2 out of 5
A monograph is, to quote wiki, “a specialist work of writing on a single subject or an aspect of a subject.” Our subject is a important chunk of 2000 AD history: Pat Mills’ Nemesis the Warlock, and our author is current awesome-sauce editor Matt Smith.
Firstly, and for better or worse, Matt’s skills as a writer are – at least with this as evidence – lacking behind his admirable editing skills. Second: who the dang heck was this written for? I’m not a big Mills fan, true, but consarnit, I respect the heck out of the man’s outspokenness and role as a friggin creator, and it seems I get along better with his older writing than his newer, cranky old man stuff. On occasion, I’ve even really liked something he’s written! Wee! And Nemesis has always seemed like this incredible ball of oddity, with two completely unlikeable lead-ish characters and a time/mind bending plot that has somehow blanketed the Mills-verse of ABC Warriors and Savage. So I was excited to check this monograph out, thinking it would give me some insight into what NtW was all about and hopeful, as the copy on this floppy claimed, that I would learn what made it such a landmark series.
Fine, fair enough: it’s not your job, Matt, to just write a summary of what’s happened in the story. This isn’t a review, per se, I get that. And on the flip, while you’re offering some historical context, this isn’t meant to be a deep-dive analysis. Cool. Something that ping-pongs between those borders is sort of what I expected. What I got: a woefully organized (as in: not at all) batch of text that can’t seem to decide if it’s talking to people already familiar with the strip or those who’ve never read it before, thus drifting into dry, detailed recollections of particular sections and then veering off into broad statements that connect disparate parts of the story that haven’t yet been referenced.
I don’t envy trying to navigate one’s way through what I would believe to be a wayward narrative, and Smith’s bucketing things into reviews of character arcs and the themes he believes those represent is sensible, but that outline maybe needed a few more refined bullet points to keep us on target. And the selection of strips to showcase falls into the same “I get it but it failed” classification, as it often amounts to Smith “reading” us the panels and then showing them to us. If it’s going to be presented, that’s your “show,” and your tell would be drawing conclusions from what we can read in the panels ourselves. But that goes back to the general confusion as to whether this is fanboy sweat or a thinkpiece.
The first few pages, covering the genesis of the strip from Mills’ and initial artist Kevin O’Neill’s editorial rebellions, is great, as is the section on the peripherally related ABC Warriors, but these are both cases of talking around Nemesis and not about it, which is where Smith really stumbles.