very taken with the art by veteran Scottish artist Cam Kennedy, but it was hard to judge the story, by Tom Veitch on the basis of just one issue.  It has taken nearly three decades but I finally got my hands on a beautiful re-issue of the series by Titan books (even though the original was published under the Marvel Epic imprint), with a hardcover and lots of "extra features".  So it's been a long wait to experience the book in it's totality, will it live up to expectations?  Ah, read on...

Lazarus Jones: "'How many women and children didja kill in'Nam? - That's what the idiot said. 'Hey jerk' I said 'what about the bodybags full of arms and heads.. and boots with the feet still in 'em? -- What about the guys who left their guts stuck to the decks of the Hueys? 60,000 just like you' I says 'cept they were heroes and you're crap!'"

And with that we are introduced to Lazarus Jones, who lost his legs twenty years ago in the Vietnam War.  He is being pushed in a wheelchair by his wife Chris to the Vietnam War Memorial to see the names of the rest of his chopper crew who died in the attack that resulted in his injuries.
Laz remembers the dead.
As he traces his fingers across the names he has a long flashback to that fateful day.  His crew was made up of Captain Engle, Huff, Slaw and Laz.  They prepare their copter for a sortie and fly into an ambush.  We then get a symbolic scene of the four men's spirits walking into the light, Laz goes gladly but yet "it told me to go back."
Souls set free from the bonds of flesh.
In some distress Laz falls from his wheelchair and other veterans come help him.  Laz beats himself up for what he is doing to Chris, first with the smack addiction he bought back from Vietnam, then the drinking he used to kick it with.  Ten years ago he started having vivid dreams about fighting with his war buddies against a foe using weapons that looked like they came from the stone-age. Then the dreams stopped, but in a funny way he missed them. He's driving himself and Chris home when suddenly he blacks out and crashes the car.

A mystery voice says to his spirit, "I can take you to your friends Lazarus Jones.. or you can go back.  The choice is yours." Lazarus doesn't want to go back if it means losing his legs again.  The voice says he is  on "the edge of the outer darkness.  In a star system called Abraxis"  A stone barge appears and the voice says Laz can join his friends if he wishes.  Laz calls to them and finds himself on the surface of the planet with his legs intact.

He rushes forwards and Engle, Slaw and Huff who are piloting the barge pick him up.  They are happy to see him and it seems time moves differently for them as they ask if he died in the war.  Laz said the war ended in 1974 and "we lost".  The others don't seem too concerned.  Slaw says "grab some ammo.  I'll teach you how to kill the dead."
Reunited in the afterlife.
After a short fight with another flying barge which they win, Engle takes Laz down below to meet the strange little blue alien called Zip, a "Mentep" who powers their barge and acts as their subspace communicator.  He holds the "power of Urumm, the Source in me".  He cannot heal the flesh wound Laz just picked up as Laz isn't fully dead.  His body is in a coma back on Earth.

Then their ship flies to a palace in a place called Black Gate they are supposed to be investigating. They are greeted by a woman called Lasha, daughter of Nethon the governor.  While they wait for an audience with the governor, Lasha warns them that they should leave, there is darkness in the air. He father is sick with it.
Meeting Lasha.
Nethon receives them but is confused and rambling, mistaking Engle for an old friend.  His doctor says it's time for his elixir, then asks Engle how things are at "Galactic" and that he's sorry they came all this way for nothing. Then he orders them taken prisoner.  Fortunately Lasha comes and helps them escape via some underground tunnels and Engle says she is to come with them with her help they can deal with the darkness infestation.

The traitor reports to a Lord Na, saying the prisoners escaped.  No matter, Lord Na asks if the planetary chiefs have assembled, when told they have he says, "now I begin the subjugation of these light-cursed worlds".
Lord Na.
On board the ship, Laz and Lasha recognise each other from... somewhere before. She is able to mend his wound and they exchange significant looks while back in the mortal world Chris watches over the comatose Laz saying she's lost him for good hasn't she?

