Proteus Vex Volume 1 ‘Another Dawn’
Mike Carroll, Henry Flint, Simon Bowland.
By James Bacon: Today, Thursday, March 18 in the UK, Proteus Vex Volume 2 ‘The Shadow Councilor’ has just come to a close in Prog 2223 of 2000AD, yet this story started in the dying days of 2019 and has been a huge hit here.
Proteus Vex is an incredible piece of comic book work, from the stable of 2000AD, home of many legendary science fictional comic stories. Michael Carroll and Henry Flint came up with a fresh and unexpected set of characters, and a very unique look for a science fictional Space Opera, that has proven hugely popular. Volume 1 ‘Another Dawn’ began in the Christmas Mega Special issue Prog 2161 and continued every week until Prog 2171.
The story starts, explaining how fourteen centuries of War was brought to an end, a horrific and definitive end. The Obdurates, an incredibly strong and powerfully aggressive system-conquering and consuming race were defeated when the Alliance teleported a dying white dwarf star into the Obdurate home system, killing billions. Forty years later, we join Proteus Vex, eponymous character of the story, battle hardened veteran of the Alliance for the Imperium Ascendent, now an Ascendent operative, elite soldier, brutal fixer, whose companion is his prisoner, Midnight Indicating Shame. He is suddenly tasked with finding Chancellor Rho 7 Baryon, a senior member of the Imperium Ascendent who had gone missing. There is more at play than just a missing person, while we learn more about this incredible galaxy and the history of the War, we are confronted with the grittiness of postwar planets, where Obdurates are randomly beaten, and many species have grudges and issues. We learn about Flesh Pilots, a being who can enter the body, to live off it and repair it, block pain but possessing one can also mean being possessed, and sharing the memories of the previous hosts through the Flesh Pilot. As Midnight Indicating Shame asks, which is the real you, when she sees one doing its work on its host.
Vex’s own history, and willingness to do anything to win the war at any cost, demonstrates his character but like many aspects to the story this is multilayered, and we learn sufficient without the pace slowing down. The story is narrated in the past tense, as if we are learning of a history, and sometimes there is a contradiction or unsureness about what happened, or it is noted as being a fictional account, as we see it occur on the page, which really adds to the reader’s perspective. In many regards it is as if we are being curated through history, while also being allowed to see what actually happened, and this is entertaining in its own right, as our guide presents the past as best they can.
There is a concise tidiness to the storytelling, despite so much going on, the tightness that ably draws it together for the reader, throwing complex ideas, and presenting a brand new science fictional universe in a way that allows the reader to grasp the depth to the worlds and peoples portrayed while neither spoon-feeding nor leaving the reader wondering ‘what the feck!?!’ Indeed, while there is wonderment and excitement and great twists, it is delicately done to ensure comprehension. Midnight Indicating Shame is a wonderful character and she is much more than she seems, initially her large eyes and soft appearance and indeed, somewhat interesting approach to her captor bely what she is.
There are other subtle clever touches to the story telling. The title of the volume gets name-checked when Vex says of a character; “He’s never going to see another dawn”, and is a play on how the alliance teleported a star into the heart of the Obdurate Empire’s solar system, which gets explained, and demonstrates both coercion and entrapment. Elsewhere language and terminologies are adeptly worked here to entertain, even the cursing is a bit brilliant, utilizing a known term in abusive ways. The whole world building is magnificent, but this is also strengthened with the design and art of Henry Flint.
Mike Carroll has admitted that Flint took his story and imagined it in ways he had not anticipated, and while he had expected a trenchcoat-wearing verteran on a mission that is messy, a science fictional thriller on an epic scale, the utterly different look, be it Vex’s ship, that he is a species with no nose, or that he wears a full body suit including a face mask in bright colors and symbols, just feel fresh and truly alien, allowing further immersion into the science fictional universe that feels both different yet believable. Flint has been recognized as an incredible artist, whose Judge Dredd work is with the best from the comic, and to see him skillfully create such a variety of creatures, looks, technologies, and present such a vibrant and dynamic sequential story of this class, is testament to his artistic abilities.
This is best science fiction comic to come from Britain and Ireland last year and one of my favorites of 2020.
Volume 1 of Proteus Vex came to a close in March 2020, and fans eagerly look forward to a collection, Volume 2 ‘The Shadow Chancellor’ began in December 2020, starting with issues 2212, with Jake Lynch and Jim Boswell taking on the art duties, but continuing what was an excellent start with familiarly good work, with new elements fitting in nicely. It is now finished and has been an absolutely stunning piece of work.
Proteus Vex Vol 1 one was in 2000AD Progs 2162 to 2171 and Vol 2 in 2000AD Prog 2212 to 2221, which is out today.
2000AD Prog 2214 cover by Neil Roberts
2000AD Prog 2165 cover by D’Israeli
Interior art by Henry Flint