MAKE WITH THE FUNNY COMICS: SINISTER DEXTER
BY LUKE FOSTER
And this is Downlode, where a pair of hit men named Finnegan Sinister and Ramone Dexter has been entertaining readers of “2000 AD” since the mid-1990s.Sinister Dexter
is the brainchild of Dan Abnett, who came up with the strip while pitching several ideas for the magazine. Sinister and Dexter are “gun sharks,” hit men for the mob in the future European city of Downlode. They are the prima killerinas (their phrase, not mine) of their city, killing for money but never killing innocents. Completely unlike any other comic book hit men, of course.
The two were originally based on Vince and Jules from “Pulp Fiction,” but quickly outgrew their templates and into characters with their own lives, quirks, and histories. They started off as employees of mob boss Holy Moses Tannenbaum, but after killing him they went to work for Demi Octavo, his successor. When she died they went to work for either themselves or the mysterious mob boss Apellido.
They don't always work alone, though. The two are often aided by a number of people but mostly by Billi Octavo, a computer genius and Demi's little sister. The two got her out of a tough scrape once, and now look after her almost like their own sister. Ain't that sweet.
Downlode itself is almost a character. Even though it’s a place and not a person, it has a personality all it’s own, and you really get the sense that it’s an overpopulated, overly large city in the middle of Europe. Many stories start off with the phrase “And this is Downlode…” with a little phrase or snippet of words like “the city that plays to win” or “the city that started up and never stopped.” They say so much with so little.Sinister Dexter
has appeared quite a lot in the pages of “2000 AD” since its creation, and especially since I started reading the magazine in 2001. In fact, using a scientific process known as “guesstimating,” I’d say from 2001 to present the strip was second in appearances only to “Judge Dredd.” I may be wrong, but don’t expect me to correct myself if I am. This is the Internet, for crying out loud. I don’t need to correct myself on the Internet. And don’t think I’m going to spend time counting just to satisfy your numbers fetish, Professor Nerd.
While not every story is an out-and-out comedy, even the more serious ones have an undercurrent of humor. Like when Finny is trying to rescue Ray from an impossible situation, his ridiculous daydreams of his plan succeeding provide light moments in a fairly grim story. And when the boys were out in space on a mission, they had to pretend to be drag queen slaves of Billi in order to keep from being killed. They make ugly women, let me tell you.
But beyond that, there are subtler jokes seeded throughout each story. Abnett clearly knows the mechanics and art of the written word, and knows how to use sounds or spellings of words to humorous effect. So many jokes come from the clever use of words that sound or look the same, from the subtle to a groaner of a pun.
A lot of jokes are made out of the characters’ names. Sinister and Dexter mean “left” and “right,” respectively. Then there's Holy Moses Tannenbaum, Rocky Rhodes, Kal Cutter, Genghis Karnage, and Wendy Go, for example. I’m sure even the names I don’t immediately recognize as jokes are jokes, too, just a little too subtle for me to comprehend.
Then there are the businesses in Downlode. You could get breakfast at “Breakfast Epiphanies” or buy a rug at Underlay! Underlay! Arriba!”
Then there are the throwaway word jokes. For example, once Finny and Ray were at a strip club, and the scene cut away to another character. When it cut back to them, the narrator's box said, “Meanwhile, back at the raunch...” Or the time they were talking about movies, and Sinister mentioned one about “impoverished porcelain manufacturers during the Depression.” It's title? “Of Meissen Men.”
Abnett also loves using exaggerated accents to make jokes, whether it's someone from England speaking, or the very thick Belgian accent of an Hercule Poirot send-up.
Even though there's a bit of seriousness, there are plenty of stories that are done just for the sake of laughs. Like the time Finnegan and Ramone were told to clear out a house Apellido owned that people thought was haunted, only for them to discover there were probably real ghosts there. Watching grown men running away like scared children is always good for a laugh. Or an early Christmas story, where they had to stop two gangs from killing each other so Demi could enjoy the holidays. The two gun sharks told the gangs to set aside their differences and play soccer, just like the armies did during World War I. But unlike now, the balls during the Great War didn’t have bombs in them.
Or, there was the time the two were hired to protect a very rich woman from assassination. The entire story, which was a combination of being a funny one-off and a showcase for Abnett's skill with words, was entirely from the perspective of the woman, who spoke through the entire event on her cell phone. Sinister and Dexter only got one piece of dialog each in the last panel of the story.
In the duo’s most recent appearance (as of this writing, anyway), Sinister and Dexter were at the movies when the trailer for the movie about their life story appeared on the screen. Things were exaggerated or flat-out wrong, Dex was annoyed that he looked metrosexual, and their dialog was horrible. This is why you should never sell out to Hollywood.
