Originally appearing in the Judge Dredd Megazine and 2000AD during the early 1990s, this book collects the first Devlin Waugh stories in one handy volume.
The book starts with Swimming in Blood, which takes up about a third of the book’s 280 pages. It introduces Devlin, the Vatican’s best agent in the battle against the supernatural, as he investigates a vampiric uprising in an underwater prison. This is a classic sci-fi/horror cross-over, mixing the claustrophobic atmosphere of a futuristic prison with a vampire plague that’s sweeping through it.
Devlin’s camp, outgoing, optimistic outlook on life is a treat to read in this story, giving a comedic depth to his otherwise over-the-top hardman personality. He’s brain as well as brawn, as witty as a character from an Oscar Wilde play, blended with an in-your-face wrestler, with a good dash of conflicting religious suppression thrown in for good measure.
However, by the end of the story, Devlin’s character goes through an enforced change, which we won’t go into in too much detail about so we don’t risk spoiling it for potential readers who don’t already know. There’s a brief respite in the following chapter – a short story in which he takes on Judge Dredd at Mega City One’s customs control. But soon after his personality is withdrawn and this occult superstar showman is reduced to a much more vulnerable character. While this adds a certain extra dimension to his story, it subdues him significantly, which we found something of a shame.
In the story that follows, Devlin’s extravagant exploits of the past are hinted at, which makes you wish you could read more about them. Instead we’re given a bleak apocalyptic storyline, which sees Devlin battling against an evil that threatens to destroy the world.
This starts off exciting, with thieves breaking into the Vatican’s archive of holy relics, like the introduction to an Indiana Jones movie. However, it turns out to be a fairly flat battle against a series of monsters that rarely live up to their initial build-up. The dialogue is crammed with confusing pseudo-magical-religious monologues, which do little more that to slow down the action.
So the book is very much a game of too halves. It feels like the classic Devlin is fun and different, but with a hard edge that keeps him exciting. But he loses that somewhere along the way, perhaps becoming more mainstream as he moves from an early experimental existence in the Judge Dredd Megazine to the more mainstream pages of 2000AD.