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“FEEL THE FLESH.” COMICS! Sometimes I Wanna Know What Love Is!

John Kane

A very special throwback this time out! As requested some time ago by someone whose name I’ve mislaid I finally look at a series from way back in the mists of 1990-91. This one is for everyone who has a very special place in their heart for John Boorman’s ZARDOZ. This one’s for all the dreamers!

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WORLD WITHOUT END by Higgins, Delano and Starkings

 

WORLD WITHOUT END #1-6

Art by John Higgins
Written by Jamie Delano
Lettered by Richard Starkings
Coloured by John Higgins
DC Comics, $2.50 each (November 1990 – April 1991)
World Without End created by John Higgins and Jamie Delano
The WORLD WITHOUT END THE COMPLETE COLLECTION is currently available on Comixology or on paper with hard covers (ISBN 978-0486808390)

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Now Adam told Eve,
“Listen here to me,
don’t you let me catch you
messin’ round that apple tree.”
Oh yeah, ever since the world began
a hard headed woman been
a thorn in the side of man.
Lyrics from “Hard Headed Woman” by Claude Demetrius (1958)

 

In 2016 Dover books optimistically released World Without End as a hardcover; as this was the series’ first collected appearance since it ended in 1991 we can probably draw some unkind conclusions about how well it originally sold. Don’t let that put you off, fearless reader! Having read Identity Crisis and Civil War I don’t hold with Brian Hibbs’ oft-trumpeted belief that “If it’s good – it’ll sell!” (tell that to Rich Tommaso!) and if you’ve read Identity Crisis and Civil War nor should you. I guess World Without End didn’t sell, yet that’s no indicator of quality; but it is a shame because DC had obviously put some serious weight behind it; the single issues had stiff glossy covers and the paper within was superior stock sporting fully painted art. It was prestige stuff with a prestige team. (But World Without End is not quite your actual Prestige Format as that had a spine, not staples.) It now being 2017 it’s probably best to remind you of that team’s prestige. You know what with us all having slept since then.

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WORLD WITHOUT END by Higgins, Delano and Starkings

In 1990 series scribe Jamie Delano was just winding up a (roughly) four year stint on the ongoing Hellblazer; a spin-off series from Moore’s splendiferous Swamp Thing run featuring the sarcastic magician John Constantine (created by Alan Moore and Stephen R. Bissette). Delano’s run was a loquacious interweaving of horror and the socio-political, as cheerfully unsubtle as it was darkly entertaining. Having also previously replaced Moore on Marvel UK’s home-grown Captain Britain strips to good effect, Delano must have looked like a strong contender for breakout superstardom; a kind of mini-Moore. Slightly less of a sure thing from the American POV was John Higgins. In the UK Higgins was known for a string of swell artjobs for 2000AD, so much so that I often forget he coloured Watchmen (1986) and The Killing Joke (1988); which in 1990 must have been his chief claim to fame in America. (He made the jump to colourist after colouring an ABC Warriors short in 2000AD Annual 1985; “Red Planet Blues”, drawn by Steve Dillon and scripted by one Alan Moore. I guess Moore liked what he saw, eh?) World Without End wasn’t Moore, but it was written by someone who had picked up a couple of the artistic reins Moore had dropped and had successfully chivvied the abandoned nags a few yards further. Better yet, it was drawn by someone who had worked with Moore. If DC were after more “Moore”-esque product they were destined to be disappointed, because what they got was very Jamie Delano and very definitely John Higgins. Hoo boy, the lads go all in on this one.

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WORLD WITHOUT END by Higgins, Delano and Starkings

