Devlin Waugh: Blood Debt TPB – Rory McConville, Ales Kot

4 out of 5

I am a huge Rory McConville supporter. His growing body of work in 2000 AD has consistently impressed me, and even when he’s delivering something that could be said to be more “standard” – slightly minused the creative flourishes and character touches of his best – it’s entertaining, and above the average for the mag. His two Devlin Waugh entries here are great, and good.

I am not a huge fan of Ales Kot. The unique art style and promising concept of one of the first Kot books I read had me looking up other stuff by the writer, and I was then dismayed by how – to me – most of the stuff came across a little empty, talking a big game with big words, but then delivering something fairly predictable. And his two Devlin Waugh entries here definitely have those same flaws… but at the same time, I really dig Kot’s overall approach to the character, and I think it’s “right” for Waugh. It seems to have revitalized interest in him, as Kot has summarily been trusted with semi-regular stories featuring Devlin, continuing what he starts here, and I definitely think that’s earned, and is a good thing, especially because it continues to inject some very R- and X-rated material into the mag. Crassness and gore for its sake isn’t what I’m thumbs upping, but I think 2000 AD stands apart for how tonally wide ranging (and yet often thematically cohesive!) its thrills are, and Kot helps that tradition along immensely.

But Rory kicks off the modern day reintroduction of Waugh, and true to the deep lore of 2000 AD, he doesn’t forget any of what’s come before: he’s a vampire; he’s an investigator for the Vatican; and he has his ways. But he’s off on a mission of his own this time, to rescue his brother from an other-worldly, steals-your-soul gambling parlor. Rory nails Devlin’s offhand callousness and charm in the face of brain-busting dangers, and Michael Dowling’s rounded, thin-lined, widescreen style is a perfect match. This twists and turns and violences in all the right ways, and ends up having an interesting emotional undercurrent. Rory’s next addition, while having equally crazy plot elements – Waugh takes a date on a mission to tame some nefarious beast unleashed by a cult – is maybe a bit too sprawling for its three parts, and using Waugh’s date as the narrator removes some of the emotional component. He’s a somewhat shallow stranger in a strange land, and so the story takes a more “typical” tone of just witnessing cool things for a handful of pages, again illustrated by Dowling. To remind, though, this is Rory “typical,” which means it’s still a worthwhile read.

Kot takes a one-shot to inject a demon into a dildo – Waugh taking time away from an orgy to do so – and then an expansive story that’s the back half of the trade, in which possession and Lovecraft and zombies intersect during a wild night with some friends: they all black out while watching some outre video tapes, then wake up to a corpse and a painted-in-blood pentagram. The bodies keep stacking up from there while Waugh makes risque jokes and his dildo-demon – Titivillus, nicknamed ‘Titty’ – commentates. Kot does some 9-grid layouts that are maybe too tight for Dowling’s style, and, as implied, the writer likes to flaunt some big words and hip references while saying some pretty dumb shit and too-obvious jokes, but… dammit, he gets it. He forefronts the most campy elements of Waugh – tons and tons of innuendo; always sex-obsessed – and is happy to show off penii a-flappin’ and then excessive, page-drenching gore. And, I mean, a main character is a dildo named Titty. It’s dumb, by Christ, and juvenile, and does not necessarily string a story together that’s more than the sum of its parts – it starts out all mysterious, but just ends up being a reg’lar ol’ foe for Waugh to bite – but it is not like anything currently in the prog, and absolutely gives Devlin a distinct persona. …And makes a main character a dildo. And while I’m pointing out how puerile this might be, it actually is balanced out by those highfalutin woids and references. So I encourage Kot down this road, and I would be interested to see him expand his 2000 AD efforts to see how he adapts to some of the other characters in its stable.

The TPB collection has some draft-to-final art pages, and covers – some fair additions for the price and page count.