Review by C.J. Bunce

It helps to know upfront that Scottish comedian and personality Frankie Boyle always wanted to write comics.  His inspiration wasn’t from the decades of superhero comics, but Alan Moore, whose attitude, as Boyle sees it, was “that comics had sort of run their course.”  A fan of the writing of Ed Brubaker, David Lapham, and Jason Aaron, Boyle embarked on an ambitious project, asking “what sort of comics do you write after comics have been done already?”  The result was first published in serial format in Mark Millar’s short-lived CLiNT magazine, and with two new chapters to wrap up his story a complete, graphic novel-length story arrives next week from Titan Comics, called Frankie Boyle’s Rex Royd.

Ambitious is the key word to describe Rex Royd.  At its worst, Boyle has touched on Alan Moore’s outrageous depravity as seen in his Lost Girls.  At its best, Boyle has created a character that will appeal to fans of the disconnected and dispassionate Dr. Manhattan and the idiosyncratic and self-absorbed Ozymandias in Moore’s acclaimed Watchmen series.  With his protagonist, the Lex Luthor-esque supervillain scientist and CEO Rex Royd, Boyle has created a brash reflection of non-mainstream comics in the pre-Marvel Cinematic Universe era.  His “hero” is like Ian Fleming’s James Bond if you remove all the tropes that make us actually like Bond, all the fun things that keep us coming back for more and not just dismiss the character as a misogynistic, unexpurgated blunt instrument.  Boyle is fully in on this, as his lead female character Eve–as in the biblical partner of Adam–resembles Bond’s confidante Eve Moneypenny in the last two Bond movies.

And yet, Rex Roydthe book–is like a writing experiment.  What do we get if we take out all these good elements and swap in the dark outcomes?  So it sometimes reads like Neil Gaiman writing a 24-Hour Comic (I’ve read that, this is probably better), but then, as in the ninth and final chapter of the book, we’re surprised with a clever sort of play on Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, with some Harvey Pekar-inspired attempts at making some meaning of it all.  So there’s a lot going on.  If you find linearity and deep meaning in the book, well, the joke may be on you, as the author has said when the artists needed some of his script to be explained, his response was, “It’s supposed to be a joke.”

When CLiNT magazine first published Rex Royd, the strip received plenty of negative press, some of it deserved.  It’s full of not just sex and violence but weird sex and bizarre violence.  Yet as presented now in a single end-to-end volume, readers loving Alan Moore’s strangest stories will no doubt find themselves at least liking some of what Boyle brings to the table.  Rex Royd has been compared to Grant Morrison’s The Filth and it may also have some common elements with Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin’s Satellite Sam and Chaykin’s The Divided States of HysteriaDerivative?  Absolutely, yet Boyle combines the myriad odd elements in a new way.  But if you’re after classic superhero stories or linear storytelling, this book is probably not for you.

Artwork was primarily created by Mike Dowling, with Budi Setiawan stepping in to draw the final two chapters.  Surprisingly for the nature of the content the artists seem to downplay the most over-the-top bits (of this there is plenty), providing some subtlety to what must have been a crazy script to have been handed.  Mark Millar, the creator behind CLiNT magazine, provides a contextual foreword to the book.

Now for the first time in a complete edition, Frankie Boyle’s Rex Royd is available for pre-order here at Amazon.  Or order it now from Elite Comics or your local comic book store.  It’s in stores September 18, 2018.

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