Wednesday 26th November 2014,
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League of Volunteers #1 Review

Comic Booked Retail 05/20/2011 Reviews

This new series from Irish indie publisher Atomic Diner certainly does not want for ambition. Embracing both Celtic mythology and World War II era history, a period referred to in Ireland as ‘The Emergency’, writer Rob Curley has fashioned a thrilling yarn that promises much.

In effect this is a superhero team book with a difference, an Irish B.P.R.D. that delves further into Irish culture than the likes of Mike Mignola or Garth Ennis have previously attempted.The League of Volunteers #2 cover preview

The story opens with a disclaimer explaining the reasons behind Ireland’s official position of neutrality in World War II, before jumping further back in time to the 1st century, where a druid named Ruadhan has a premonition of the devastation the country will suffer in the future. The script implies this will be partly due to the influence of an evil god named Bocanach. The mythological setting features such amusing conceits as druids teleporting into stone circles and shapeshifting into ravens.

The action then jumps to the South West coast of Ireland in 1941, with a group of occult-obsessed Nazis attempting to summon a mystical ally to help in the war effort. The script’s riffing on Hitler’s interest in mysticism, as well as the likely preliminary plan for an invasion by Germany known as Operation Green, allows for a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. Of course then the Nazis succeed in summoning the Bocanach itself, a tall skeletal creature with antlers that proceeds to slaughter the German soldiers with two rather large swords while demanding to know who is responsible for summoning it. What is most notable about this sequence is the Irish dialogueThe League of Volunteers Bocanach included by Curley, a nice touch that eschews the usual asterisked reference to an editor’s box with the message ‘translated from Gaelic’.

Not happy to leave all the Nazi-killing to the Celtic demon, the first of our contemporary Irish superheroes, the Glimmerman, launches himself into the action. While he makes an initially impressive show of it -

“Die Irish Swine!”

“Not today, Nazi! [WACK!]”

- he meets his match in the Bocanach itself, only to be rescued by his comrade the Archer. In the background of each of these panels, a single raven can be seen observing the action, no doubt the druid from the first half of the book looking for allies to help defeat the dark god.

In yet another nod to the troubled history of the time we learn that the Archer and the Glimmerman fought on different sides of the conflict in the Spanish Civil War. It appears they were recruited despite their respective reservations by Eamon De Valera to be members of G2, an Irish intelligence unit and no doubt the starting point for our ‘League’.

The League of Volunteers exploding arrow

Following their interruption of the Nazi rite, we learn a little more about Bocanach and how it has traveled to this period in time. It mentions the hero of Irish myth Fionn Mac Cumhail, who according to promotional images should himself be joining the League in future issues. By having the Bocanach dismiss the offer of assistance from the Nazis – and indeed look with contempt upon them as a force – Curley cleverly raises the bar as to the danger the god presents. While the Allied forces must contend with Hitler’s armies in Europe and the rest of the world, Ireland is faced with a diabolical ‘secret invasion’ all of its own:

“Amadan! I have no need of mortal armies. My legions are eternal.

Several further introductions to the cast of characters are made. The G2 even have their own Oracle, a woman named Catherine Malone, described as a ‘technology and weapons expert’ as well as a cryptographer. She is also herself a former ‘mystery man’, previously going by the moniker of the Emerald Scorpion. The script excels at matching this fictional history of wartime superheroics and actual events. Malone is said to have worked as a journalist in Stalin’s Moscow. The Glimmerman is a name that carries associations of government interference with Irish citizens and the G2 itself did actually exist.

However, reports of seven foot tall antlered demons killing Nazis should be dismissed as rumour.

This is an excellent first issue that romps along at a fast pace, dipping into history, mythology and comic superheroics with equal aplomb. Barry Keegan’s kinetic artwork is reminiscent of Steve Dillon, which brings to mind fond memories of Preacher. He ably integrates the divergent styles of Celtic dress and WWII-era uniforms, helping to convey the two touchstones of the book’s story.

The book is as much a discussion of what heroism means within the context of Irish culture as it is a fun, rollicking adventure and this two-level approach heightens the enjoyment of the issue. Anticipation is high to see how Curley and Keegan will take this series forward. Check out the Atomic Diner website for information on how to get your hands on a copy.

The League of Volunteers cast

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  1. Andy Kirby 05/23/2011 at 6:34 pm

    A very interesting concept. Not sure if it's my cup of tea, but if it includes some sort of social or political bent I'm all for it.

  2. Emmet OCuana 05/26/2011 at 5:49 pm

    Hello Andy. To my mind it works quite well at referencing material Irish readers might be more familiar with, while at the same time inviting the curiousity of others quite successfully.

    Personally I am really looking forward to issue #2.

  3. kiwijohn 06/21/2011 at 3:04 am

    Hi Emmet,

    Good review, especially in explaining some of the historical and political background of the time period. It was on the strength of this review that I ordered a copy from Atomic Diner, and I'm pleased I did. To me down here in New Zealand the Irish setting is exotic but just vaguely familar at the same in its consideration of a small country under the shadow of the UK and of European events. The setting and the characters (as described by your review) grabbed me, but I think the storytelling will keep me, since I look forward to seeing where Curley and Keegan will go with this.

    regards,

    kiwijohn

  4. Emmet OCuana 06/27/2011 at 3:41 am

    Hi kiwijohn,

    My pleasure, I hope you enjoy it! As an expat here in Oz I was quite happy to read something that referenced so much of the history and mythology I grew up with. I can only hope others like yourself have as much fun with it as I had.

    Cheers!

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