I’ve been having fun re-reading The Complete Nemesis the Warlock, Volume 1 and was interested to see a number of references to early science fiction/speculative fiction crop up in there, so I thought I might as well drop in some examples. The appearance of such details should be no great surprise as the writer, Pat Mills, is known for his meticulous research and this is no different.
They occur in “Book Four: The Gothic Empire”, which, according to the introduction, was the first part Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill worked on, before re-winding to start the story with Nemesis’ earlier adventures so they could build up to this story. The Gothic Empire involves an alien race so heavily influenced by early radio broadcasts from Earth that their civilisation is now a Neo-Victorian wonderland, which has a similar feel to the one shown in The Diamond Age, in that they use advanced technology to mimic or enhance a Victoria aesthetic (so they have anti-gravity Hansom cabs). The story is scattered with the kind of winks to period literature that readers enjoy in Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (OK with some help from a Nottingham writer called Alan Moore) all rendered in his wonderfully ornate style. Here is one of those stunning pages:
However, the examples we’ll see here don’t come from Mr O’Neill’s run, as he left the story after a handful of instalments. Luckily, he had a suitable replacement - Bryan Talbot. Talbot had already being deploying a similar aesthetic in his Luther Arkwright stories (and, more recently went fully steampunk in Grandeville), which seemed to draw on Michael Moorcock’s A Nomad of the Time Streams stories about Oswald Bastable (according to Talbot “The Oswald Bastable books, steampunk well before the genre definition, were a huge influence on me”), books that I’d imagine were an influence on The Gothic Empire too. See, for example, this panel where the lead character invokes the kind of alternate timeline Bastable’s adventures were set in:
Unfortunately, Moorcock incurred The Wrath of Mills for his letter to The Guardian slagging off 2000 AD - Mills was the creator of the title and its first editor, in addition he is a man you don’t cross (for the full story see here). Mills would later poked fun at Moorcock with a Olric character in Nemesis, and oddly the story also reminds me of Moorcock’s “The Stone Thing”, which is itself self-parody of his own work - perhaps Mike beat Pat to the punch, then. You are welcome to ask him, I won’t be.
The image at the start of this post was the one that first caught my eye, as I’d only recently posted on Frank Reade Jr.’s tanks, specifically this one:
They even manage to double up their references with a touch of Poe followed by more than a hint of Mary Shelley:
There are lots of other bits of history mentioned from PT Barnum to Thomas Edison, plus some scenes that could be based on classic images from the time or are so well done as to make you think they are, like this singalong:
There is also a premonition of the death of the queen, which recalls the London Illustrated News at the time of Queen Victoria’s death (although I’ve yet to find and exact match):
Coincidentally, Colin Smith has also been running a series on Nemesis the Warlock, well worth checking out for a broader overview: a look at the… tone, a follow up on the differences with superhero comics and a look at the artistry at work.
The Gothic Empire is printed in the first volume of the Complete Nemesis the Warlock and the entire book is a classic from cover to cover, well worth a read. You can get it from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com (the UK printing is getting a little scarce, but the US print, through Simon and Schuster, is pretty recent and should help with availability issues), if you live elsewhere in the world the Book Depository have free worldwide shipping and both the UK and US versions (to the best of my knowledge the only difference is that the covers have slightly different designs - one to watch out for if you appreciate a nice consistent set of spines on your bookshelf but hardly a dealbreaker for the rest of us).