Narration: "A galaxy of light.  One of the myriad of universes men go when they die... a warrior's galaxy... ensnared in a 10,000 year struggle with the infinite darkness that surrounds it.  What lives in the outer darkness?  Nothing.  What moves in the outer darkness? Warships... bearing primitive weapons carrying soulless warriors named Deadsiders...storming a light world called Black Gate.  A military outpost in a star system called Abraxis... here living men - who died in Earth's bloodiest battles have been born to fight again".

On the planet Black Gate Lord Na has revealed himself, criticising the gathered "servile captives of the light".  He says using the power of darkness he has been liberating souls.  A planetary chief called Blood says only a "simpleton would give fealty to you".  Lord Na zaps Blood with his powers and Blood starts praising him.  A fight breaks out amongst the watchers and Lord Na's guards and the lightsiders are captured and enslaved.  Watching this from afar are Slaw and Huff who go and report back to Engle and Laz.

Lasha's information on the planet paid dividends and they have found an old fortress their sky barge can lurk behind.  Using the blue Mentep they get in touch with Galactic who are in the middle of a battle.  They report the situation at Black Gate which they think might be being prepared as a beach head for a major Galactic strike.  Engle wants a full defence fleet but command can't spare even one as they are on a major push into the "Dark Regions". Engle and crew will have to resort to hit and run until reinforcements can arrive.
Sexy time for Laz and Lasha.
Lasha and Laz menawhile start to get to know each other... intimately.  Neither seem bothered by the fact Laz is still alive and married back on Earth.  As they make love Laz says "we go way back don't we Lasha?"  Talking of Earth, Lord Na has a way to ensure his coming victory over the lightside.  His necromancers have made contact with a Satanist on Earth called Odom who is a weapon manufacturer.

Lord Na asks if they can bridge the gap between worlds.  They can't but someone on Earth has built a machine that can.  We then join said Earthbound scientist Nicky, the nephew of Nikola Tesla and his girlfriend Delpha a psychic channeler.  Using Tesla's theories, Nicky has created a machine to "exteriorise the contents of the concious and subconcious minds".  Meanwhile Delpha is getting images of the light and darkness war in her dreams.  Both are somewhat dubious about each others abilities, but love each other in an "opposites attract" kind of a way.
Nicky Tesla, Delpha and a brief guide to NikolaTesla.
Meanwhile Lord Na appears to Odom who is surprised to find that he wants a favour from him. He shows Odom an image of Nicky and his machine saying it will transport the weapons to him, "do that and I will give you everything".
Back on Black Gate, Engle has a plan to get more men.  They are going to raid the slave camps.  Laz and Lasha meanwhile have gone to attempt a rescue of Lasha's father.  They sneak past the throne room where Lord Na now sits and find Nethon in a cell being fed upon by giant worms.   The doctor appears and says Lord Na would like to see the "dutiful daughter".  She kicks him in the stomach and Laz guns down the rest.

Lord Na however appears and kills both the treacherous doctor for being weak and Nethon to wound Lasha, then lets Lasha and Laz go, telling them to take back the message to "make the game more interesting".  He wants to test his army, he wants to feel some real resistance against him.
Engle and his crew attack a slave barracks, a thrilling battle occurs and they manage to liberate the place along with vehicles and ships.  However when Laz and Lasha return, Laz has the bad news they overheard about Lord Na getting weapons from Earth and how powerful they'll be in comparison to the stone-age tech they have now.  They decide on an all-out assualt on the palace the next day, sacrificing themselves if necessary before things can get a hundred times worse.

We then rejoin Nicky and Delpha.  Odom has offered Micky a huge salary to come make his machine for him.  Lord Na tells Odom:

Lord Na: "... his device has stimulated the vibrational channels that were active in ancient times.  Reopening the physical link between Earth and the Afterworlds!"

He tells Odom to watch Nicky and Delpha and when the time comes, take them prisoner.  Nicky is showing Delpha his nearly complete machine which he has unoffcially nabeed some lasers to complete, but she says there is something "really frightening about this place" and that her channeling in which she sees "the Vietnam guy and the woman" has got more intense.
Lord Na and Odom the arms dealer.
But she helps Nicky try his machine out, letting him place a headset on her. She has a vision of people coming towards the lab, then Odom arrives and accuses him of bouncing images to the CIA in Langley.

