A Look Back on Slaine: The Horned God
Slaine had his debut in 1983, was popularized by Angela Kincaid’s original drawings and Pat Mill’s innovative and authentic writing style. Slaine overtook the leading figure of Judge Dredd in 2000AD in terms of popularity, this was an incredible feat for Kincaid as this had been her first foray into the world of comics. Slaine charts the adventures of the titular Slaine MacRoth around Celtic Europe somewhere around the golden age of the Celts. His stories are drenched with the heady mix of Celtic / Gaelic legends and a sprinkling of Lovecraftian demonic dimension bending elder Gods. Mixing elements of Science Fiction and Fantasy in a unique manner, this bloody and poetic epic has captivated readers for several decades. There’s influences from modern Paganism, Robert E Howard and having been written by Pat Mills, there’s a few salient points regarding politics thrown into the mix as well.
Slaine is a mighty warrior and he wields his powerful weapon the axe names “Brainbiter” and rides to battle shouting his battlecry “Kiss my Axe” as he frequently smashes headlong into vast enemy forces. The resulting melee often results in blood, brains and various manner of human viscera coating the panels as he emerges victorious from another fight. He has one form of Superpower, this is known as The Warp Spasm, where a powerful energy coming from Mother Earth charges through his body and changes his size and structure in monstrous ways.
This frenzy is based on the legends of Celtic warriors such as Cu Chulainn, Bran the Blessed and even King Arthur. Where the warrior in the battlefield changes into a terrifying monster, unstoppable and capable of rending the limbs of friends and foes alike. Slaine is accompanied by Ukko, a dwarf who is fond of women and beer and above all money! He is an untrustworthy character and provides much of the comic relief through the series. He is used as a narrative framing mechanic in The Horned God as he recounts Slaine’s heroic actions many years later.
The Horned God is the most famous of the Slaine sagas, featuring beautiful art by Simon Bisley. It was the first comic book which I had chanced upon and truly loved, it was also the first comic book which was seized, confiscated and destroyed by my mother. She was truly horrified by the violent and blasphemous images spread across it’s pages. It had opened a new world for me, a world of rich mythology and characters who developed in a realistic manner. This was truly my first experience of an Adult comic and the memory of it never left me. I have chosen this particular title to introduce the character as I believe that it is the most accessible to the new Slaine reader. It can also be experienced as a stand – alone story without having read the previous titles in the series.
The Horned God sees Slaine fighting various battles as he attempts to find the lost treasures of Ireland and unite the various warring clans. Through all of this there’s a personal apotheosis burgeoning which will see him transformed into the famous Celtic figure of The Horned God and eventually become the High King of Ireland. The overall narrative is peppered with political and religious commentaries which still can cause strife even in this modern age. Mills uses the cipher of Slaine to question the Christian world view to a certain extent and delivers theological and mythic punches in a manner that very few writers are capable of.
There’s a powerful villain who has tormented Slaine in previous stories – The Lord Weird Slough Feg, whose relationship with Slaine is finally revealed in The Horned God. He personifies the Celtic myth of the old God who has continued for too long and his reign is one that has marked the land with a lack or growth and stagnation. The Villain is also a form of hero and it’s this form of literary genius that Mills brings to the personal narratives within Slaine. Epics are generally so sweeping that they forget the importance of strong characterisation and motivations which the reader can emphasise with.
There’s a strong ecological message which runs through this narrative and it links to the old stories of The Fisher King saga from Arthurian myth. The land being tied to the virility of the current ruler. Pat Mills has an enviable ability to celebrate heroic fantasy in this narrative. As a theologian I was fascinated by the interplay of narrative which challenged the traditional virtues of religion and juxtaposed these with the nature of spirituality.
The art of Simon Bisley is in full force here, with the entire world captured in bold hues and stunning line strokes. This was one of the first 2000AD stories to be painted rather than traditionally illustrated and it’s powerful and at times in your face with it’s visceral nature. The women are sexual creatures, every inch the equal to the men characters, the men are huge masculine warrior beasts and each character is compelling and wonderfully designed. If ever you wanted to grasp a fundamental understanding of how special the comic book media is, due to it’s synthesis between the writers narrative and the artists, this is it.