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Scarab Reconsidered 20 Years On, Part Fourteen: Indigo Primer

Before delving into the eighth and final issue of John Smith, Scot Eaton and Mike Barreiro’s Scarab, we need to take a brief side-step and examine an earlier Smith creation, the trans-dimensional troubleshooting way-above-top-secret agency known as Indigo Prime, because, for all intents and purposes, the author uses an obvious stand-in for this concept (rebranded as the Cosmic Coincidence Control Center) to bring an admittedly hasty end to the series we’ve been discussing for what seems like just short of fucking forever now. So let’s get to it, shall we?

First off, it’s important to note that this concept, which debuted in the pages of 2000 A.D. back in 1989 as part of the long-running Tharg’s Future Shocks series, wasn’t originally called Indigo Prime at all — it was called Fervent And Lobe, and featured two space-and-time-hopping, freeboating adventurers in a short series of typically madcap comedy/sci-fi adventures. Art for the strip was provided by Mike Hadley, and it was a pleasing, if wholly unremarkable, little yarn that ran for a few months and received generally positive notices. Smith floated this initial trial balloon under the pseudonym of “The Grim Brothers,” perhaps feeling that his real name sounded even more like a nom de plume than that did, and within a handful of months a second strip, this time bearing the title of Indigo Prime, made its debut, with superb illustrations by a then-quite-green Chris Weston, who has since been credited as IP’s full-fledged co-creator despite the fact that he was actually the second artist to work on the then-still-emerging project.

Needless to say, the gist of this sophomore effort was to lay the groundwork for a larger organization of which Fervent and Lobe were only two cogs in a truly massive machine, and with a more expansive tapestry in place and Weston’s artistic confidence growing in tandem with Smith’s maturation as a writer (he was now using his own name), Indigo Prime enjoyed an immensely popular on-and-off run for two years, with perhaps the most well-received (and hence well-remembered) story going out under its banner being Killing Time, a darkly comedic yarn concerning IP agents Winwood and Cord on the trail of Jack The Ripper in Victorian England. (It may be worth noting, or not, that Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s far weightier take on the same material, From Hell, actually debuted after this strip, but, as that was literally in the planning stages for a couple of years before seeing initial publication in the pages of Steve Bissette’s legendary horror comics anthology Taboo, the idea that Moore decided to delve deeper into the Ripper mythos after first reading Smith’s story is probably incredibly far-fetched. Still, the fact that this came first merits at least a passing mention, methinks).

Anyway, it looked like Indigo Prime was all set to become a regular 2000 A.D. feature for years to come, but then, in 1991, Smith abruptly decided to put the whole idea out to pasture and move on to other projects. The clamor for new IP adventures never really let up, though, and to their credit, despite owning the copyrights to all the characters outright, the various editorial braintrusts that came and went at the U.K.’s longest-running comic magazine never turned the idea over to other creators to have a go at, always hoping that Smith (who had simply left the series rather than actually concluding it) would decide to take it out of mothballs at some point. It was his idea, and if he wasn’t going to do it, they didn’t feel that anybody else would be nearly as successful at the task of reviving it, and so it remained in limbo for a long time.

All that changed in 2008, though, 17 years after the last known IP sighting — it’s just that no one knew it at the time.  That was the year, you see, when  Smith and artist Lee Carter rolled out a modest strip called Dead Eyes in 2000 A.D. that concerned a recently-returned-from-Iraq soldier being dragged into a complex web of conspiracy and intrigue that went to the very top of the U.K. and U.S. governments before the whole thing finally blows open, the sky rips apart, and on the last page of the series’ final installment, in step a pair of Indigo Prime agents to let everybody know that they’ll be managing things from here on out.

Yup, in the best mind-fuck style, Smith and Carter had brought back Indigo Prime a couple months earlier, it’s just that nobody realized it because they’d managed to keep their “big reveal” so tightly under wraps.

With the cat out of the bag, Edmund Bagwell, who had worked with Smith on the superb horror strip Cradlegrave (which also ran, naturally enough, in 2000 A.D.) came on board to illustrate two further interconnected,  mind-bending, hallucinatory adventures — entitled Everything And More and Anthropocalypse, respectively — that showed our erstwhile former army grunt trying to get his head around the whole Indigo Prime idea while also functioning as the organization’s newest conscript. These stories are fun, loaded with dead-obvious influences that range from Alan Moore to Grant Morrison to Jack Kirby to David Lynch (the second strip, for instance, concludes with a line of stolen Morrison dialogue while cribbing its final few panels more or less directly from the last episode of Twin Peaks), and features superbly surreal art from Bagwell, as you can see in the pages reproduced here.

Needless to say, for any John Smith fans out there — not to mention folks who just like good, solid, reality-bending sci-fi comics in general, the collected edition of these new IP strips, which ran until 2011, is a must-buy item. Titled Indigo Prime : Anthropocalypse, it’s a crackerjack TPB to have on your shelf and will provide you with many hours of supremely involving  reading and re-reading. Heck, you can spend an enjoyable evening or more just gawking at the sensational art.

For those who wish to dig even deeper into IP lore and history, the first collection of the series in its initial 1989-1991 incarnation is also available under the title of The Complete Indigo Prime (even though, obviously, it’s not complete anymore). Of particular note to American readers is the fact that this first TPB is actually easier to find stateside than the second due to the fact that it was released back when 2000 A.D. had an American co-publication deal with DC. The second book’s not that tough to find either thanks to the wonders of eBay and Amazon Marketplace, but you can expect to pay full cover price, or very near it, for that one, while the first is usually much cheaper owing to its ease of availability worldwide.

With that bit of background in place, then, we can finally make a proper examination of Scarab #8 in our next segment here. Things end messily, to be sure, but also interestingly, which is a pretty fair summation of the series as a whole, really. So check back with us here at Sequart in the coming days as we finally see how John Smith, Scot Eaton, and Mike Barreiro put their baby to bed — even if it’s still kicking and screaming the whole time.

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Ryan Carey maintains a B-movie (with occasional comics-related content) blog at trashfilmguru.wordpress.com, and writes about films and comics for sites such as unobtainium13.com, dailygrindhouse.com, geekyuniverse.com, and now Sequart. You can follow him on Twitter @trashfilmguru.

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