Slaine: The Grail War by Pat Mills, Nick Percival, Steve Tappin and Massimo Belardinelli (graphic novel review).
‘Sláine: The Grail War’ is a graphic novel collecting stories from 2000AD progs 1032-1049, 1090, 1099 and the 2000AD Annual 1985.The first bit of the book isn’t ’The Grail War’ but a story entitled ’King Of Hearts’ in which Sláine MacRoth, to give our hero his full name, teams up with William Wallace to fight the English. Sláine is accompanied, as always, by his unfaithful servant, Ukko the dwarf, a comedy sidekick who is good fun. Defeated at the Battle of Falkirk because of treacherous Scottish nobles, William retreats to his home of Strathclyde to commune with ancient spirits and heal his soul. Sláine shows up in his role as a kind of eternal champion skipping through time and assures Wallace he will fight on his side for the Scots and the Irish are kinfolk. Sláine is after the Stone of Destiny, the real one. The one at Scone is a fake. His ancient enemies, the Cyth, are after it as well and they have recruited the Knights Templar to help them. Was ever a group from history so maligned in fiction as the Knights Templar?
‘The Grail War’ is a longer story that takes up most of the rest of the book. Sláine pops up in mediaeval France where Simon de Montfort is leading a crusade against the heretic Cathars. He fights on the side of de Montfort, though no Christian himself, because Simon has the soul of Niamh, his eternal love. He is snarled at by the forces of Faerie for fighting on the side of the enemy. Sláine’s love for Niamh does not preclude him bedding other women such as Lauretta, who sometimes becomes a dragon. Also involved are Esclarmonde de Foix, a lovely lady who is a guardian of the Grail and Leystar, a black magician who serves a demon from beyond the stars. So Lovecraftian horror is mingled with paganism, Christianity, Gnosticism and other mythologies in a mix that frankly I found confusing. The Church of Rome is definitely bad but that’s par for the course nowadays.
The art for these stories is by Steve Tappin, Nick Percival and Massimo Belardinelli, though the latter did only the last segment, a standalone story about Ireland. Nick Percival’s art is quite dark, literally. Most of the pictures are by Steve Tappin and although I didn’t much like it at first it kind of grew on me. I think modern comic art is done on computers. It’s very colourful and obviously a lot of work goes into it but my own preference is for the earlier pen and ink work of Brian Bolland and Ron Wilson as seen in ’The Judge Child’, which I also reviewed this month. I am an old, old man, however, and younger readers may prefer the paintwork.
There are high production values in this volume and a good number of pages for the pound. As ever with stuff from the ‘2000AD’ stable there is a leavening of black humour to undercut the darker aspects of the plot. Pat Mills is an accomplished writer and the artists have done a good job of storytelling. If I’m honest, ‘Sláine’ isn’t really my sort of thing but I’m sure fans will love it.
(pub: 2000AD. 176 page graphic novel. Price: £17.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78108-112-9)
check out website: www.2000adonline.com