I remember after being riveted by my first reading of Nemo and thinking that it would be nice to have a longer Kal Jerico story. Obviously the writer must've been having a similar line of thought some fourteen/thirteen years ago, because only two episodes later began the whopping four-part Motherlode (well, whopping by Warhammer Monthly standards anyway). In this review I’m going to cover the entire story in four parts – to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each chapter. Each part I’m going to rate independently, and then I’m going to deduce my score for Motherlode by mathematical average of my four scores, rounding the total to the first decimal place. Here goes...
Motherlode opens paralleling Nemo. Someone’s gunning for Jerico, and the quick thinking bounty hunter is already in over his head. Cornered in his usual drinking hole, he has been forced into a small scale fire-fight of attrition. As opposed to high-end Spyrers, Kal instead is being overwhelmed by sheer numbers. Spurring on intuition, Kal makes an escape with his guns, a weakened nearby wall and the right amount of momentum to break out. It seems openings of this sort are prone to some of the most enjoyable writing and action.
Kal’s quickly on his feet and moving. Downing a pair of backups in the alley outside Kal deduces that these men are guilder mercs of the entrepreneur Guzman Ludd – a bulbous, sadistic Mafioso merchant who deals in the hard, and often risky to acquire. Again vigilantly on his feet and thinking up a way out at just as quickened pace, Kal runs obliviously and headlong into the choking clasp of an old acquaintance – Vandal Feg, who is now under the leash of the present Guzman Ludd and his retinue. Vandal has been enhanced to new more brutish levels by his now-boss.
|One big, not-so-happy family|
The cigar-chomping fat-man has had Scabbs captured, and likely is the reason that Kal was found in the first place, though how exactly The Sump Hole doesn’t have ‘Kal Jerico’ in big neon letters to any seeking him is an intriguing question in its own right.
Two days later in the underhive wasteland and Kal and Scabbs have been shackled and forced to lead the palanquin-mounted crime lord (who is doing a superb Jabba the Hutt impression, complete with shapely slave-girls) and his lackeys to an as-of-yet unexplained location. By now I’d usually of made a feature of the gang present. Clearly Guzman’s lackeys are a gang in their own right, but they have no scribed affiliation to a known group, or any identifying features. Simply, they are Guzman’s lackeys. Kudos to Karl’s art again, most notably the wind-swept underhive he creates, and careful eye for detail, showing how a few days without maintenance that Kal’s lost his signature braids.
As this portion of the story rounds up, Ludd explains that he has had visions of the Motherlode – a legendary horde of archeotech buried in the sands of the underhive, and that Kal and Scabbs will be the ones to lead him there. Now Ludd isn’t the best of the villains in this. Sure he comes across the indomitable bad guy in the first act. What really captures the imagination is his gimmick. The self-imposed prophet is a Spook abuser. His visions are gifted to him by a drug that optimises the user’s prescient capabilities. A drug that gives the user psychic powers, that’s pretty bad-ass. Plus it picks up upon the kind of the depths of coolness found in the Inquisitor rulebook.
Ludd’s visions are thick with atmosphere. Just looking into his eyes as he starts to recall you can see the look of a man not present save in mind’s eye – depthless by how detached he is. It really paves the way well, and builds a great climactic feel to the first chapter.
Finally, we see a further hint to the next episode, a lurking Scavvy gang, obscuring the path ahead. Chapter One of Motherlode is a brilliant set up, not only for the story and the villains, but for the upcoming stories too. However, it still doesn’t some quite so close as Nemo, and even borrows from it a little to establish a degree of success. That in mind, I had melded some of the better parts of the action from this and Nemo together before the re-read. So the action is on par with Nemo and the drawing power really sets in with Guzman’s psychic premonitions. The first part scores 8 out of 10.
Yet again, we’re thrown into the action as the Scavvies attack! And at this point we’re introduced to an interesting narrative tool that I’ve only seen in Motherlode this far in. Quotes of old Imperial scholars and even a dictionary definition of Necromundan words are used at the outset of the Chapters as exposition. And not only do they provide some useful information, but they help ease you into the background, building depth to the 41st millennium as a whole and tying a solid knot between the spin-off and it’s originator.
Chapter two focuses on Kal Jerico and Scabbs making an impromptu escape. For the fact it’s just this I should note that it feels in this episode that the quality of the action scenes have been upped from the forerunning ones. Maybe it’s just the fact we have full gang-on-gang war over three pages. Not once have the scales of the fight scenes been this big in a prior episode.
As the battle rages, Kal and Scabbs loot a chainsword, cut free of their chains, and run. The immobile Guzman notices the escapees and orders his hound (Vandal) to chase them down. The pit slave complies and the next two entire pages are the ensuing fight between Kal and Feg. As they are caught up in the mano-a-mano confrontation, Scabbs notices the place is coming down. Vandal and Jerico are now far enough removed from the larger conflict. The hivequake lets them stumble by chance right into the Motherlode itself! The lone cybernetic claw of Vandal can be seen from a nearby pile of rubble, and we’re left with the two lucky protagonists as Chapter Two ends.