World Without End is about Women and Men and how they just don’t get along! Which in 2017 should be a hilarious reminder of how daft we all were back then; a quaint throwback of purely historical interest. But since, as of 31 July 2017, it appears a female Marvel editor can’t post a picture of herself enjoying a milkshake with her gal pals without being inundated with creepazoid comments, well, maybe Men and Women are still having problems? So maybe World Without End still has a point? Why, yes it does; many of them, and it relishes making them. Oh, World Without End does not shirk from social commentary and nor does it abscond from allegory. It gets stuck right in. World Without End may be a little recherché for today’s comic audience weaned as it is on product that recoils at the thought of actually challenging the reader. In a Golden Age of Comics As (Huxley’s) Soma, World Without End sticks out like Norman Mailer at a local book club. (“This Harry Pooter is fucken bullshit. Where’s this kid’s balls? In the goddamned tuck shop? The fuck is a tuck shop anyway? C’mon you dumb suburban fucks! Let’s wrassle!” Like that, obviously.) World Without End is demanding, pompous and not a little pretentious but weirdly entertaining and endearing for all that, is what I’m getting at. It demands your attention, it demands your concentration. Be in no doubt of that. All of which makes it sound about as appealing as a face full of fox shit, which is wrong. There’s a great deal of fun to be had in the World Without End.

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WORLD WITHOUT END by Higgins, Delano and Starkings

How could a comic as excessive as this not be fun? Delano and Higgins’ joint imagination is deliriously unrestrained. Delano’s wordfloods perfectly complemented by Higgins’ queasy visuals. The World Without End is not just a world different to our current one, it’s a world of living flesh. The sea is called The Chemotion, which is proper wordplay right there, and the landmass, The Host, is a huge kind of suppurating steak adorned with  bone towers and pocked with cavernous fistulas fizzing with infection. All this is portrayed by Higgins in its nauseating glory via gangrenous greens, jaundiced yellows, plum purples and reds the rusty red of dried blood. And upon and within these meatily beating vistas, like tiny mites, swarm strange tribes. Among the bone spires of the city of Bedlam live The Gess, a hypermale society so misogynistic that misogyny’s dainty in comparison. Here women are bred for use purely in rutting rituals, dehumanised to the level of submissive meat. So small a part do woman play in this highly segregated society that a caste of males adopt the trappings of femininity. (They look like fat rouged fools.) Another class in the rigid hierarchy do the science stuff, another bunch fly about in wingsuits in a military fashion and so on, while perched above all others are the Guild Masters, withered old white men who make Tomás de Torquemada look like Uncle Grandpa.

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WORLD WITHOUT END by Higgins, Delano and Starkings

But out in the contusions and welts beyond Bedlam something stirs! Something moonruled and…feminine!  Something called Rumour, curseblessed with the power to create, and with that power comes the power to destroy the virile bliss of The Gess. Faced with the Ultimate Woman The Gess unleash The Ultimate Man. This guy, Brother Bones by name, is a bit of a scene-stealer. It’s pretty fun reading about Rumour wandering beneath the flaps of The Host, discovering the scabbed over ruins of the pastdays, accompanied by her tinman, cowardly lion and scarecrow genemeat equivalents, before running into a bunch of sturdy ladies dressed in sexy doilies and philosophically descended from a cranky Woman’s Studies tutor in a 1970s Polytechnic. That’s all fine and dandy but reading about Brother Bones is better. Brother Bones is a great blunt force trauma of a man. And he’s all man. All the worst bits of man. Which are the best bits, the most entertaining bits. A brutal thug solving all his problems by killing them. While other characters get a bit of syntax fiddlin’ to suggest futcha spik Brother Bones gets his own font, artfully designed by Richard Starkings. So bunged up with testosterone are Brother Bones’ verbal ejaculations they even require a key in the back of the book. Like I said, you’re gonna need to bring your wits to this. The scene is set for a final showdown in the foerever genderwar! Will Men and Women find a way to coexist that doesn’t involve bickering trips to TKMAXX and sullen lawn mowing? Or will their hormonally fuelled ructions tear the world asunder? Or is there…another way? Reading World Without End is the only way to find out, brethren!

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WORLD WITHOUT END by Higgins, Delano and Starkings

World Without End is some trippy shit, m’man. The art and the writing are overheated to the nth degree. Delano likes his language, perhaps even to excess. But in an art form where many of the most successful writers seem to have all the vocabulary of a road sign, it would be churlish to chide someone so enamoured of language as Jamie Delano. Fitting the fleshy theme perfectly the prose here isn’t just purple it’s the deep, dark purple of a bruise. It’s like Delano is on a personal mission to use every adjective in the English language. If he can get an adjective in there he will. If he can get two in, all the better. Three and, well, now we’re getting somewhere. Maybe this is why there is such a dearth of range in modern comic writers’ vocab; Jamie Delano used all the adjectives up back in 1990-91! At first his words seem to resist incorporation into the art, the level of synergy seems lacking. There’s a picture and there are some words atop it, and it takes a bit for the switch to flip, but flip it eventually does and the feverish intensity of both art and script intertwine to create an erotically charged and grotesquely violent paean to  the pleasures and the terrors of the flesh. Higgins’ art can fall into the muddy and Delano’s script is overly verbose but ultimately they feed off each others heated energy to create a whole so ostentatiously Out There!!! it pummels you into submission.

