To say that Sláine has left a mark on 2000 AD’s history would be an emphatically large understatement.
The Celtic warrior of myth created by Pat Mills and Angie Kincaid in the early years of the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic has been a staple fan favorite ever since his debut, creating a whole new world in which to grow in – assuming, of course, you survive the barbarian hordes, supernatural threats and warp monsters along the way.
Sláine: Kiss My Axe! is the brand new skirmish tabletop miniatures battle game from Warlord Games, set in the world of Sláine – and it’s out this week!
With the game’s release, it’s the perfect opportunity to dive into what exactly makes the iconic Horned God and his magical legacy such an enduring part of the 2000 AD mythos…
What exactly is Slaine?
A barbarian fantasy rooted in Celtic myths, fables, and history, the first Sláine strip appeared in 1983’s 2000 AD Prog 330, created by writer Pat Mills and his then-wife, illustrator Angie Kincaid. Inspired as much by the high fantasy of writers such as Robert E. Howard – whose Conan the Barbarian had already demonstrated the potential for comic book success of fantasy material – as real-life and mythical and figures, Sláine was named for the first high king of Ireland, Sláine mac Dela, although his adventures went further than historical re-enactments; Mills and Kincaid’s axe-swinging hero would face off against dragons and gods alike, fueled only by his righteous anger and ability to “warp spasm,” transforming himself into an unstoppable warrior monster.
An immediate hit with readers, the series quickly became a regular fixture of 2000 AD throughout the 1980s, with artists including Ace Trucking Company’s Massimo Bellarinelli, Judge Dredd’s Mike McMahon, and Preacher cover artist Glenn Fabry following Kincaid in subsequent runs, as Mills continually upped the ante in terms of adventure and mayhem told through a mythological lens. It was the epic 1989 Sláine: The Horned God run, which featured fully-painted artwork from ABC Warriors’ Simon Bisley, that transformed the strip’s fortunes forever, though; the combination of Bisley’s beautiful, Frank Frazetta-inspired artwork and Mills’ ambitious writing combining to create one of the most successful and critically acclaimed stories in 2000 AD’s history to date.
Even as The Horned God revolutionized what readers expected from 2000 AD as the anthology headed into the 1990s – Bisley’s painted artwork spawned countless imitators and followers, attempting to scale the same heights he’d seemingly effortlessly reached – it redefined what Sláine could achieve. Subsequent series, which featured painted and digital art from the likes of a returning Glenn Fabry, Clint Langley, Simon Davis, and — most recently — Leonardo Manco maintained the epic scope of what Bisley and Mills had managed, with Mills taking his warrior king deeper into Celtic myth and beyond.
At its best, Sláine offers something more than the traditional high-fantasy sword and sorcery stories that had become prevalent in comics before him: a foot in the door of real — and truly magical — mythology. Researched and molded by Mills to reflect genuine myth as well as the adventure and fantasy readers craved, Slaine finds itself nestled among the best when it comes to historical fantasy in comics history.
Sláine the character himself, however, has become far larger than just his creators…
What is Sláine about?
The saga of Sláine captures the stories of warring Celtic tribes and their people in Tir Nan Og — the ‘Land of the Young’; one of them being the Sessair, Sláine Mac Roth’s tribe that is as brutal in battle as they are unmatched — all of whom worship the earth Goddess Danu. Like many of his kind, Sláine possesses the power of the “warp spasm,” or the ability to channel the powers of the earth to become a monstrous, and wildly powerful berserker… a power that drives much of the tales of Sláine’s battle endeavors.
The stories themselves, however, are narrated by Sláine’s companion: a surly, cowardly dwarf by the name of Ukko. While Ukko is often a thorn in Slaine’s side, his recountings lay the groundwork for the Sláine we come to know: an arrogant but proficient warrior, whose banishment from his tribe – he is sent away as the result of his romance with the Sessair king’s wife to-be – would begin a series of adventures unlike any the world had ever seen before.
Not everything can be wandering and wildness though, as the land of Tir Nan Og is fraught with dangers, including dragons, mercenaries, and the wrath of a disappointed sacrificial maiden. Sláine eventually returns to Sessairian land to find his wife and lover, Niamh, the woman for whom he was banished, had given birth to his son Kai in his absence. Family life wasn’t the kind of thing to settle him down, however and Sláine becomes king of the Sessair and leads them to rise up against their oppressors, sea demons who call themselves the Fomorians (based on the supernatural race of Irish mythology). As if that revolution wasn’t enough, his victories continued as he soon united the Earth tribes against his primary foe, Lord Weird Slough Feg, whose reign of ancient evil has hovered like a cloud over his adventures. Upon Slough Feg’s death, Sláine’s devotion to the goddess of Earth leads him to become the new incarnation of the Horned God – a variation of Cernunnos in the Gaulish pantheon – and the first king of Ireland.
That wasn’t the end of the story, however; with a reign that ends with the Earth Goddess sending him traveling through time to fight alongside Celtic legends such as Boudicca and William Wallace, it should come as no surprise to discover that Sláine’s adventures didn’t simply stop when he became a god. From the search for his son and recovering treasure stolen by Slough Feg’s son to facing down a Trojan army and joining arms with a mind-altering druid, the saga of Sláine not only continues to surprise and ignite only the best of barbarian fantasies, but endures as a testament to the lasting Thrill-power in the art of mythical storytelling.
As part of 2000 AD‘s 45th birthday celebrations, graphi novel editor Oliver Pickles about the saga of Sláine, one of his most famous creations…