Comics: Nexus Omnibus Volume 1
by Mike Baron (script) & Steve Rude (art)
Dark Horse Books, 2012
These pleasingly squat, generous paperback omnibus editions have been rolling off the Dark Horse presses for years, to not one single good effect. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pages of the very worst Star Wars and Predator swill have been thus immortalized, until the average reader (who happened to take a detour into a comics shop, perhaps in search of a bathroom) might develop a kind of Pavlovian reflex against the very idea of the whole enterprise. But one of the cultural referents of the ‘dark horse’ is that of the unlikely surprise winner, and that’s just what’s now happened: Dark Horse has come out with a squat little omnibus of Nexus.
Readers not from Madison, Wisconsin might need a refresher.
The basic concept of Nexus is fairly simple (as comic book basic concepts go): created in 1981 by writer Mike Baron and artist Steve Rude, Nexus is Horatio Hellpop, a 25th century young man living on the moon Ylum who’s afflicted with agonizing dreams by a godlike alien race. His dreams force him to re-live the pain and anguish of a mass murderer’s crimes, and the dreams also furnish his waking brain with the present-day location of those mass murderers, who’ve retired to various corners of the galaxy after committing their crimes. The aliens also gift Nexus with awesome, near-unstoppable ‘fusioncasting’ powers – and when he uses those powers to fly to wherever his latest dream-object is and kill them, the agony of his nightmares stops … until it starts again about some other erstwhile evil-doer. Nexus is a murderer of mass murderers, a divine hit-man driven at least as much by self-interest as altruism. It’s easy to see why the Saturday morning cartoon never happened.
Baron took that basic concept and ran with it. His version of Superman isn’t just a proponent of law and order – he is law and order on his planet Ylum. Refugees flock there from every conflict in the galaxy – including Dave, the wise old Thune who becomes the closest thing to a conscience Nexus ever has. Also drawn to Ylum are Judah, the carefree warrior-Thune who becomes Nexus’ best friend, and Sundra Peele, the intrepid reporter/spy who becomes his girlfriend. And the cast expands enormously from there, into as boisterous and articulate an ensemble as you’ll find this side of Walt Kelly’s Pogo.
All of this manic, rampant inventiveness is brought incomparably to life by the pencils of Steve Rude. This first Dark Horse omnibus edition reprints the first fourteen appearances of Nexus, so readers get a clear chart of Rude’s amazing progression as an artist. The first few issues are dorky, journeyman stuff, the type of thing a really talented fan might draw, although even then with a striking sense of panel-arrangement. But in only three or four issues, the artwork has become the weird, intensely pleasing signature Rude look of fine detail and masterfully-controlled movement. There’s an old-fashioned sense of visual fun that grows stronger with every issue (manifested, among other ways, by the frequent appearance in crowd scenes of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock … and of a certain adorable little beagle).
As in any omnibus edition, the contents here are a bit uneven. There are classic stories like “Teen Angel” and “Drinking Man’s Tour of the Galaxy” – stories that have been reprinted and anthologized many times in the character’s eventful, uneven publication history – and there are less successful, more meandering tales (probably the most enjoyable of which features Mike Baron’s second-most popular creation, The Badger). The omnibus itself is marked by absolutely no distinction whatsoever – no new artwork, no new Introduction, no new interviews with either artist or writer – zilch: it’s a straight reprint, soon to be followed by a second.
Nexus fans can’t possibly complain about that, however. The thirty-year-old individual issues being reprinted in these volumes are growing more fragile with every year, after all, and none of the previous reprint-runs of the character’s initial 80-something appearances have lasted very long or, at $25, been this affordable. These Dark Horse volumes aren’t particularly well-made (upon multiple re-readings, the hinge-grooves on the front and back covers will simply detach those covers from the rest of the book), but they nevertheless represent a bit step forward in memorializing this great comics character – and presenting him to a new generation of readers.