By John Smith and Paul Peart
Review by Luke Williams
Out now on digital, “Slaughterbowl” is a House of Tharg curio from the much maligned nineties. It’s from that short lived experiment when editorial control of 2000AD was handed to the enfants terribles of British Comics, Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, John Smith and artist chums in the “Summer Offensive”.
In an 8 week makeover, Morrison, Millar and Smith tried to bring back 2000AD’s punk attitude which they felt had been slowly ebbing away since its eighties heyday.
Following a prologue strip called “Purgatory” written by Millar and drawn by Carlos Ezquerra, Morrison gave us an arrogant and shallow take on “Judge Dredd” in “Inferno” saved only by some killer Carlos Ezquerra art. New strips were drugs and retro pop kitsch road trip “Really & Truly” by Morrison and drawn by Rian Hughes ; source of many a fan rant, “Big Dave”, by Morrison, Millar and national treasure Steve Parkhouse, and Millar and Steve Yeowell’s “Robocop” slugfest pastiche “Maniac 5”.
However, “Slaughterbowl”, by John Smith and Paul “Extinction Agenda” Peart (a.k.a Peart Smith) is often overlooked. 2000AD has a history of sports strips, mostly unsuccessful, though some accumulate some cult status, “Harlem Heroes” for example (the original aeroball one not t the Michael Bay / Jerry Bruckheimer style reinvention from the 90s) and “Mean Arena”.
Usually they had a bit of a quirk or hook, talking panthers (“Mean Team”), cyborgs and bladed motorcycles (“Inferno”), but none, none had cybernetically enhanced dinosaurs. Smith and Peart had taken two staples of 2000AD mashed them up and put them in, what is at least ostensibly a sport strip, but is really 48 pages of bad taste and black humour. It’s amazing no one had thought of this before.
Stanley Modest is a downtrodden and egoless greeting card copy writer, living hand to mouth to raise the money for his wife’s life saving operation. In a particualrly bad day, he loses his job and is arrested and charged with multiple murders.
Found guilty and serving his time in prison he sees the incredibly popular annual race between homicidal maniacs riding the aforementioned enhanced terrible lizards, known as “Slaughterbowl”, as a way out, and the prize money a means of saving his wife.
John Smith is known for his obscurity and occasionally purple prose, but equally he is one of the best writers to have graced the Prog’. This is amongst his most straightforward scripts and he’s more respectful of the spirit of the Galaxy’s Greatest than his contemporaries and their contributions during the “Summer Offensive”.
Despite the completely inappropriate racist stereotypes that appear, this is everything that a 2000AD action strip should be; black humour, great art, high concept, extreme and often ridiculous violence, and dinosaurs. With guns. Smith & Peart have great fun, the artist revels in the violence with bold pencil work and a surprisingly bright and breezy colour palette, Ellie De Ville’s lettering bringing some order to the mayhem. Agreat 8 parter; in, done and gone. This review was drawn from the only other reprint of the strip 2000AD Xtreme edition 23 (with “Armoured Gideon” on the cover – another underrated gem).
The digital release programme from 200AD is great way of releasing strips that are perhaps too short or that have reached cult status but can’t justify a print edition.
Not a classic, but it is great schlocky fun.