To prove he's not a spy, Nicky demonstrates the machine to Odom. He puts on the headset so he can show you what a person is dreaming.   He envisions soldiers from the Light and Darkness war fighting.  Odom says it's "quite marvellous".

We get more images of the fighting and the antique weapons of war the fighters use.  As Nicky marvels at all this being inside him, another voice intrudes saying "who would have imagined that my work would reach its utmost fulfillment after I am dead?!"  It's Nikola Tesla who has "survived" his death by crossing over into the afterworld he was investigating just before he died.
Nikola Tesla lives (sort of) take that Edison!
Nikola says he scoffed at such a place when he lived but can't deny he's now in a very real place.   He says he is in a "rather backwards galaxy" and to continue his inventing he has had to start from scratch creating electricity from the rawest of materials.  he used his machine to join up with Nicky's and establish the link.  He tells Nicky that this universe has eschewed the "wonder that is electricity"

Nikola Tesla: "The barbaric science of Da Vinci and his followers is held in high esteem here... I was told 'don't upset the old ways'. It was decreed that his contraptions were divine revelations.  To move beyond them was forbidden."

He says he is a heretic who speaks out against their "stupid war."  But he is told they have always been at war and it's good for the Galactic economy.  Bitterly Tesla fades away and Lord Na appears yelling "My weapons Odom! I am under attack!"

Odom says he he was told he had six months, but Lord Na threatens to destroy him. Meanwhile Nicky and Delpha are amazed that someone has been able to physically cross over. We then cut to Laz's team and the rescued slaves attacking the Black Gate palace where Lord Na is based.

As the battle ensues, we get a conversation between Lasha and Laz, he says when they made love he saw they had made love a thousand times before, "we're older than your father.  We've been fightin' this war... together... for thousands of years."  The barge works it's way through the palace, battling as it goes.
The barge of the dead returns to the mortal world.
Lord Na says he wants his weapons and also he wants to take Nicky and Delpha back with him to see if living flesh can survive the trip back to his dimension (he being dead means he's been able to make the journey himself).   As Laz's barge gets deep into the palace they find the dimensional rip Lord Naz has travelled through and they pilot the barge through it and arrive on Earth.

Delpha recognises Laz, "it's you isn't it?  You're real". Lord Na manages to make his getaway back to Black Gate with the weapons Odom has provided him while Odom's men fight the light warriors.   Odom leaves behind a squad of men who commendere a military helicopter in order to better fight the light warriors who have captured the Tesla machine.

Slaw asks Laz how he feels being back on Earth.  Laz says it's weird, knowing his comatose body is 8,000 miles away.  Then the darkness warriors attack in their helicopter, hitting the stone barge and causing it to come crashing down which brings the first half of this series to a cliffhanger ending.
And crashes into a building, well done guys.
I've choosen to split this into two parts because it would get ludicrously long otherwise.  I'll hold off on some of my thoughts until my conclusion to part two of this look at the miniseries, but I'll say right now, Cam Kennedy's artwork is amazing.  There is a rough hewn and very "2000AD" feel to this mash-up of science-fiction, fantasy and war story.  Not surprising as Kennedy was a veteran of such series as a similar future war take on Vietnam, "The V.C.s". We've only had three issues so far and it's been chock full of incident with some truly epic set piece battles.  If I have one criticism it's a purely subjective one, the pace is so breakneck and the plot so full of incident it might have been nice to slow down a little in places to explore more the reuniting of the dead men with Laz and also his growing relationship with Lasha.  Throwing in a guest appearance by the dead but crossed over Nikola Tesla and his somewhat grouchy frustrations with the war being fought with Leonardo Da Vinci level tech is actually pretty funny.  There is an honour to the Light and Darkness War as it is being currently fought, and Lord Na, by going to the kind of person inciting and prolonging wars on earth to supply him with modern weaponry is seen as a truly evil act, even if making the arms dealer a Satanist is a little on the nose.  There is plenty of extra stuff in the collection, it kicks off with an interesting introduction from a retired Naval commander whose father fought in Vietnam and who makes the point that this story came a long when men's service in Vietnam was being reevaluated from the pariahs they were seen as at the time as people understood more about PTSD as well as the complicated set of loyalties and emotions that are found in those who served their country during an unpopular war and their difficulties in reintegrating into "normal" life, especially those with dreadful physical injuries.  I'll be winding up this look at the series in four days time, as well as a look at the other bonus features this collection includes.


