Our Lord
An Apology for Horror

b y   A n d y   R o b e r t s o n

Interzone 90 (1994)

  Horror spotSAVOY'S WEIRD, FLAWED BUT FASCINATING Lord Horror sequence continues with Reverbstorm by David Britton, art by John Coulthart, issues 1-3 of which have materialised in our office. There is no real point in making this review a defence of the whole Lord Horror ethos, comics, novel, music and all: if it be admitted that this is a genuinely vicious body of work, it is at least one which attempts real violations of real contemporary moral norms, and not just the usual tepid pantomimes of moral rebellion. Savoy flay and mock the cherished values of the Disestablishment with the same vigour that they use to cut away more conventional taboos, and if the result is not quite the perfect graphic novel it is certainly a very interesting one.

There is no easily coherent or explainable plot to Reverbstorm, though there is at least a vague linkage with the earlier parts of the series. Horror, the alternate version of that Lord Haw-Haw who was executed by the Allies after the war, cut adrift in time and space, now broadcasts to Amerika from Torenbürgen—a sort of post-millennial fusion of Hell, New York and Auschwitz—as he once broadcast to England from Berlin. Some sort of supernatural attack is mustering, focused on his wife, unleashed by an armoured demoness whose nature remains enigmatic. As the city mutates from death-camp industrial sump to world capital to transcendent ghetto, Horror takes on by turns the roles of rock star, ambassador, wizard, street fighter and aesthete.

This is above all a series which tries to shock, and it sometimes loses force through sheer self-indulgence. Reverbstorm #1, for instance, terminates with James Joyce down on his knees and fisting right past the elbow a street punk whose throat he has just cut, and this episode is pretty mild compared to some of what follows (in this legendarium the author of Ulysses is claimed as Horror's brother). Unfortunately such episodes can provoke more mirth than disgust. Subtlety is definitely not Savoy's strong suit; there are too many fight scenes for my taste, an emphasis on violence for its own sake which only loses effect through continual repetition, and the plot line is perhaps too slow moving and diffuse. The first issue gives away enough to understand what is going on, and the second concentrates effectively on depicting the violent and aberrant sexuality of the protagonists, but the third really seems to mark time, doing little to illuminate either the characters or the storyline.

Despite these qualifiers, this really is excellent work. I have rarely read a comic which demands so much thought and attention. Each issue is a kaleidoscopic combination of art, poetry, photographs and text, much of it meant to communicate a mood rather than directly carry on the story. The juxtapositions are delightfully eclectic (as when Belloc's poem The Frog is illustrated by a man in bizarre bondage gear, or part of Yeats's Under Ben Bulben subtitles Horror as le pendule waiting to ambush a police patrol). Coulthart's dark, clogged artwork is superb, and the capsules of surreal prose which are periodically embedded in the larger work are each of them little windows of madness. If only it were slightly closer and tighter, slightly less prone to sheer display, it would be very good indeed.

In the past both the comic Lord Horror and its sidekick Meng & Ecker have been banned as obscene and confiscated, and the same fate has befallen Lord Horror the novel. On top of the official persecution, Savoy have had to deal with almost universal opprobrium from the artistic establishment, having been condemned as tasteless, racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, gratuitously violent, sexist and, again, obscene (and to add to all his other sins Horror is apparently a dedicated family man, who has been deeply in love with one woman for more than 60 years). These accusations are accurate, though of course they apply to Horror and his coterie, not his creators, so it's a bit difficult to explain why I admire these magazines. Partly because it is refreshing to see something which sets out to shock both our self-appointed groups of censors; partly because of the very high, if variable, quality; but mostly because the sheer darkness of Savoy's anti-heroes is true to humanity and history in a way which other recent work fails to be.

Horror, as old as our century, moves forward into the new millennium as the authentic ambassador of Buchenwald, Hiroshima and Babi Yar. His was a version of our time where Churchill was a warmonger who sent steam tick-tock men to off his brilliant rival; where Hitler was a giggling decadent he bedded; and where questions of literary taste were debated by razor. Not the real century, no, but perhaps the real century with the skin taken off. I await Reverbstorm 4 with interest.

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