Advance Review: ‘Proteus Vex’ Is A Magnificently Alien Masterpiece Of Sci-Fi Delights
by Richard Bruton
‘Proteus Vex’ is simply one of the most fascinating and magnificently bizarre strips to come out of 2000 AD for many, many years.
Superbly strange sci-fi that takes you to the weird and wonderful places that all great sci-fi should. Another one for my best of year list.
Proteus Vex is simply one of the best new strips to appear in 2000 AD for many, many years, a heady mix of hard sci-fi, wonderfully weird aliens and alien concepts, espionage, adventure – all masterminded by creators Michael Carroll and Henry Flint, with Jake Lynch taking over art for the second adventure here.
As Carroll told me in an interview over at 2000 AD:
“Proteus Vex is… ‘Science fiction, but where the science part is subservient to the fiction part. Much as I love Hard SF stories, sometimes it’s refreshing to set aside the hyperspace time-dilation calculations and fuel-to-mass ratios and intricately-designed complex biospheres, and just have a bunch of spaceships made out of “undefeatium” blasting the crap out of each other. We don’t always need to know exactly-how-the plasma guns work, just what they’ll do to the bad guy’s face.”
Of course, that rather downplays things on Carroll’s part. After all, the way he tells it there it’s all stupid reasons and big fights – and Proteus Vex is so, so, so much more than that.
Sure, it’s got beautifully done action and great space scenes – all thanks to two artists on the absolute form of their lives. And it absolutely has all that huge, impressive, stuff – the don’t think about it too hard, we’re not explaining it, just go with it stuff going on, absolutely. And that’s every bit as thrilling as I reckon Carroll wanted it to be.
But there’s so much more at play here. For every page of big action and things, “blasting the crap out of each other,” there’s five or more pages of complex plot, a slow-build espionage and conspiracy thriller unfolding across multiple worlds.
Here in the first book, Another Dawn, we get the first two storylines, ‘Another Dawn’ and ‘The Shadow Chancellor’. The former with art from series co-creator Henry Flint, the latter with art from Jake Lynch. Both gentlemen, in different ways, bring a magnificent sense of otherworldliness and just plain alienness to the proceedings, angular artwork in angular layouts, emphasising that this is no ordinary, run of the mill sci-fi where the Earth-born hero could essentially be dragged straight from an old Western or war movie.
Kudos to Henry Flint for the sheer amount of world-building that went on here in the development of the strip, there’s so much sitting there in the art for the early episodes that simply, without fanfare, just with a damn gorgeously bizarre way of doing things, sets up everything you need to really sit you right down in the middle of the story and gets you ready for the strangest sci-fi saga you’ll read anytime soon.
And then more kudos to Jake Lynch for even imagining that he could take over from Flint when he had to bow out through work pressures. The fact that there’s a near-seamless handover from the first to the second storyline here is testament to how well Lynch fits into this strip. If all you’ve seen of Lynch is his work on Dredd, get ready to really be amazed, it’s career-high work most certainly.
As for what it’s about, again, from that 2000 AD interview, here’s the lowdown on Proteus Vex from Michael Carroll:
“The setting is some four decades after the end of a very brutal fourteen-century-long intergalactic war against a race called The Obdurate. Everyone is still kind of picking up the pieces. The eponymous Proteus Vex was a soldier for the Imperium Ascendant, the winning side, and is now a trouble-shooting agent for the Ascendant. He’s not a very nice person. He’s less ‘James Bond in a tuxedo making smug quips’, more ‘stand on your neck until you tell him what he wants to know’. In this story, Vex has been assigned to track down a missing high-level officer of the Ascendant. This brings him to the pretty horrible war-ravaged world of Korregag, which is where the story kicks off.”
And yes, it really does kick-off. From the very first few pages, all the way through to the end of this book, it’s an absolute page-turner. Where things occasionally slipped from focus reading it week by week in the pages of 2000 AD, having it all in front of me here made the whole reading experience a far more cohesive one. What had been so enjoyable in the weekly Prog became one of the reads of the year so far in this collection.
With Vex quickly dragged into all manner of intrigue in tracking down the missing Chancellor Rho 7 Baryon, senior member of the Imperium Ascendent, he learns of the many secrets they really didn’t want someone uncovering, and certainly didn’t want to fall into the hands of someone like Vex, someone who already knows way too much about the brutal nature of the end of the war.
Amongst all this, there’s also the added strangeness of the fact that Vex is actually a host to one of the so-called Flesh Pilots, tiny humanoid creatures who live inside their hosts, the perfect symbiotic relationship, making their hosts better, stronger, and giving insight from memories of previous hosts. Long outlawed by the Imperium for the potential security risk they pose, Vex’s hosting of a flesh pilot only adds more strangeness, more intrigue to an already fascinating concept and magnificently bizarre story.
And then of course, there’s Midnight Indicating Shame, possibly the greatest supporting character you’ll ever read. She’s there from the very start, as Vex’s captive from the mission before he got the call about the missing Chancellor, and he’s meant to be on his way to take her back to her homeworld for trial, something she’s most definitely not keen on happening.
Midnight Indicating Shame is a perfect example of that alienness I was talking about being created by all involved, plus a perfect way for Carroll to be able to add such very funny, albeit mostly very black humour into the proceedings.
One of the Citheronian race, everything about her is just perfectly other, a seemingly almost gentle soul on the run, but then again, she does tend to get a little hungry sometimes… and when she’s hungry… well, she eats, messily…
Frankly, I could go on and on and on about how good, how great, Proteus Vex is. I could go in-depth into the storylines, the characters, the everything about this, but there’s really no need. You’ve got all you need to sell you on it here.
Suffice it to say it’s one of the most imaginative and wonderfully strange reading experiences of the year, a real page-turner of a thriller, a huge, galaxy-spanning mystery, action-packed yet a slow-build full of character moments, and packed with all the best sci-fi experiences but always from the other side of things. This really isn’t your run-of-the-mill sci-fi at all, this is something far better, far cleverer, far more involving, and far more enjoyable.
Proteus Vex: Another Dawn, written by Michael Carroll, art by Henry Flint and Jake Lynch, is out on 13th April from 2000 AD.