Oooh, what a nice day it was today. Flawless blue skies, 70 degrees, gentle breeze. Divine.

*Say, the date on this here internet website reads 4/20! I guess I'll act like I'm fucking 19 years old or something and link to this Bryan Talbot comic on how cannabis became illegal in the US. What a funny boy I am!

*Random Old Comics That No-Doubt Reveal My Age Through My Use of the Term 'Old' Dept: One of my pet pursuits with back issues is looking into odd series from random publishers -- especially publishers that went gunning for the 'mainstream' of the comics direct market -- that managed to rope in an interesting creative team. Strange things happen sometimes when unique talents are dropped into upstart situations.

My current reading of that sort is Neil Gaiman's Teknophage, a 1995-96 series from Tekno Comix (and sweet heaven, if there's a publisher out there whose name screamed mid-'90s any louder, I'd like to hear it), which was a science fiction-oriented line of titles from BIG Entertainment, Inc., a company founded by the same people that developed the Sci Fi Channel on US television. Their comics are pretty easily recognized by the fact that just about every damn thing they published came equipped with some 'name' endorsement before the title, much like Virgin Comics does today. Gaiman was the only 'name' that came primarily from the comics world itself, though I don't believe he actually wrote any of the books at any time.

Teknophage was no different, although it was handled initially by the very interesting team of writer Rick Veitch, penciller Bryan Talbot, and inker/colorist Angus McKie (illustrator and Heavy Metal veteran whose So Beautiful and So Dangerous was adapted for the Heavy Metal film, albeit in heavily abridged and modified form). The plot of Teknophage follows the (literally) reptilian Henry Phage, an interdimensional super-predator, evil magician and arch-capitalist who serves as primary villain for the Gaiman corner of the Tekno line. I don't know what it could have looked like in different hands, but as a result of its creative team the series emerges quite broadly satirical, and loaded with all the ugly violence and questionable heroics that run through so much of Veitch's catalog.

Reading through, it's pretty clear that book's team was far more interested in world-building and gag work than fitting the series in with the wider Gaiman universe at Tekno, which I'd say was almost certainly for the better. Much of the story focuses on the misadventures of some sleazy Earth guy who gets sucked into the Teknophage's wicked dimension of Kalighoul, a ruined land dominated by Phage's gigantic, rolling metal kingdom/corporate headquarters, a place run entirely according to the laws of unfettered greed and ambition. Needless to say, Our Hero is soon both scheming to find a way home while proving himself quite adept at moving up in Phage's nasty system. Men sit on toilets at work (how very Buñuel), souls are sucked into a dark power engine, and Henry Phage himself often enjoys devouring men alive, just to keep things real. A fellow swallowed whole early on can be spotted peeking out of Phage's throat in gradual stages of digestion throughout the rest of the story.

It's no glowing masterwork of social satire, but it's gooey fun while it lasts. Talbot's skill with the page is obvious, especially when he spreads his work out to a series of double-page splashes loaded with panels, the reader's eye guided back and forth in diagonal and spiral patterns by the positioning of connected word balloons. The reader is thus forced to move in unintuitive directions, all the better to reinforce the confusion of the Teknophage's world. A plot eventually does emerge, concerning Phage's attempts to invade Earth with a media assault - amusingly, Veitch presents the failure of Phage's plans as more a side-effect of the get-ahead-or-get-out environment he's created for his minions. But the real point is nasty jokes and snipes, which is fitting for a villain's book.

Sadly, the whole team switched after issue #6 (save for Talbot and McKie on covers), and writer Paul Jenkins turned the series' remaining four issues into an awful, sludgy commentary on human spirituality in a totalitarian grasp or something. Apparently it is not generally considered his finest hour. The series did not survive Tekno's eventual switch to a general BIG Entertainmet label in 1996, complete with line-wide crossover Event to goose sales, although a Talbot-written miniseries titled Neil Gaiman's Phage: Shadow Death was released in conjunction with the crossover (and I'm not done reading it).

The memory of Teknophage lives on, though. Maybe. Just a bit. I hadn't realized it until I came across this message board thread, but Warren Ellis' handling of Devil Dinosaur in the final issue of Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. does indeed come off as a bit of homage, complete with some dialogue concerning indigestion, a running concern in those Veitch/Talbot issues. Those things we find in the belly of history...

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