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WORLD WITHOUT END by Higgins, Delano and Starkings

World Without End is a funny one; possibly a bit  too rich for many a palate. There’s plenty wrong with it, but it’s fundamentally redeemed thanks to its disarmingly large ambitions. There’s no getting round the fact that World Without End is ridiculous. But it is magnificently ridiculous, shamelessly so. Unlike most creator owned comics today World Without End is not just the artistic equivalent of the creators presenting themselves like submissive chimps to the rapacious attentions of Television. No, they mean it, man. They really mean it. It’s idiosyncratic stuff that runs roughshod over conformity and then explodes a paint factory just to seal the deal. Flaws and all, World Without End is madness of such driven beauty that even though there is a scene where Rumour asks if this is “what you call…Love?” it is still VERY GOOD!

NEXT TIME: Something, something, COMICS!!!

17 Responses to “ “FEEL THE FLESH.” COMICS! Sometimes I Wanna Know What Love Is! ”

  1. “In [year x] Dover books optimistically released [book y]” pretty well describes the whole business model of their comics division, I think. But bless em for reprinting the Jerome Charyn/Francois Boucq section of the old Catalan catalogue, at least — that’s good stuff

  2. Also, that milkshake tweet thing, fucking hell what is wrong with — I go to say “with people” there, but obviously one of those is not the right word. You know, there’s a sequence in From Hell (“and by Pete Mullins”, as you would say) about how all these fake letters got sent to the press or police that claimed to be from “Jack the Ripper”. All those people pretending to be a homicidal misogynistic maniac, just for their own shits and giggles, with precisely zero consequences for themselves.

    I think about that sequence all the time, basically. That + Patrick Bateman’s CD reviews + Ignatius J. Reilly predicts at least 95% of the way the internet talks about popular culture

  3. Yeah, this is a tough but beautiful read. I usually tear through most graphic novels of this size in a night, but “WWE” took me a week. Well worth reading, but definitely a challenge in spots. (Brother Bonz’ syntax alone takes some time to understand.) I do wonder if Higgins could have had Simon Bisley’s career if this book hadn’t been so diificult.

    As far as Dover books, I give them (and especially Drew Ford) a lot of credit. They reprinted unique and often important work that had been “lost” for years. Not just this or the Charyn works that Jones mentions, but also beautiful editions of “Puma Blues”, Mattotti’s “Fire/Murmur”, and Sam Glanzman’s war comics, plus interesting books like “The Bozz Chronicles” and “Murder by Remote Control”. I’m not sure if Dover is continuing with the graphic novel line, though– I’ve been searching around Amazon, and the only upcoming I’ve been able to find is Don Simpson’s “Border Worlds”. Does anyone know if the imprint folded when Ford left and founded “It’s Alive”?

  4. I’m delighted to see your take on this – it was totally worth the wait! And yes, “magnificently ridiculous” is exactly right. Thank you for granting my wish!

  5. The news of Don Simpson’s “Border Worlds” excites me. I was one of the microscopically few people who loved this science fiction adventure but remember it was left uncompleted. Will this collection finish the story?

  6. The listing on Amazon says “Border Worlds” will collect all previously published material plus a new chapter that completes the saga. The books runs 352 pages with an afterword by Steve Bissette, who has written essays for a lot of the Dover releases. I’ve never read the series, so I’m sure how many pages the new chapter will be. The new chapter in “The Puma Blues” HC was actually the longest story in the book (and really excellent).