  1. I like that. Can see what you mean about the pace though. I was knackered just reading your summary. That cover is very 'Rogue Trooper'. (I wonder how many guys of my era state their dating preferences as "Blue; with Mohawk"?)

    There seems to be a very 'Jacobs Ladder' vibe to this too.

    (Hmm, you've just reminded me, I tried to pitch an idea to Pat Mills for a rogue trooper story where he was just a traumatised GI in 'Nam, hallucinating talking to his dead buddies.)

    I like the mix of tech. Have you ever read "The Road Not Taken"? I know you're not big prose fan but you might find it interesting. I won't spoil it for you in case you want to read it, but if not I can give you a summary later.

    Can't wait for the next instalment.

    "We've made love a thousand times before"

    "Yeah, been meaning to talk to you about that. Have you ever heard of a shop called Anne Summers......"

  2. Yes, the pace is relentless. Also the reason why so many full page scans. They are just bursting with detail, spilling out of the panel borders which can't contain it all. Making it a right pain isolating single images.

    I'll say again, the idea of a grumpy Tesla stuck there trying to modernise the place is an ace one. The stone ships are a fantastic image though.

    2000AD should do "What If?" stories like Marvel does, because that idea about Rogue Trooper sounds like an interesting one.

    It's unlikely I'll get around to reading that book, so summarise away :)

  3. Got some further ramblings about this, but first The Road Not Taken...

    It transpires that the secret of anti gravity is so trivially simple that most cultures have it sussed by their equivalent of the bronze age. The problem is that it makes life so easy that progress stops, there's just no pressure to develop any other technologies. One culture though has managed get as far as the great days of sail. The technology makes FTL travel possible, so this culture builds spaceships (out of wood and lit by candles and glowworms in jars) and sets out to conquer the galaxy. They have gunpowder so it's pretty easy victories over people armed with swords. They end up with a pretty decent empire.

    They set their sights on their next target. Which turns out to be Earth.

    Unfortunately for them, it's modern day Earth.

    Initially we're a bit shocked by aircraft that can manoeuvre by anti gravity. But they're made out of wood and armed only with flintlocks, so they don't do very well against F-15s.

    They can land ground troops anywhere, but black powder cannons are somewhat outmatched by artillery and missiles.

    The only reason it's not a total massacre is it turns out the aliens look exactly like teddy bears so no-one can bring themselves to shoot one close up.

    The story ends with us looking at the anti gravity devices and going "Of course! Dur!" and the aliens realising that they've just let humans loose in their empire.

  4. As to more general topics...

    Don't know if you remember but they did in fact do a short 'alternative' Rogue Trooper story. It was very good. Rogue got to 'High Command' which turned out to be an orbiting space station, with just an AI running the whole war. The AI explained that the war had started out merely as a business dispute between two arms manufacturers. Then there was a great line I remember to this day.

    "It was easy enough to arrange; we own both companies"

    So another example of the evil arms dealer trope. I went out with a girl who I used to tease about being an arms dealer.

    "I am not an arms dealer!"

    "I know. How was work today?"

    "Really good, I've nearly sorted out that thing with the F-16s....Fuck off"

    She wasn't evil though, she was really nice. And she really was just a consultant.

    I love the stone ships idea. I used to love the flying ships in the early Slaine stories. It's that whole anachronistic technology thing, a la carte science. Tesla is a great figure for that. And it's very plausible. A lot of technologies just didn't take off at the time because of social reasons or lack of supporting infrastructure (they had steam engines in the classical era, but just as novelties. Why put them to work if you have slaves?). But that whole diesel punk think appeals to me.

