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Monday, February 05, 2018

Ant Wars

'Ant Wars' is one of those old strips that long-time readers of 2000AD remember perhaps a little more fondly than they should. I doubt it was ever meant to be more than a filler and it was brought to a rapid conclusion when 2000AD merged with Starlord in 1978.

Mutated monsters were nothing new and 2000AD had had its fair share of animals-on-the-rampage yarns, from dinosaurs ('Flesh') to polar bears ('Shako') and giant ants had a whiff of desperation, trying to find something that could menace humanity in the wake of the success of James Herbert's Rats (1974) and Guy N. Smith's Night of the Crabs (1976), which spawned a whole slew of "nature running amok" titles that had their origins in monster movies of the Fifties.

Truth be told, I wasn't a huge fan of the artist, Jose Ferrer, whose scratchy linework didn't quite cut it as far as this fan of Jesus Blasco was concerned.

But...

... looking back on it now as a collected volume I was instantly drawn into the story, which powers along at breakneck speed because there is only seven pages in the first episode to set out its premise, introduce a bunch of characters, hint at some thematic ideas (technology vs. nature, the noble savage) and tell a kick-ass tale at the same time. Gerry Finley-Day throws us in at the deep end: the clearance of local natives in a Brazilian jungle to build a new road for oil tankers, plus a new form of experimental insecticide used to kill off soldier ants, equals GIANT ANTS.

The unlikely heroes are Captain Villa and a semi-literate local known as Anteater, who discover the gigantic insects after Anteater escapes a reservation set up by the army to house the native population. Villa is convinced that his military skills and training will keep them alive, but the army man is proven wrong time after time.

There are some tough adventures ahead of them as they try to warn civilisation about the menace, with some of the best episodes seeing them captured by gamblers on a riverboat and the carnage at the Rio Carnival. It's the only comic strip to answer that age-old question: are nipple tassels any defence against giant ants?

Before long, Argentina is also infested where new artist Alfonso Azpiri gets to illustrate an aerial attack by flying ants and the capture of Anteater by queen ants as the mutants make their way to the foothills of the Andes.

Rounding out the volume is 'Zancudo' from Judge Dredd Megazine (2005), described as a spiritual successor to the original in which Simon Spurrier and Cam Kennedy relate how Judge Xavi Ancizar and his amoureuse, Judge Sofia Perez, crash land in the South American jungle while overseeing the transfer of medical supplies to a penal colony. They are also delivering a psychic psychopath, Fendito, nicknamed 'El Bandito', who breaks free when their transporter crashlands in the jungle.

Soon, they discover a city of giant mosquitos and a race enslaved by the creatures. There's plenty of action and a surprise reappearance... but I'll say no more. Even in the short space of 24 pages, the story has an emotional depth that 'Ant Wars' doesn't have—it was, after all, aimed at an older audience. Not that 'Ant Wars' was trying to be anything other than what it was... a rattling-paced adventure with mutant horrors at its heart. And that it delivers.

Ant Wars. Rebellion ISBN 978-178107622-3, 8 February 2018, 112pp, £12.99. Available via Amazon.

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