  7. Maybe I’ll have to find and dig out my old World Without End comics and read them again if you’re raving about it JohnK (and Patrick generally seems like he has a sensible head on his shoulders too), because all I recall is disappointment.
    It might well benefit from less of the weight of expectation it had at the time, but even so… VERY GOOD seems like a stretch. I’m all for creative ambition and you certainly have to give Delano and Higgins full credit for theirs; but I’m not convinced they were really up to sustaining what could have been a pretty good 48 or 64pg standalone work over the length of a six issue series.

  8. I would probably rate it GOOD myself. Part of it is hindsight– this was a unique, challenging work from a major publisher released at a time when commercial comics were beginning to dumb themselves down. It was such an oddity among DC’s books at the time, even considering books like “Sandman” and “Shade, the Changing Man”, and DC put some considerable push behind it before its lanch with a 6 page preview in certain books and in-house ads. (Delano explains that in his afterward.) Plus, Higgins’ art was absolutely stunning, beautiful and gross at the same time, depicting this world in all its oozing glory. It’s very much in line with what Bisley and Colin MacNeil were doing at the time, but with scorching colors that could have come from Richard Corben or Rick Veitch.

    That said, it is goofy in places and often reads like William S Burroughs fanfic, so I wouldn’t blame anyone for not liking it. It’s pretty much a textbook example of “not for everyone.”

  9. Patrick, Alan Moore does Burroughs fanfic better.

    The promotion of WWE reminded me a lot of Ronin, as if DC’s idea of the future of comics at the start of the 90s had suddenly reverted back to the early 80s, like they actually still thought there might be a sizeable audience of “mature readers” for comics not about kiddie superhero stuff.
    Which was kind of appropriate, what with WWE clearly shaped by post-New Worlds sf and Metal Hurlant, which had been influencing the more interesting British writers since the end of the 70s.
    You can see it in the more way out work of Pat Mills, which seems an obvious reference point here, particularly Nemesis(even if John hadn’t already mentioned Torquemada:) and I reckon the earlier “books” show how that kind of work benefits from tighter writing.

    Of course, Mills had the advantage of working with Kevin O’Neill. Sorry, Patrick, but I have to disagree with you about John Higgins – he clearly worked like a dog on WWE and while he certainly didn’t embarrass himself, he just isn’t a Bisley or Corben level stylist either.
    (Bisley isn’t to my taste generally – give me a Fabry Slaine any day – but he clearly has that extra something)

  10. @Patrick Given that “Border Worlds” ran something like 8 or 9 comic book sized issues, the concluding chapter sounds as if it’ll be at least 80 pages if we assume the original comic book issues had 24 page installments. So I’m definitely keeping an eye out for this.

  11. Yeah, I would agree that “Nemesis” is definitely a touchstone for “WWE” and there’s also a huge debt to the kind of stuff Dionnet and Bilal were doing in “Metal Hurlant” in the ’70s, too. So, yeah, there’s definitely something almost “throwback” to “WWE”. “WWE” doesn’t even come close to the best of “Nemesis”. That said, I feel like “Nemesis”, while unimpeachably good in its first few books, gets very self-indulgent in the stretch-run, even more so than “WWE”. I guess the traditional line in the sand is when Talbot leaves, and while I actually really like Hinckenton’s art, I’d argue that’s when Mills hits that point where he seems more interested in being clever than entertaining, something that seems to happen in a lot of his long-running series. (Except “Charley’s War”, which is pretty excellent until its last book.) I actually found it a chore to finish “Nemesis”, which had been one of my favorite “2000AD” series. I mean, I crack up all the time just thinking about Torquemada walking into Candide’s room and saying, “It’s me. Tom-Tom”, one of my favorite moments in all of comics.

    So, what I guess I’m trying to say is that “WWE” would be second tier “2000AD”, which is still kind of a good place to be.

  12. Be pure, be vigilant, BEHAVE, Brother Patrick – and don’t forget to watch out for the freckled pipil!
    Thats pretty much my take on Nemesis too, although I’d say you get the sense of Mills starting to lose it over the course of Talbot’s run – but the return of O’Neill and then, even though he was still finding his voice, the arrival of Hicklenton are pretty good examples of how a distinctive artist can go some way to picking up the creative slack left by the writer with that kind of fantasy.
    A bit like how casting Sean Connery and Charlotte Rampling could make a film at least watchable (yep, Zardoz reference there).