    I'll have to bore you sometime about how a friend and I sort of came up with a proto steampunk idea back in the 80s, and then did nothing with it. It even had all the real and fictional famous Victorian characters in it. Tied in nuclear power, sherlock holmes, Jack the ripper and the elephant man. I was quite proud of it. And my mate did some fantastic preliminary artwork. (but he was making loads of money doing album covers so 'comics' wasn't a priority). Ha more fool him, where's that got him today? Apart from his big house and being famous.

  5. *hobbles briefly out of bed to check comments*

    That sounds like a really awesome book actually. When I do read prose it tends to be sci-fi or fantasy (have a huge collection of the Doctor Who mature readers books that "aired" in the gap between the old and new series), I might have to look out for that one now.

    Hopefully your not-an-arms-dealer friend wasn't selling arms to other dimensional tyrants. I don't recall that Rogue Trooper story but I was a bit of a fairweather 2000AD reader, I only read it for about a decade (!) so there is a lot I missed.

    Bad luck on the whole Steam Punk thing, must be frustrating seeing an idea you had "discovered" by other people. That said, Steam Punk is a gift to cosplayers. I don't dress up myself, but I am a big fan of seeing people in costume, and not just for pervey reasons!

    *back protests vehmently, staggers back to bed again*

  6. Oww, you have my sympathies. I hope you're at least having some fun vivid dreams as consolation.

    I think I mentioned the Yorkshire pub where I complemented someone on their steampunk outfits only to be met with "What's steampunk?"

    I don't dress up myself (although I may need to pick your brains about something later) but Ive always look very that Victorian engineering aesthetic. That's what started the story actually (rambling anecdote coming up): Koot (my artist friend) and I loved all that so we used to hang around a lot of industrial museums. We got on about how it was a shame modern engineering didn't go for that brass and candy stripe paintjob look. I said people would probably be more accepting of nuclear power stations if they looked like that.

    That got me (science nerd) explaing to Koot that nuclear power was well within the capabilities of Victorian engineering, just that they hadn't sussed radioactivity cause that French lass hadn't yet invented kryptonite or whatever it was she did. A few spliffs later and I came up with this...

    Story started in colonial south Africa. The Brits had heard a native rumour about a particular hot spring. They mocked the native 'superstitions' that it was a place to be avoided. It turns out to be a natural nuclear reactor (There were such things in the past, none now but hey, artistic licence). So they start mining uranium (without fully understanding what it is, just that you put enough of it together and it gets hot enough to boil water into steam)

    Cut to a few years later. With the support of science mad Prince Albert, London has its first nuclear reactor. People see it as the start of a new industrial revolution and the way for Britain and the empire to be the supreme world superpower.

    But all may not be well. One of the main engineers on the project, a certain John Merrick, has turned whistle-blower. Luckily for the authorities he dies in an unfortunate accident caused by a, totally unconnected with his job, medical condition he's come down with. It transpires though that he may have spilled the beans to a lady of the night. John Gull the Queens Surgeon puts a team on the job to silence her. He can't be sure exactly which girl it is, but he knows that if she's been having 'relations' with Merrick she'll be succumbing to the same sickness. It'll be in its early stages but an impromptu autopsy should be able to tell.

    Unfortunately for the powers that be Sherlock Holmes and his erstwhile chronicler Arthur Conan Doyle have taken an interest in the murders...

    Dun dun duh

    And it went on from there with Brunel and H G Wells (rather anachronisticically) getting in on the act.

    In the end Holmes saves the day but due to some unfortunate quantum physics related time travelling gets written out of the new history (ours). Conan Doyle decides to remember all the previous work of his friend in fiction and Wells finds the while time travel thing a bit of an inspiration too.

    Back in the real world we were a bit less dedicated than Doyle and Wells so the world never got to see Koot's rather amazing looking candy strip and brass nuclear reactor.

  7. Yes the dreams are excellent and I have been marathoning Star Trek: Voyager as well. And today I woke up and was able to flex my spine a bit without shrieking in pain, so I am going to try and cram as much writing in as possible before it craps out on me again. My stock of blog posts is dangerously low.

    I must admit to being absolutely fascinated by nuclear power. When I was on a family holiday close to Sellafield I nagged to go there, then had a great time in the visitor's centre. That said, a Steam Punk aesthetic would have made it all the more awesome.

