Sláine the King

 SLTK   (Fleetway Quality, 1989)

™ and ©1989 Fleetway Editions, Ltd.
Series continued from Slaine the Berserker

From the Slings & Arrows Comic Guide:

Sláine, the barbarian warrior strip he created for U.K. weekly 2000 A.D., was undoubtedly Pat Mills finest hour. It’s an ironic, knowing tale of a violent but enduringly cheeky warrior, which starts off as a simple poke at Conan, set in a mythical Britain before cataclysms separated it from Continental Europe. The story is told by Sláine’s companion on his adventures, a malevolent and malodorous dwarf, Ukko. In his old age, when mankind has forgotten the magical events he witnessed, Ukko has retired to a mythical fastness where he is being alternatively cajoled and threatened into recording his memoirs.

Sláine is kicked out of his tribe at an early age despite being a prodigious warrior when gripped by a berserker-like fury, the Warp Spasm. Contrary to his best intentions to look out for himself, shag anything that moves and have fun, Sláine continually finds his destiny entwined with that of the decaying sorcerers who worship death and seek to destroy humanity. Many of the early episodes (written for a weekly comic and therefore requiring a climax every four or six pages) are little more than segments of protracted fights. But what fights. In the hands of Mike McMahon, one of the most underrated comic book artists ever, Sláine is the Straw Dogs of British comics, bloody, inventive, twisted. The artists who followed never captured the wildness of McMahon’s drawing, until, in Simon Bisley, a maturer Mills found someone who could match the mellower, more humorous tone of the later stories and create a vibrant vision of his Celtic paradise which was packed with great visual characterization. Before him, Glen Fabry made his name on Sláine with his ultra-detailed but relatively fluid artwork. It couldn’t be more different from McMahon if it tried, but it was certainly value for money. Steve Pugh, on the other hand, compensated for a decided lack on the drawing front with even more detail, flooding his pages with ink until, as Sláine was elected king following the death of his enfeebled brother, he looked like a Mattel toy ascending the sacred mound. With 21 the title changes to Sláine The King, referring to his new-found status.

Throughout Mills draws upon his own interpretation of Celtic mythology and modern Goddess-worship. As the strip evolves Sláine goes from simple battle-lover to Sun King who unites the rival Celtic tribes through cunning and diplomacy rather than with three feet of steel in order to fight their greatest battle against the dread Slough Fegg. In phantasmagorical sequences he meets the Goddess herself and finds her a gurning, lusty maiden with whom he can happily flirt. Mills’ humor evolves too, moving from straightforward contrast between the events depicted and Ukko’s account of them to a broad parody of political and religious ineptitude. It’s not subtle stuff, but the characters are rich and the plotting clever. The McMahon and Bisley issues are worth a look for the artwork alone, and the whole series is highly readable, but forget about the dull Blackhawk backup strips. ~FJ

Recommended: #1–4, 25–28

Collections: Sláine Book one (#1–4), Sláine The Horned God (Sláine The King (21–23)

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Special Edition #1

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 Pat MillsGlenn Fabry