Sunday, 14 April 2013

Nemesis the Warlock

In the grim darkness of the far future one man wages a war on the oppressive Termite Empire (humanity). That man is Nemesis the Warlock, and he's not actually a man. He's an alien. That's actually the reason he's waging his war. Humanity, you see, is going to become a rather xenophobic bunch once we start encountering alien species. They're going to be outlawed and humans are going to have a rather bad reputation.

Well that's the story here at any rate, as told in the grim darkness of the pages of 2000 AD. The premise may suggest a serious tone that looks at the nature of segregation and oppression. To an extent that's true. This is one of the more political characters from the anthology magazines back catalogue, and those themes are explored.

It's not the sole focus of Nemesis though. That would have made for a dull, one note read with little chance of anything particularly interesting happening. There's a sense of grotesque humour present throughout Nemesis the Warlock and while the focus of it and the way it manifests shifts over the course of the books it never goes away. Whether it's backwater yokels being fearful of alien scum without comprehending how far they've drifted from the human gene pool or the stream of failures suffered by Torquemada, the head of the Inquisition, there's always something to stop things getting too serious.

This isn’t to imply that Nemesis is pure comedy. It has a sense of humour but it was written in part to give author Pat Mills a vehicle to express his displeasure and concern at the choices Margaret Thatcher was making as Prime Minister. The majority of storylines are influenced in some way by her premiership and Mills’ opposition to it.

The plot is simple enough. The idea started out as a handful of one-shots scripted by Mills and drawn by Kevin O'Neil (with later artistic contributions coming from a variety of other names, including a young Bryan Talbot). In these we didn't see Nemesis and only got a glimpse of his mission (the aforementioned war of attrition with the oppressive portion of humanity). They had a much smaller scale, with Nemesis seemingly only concerned with transport systems on Earth. When those proved popular lengthier storylines were planned, Nemesis had his backstory fleshed out, and we were introduced to the galaxy at large. It grew quickly into a book that allowed its creators to target religious zealots, dictatorships, Thatcherism, and the previously mentioned segregation and opression.

That's where Torquemada came in. In many ways Torquemada is a far more interesting character than Nemesis. I often find that to be the case with bad guys, although it’s usually due to the hero being poorly written and having no clear reason for being good beyond it being necessary for the plot. That's not true with Nemesis, we're shown that he has a family that he's fighting for and beyond that his motivations are kept blurred and vague. Which helps his appeal and believability a great deal. He clearly has something he believes in but it can’t be encapsulated in a handful of speech bubbles.

Torquemada is the driving force of the comic, the personification of what's wrong with the society we're presented with (and the one in which Nemesis was written by Mills and O’Neill). His manipulation of an entire race is an important tool in letting us know what the horrors of the world are, and he becomes more powerful once he's a ghost. Sounds a spoiler? It is, but not a huge one: Torquemada doesn’t stay alive for long.

Like much of the 2000 AD of its time Nemesis the Warlock can be hard to get into. It can help to take a break after the completion of a storyline. It's a pretty dense series to try ploughing through in a day but it can be done. As long as you read it at your own pace I think you'll enjoy it. It's well written and has something to say. Not enough comics (or books, TV shows or films for that matter) can make that boast.

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