Since starting to review British comics in earnest recently, I've received a bunch more in the mail. That included a couple of new things from the highly prolific Rob Jackson, who does some of my favorite genre comics these days. His Slaves of the Megapode has a brilliant high concept: a detective and a forensic investigator investigating murder during the Roman Empire. Indeed, the first issue of this story is even subtitled "An Octavian Columbas Adventure", and it contains all of the elements that make a genre story effective while adding huge dollops of Jackson's quirky sense of humor.
Columbas and his assistant/slave Quinceps (hilarious name choice!) were sent to investigate a mysterious set of murders and disappearances in a remote province. The way Jackson incorporates police procedural cliches with Roman practices like tortures and crucifixions is hilarious and off-putting, especially with regard to how matter-of-factly he treats them. The duo eventually uncover a bizarre local cult, go undercover and discover that the locals worship a supernatural being called the Megapode. The first issue serves to set up the world and establish the conflict, just as Octavian is drugged. As always, the minimalist yet expressive line of Jackson is more than sufficient to establish each character and their world; he's well-settled into that style and never wastes a line.
UPDATE 8/11: I just got the second and third issues of Slaves of the Megapode, and what's interesting about it is just how closely it actually wound up hewing to police procedural shows. The comic isn't so much about the supernatural as it is about narcotics, government corruption, conspiracy and murder. At the same time, this comic kept getting funnier despite staying firmly within its own world and rules. This may be my favorite Jackson comic ever.
The second issue of RhiZome, the sci-fi anthology series Jackson co-edits with Kyle Baddeley, doesn't go as far with its interesting ideas as it could have. It's inspired by British underground comics, but there are also flashes of EC comics and Heavy Metal to be found as well. For example Baddley's comics are usually challenging and unpredictable. In RhiZome, he offered a slighly weird ditty about a bizarre chiropractor and a by-the-numbers sci-story about a group of warlike aliens traveling to find a new home. Baddeley seems to be holding back a bit in this anthology, and it doesn't help make it any more interesting. The same goes for Nick Soucek's ecology tale, about a ship going forward in time, only to find all life has been wiped out in the ocean. It's too direct and on-the-nose a story.
Tyler Stafford's "Leera" channels Moebius in another time travel story, this time mixed with post-apocalyptic settings. What's interesting is that there's another major shift in setting after the initial plot is set up, and this leads to an intriguing ending. Jackson's own "Dan Smith" serial continues to be wonderfully strange in a slow-burning manner. This issue positioned Dan (who suspects that he's working with a clone) first as a detective (following the other Dan around) and then as a potentially delusional mental patient, until he's rescued by yet another Dan. The hilarious conceit of the clones talking themselves into thinking that they don't much look alike is one of my favorite aspects of the serial. Dave Huxley's smudgy "The Company" works because of the way he creates atmosphere with his heavy pencil. That air of paranoia is thick in the way he adds so much grey in this story of a man who discovers an error so grave at his company that he's eventually hunted down, even if he doesn't understand the implications of the mistake. John Robbins' short story about a man with mental powers that mimic a computer keyboard's is typically horrific and odd, though I would have preferred to have seen it as a comic. All told, Rhizome has potential to be an interesting serial, but I'd like to see its artists cut loose and really get weird.