Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A.B.C. Warriors - Guest Review by Simon Breeze

I'm delighted to present another great comic-book review from science fiction/fantasy artist & writer - and friend of Escape from Tomorrow - Simon Breeze.

ABC Warriors: The Volgan War Volume One

Written by Pat Mills with art by Clint Langley
Published by Rebellion, hardcover, 96 pages

ABC Warriors is a long-running comic-strip found within the pages of 2000 AD that have I would say has had a bit of a re-boot, no - not in the Spider-man sense of the term, more that they have had a makeover, making this run of stories the perfect jumping-on point for anyone who is interested in reading these stories. I guess that begs the question: ‘Who are the ABC Warriors?’

The A.B.C. Warriors themselves are a team of war robots designed to withstand 'Atomic' 'Bacterial' and 'Chemical' warfare, hence the name. Originally built to take part in the long-running Volgan War of an alternate history where Russia has fallen to a fascist coup and becomes the Volgan Republic. This instigates the Volgan's invading Britain and other parts of the world, which in turn leads to the creation of the war robot, including the A.B.C. Warriors, doing our fighting for us (‘us’ being humans or as the A.B.C. Warriors put it ‘floppies’).

The war robots that make up the team of A.B.C. Warriors have long developed freewill and thinking and have become outlaws to human-kind, finding their own way in the universe and following the ways of a religion called Khaos. There is an amazing back-story available via trades for the A.B.C. Warriors, they are all worth a read. This is where The Volgan War Volume One comes into play as an excellent jumping-on point for those new to their universe as it re-tells the back-stories of each member of the current A.B.C. Warriors.

The story starts with the A.B.C. Warriors on Mars as they arrive at a mental hospital for robots called Broadband Asylum to check in their colleague Mek-Quake, a dim-witted and sadistic former demolition droid for treatment. Mek-Quake hopes that they will keep his place within the A.B.C. Warriors open, which they assure him they will, however upon leaving the asylum it is clear they have no intention of taking him back and in fact are on their way to recruit his replacement.

The new member of the team is revealed to be an Ex-Special Forces ABC robot called Zippo, who is currently to be found at Marineris City on Mars. As the team travel to Marineris City to recruit Zippo, the robots reminisce about their experiences in the Volgan War, and as the stories progress, it is revealed that all of the Warriors encountered Volkhan, the fearsome leader of the Volgan robotic forces in their battles - as well as their soon-to-be new team member, Zippo.

The first story to be told is that of Hammerstein, the original leader of the A.B.C. Warriors and in my opinion the most heroic of the bunch, who tells of a battle against the formidable and colossal war robots called Stalins and the slaughter of his platoon.

Next to tell his tale is Mongrol, who tells the heart breaking story of how his existence as a robo-paratrooper was ended by a faulty parachute, and his rebuilding by Lara, one of the few humans to appear in the story, before she was murdered by Volgan forces for harbouring him – this is quite possibly one of the best stories in Volume One; however I will talk about that in a moment.

Finally for book one, we have the coolest robot ever made, Joe Pineapples, the sniper that never misses who also happens to have an eye for the ladies! He recalls the assassination mission he was sent undercover on taking him to Moscow to kill Volkhan, the 'Ikon' and leader of the Volgan robotic forces.

For the end of book one, we return to Broadband Asylum to check up on Mek-Quake’s progress, where we are left with the mother of all cliff-hanger endings. This is to be picked up with at the start of Volume Two where we also get to hear the rest of the A.B.C. Warriors back stories and of their involvement in the Volgan War.

Lots of things are great about this book; it is for sure going into my top-ten graphic novels. For starters, Pat Mills’s writing is a thing of marvel, the pacing, the dialogue, it is all brilliant. Something that makes Pat Mills the genius writer that he is, is that he has considered that Clint Langley will be creating the art for this book series. If you are unfamiliar with Clint Langley’s work, he has a very unique style, so with Pat Mills appreciating this, you can see that he has written the book favouring this style to maximise its story telling potential.

This leads me neatly to Clint Langley’s art, wow. It would be easy to get caught up in the thing of beauty that he has created to illustrate Pat Mills’s writing. I remember reading a review of his art for another book series called, Slaine (also with Pat Mills and by 2000AD) and it was described as, ‘Comics in High Definition’.

Clint Langley’s art style suits the world of the A.B.C. Warriors world well, thinking of the movie Avatar here, if his art in Slaine was watching Avatar at the cinema on a standard High Definition screen. Reading the A.B.C. Warriors is like watching Avatar on the 3D High Definition screen. It is without a shadow of a doubt absolutely amazing, his artwork is a mix of digital airbrush painting and manipulated photographs that create a visually spectacular level of realism with possibly some of the best art work I have ever seen in a comic or graphic novel to date.

The story that stood out for me was the one of Mongrol and his saviour Lara. It is a genuinely heart breaking story that you can’t help but get sucked into the emotions of very quickly. There are some big spoilers in this next bit, you have been warned:

It is a story about the Commander of a robo-paratrooper Platoon who is betrayed by the floppies for a propaganda stunt; after all, they're only robots are they? He crashes into the warzone, his parachute failing to open; his head becomes separated from his shattered body. There his head sits with a front row seat while he watches his platoon butchered by the enemy without mercy.

Days later he is found by a scavenger named Lara, one of the only humans to be seen in book one. Lara is the daughter of robot manufacturers executed by the Volgans, and in an act of defiance against them builds a new incredibly strong body for the robo-paratrooper from parts of other robots she has found on the battlefield, thus creating a mongrel robot, giving him his A.B.C. Warrior title of Mongrol.

Caught in the act of aiding the enemy and building this abomination, she is executed without mercy, and Mongrol powerless to prevent this finds himself tortured by the Volgans for information, this has the effect of inadvertently activated him and allowing him to break free of his captors, reaping savage bloody revenge upon them. The story ends with Mongrol returning to Lara’s home and laying her body to rest, it is a real tear jerker moment and no mistake.

I can’t recommend this book enough, I have already in weeklies read volume two and volume three is drawing to its conclusion within the pages of 2000AD as I write this. Pat Mills and Clint Langley have created something special in the comics world with this three volume story arc; it should be a must for all comic-book readers bookshelves.

As always, my sincere thanks to Simon for another great contribution. Remember, you can find Simon's work on his
deviantArt site as well as his work and family blog.