League of Volunteers – Irish alternate history and mythology mix
Today we have a nice treat with a new guest review of some interesting sounding work coming out of the Irish Indy comics scene, so please welcome James Bacon stepping up to the reviewing plate:
This quickly paced comic neatly sets us up for a story that mixes Irish mythology with the
genre of superheroes in a fantastical alternate history setting. Crucially, it’s the way that the
myths and historical aspects are dealt with so well that makes this comic so special.
Volunteer is a strong term in Ireland, meaning much more than someone who gives time, what with the Irish Volunteers being one of the organisations involved in the 1916 Rising and the term in Irish being used by later republican groups. Irish mythology, rich as it is with stories from word of mouth, which has entertained over the centuries, and all children in Ireland have heard of Fionn McCumhaill, is something which takes real skill to incorporate into modern fiction and here neatly transposed into a world of Masked righters of wrongs, a creature who wailed on the same battlefield as Cú Chulainn is summoned. Brilliance.
Set in ‘the Emergency’, the time of Ireland’s neutrality during the Second World War, the comic first introduces The Druid in the second century, having a vision and transporting himself to where he predicts a great fight will occur, and darkness will befall, and other fighters will need his help.
We are then in 1941 and find a group of Germans landing in Ireland in a Messerschmitt 323 ‘Gigant’ transport plane, assisted by a spy. The Nazis are intent on setting up machinery to call forth a legendry evil to help them with their war.
The Glimmer man and The Archer interrupt these activities and destroy the Nazi’s equipment, but not before the Nazis summon an immortal of pure evil into the world, one who had been imprisoned in a void by Cú Chulainn. This creature, the Bocanach, soon rejects with curt actions any idea of working with the Nazis as he confronts the leader of the Nazis and uses his powers to see what their power really is, and sees it as bankrupt compared to his own.
The Bocanach is a Celtic mythological demon of the battlefield. In lore it is goat-like, and is said to have shrieked when Ferdia and Cú Chulainn fought during The Cattle Raid on Cooley. Here we see it portrayed as a powerful sword wielding demon, with a goat skull for a head.
As the pace slows for a moment, we can see that the Druid in the guise of a crow has been watching all. At the scene of battle, with the German soldiers slain, we find there is time for intrigue in the relationship between the Glimmerman and The Archer as the Glimmerman raises the issue of the Spanish Civil War.
Undoubtedly comparisons with Hellboy and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen will occur, and in fairness there is commonality, but this is in no way a derivative work, and is in actual fact worthy to stand next to these better known comics as another fine example of the unusual superhero team that is mixing history, mythology and comic heroes together.
In simple lines, more is alluded to—there is reference to a group of mystery men and women in the thirties, and how De Velara has formed a new division within G2 of meta-humans. Catherine Malone, once the Emerald Scorpion, now cryptographer, is second generation; her father was the original Scorpion who fought on the Western front as well as being a member of the Wild Geese. These teasing pieces of information are so stuffed of ideas and potential. For instance in a short piece of dialogue we are given insight into the history of one of the characters, the Archer, who fought on the royalist side during the Spanish Civil War, while we also meet the Red Scorpion, daughter of Black Scorpion. It’s all beautifully worked in and these glimpses of how and what is going on in this parallel world is great.
Our title, League of Volunteers, indicates those who have stepped forward to fight. The army of The Irish Free state had a G2 department. This was the military intelligence agency in Ireland during the emergency, and although you would be right to think that the term G-man if applied in the 40s would obviously be derived from the usage by American gangsters for men of the FBI, in 1919 there was a ‘G’ Division in the Dublin Metropolitan Police, which was a specific anti-guerrilla force, and the term G-man was used.
It’s this sort of historical understanding, that makes the comic shine. It’s not some ersatz form of schlock anglicised rubbish, churned out in some diddley-di fashion. You don’t need to understand the historical undercurrents to get the story, but there is depth here, that as an Irish reader, made me smile, and may intrigue readers who may not share that level of historical understanding and yet may desire to know more. There’s no lack of confidence or need to change Philosopher’s Stone to Sorcerer’s Stone among these lads.
The artwork is neat and clean and captures the mood, intensity and also action to good effect. There is definite detail in much of the technology, and Barry Keegan must have done some research, while the flow of the comic is smooth and nicely done. Keegan’s artwork is neat, expertly detailed in places, and it follows the pace of the story very well. The comic is black and white, but here, greyscale is used to add a not so much a noir as a 40’s sentiment and this adds nicely to the feel of the story.
Irish mythology is ripe for this type of story, while the genre of superheroes is still very strong, there can be no denying the rise of War, Western and crime comics in the 21st century, and here we have a superb mix of well researched history and mythology and great superhero action in one package.