Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened once a month to champion a book that we adore. This week Arpad recommends ‘Sláine: The Horned God Collector’s Edition’, available in print from Rebellion Publishing and 2000 AD on September 3.

Cover to ‘Sláine: The Horned God Collectors Edition’. Art: Simon Bisley/2000 AD/Rebellion Publishing

by Arpad Okay. From the first, Sláine lets you know its world of weird creatures from sea, sky, and rock are metaphors. Ireland itself is the warrior who emerges from the Cauldron of Blood, a living earth grown from the womb of the ocean, a story more enduring than the life of man. Pat Mills and Simon Bisley have fashioned a mad saga for it, written in pulp.

Sláine stands as an interesting counterpoint to most Arthurian legendary warriors. Where a knight is a man big enough to make choices worthy of his size, Sláine submits to the power Arthur tries to traffic. It isn’t evil, but, skyclad, to channel the power of the land, Sláine is to be turned into a demon—a flayed man mirrored, then the mirror is broken, and the demon rolled in the shards. I am at a loss for words to describe the surgical accuracy and Eldritch unreality both contained in Bisley’s arresting visions.

Like reading Prince Valiant while you’re on mescaline. Dicks are literally swinging and its because a dress over breasts is as profane as a city built to cover the Earth. An audacious tale of war that takes breaks to tell you why killing everybody you can and sleeping with whoever’s left is a noble pursuit, actually, and Mills is talented enough to pull it off. Humanity, even in the heart of Ukko the Dwarf.

Like any ancient Epic or other work of note found in 2000 AD, the pace is very pulpy: goofy names and ominous reputations for absolutely everything, but mostly it just reads fast and smutty. The living vessel for the creator of all being is laying out the fundamental flaws in how organized religion reshapes their land’s culture and Sláine is busy trying to get his dick wet and somehow this is unironically a fucking classic.

Everybody from Black Orchid to Tank Girl took a page from Bisley’s book of kills. Sláine has got some truly electric colors, but heavy metal is about the cycle of magic. Yeah that’s skulls and destruction, but it’s also conception and birth and growth. The flowers of a goddess burn with the vulnerability of intimacy. The blue skies on which bloody flags fly show this, the colors of love and generation come through even when the battlefield is at its most disturbing. Then Bisley’s style trades art museum (or at least pulp paperback) William Blake paintings for airbrush spray and ambiguity. A red fog obscures the grit and mud, amber ember ochre colored pencils shape faces out of the fire. Inside, Sláine burns for his son.

Sláine is mostly surrealist muscle pornography. The combination of obsessively accurate anatomy with a slick finish like acrylic gives bodies a queasy fluidity. Sláine looks like X-Men flexing, looks like butcher counter meat wrapped in its own casing (shiny), then bent unreal into fly-eye fractals by berserker rage. Salvador Dalí would love this beautiful ugliness. Horse skull with painted red stripes, wearing a spired cowl of more skulls, and a little Shade: the Changing Man jacket from another dimension, every panel of this book could be a thrash metal record album cover. They are creatures that evoke jump scare video games from the turn of this century. But in Easter colors and the armor filigree and riding a giant elk. Sláine is its own.

In the end, do the metaphors stand intact? Violence rules Sláine as death will dominate any conversation about war, taking up all the space with visions awesome and hideous. The old gods struck awe. They struck blows. They drew blood. Mills and Bisley indulge the old horny toad who can’t lift a sword telling his tale of spectacle and manslaughter as they do his editor, the sweet keeper of the story behind the story. Sláine, a folk tale and all the cryptic wisdom, unbound cruelty, and bawdy jibes that come with.

2000 AD / Rebellion Publishing / $24.99

Written by Pat Mills.

Illustrated by Simon Bisley.

Letters by Steve Potter.

‘Sláine: The Horned God Collector’s Edition’ will be available in a 2000 AD webshop-exclusive edition and digital on May 28. It hits stores on September 3. You can preorder it now. (Diamond Code: MAR202064)

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Check out this 6-page preview of ‘Sláine: The Horned God Collector’s Edition’, courtesy of Rebellion Publishing and 2000 AD!

More Required Reading…

‘Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns and Moonage Daydreams’ an illuminated glam rock grimoire

Lorena Alvarez’s sumptuous ‘Hicotea’ a bucolic celebration of life

‘Ryuko’ a singular vision of terrific wrath and even fiercer mercy