It is a credit to the subtlety that Kal Jerico comics are capable of that we’re fed knowledge of Hivequakes right at the beginning of Chapter One – in the middle of the gunfight in The Sump Hole to be precise. The action is racy, and yet again I feel comparisons to Pirates of the Caribbean coming on. But I’ll collar myself there. Chapter Two rides well on the set up of climax of Chapter One. It even keeps the fresh images of The Motherlode to tantalise you oh so much when Kal and Scabbs fall accidentally into it. Yet again, an 8 out of 10 rating.
Scabbs becomes giddily overjoyed with the riches about him. Delusions of grandeur start taking root in his mind, but Kal’s more concerned with other matters, most notably the all-too-present bones in easy sight all over the cavernous Motherlode. Whilst I loved Scabbs mentions of hiring an entire Space Marine chapter (improbable as it is), and the use of Scav as a swear (having the right amount of impact, Ash is just plain censorship), it’s the undercurrent of intelligence to these flights of fantasy that give these comics edge. Kal works out that there are far too many bodies strewn amongst the Motherlode. Whatever killed them therefore is clearly passed his capabilities.
Kal spies Guzman and his gang further down the depths of the archeotech tunnels. With the Scavvies still hot on their tail Kal jumps in to save the day, reasoning to make it back out they’re going to need all the manpower he can muster. We’re presented with more frame-filling gang war, but this time Kal has far more of a presence in it – ably tipping the tables in favour of Guzman’s party. Particularly funny, is a part when Kal rips a grenade-earring from a ganger’s ear to down a good many Scavvies, and the dialogue between the two afterwards.
Finally, as things are looking up Guzman double-crosses Kal Jerico, breaking his moments-earlier truce. Kal pleads a quite accurate case of the situation. Unfortunately, as we find out now, Guzman, the “prophet” merchant, is an idiot. As Kal pleads his case, in enters the guardian of the Motherlode, swallowing one of Guzman’s guards whole. And it’s a giant spider, the likes of which were hinted at back in Yolanda. The boss fight is set.
|'Giant spider', you say?|
Chapter Three holds up fairly well. Yet there’s a certain element missing from the earlier episodes, maybe it’s that atmosphere and build up. This feels kind of the in-between Chapter. The waystation if you will. There are some bonuses, the jokes for one. Also the easter eggs. There are a few jokes about Guzman’s prophetic reputation hiding in plain sight. “The Ludd is my shepherd” is on the cover of a book attached to one of his lackeys. Another, the guard who is swallowed whole, has a tattoo with “In Ludd we trust” across his upper body. These brought me a small smile inside. Overall, I give Chapter Three 7.5 out of 10. It’s still very good, just not quite to the level of the previous two chapters.
Now Guzman Ludd’s true stomach is revealed. He’s a complete coward the moment he’s directly in danger. Primarily the spider focuses on Ludd, chasing him down and eating the majority of his remaining men. As the spider attacks the group it’s Kal who ultimately saves the day, using one of his sharpest weapons – his intuition. The hide of the spider is too thick to penetrate with las-bolts, but Kal is only shooting at the spider to get its attention, and with that get the great beast exactly where he wants it. When it’s in the kill zone, Kal shoots the loosened rock-face above, and brings the ceiling down on the great beast, and as coincidence would have it, the Scavvies worship these giant spiders as gods.
The Scavvies are still a present threat, and now Guzman’s group is all but eliminated, they make another attack, infuriated at the loss of their deity. Kal and Scabbs make a climb for safety as a long queue of Scavvies are in heated pursuit. At this moment Guzman reappears, and begs Kal to save him. Kal hauls the giant up the rock, and then gets his own back as he uses him as a distraction for the oncoming Scavvies. Just as Kal and Scabbs think they’re clear Vandal shows up at the last second, but he’s dispensed of much in the same way as the spider.
In the last scenes of Motherlode we see Kal and Scabbs outrunning the collapsing cavern. They wander off into the distance happy to still be alive. Vandal emerges onto the surface from the cave in. And what of Guzman? It’s heavily implied his capture by the Scavvies is his end (though you’ll have to read to find out how).
The end of Motherlode is unfortunately a tad lacking. It’s not bad mind. I still give it 7 out of 10 because it holds well with the ending. But it feels a tad rushed, but some of that plays well with the pacing. It’s stories like this that make me recount that Warhammer 40,000 is Space Fantasy, or more appropriately as the great Alan Merrett himself once said, Science-Fantasy. In its most basic form this story is a treasure-quest with a giant spider in a mystical and ancient dungeon. It doesn’t often get more fantasy than that!
I’ll give Guzman Ludd a villain rating, though the likelihood that he’s dead makes it feel a bit redundant (as good comic book villains always come back). He was enjoyable to begin with, but came to suffer from the same lack of likeability as Beni from The Mummy, and for the same reasons. Guzman Ludd gets the same score as Cardinal Crimson, 6.5 out of 10.
|'I might be a likeable character someday!'|
Motherlode comes to 7.6 out of 10. A nice first four-parter, even if it wasn’t quite sure how to pace it’s extra story-space. Next I’ma tackle my thoughts on the change of artists in Kal Jerico, and review the next episode Raintown.