Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"And then they were gone.
"Just like magic.
"I was completely alone.
"Or I thought I was.
"That was the first time in my life I understood the true nature of fear.
"I understood that fear isn't an enemy, but a friend.
"Fear clears the mind and slows down the passage of time.
"It makes you act that split-second faster.
"It gives you an edge.
"Then I SAW it..."
I was rather hoping they would collate and collect all this material one day. So a quick hurrah for that! Back in early 1988 a new character appeared for the first time and took the galaxy's self-styled greatest comic in an altogether darker direction. Over the years, when 2000 AD has done horror, aside from the obvious recurring villainy of the Dark Judges forever imperilling the Big Meg ad nauseam which is starting to get seriously old now, I think it's been done rather well, and by and large stands the test of time. Arthur Ranson's MAZEWORLD (currently out of print) trilogy being an obvious early example of 2000 AD horror, through to more modern takes on the genre such as the extremely creepy CRADLEGRAVE set on a sink council estate.
I did chuckle at the bold legend atop the front cover which states "Before Harry Potter There Was Luke Kirby!" Indeed there was, and the first Luke Kirby material also predated the premier comics boy wizard, which is hands-down Neil Gaiman's Timothy Hunter in the BOOKS OF MAGIC, by a few years. This material, in essence a collection of short stories published sporadically over nearly eight years, is not anywhere near BOOKS OF MAGIC level, despite how good it is. That work, for me at least, is on a level of its own.
What this material neatly blends is the peculiarly atmospheric flavour of classic British horror flicks such as American Werewolf In London, The Wickerman, plus practically anything from the Hammer Studios, with the twist that our main hero is a nine-year-old mage of immense potential learning on the incredibly hazardous job. Today's Health and Safety Nazis would have a field day with young Luke's lack of risk assessment and shunning of protective equipment before plunging headlong into his next perilous escapade. Still, this is set in the early '60s where the concept of health and safety was probably limited to finally realising it wasn't a good idea to send a nine-year-old down a mine... To the tenth, count 'em, tenth, circle of hell, though, no problem guvnor, right this way.
Read as a whole, where you can see the weekly joins, particularly with the early stories compared to the later ones (something 2000 AD improved considerably on over the years to the extent that the likes of CRADLEGRAVE is simply one seamless narrative very smoothly spliced from the weekly chunks), it has all the charm, and mild inadvertent amusement, plus a dash of pure stoopid, engendered by said period flicks.
With all that said, this is genuine brooding horror with child abductions, werewolves, vampires, devils, demons and random exsanguinations lurking around every corner. Luke Kirby, though, has the magical chops to take on all-comers, once he's got a bit of practice in. Girls, though, they're an entirely more terrifying prospect...
Penned entirely by Alan McKenzie (who also scribed the excellently spooky Brigand Doom around that time, about an undead highwayman cavorting around in a dystopian future, though I have still to forgive him the woeful Supersurf 13 featuring a certain Marlon Shakespeare esquire), with very different turns on art from 2000 AD stalwarts John Ridgeway, Steve Parkhouse, Graham Higgins, I finished this wishing, as with a fair few other characters (including Brigand Doom which 'concluded' on a cliff-hanger to say the least), that there will one day be new Luke Kirby in the pages of the self-proclaimed galaxy's greatest comic. It just feels like there is so much more they could do with the character.
But, perhaps that is also part of the charm of 2000 AD. They relentlessly find talented up-and-coming writers and artists, create new characters, churn out some great stories, then move on and keep on innovating. Aside from Dredd, obviously. There must always be Dredd. There really must. But you don't get to 40 years old producing the same old shit week in, week out. Unless you have the marketing budget of Warner Brothers or Disney, that is...