“Keep Calm. I’ll Wrap This Up Quickly.”:

Shameless? Part 34

by Chris Weston & Mark Millar from 1993’s Canon Fodder

Continued from last week.

The world-building that Millar had begun to invest in Canon Fodder was unusually rich, distinctly quirky, and full of promise. Yet that surprising combination of Catholicism, Holmesian characters, alt-world SF and superheroes was never convincing mixed together into a satisfying whole. Indeed, each individual aspect of that highly-enticing menu was left awkwardly ill-developed. The suspicion remains that Millar’s method of developing stories was simply to slam together a wide variety of disparate, familiar and beguiling ingredients in the hope that inspiration would spontaneously emerge.

Quite what Millar was aiming for when he appropriated characters from Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tales is impossible to deduce. We’ve already discussed the possibility that the very title of Canon Fodder carried a second meaning, and that Millar might have planned to use the series to ill-use characters from literary creator’s work. It was, after all, what he’d done with his scripts for Fleetway from the start. Perhaps he was now reaching out beyond the pop culture of his childhood and teenage years to more conventionally respectable sources. It may even be that Millar was attempting to avoid worrying his editors with what appeared to be a compulsive need to use other people’s copyrighted material. Speaking in April 1992’s Comics Collector, Judge Dredd Megazine editor David Bishop described dealing with Millar’s scripts for Red Razors:

“That story worried me no end. We had the whole Scooby Gang running around, and when the first page came in I sent it back to (artist) Steve (Yeowell) and said, ”Look, Steve, it cannot look like Scooby Doo.” So he sent it back and he’d coloured in the collar and changed the angle on one of his ears and put some spots on him. I said for him to change the face, but nobody noticed.” (*1)

by Chris Weston & Mark Millar from 1993’s Canon Fodder

Yet if Millar was perhaps attempting to maintain his methodology while diminishing the chances of wearing out his editors, Holmes, his brother Mycroft, Watson, and Moriarty were very odd choices to settle upon. Despite Holmes being in the public domain in Britain, a very different situation existed in the United States. As a result, Canon Fodder would be unlikely to see print in the Republic without the possibility of a legal challenge. It was an oddly limiting decision for a man as keen on personal and financial success as Millar. But then, he didn’t seem interested in representing any of Conan Doyle’s characters in a way that reflected much of their origins. After all, Holmes and Moriarty had quite obviously never been homosexual lovers or lifelong would-be Jehovah-killers in the original tales, while Mycroft had always lacked the energy and focus to pursue a career such as occult master and prolific serial killer.

It was as if Millar were determined to create versions of these characters that actually had nothing to do with any of them at all beyond a few familiar visual signifiers and their names. His Holmes showed no signs of being a detective, and was bereft of telling details such as his respect for the numinous. Similarly, his Watson had apparently been killed by a horse in 1903, which left the considerable mystery of who it was that had written up Holmes’s adventures until 1914’s His Last Bow. Indeed, with Canon Fodder declaring that Holmes himself had been murdered in 1905, it begs the question of who had been wearing the deerstalker hat for the majority of the Edwardian era.

Even if we credit Millar with foreseeing the 21st century’s frequent association of the great detective with sociopathic tendencies, the question remains of what he was doing in the story at all. In the end, it has to be concluded that it was just another example of Millar’s congenital huckstering. So little specific purpose did any of Doyle’s cast serve that all bar Watson had been horribly done away with by the end of chapter 5. None of them had any part to play in kicking off the story’s central plot, in which the Devil had conquered Heaven, and none of them had anything to do with Jehovah’s final triumph either. Ultimately, the Holmesian material served as nothing but a promising and disappointing distraction. Fascinating, and yet frittered away.

by Chris Weston & Mark Millar from 1993’s Canon Fodder

The admittedly wonderful idea of a Day Of Resurrection that passed with billions of reborn humans and no judgement-minded God was also substantially underdeveloped. As is to be expected, it was a bright idea that Millar failed to pay any careful attention to. A touch of research would have revealed that the total number of men, women and children to be reborn would have been closer to 106 billion rather than the mere 20 billion which Millar mentioned. (*2) It can’t have been that only loyal Christians were recalled from death, for Holmes and Moriarty were shown admitting to lifelong, pre- Resurrection heresies. Indeed, Weston’s art seems to suggest that even horses were rising from wherever their last fragments of bone had settled, so it seems unlikely that any humans would be denied their second chance. With no explanation for how relatively few people there were to be found in Canon Fodder’s world, we can only presume that Millar’s typical sloppiness was to blame.

But even at the grossly low estimate of 20 billion, the once-future world of 2004 appeared no more crowded than that of the age of its writing. If the post-rebirth Earth had seen, as a caption declared, “chaos (reigning) in the streets”, then there’s no sign of it in Canon Fodder. If its world looks a touch eccentric, then it simply doesn’t look disconcerting enough. After all, this is a globe that’s supposedly filled to the gills with 200 000 years worth of individuals and their cultural differences. Yet both script and art describes a population that’s far less diverse and far more uniformly Caucasian than any street in the London of the 1990s ever would have been. As was usual with Millar, his invented worlds were so facile and unconvincing that school pantomime scenery could appear more believable. Yet such was the promise of his ideas that it was hard not to be curious about where the narrative was headed.

by Chris Weston & Mark Millar from 1993’s Canon Fodder

Perhaps most unconvincing of all was the role of the Catholic Church in all of this. Quite how it would have retained its authority in a world in which its God had failed to keep his promises is never even hinted at. Nor is the fact that its adherents were vastly outnumbered by billions of non-believers. As with 1989/90’s The Saviour, Millar simply assumed that Catholicism would be the default setting for society, and in doing so superimposed the order of Coatbridge onto Canon Fodder’s world. Piling on the implausibilities, Millar also established that the world had been brought to order by four self-appointed vigilante Catholic priests. As a concept, it’s as absurd as it is childishly insensitive. In most anyone else’s mind, the idea of a Catholic hegemony imposed upon all the people that have ever existed through what we might label as very muscular Christianity would be far too stupid and insulting to run with.

As for the matter of where the superhuman powers of the Priest Patrol came from, that too would remain unexplained. For the story that Millar really wanted to tell had little to do with Canon Fodder or the Resurrection at all. What it was informed by, however, was the plot-threads left dangling by the cancellation several years before of The Saviour.

To be continued.


*1:- pg 34, interview with Steve Holland, “Gore And Order”, Comic Collector, April 1993

*2:- http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=fact-or-fiction-living-outnumber-dead

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Colin Smith is currently Q Magazine’s comics columnist and blogs at Too Busy Thinking About My Comics and on Tumbler.

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