Demons, ghosts, warriors and superheroes: Irish comics today

Demons, ghosts, warriors and superheroes: Irish comics today
LookLeft #9, December 2011

Growing interest in recent years has seen a burst of activity in the home-grown Irish comic/graphic novel scene; LookLeft reviews some current titles.

The League of Volunteers

The League of Volunteers
Atomic Diner

The League of Volunteers transports readers to an alternative WWII-era Ireland, where vampires roam Dublin’s streets and mythical characters from Irish folklore exist alongside costumed superheroes. Despite Irish neutrality, De Valera has organised patriotic heroes into a secret League to protect Ireland from the Nazi menace and other dangers of a more supernatural nature – namely the goat-headed demon Bocanach, freshly released from its eternal prison by those always foolish Nazi occultists. Centuries of isolation have left Bocanach with only one objective:  the demonic reconquest of Ireland.

The mix of superheroes, mythology and alternate history invites, not unflattering, comparisons with the likes of Alan Moore’s own League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Hellboy and Sláine. Robert Curley serves up a smörgåsbord of curious characters including the anti-fascist street fighter Glimmerman; ex-Blueshirt Archer; human-demon hybrid Blood Rose; Lúgh Lamhfada of the Tuatha Dé Danann; and even Fionn mac Cumhaill.

The exciting plot is full of historical and folkloric references and in-jokes, and characters appear interesting and rounded (e.g. it’s implied that Glimmerman and Archer fought on opposite sides in the Spanish Civil War). Meanwhile, Barry Keegan’s simple, energetic greyscale illustrations are highly effective, giving the feeling of watching an old war film. Though perhaps not as polished as the above mentioned titles, the first two issues are extremely enjoyable.

Róisín Dubh

Róisín Dubh
Atomic Diner

It’s the dawn of the 20th Century, and Rose Sheridan’s cosy middle class life is irrevocably shattered when her parents are slain by a freshly liberated vampiric sorcerer. Herself injured in the attack, the catatonic Rose is unwillingly bound to obey Donn, Lord of the Underworld. Donn tasks her with re-vanquishing the supernatural leech, who now has a 1,400-year-old blood thirst to quench. Thus is born Róisín Dubh, demon hunter.

Issue #1 is writer Maura McHugh’s retelling of the legend of Abhartach, a power-lusting Derry chieftain whose magical dabblings render him immortal, with a taste for human blood. Hated and feared by his subjects, he was eventually imprisoned by a rival. Stephen Daly’s high contrast monochrome artwork is a perfect accompaniment to the brutal tale, and this deliciously bloody apéritif whets the appetite for the next course.

Jennifer Wilde

Jennifer Wilde
Atomic Diner

Of all three offerings from Atomic Diner, this is certainly the most original. We’re promised a 1920s trans-European romp featuring “death, espionage and revolution”, in which young artist Jennifer Chevailer and the wisecracking ghost of Oscar Wilde attempt to discover the strange secret behind her father’s murder. While extremely enjoyable, issue one is mostly exposition and scene setting, so it’s difficult to tell where the story is going. Nevertheless, its smart, sassy and sophisticated stuff from Maura McHugh; fingers crossed it will fulfil its potential.

The Cattle Raid of Cooley

The Cattle Raid of Cooley
Self-Published

Belfast writer/artist Patrick Brown has been publishing his brilliant adaptation of the epic Irish legend Táin Bó Cúailnge as a free webcomic for three years. Part of the Ulster Cycle Legends, the Táin relates Cú Chulainn’s defence of Ulster against Connacht’s Queen Medb. It is a violent, visceral and darkly comic tale and Brown’s interpretation doesn’t leave much to the imagination; the single-colour artwork, raw and frenetic, is reminiscent of Eddie Campbell’s work on From Hell and the story is well-crafted with an obvious passion for the subject matter. The webcomic stands at 140 pages with more promised, and if you like it you should support the creator by buying the print editions.

The Curse of Cromwell

Cromwell and William’s Irish Wars
Moccu Press

Writer Dermot Poyntz and artist Lee Grace have produced a trilogy of historical graphic novels dealing with the Cromwellian and Williamite wars in Ireland (Curse of Cromwell, War of the Two Kings and Plight of the Wild Geese). Similar to Blood on the Rose (reviewed in LookLeft #5), while historically accurate, they lack a sense of engagement. While enjoyable enough, often they feel like perfunctory military or Leaving Cert-esque histories with images added on.

Brian Boru: Ireland's Warrior King

Brian Boru: Ireland’s Warrior King
O’Brien Press

Much better is Damien Goodfellow’s debut offering, chronicling the life and times of Brian Boru of the Dál gCais who rose from minor Munster chieftain to become High King of Ireland. There are no heroes in this story, just a cast of power-hungry Gaels and Vikings whose alliances and intrigues are constantly shifting. Narrated by the wily Gormfhlaith, wife and ultimate betrayer of Boru, the book traces his life from his rise in Munster to his death at the Battle of Clontarf. The art – jagged, dark and bloody – reflects well the times depicted; unrelentingly harsh and marked by constant warring. While the Brian Boru’s legend is open to historical critique, this is a rollicking good read.

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