There were even a few prose stories in the year-end special issues of “2000 AD.” Abnett wrote one of them like a boys adventure story from the 1950s or '60s, totally sending them up and mocking the blatant racism and sexism of those tales.Sinister Dexter
is one of the few comics to appear in both “2000 AD” and “Judge Dredd Megazine.” They starred in a few one-page gag strips in the latter, with a set-up leading to one punch line at the end. My personal favorite is the one where the two pretended to be bouncers at a very exclusive club. I can't tell you why, though, because it would ruin the whole twist at the end. Don't worry, I'm gonna spoil plenty in a minute.
Sinister and Dexter have had quite an interesting ride in the last few years, so if you're new and want to catch up, read on. If you don’t want to know what they’ve been up to, stop reading now. Like meat that’s been out in the sun, things are about to get spoiled.
Let's start with “…And Death Shall Have No Dumb Minions.” Finny and Ray had just discovered the shocking identity of their boss, Apellido: he’s a clone of Holy Moses Tannenbaum. And not only that but Billi Octavo was working for him. The boys make some decisions of conscience and decide to sell out Apellido to the cops. Of course things don’t go the way they planned, and go from bad to worse in a hurry. How bad? Well, at the end of the story it looked like Finny, Ray, and Billi were all killed. That’s really bad, in case you couldn’t tell. Meanwhile, both the reader and Kal Cutter find out the Mover, another up-and-coming mob boss, is Holy Moses from an alternate dimension. That's also bad.
I really wasn’t persuaded to believe the guys weren't dead by the very next story, which starred Finny and Ray, but unlike the very recent past, they were ghosts talking to the ghosts of their dead friends. I thought the series was done for good, and if I remember some interviews correctly, these stories were written to test if they should end “Sinister Dexter.” You know, I should look up these things that I say I vaguely remember reading somewhere and, you know, verify the facts. Nah, that takes too long.
We didn’t hear anything from Downlode’s favorite sons for a while, and it looked like they had finally taken the big dirt nap. But then came “Malone,” a fairly innocuous story by a guy named Cal Hamilton about a mysterious tough guy who landed on Generica, a run-down old colony world looking for work and to just live quietly. But the local mob boss thinks Malone's there to horn in on his action, and his dreams are haunted by an evil clown who spends the nights taunting him. When he’s not dreaming about a man with no legs or a pair of zombies. So much for quiet. So what does this have to do with anything, you ask? Well quit interrupting me and I’ll tell you. Impatient little whiner. So after he gets knocked on the head and shoots up the mob guys who are giving a singer friend of his a hard time, Malone gets a visit from a black guy with no legs (just like the dream! Foreshadowing!) who calls himself Rocky Rhodes and tells Malone his name’s not Malone, it’s Finnegan Sinister.
After getting Billi patched up and safely taken off Earth, he wiped his memory, altered his looks, and ran off to hide so no one could find Billi. The evil clown was a distorted memory of his usual, red-nosed self, and the zombie dreams explained away the story where we thought Finny and Ray were ghosts. But Downlode needs the real Sinister, and Rocky takes him back to Earth. But where was Ray? Rocky started to answer, but Finny told him not to. He knew the truth. “I’m alone.”
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I thought this was a brilliant swerve, and one I think you could only do in anthology book like this. Abnett even wrote the story under the Cal Hamilton pseudonym just to make doubly sure no one got the subtle hints in “Malone,” connected it to his name, and blew the secret. Seriously, how can you not respect that? Especially in a day and age where every secret and plot twist is on the Internet three months before it’s in print.
Anyway, Finny gets back to Downlode and sets himself up as a gun shark again while working on his revenge scheme against those who caused Ray’s death. Until he learns that the Downlode police faked Ray’s death and are keeping him in Downlode’s toughest prison in the hope they can make him spill on all Downlode’s underworld dealings. So Sinister gets himself arrested so he can break his best friend out of jail. Too bad Ray’s a quadriplegic from the bullet that almost killed him. Oops.
To make a long story short, a few arcs take place in jail before the boys break out, get back to Downlode, get Ray fixed, and get back to business. But by now Apellido and the Mover have learned they're two versions of the same guy, and both sides are preparing for the War of the Moses.
DC published a few trade paperbacks while they had the rights to the series. They would be “Gunshark Vacation,” “Murder 101,” and “Slay Per View.” Now that Rebellion has the publishing rights again, I'd love for them to collect the following few years' of stories, since those are the only ones I haven't read. If anyone at Rebellion is reading, could you do me that favor? You know I'd do it for you if I could.
Next week: Vive la France!
Luke Foster is a writer and stand-up comedian who says that if you liked his Dropkick Murphys recommendation a few months ago, you might also enjoy listening to the band Flogging Molly.