Shiny Shelf

The Complete Nemesis the Warlock Volumes I-III

By Mark Clapham on 02 March 2008

After a long relationship with Titan and a brief dalliance with DC, ‘2000AD’ graphic novels are now being published in-house by parent company Rebellion. Aside from the usual paperbacks and hardcovers collecting recent and archive material from ‘2000AD’ and the ‘Judge Dredd Megazine’, Rebellion are also publishing an increasing number of ‘phonebook’ collections, reprinting large swathes of black and white material in thick, inexpensive volumes, leaning towards quantity and completism. This approach has worked well with Marvel’s ‘Essential’ range for several years, and of late DC have done something similar with ‘Showcase’ and even Fantagraphics have gathered the two main plot threads of ‘Love and Rockets’ into thick, monochrome volumes.

Arguably, it’s the ‘2000AD’ range that benefits most from this approach, taking years of classic material originally serialised across hundreds of weekly issues and bringing it together for a more satisfactory and affordable reading experience. What’s more, most of it was in black and white anyway, so unlike the Marvel or DC bleached-out silver age material, the ‘2000AD’ stories aren’t losing anything by being in mono, instead benefitting from the crisper reproduction standards and paper quality of today. Rebellion have been steadily publishing complete (barring stories impossible to reprint due to legal reasons) runs of ‘Judge Dredd’ and ‘Strontium Dog’ in this format, and will hopefully do the same for other popular characters as time goes on.

In the last year, they’ve also collected the entirety of Pat Mills’ ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ in three hefty volumes, the last of which came out a couple of months ago. For readers like myself too young to have bought the original issues (and not inclined to dig through a million bargain bins to find them), or for international readers put off by the ruinous expense of buying ‘2000AD’ as an import, this is a great opportunity to get hold of one of the comic’s most consistent, inventive and self-contained stories – episodes spread over nearly twenty years of issues, specials and annuals, all brought together in these books.

It’s well worth it. ‘Nemesis’ is one of the most perverse and acquired tastes in ‘2000AD’ history, but strangely more accessible because it stands alone from the more standard hard-bitten futures of Dredd or Johnny Alpha. Nemesis himself is an alien, a leathery demon with cloven hooves and mystical powers, a cold and incomprehensible figure who looks weird and acts a lot weirder. Nemesis is fighting an endless war with Torquemada, sadistic leader of a fascistic human state of the future. Torquemada is engaged in a genocidal frenzy against the alien inhabitants of the rest of the galaxy, and Nemesis is striking back on behalf of the aliens – although as the story goes on the war against Torquemada is revealed as possibly being less a battle for freedom, and more a campaign of terror for Nemesis’ own alien amusement.

‘Nemesis’ is perhaps the perfect ‘2000AD’ strip, encompassing as it does the weird mesh of late-seventies influence that informed the weekly’s inception, the bastard sci-fi lovechild of prog and punk where eternal combat between freakish anarchists and leather-clad authoritarians can take place in a tripped out fantastical landscape. Pat Mills takes the story wherever he wants to go, from the insanely inventive future world of Termight and grotesque alien landscapes, through loopy time travel narratives that take the story into a historical account of the real Torquemada and a thuddingly unsubtle chapter set in Thatcher’s Britain, in which Nemesis gets lumbered with a supporting cast of dullard punk stereotypes. However, the story as a whole is a tour of all Mills’ pre-occupations, good and bad, as a writer: violent action, wildy creative weirdness, black humour and left-wing politics. In Nemesis and Torquemada, Mills also created his finest pairing of hero and villain, both unkillable and indomitable, a ruthless spirit of resistance versus and endlessly sadisctic authoritarian.

‘Nemesis’ also runs long enough to encapsulate most of they key art trends in ‘2000AD’ history, starting as it does with Kevin O’Neill and Bryan Talbot’s crisp black and white linework, going through the phases of murkier, splashier inkwork from John Hicklenton and Bisley-esque fully painted colour from Clint Langley (later to break his own new ground with his use of computer generated artwork, a trend these stories never reach), before ending where it started with O’Neill inspired, almost defiantly retro mono art from Henry Flint and, in the final installment, Kevin O’Neill once more.

Readers of O’Neill’s more widely lauded work on ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ should take a look at his early ‘Nemesis’ work, which demonstrate the extent to which he arrived fully formed as an artist, filling panels with crazy and horrible detail. Bryan Talbot also does fantastic, inventive work, especially in the rightly lauded ‘Gothic Empire’ chapter, something of a steampunk classic. Other artists are less satisfactory – Hicklenton for one often stretches his characters in grotesque ways without expressing a recognisable emotion, and sometimes loses coherence altogether under Ralph Steadman-esuqe ink splashes.

Nonetheless, in both story and art, the ten books of ‘Nemesis’ work as a whole, and where the story or artwork hurtles into a dead-end, it’s always an interesting cul-de-sac and one which provides an example of where British comics was going at that time. By ending when it does, and in the way it does, ‘Nemesis’ deliberately feeds into itself and bails out, fleeing the scene as the millennium turned and ‘2000AD’ became a comic that largely relied on appealing to long-term readers and adults brought back by nostalgia. ‘Nemesis’ was too damn freakish, inconsistent and ever-changing to really be pinned-down into a retro, ‘classic’ version of itself, to become a nostalgia product for ageing fanboys. Even in these collections, long after first publication, it has too much bite to be a cosy comic series from childhood, and retains an impact that’s well worth experiencing.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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