    I love your story too. When I was younger I used to draw my own comic strips. My art was good, but I always thought up stories that were far to epic for their own good, when I should have been trying for the equivalent of "Future Shocks". Sadly my bad back affects my hands now, they shake slightly so I can't draw as well as I used to. Ho hum.


  9. I'd be very interested in hearing some of your ideas. Epic is good.

    What's funny about some of the old Future Shocks, and 2000AD stories generally, was how rubbish they were. Although I still loved me them. But there were a surprising number that had punchlines like:

    "Well here we are, just two survivors on this planet. Anyway, my name's Eve, what's yours?"

    I think even Neil Gaiimans first one was pretty trite. Although if it's the one I'm thinking of we loved it just endure of the title

    'the last rumble of the platinum horde'

    Although was that Alan Moore? Hmm, well, anyway, you're the comics expert so you should be telling me.

    Sorry to hear a in the hands. Maybe you could make it your signature style though. I'm always amazed b people who can draw, it might as well be magic. How do you actually make some good look like something real? Seriously, voodoo.

  10. Ahahaha, great comic. I'm a "Year Of Hell" Part oner myself. Trek always had issues with two-parters, amazing build-ups and cliffhangers then a somewhat weak resolution.

    I can't remember much about my ideas, I remember one where I decided to update the Book of Revelation into a sci-fi context, which was utter madness. Probably my best stuff was all the cartoon stuff I did when I created a website back in 1998, sadly AOL deleted all members websites about ten years ago and while I still have the on-paper drawings, the JPGs are sat on my busted old PC.

  11. 667 - the fax number of the Beast

    It's so annoying when work gets trapped on old machines. I'd really like to hear the ideas you had though, they sound intriguing.

  12. You'd think I'd have learned my lesson when my first HDD exploded and took all my MA work with it (although thankfully after I had finished my MA). I do back up my blog though only stuff I haven't posted yet. I need to buy a larger memory stick to do a full one in case both my current HDD and blogger fail at the same time. I do still have all my artwork in boxes but haven't actually been able to bring myself to look at in in a decade.

  13. From "Phrases that will get you punched in chambers" Vol 1

    "Well that won't be a problem as you will of course have been diligently backing up your work as set out in our standards and practices handbook?"

  14. You are clearly a true artist though if you can't bring yourself to look at your work. My friend who shares your name is the same. She also can't bear anyone else to look ("Get out!!!) and when she finally looks like she's about to finish she then sands it back to canvas and starts again.

    We've decided to go with "quirky"

  15. Yes, yes, yes. I had real issues with letting people see my work and for every page I completed about five would have been scrunched up and flung angrily across the room. My problem I think was I didn't settle into a style I was comfortable with until I started doing more cartoony stuff influenced by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Cerebus with a touch of manga influence (ahead of my time there in the early 90's). I was trying to do high detail "realism" and failing miserably at it.

  16. The world just wasn't ready for us!!!!

  17. I like to think in a parallel universe somewhere my back didn't crap out on me and I found a writer who I could just draw the pictures for.

  18. I'd love to write for you; or ideally with you. You've been a bit of a muse for me through your blog and the email help (think there's something there actually for next time the AOL auspices are favorable). I'd also be interested in your fiction stuff. You've got a really nice writing style and I like the ideas you come up with in your blog so I suspect you'll have some cool story ideas.

    Not sure how to help with your back unfortunately. Still, they say suffering makes for great art, so you can bring that to the partnership (I'll bring biscuits, it's only fair)

  19. Well it's a tempting offer, I guess I could do some doodling, see how rusty I am and how it affects my back/neck/shoulder pain. My chronic pain management specialist would probably have apoplexy though.

  20. Chronic pain management specialist sounds like the sort of euphemism a comic book torturer would have on his business card.

    When we used to teach Krav to the police I wanted to steal the old Dredd thing "Lecturer in Applied Violence"

    *Logs onto Prontoprint business card website*

    But if you do fancy it and it doesn't cause you absolute agony I'd be well up for that.