    The better end of 2000AD isn’t a bad place to be, but WWE needed to be more than that; although whether it still does over twenty five years later (yikes!) is open to question I suppose…

  13. I may have to pull this out of the longboxes in the attic and see how it reads today. I, like Sean, remember being disappointed at the time. But it’s interesting what you (John) see in the language. Comics went from lots of captions and lots of words, then character voiceovers taking the place of captions (largely due to Dark Knight?), to a philosophy of show, don’t tell. I miss actually reading a comic and hearing the voice of the writer a bit. Maybe it’s too much to go all the way back, but I wonder of the pendulum might swing back to return some of the words to reading these things.

    Thanks John (and Mark). An interesting idea for a great review!

  14. Geez, this one took off! Cool beans! Sorry, but the world has required my attention so you’ve all been left bereft of my gratitude, but it’s here and there’s plenty of it!

    @Jones, one of the Jones boys: Ha! I’ve already got those Charyn /Bouquet books on my wish list waiting for an ‘Ology sale! The Magicians Wife and, uh, one with some guy with a tattooed torso on the cover? No flies on moi!

    Man, that milkshakery thing. People? I mean… I got no answers there. Like your definition of the Internet, though. Like it a lot! Wish for the sake of our species that it wasn’t so spot on. I dunno, it just seems there are too few consequences to bad behaviour these days. (He said, sounding like he was about to shout about people on his lawn.) Man, Bateman’s CD reviews are something we all aspire to equal. Christ, that book’s funny (as is A Confederacy of Dunces, natch). I would never have thought to credit Pete Mullins, so you bested me there, sirrah!

    @Mark Simmons: Oh, it was your fault was it! Sorry, I couldn’t find your comment so I couldn’t credit you. Thank you for making me take another look at this neglected, uh, oddity. Glad you liked it. I enjoyed doing it. Cheers!

    @Patrick, @Peter @Sean: Awesome discussion there. Bringing in all the good(?) stuff (Burroughs,Nemesis,New Worlds, etc) WWE is echoing. Wide ranging and pinpoint sharp stuff! Taught me a couple of things, I tell ya!
    Key to my rating is the ridiculousness of WWE. It’s totally self indulgent stuff. And that’s going to mark it down if you’re not into the stuff it’s indulging itself in.
    And it’s definitely Fabry, Bisley then Higgins for me. Fabry’s just amazing.

    Also, Don Simpson is another amazing artist, and you can count me in on the Border Worlds Whoo-Hoo Club. I’ve never read it, but you can’t beat a bit of Don Simpson, so I’m in! Thanks for the heads up.

    @Rich Larson: Yeah, they definitely don’t write ’em like that anymore. Which is a shame. I like “hearing” the authorial voice too. Done badly it’s awful (hi, 1970s comics!), but there’s a sweet balance where you have both words and pictures working together which, to me, is the ideal of comics (by writer/artist teams. A single pair of hands is a different kettle of fish). But I am old, and that’s what I was reared on. My lad would probably just plump for pictures with dialogue, and who is to say he’s wrong? (Me. I’m his dad, so it’s my house my rules.)

    Thanks to everyone for a delightful and illuminating series of comments. Lovely stuff.

    Probably be a bit of a break now, but I’ll be on it like Sonic once this busy patch passes.

    Keep spurning laxity!

  15. Well, if nothing else, this thread probably got more people talking about “World Without End” in the last week than in all the years since it was originally published.

    I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next column, John. No matter how long it takes, it’s always worth the wait!

  16. Ah, now I’m feeling all nostalgic about the days of florid narrative captions drenched in literary pretension. That’s one of the things I always enjoyed about Pete Milligan (a lot of the narration from “The Enigma” was very memorable) and John Smith. That style definitely seems to have fallen out of fashion, but I think Smith still does it.

  17. Funny how that works – you can enjoy that aspect of Jamie Delano’s writing at the same time as groaning at some of it.
    While digging out my issues of WWE the other day I found an old copy of Chaykin and Delany’s Empire, reminding me that in the quest for “maturity” English language comics tried ditching the word balloons first. That didn’t last anywhere near as long as getting rid of the captions…

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