This volume follows on from the previous England's Glory book and collects the next two adventures of Ian Edginton and D'Israeli's mysterious pope of crime and his gang of bizarre assistants who have become London's defenders against some weird and wonderful assaults. In the first story Stickleback fights an aerial battle with Countess Bernoulli, the mad mistress of the mechanical. He then returns from an apparent watery grave to take on some reptilian bad guys who also have London in their sights.
Edginton and D'Israeli are two of the most talented and reliable creators on the 2000AD roster, and Stickleback may be their finest creation. There's no doubt that Edginton relishes the Victorian milieu that he has populated with his clockpunk characters and a host of murderous monsters. And Stickleback himself is a remarkable figure who bestrides two underworlds, the criminal classes and all the illegal business of the capital, and a much darker and deeper hell which spews forth some truly nasty creatures.
D'Israeli yet again proves himself the master of black and white art with his lovingly rendered figures and the vast amount of different textures that he uses to delineate them. Goodness knows how long this strip takes him to produce. I've watched his videos about creating the textures in these stories that he has produced for Pete Wells' 2000AD Covered Uncovered blog and I am baffled and amazed by it all.
As ever there are lots of lovely references to all kinds of other fictional characters hiding in the background of many of the panels, the sort of thing that delights a pop culture junkie like myself. And, of course, there is the ongoing mystery of Stickleback's true identity with several hints along the way. Regular Prog readers will know the answer by know and it is fascinating to read these two collections again and see where Edginton and D'Israeli have teased us with their foreknowledge. This volume also includes an introduction by the two creators, an extra Christmas story illustrated by INJ Culbard which appeared in the 2009 Christmas edition, and some character design sketches by D'Israeli to round out the package.
The great thing about an anthology comic like 2000AD is how it has constantly produced strange and surreal strips which feel like they wouldn't find a home in more conventional comics. Long may it continue, and long may the adventures of the bizarre antihero Stickleback continue as well. Five stars for the weird wonders of Stickleback and his complex world, and now there's no excuse for me not to finish my annotations project.