Art by Martin Emond, Duke Mighten, John Erasmus
Published by Titan Comics
A brief history lesson: Toxic! was a British weekly comic book published in full colour in 1991 (it only lasted 31 issues and the publisher went bankrupt shortly after, unfortunately leaving some of the creators unpaid). It was the idea of Pat Mills, Kevin O’Neill, Mike McMahon and John Wager, as an outlet for work that they would own that didn’t fit into 2000AD, because the tone of the book was even more anarchic and violent. This was most apparent in the flagship title – Marshal Law – but it was equally apparent in the breakout strip, Accident Man.
Created by Pat Mills and Tony Skinner, the character of Accident Man was Mike Fallon, a hitman who specialised in making his hits look like accidents, hence the name, but who didn’t take any particular pleasure out of killing people, apart from personal pride in doing a good job. The only thing he was interested in was the money, because he was a shallow New Lad of the nineties: designer labels, high-end gadgets, and ‘all-in wrestling’ with his girlfriend. Fallon is vain, egotistic, sexist, homophobic (describing someone as ‘looking a bit of an uphill gardener’) and not a pleasant chap. Fortunately, the combination of jet-black humour, a satirical edge and over-the-top violence compensated for these deficits, which is why the character endured and why Titan Comics is publishing this collection.
This hardcover brings together all the Accident Man adventures for the first time: the three stories from Toxic! – Accident Man from #1–6, The Death Touch from #10–16, and The Messiah Sting from #17–24 – and the three-issue black and white mini-series published by Dark Horse from 1993. The first tale sets the tone (and is, for my money, the best of them) with brilliant art from the late Martin Emond, the New Zealand artist perhaps best known for the four-issue mini-series White Trash (written by Gordon Rennie) and various Lobo one-shots. His punky, cartoony, anarchic style was perfect for the tone: odd angles, strange close-ups, quirky background details (a character tries to feebly kick Fallon, with the movement of his foot transcribed by the extended curl of the ‘c’ of the word ‘pathetic’; the slogans on the t-shirts of some Northerners changing in response to the violence dished out by Fallon) all make for inventive, dynamic, energetic comic books that help you ignore the fact that you are watching a professional killer doing his job. The first story crams in Fallon’s ‘origin’ (he witnessed a hitman doing a job, then spied on and recorded his next jobs and then blackmailed him into teaching him), his latest jobs and then finding out that his ex-girlfriend had been killed by two of his colleagues because of her involvement with a female green movement. It’s a lot more fun than a simple description makes out, honest.
The second story, The Death Touch, was illustrated by Duke Mighten (Emond moved on because he wanted to draw something more violent, according to the foreword by Pat Mills), whose style Mills believes was the definitive Accident Man because it became more ‘GQ Man’, in his words. Mighten’s style is certainly cleaner and sharper than Emond’s, if not as cartoony or anarchic – I always thought that his style was a British version of the Image style so prevalent at the time – and he certainly makes it a comic book of its time. The story is about Fallon’s attempt to get an old kung fu master to teach him Dim Mak, the death touch, in order to become the perfect Accident Man; things don’t go to plan, obviously, and the adventure takes in the Golden Coffin Awards (the awards for professional killers, such as Garry Presley the Yodelling Axeman) and Fallon killing a drugs dealer and his family. The action is sharper if not as over the top, but still infused with humour and a sense of style.
The Messiah Sting is the third story, drawn by John Erasmus, and is a more involved narrative involving statement killings for the green movement his ex-girlfriend was involved with, American agency spooks after him, a sting on the environment minister to admit to the government’s cover ups, and an action chase scene in Amsterdam. It’s a bit more freewheeling than the previous stories, and Erasmus’s art isn’t as tight as his predecessors – his style in places reminds me a little of Dave Lloyd’s work in V For Vendetta, but looser and with the action not as well choreographed.
The final story sees the return of Mighten, albeit in black and white, in a deliberate attempt to make Accident Man more appealing to an American audience for the Dark Horse mini-series, as Fallon goes to America to work for a new government agency, called SAB: Special Assassinations Bureau. The designer angle is amped up (Fallon has his own designer made-to-measure condoms with his name embossed in gold), the sex is amped up, and the over-the-top violence is cranked up as well (Howard Chaykin’s covers, the first of which is the cover for the collection, capture the tone perfectly). His job is to assassinate a senator, but it’s a set-up – he’s been tricked into killing the head of the CIA. After saving him, he owes them one, so he has to kill a mafia godfather, which involves inveigling himself into the family, surviving that and then having to sort out the SAB as well. The story still has a satirical edge to it, as well as a nice sense of humour, but it loses some of the punky attitude that made the first stories spikier and there is a slight softening of the Fallon character so that he’s not a complete prick, but it’s still very entertaining.
This collection is a very enjoyable nostalgia trip for fans of British comics of the early 1990s and it’s lovely to see Accident Man back in print. The only problem I have with the book is the lack of attention to detail – the misspelling of ‘Erasmus’ as ‘Earsmus’ on the cover is a shocking oversight, and it would have been nice to fix some of the typos in the lettering, the most egregious example being in The Messiah Sting, when a character says ‘Your wanted, Fallon’ instead of ‘You’re wanted, Fallon’. If you can overlook that, then The Complete Accident Man is a spiky, filthy, anarchic, violent, funny slice of British comic books.