Sláine by Pat Mills and various artists

(moderate spoilers)

One of my favourite mythic cycles is the Ulster Cycle, that often driven by Cú Chulainn. It’s entrancing in its wildness, its ferocity, its tragedy. One of the things that has drawn me to the comic Slaine over the years is the certainty Pat Mills must feel similarly about the Ulster Cycle.

Slaine is the tale of an Irish hero from mythic times, taking the name and a fragment of the context of Sláine mac Dela, the first High King of Ireland according to the Book of Invasions. Our Sláine, Sláine Mac Roth, also takes bits and pieces from different figures. He has the warp spasm of Cú Chulainn, the love story of Naoise and Deidre (with happier ending), and a lot of Conan the Cimmerian’s attitude for good measure. We meet Sláine first as a wandering mercenary and adventurer and through the stories follow him as he becomes a king in war time, a disgruntled high king in peace, and a time traveling goddess’ chosen super-warrior.

The series peaks for me with Sláine as a king, uniting the tribes and fighting off the Drunes (evil druids) and Formorians. The storyline is at its most epic and poignant, the thematic play on masculinity and barbarism interesting, the Lord Weird Slough Feg is an outstanding villain and the art is gorgeous. These two collections, Slaine the King and The Horned God, mostly feature Glenn Fabry and Simon Bisley and their work is outstanding.

The comics before feature a great deal of inter-dimensional villains and hidden alien puppetmasters behind the human race in a way that feel quite Moorcockian, a bit Invisibles-esque, and very 80s. I enjoy it, I recommend it, but there’s nothing special about it. The time travelling after, in which Sláine pops up through history to help the Celts/Pagans against various threats under the domination of alien puppetmasters, came over as very preachy, with a particular loudness when Sláine complains about “One True Way” Christianity before switching seamlessly to proclaiming the One True Way of worshipping the Goddess. I think it’s also the weakest storylines as there’s absolutely nothing personal at stake for Sláine in the majority of them, but I might be getting swayed by the feeling of preachiness.

Still, there’s a reason Sláine has now gone on for nearly forty years. If you’re looking for a bloody-handed axe-wielding madman of a hero, in a tale alive with all the lyrical and grandiose splendour of the ancient Gaelic myth, Sláine is a nigh compulsory tale to try.

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