Wednesday, 11 March 2009


Whatever else Sabre is, it's an important book in comics' history. Released in 1978, it was the first publication from Eclipse Comics. It was also the first book sold solely through comic shops, proving that, in those days of absolute reliance on newstand sales, comic fans alone could support an adult comic, and make it profitable.

Having had both War Of The Worlds & Black Panther cancelled out from under him, Don McGregor was forced to go it alone with his next character, a " black version of the romantic Errol Flynn type character of the '30's ". Editors rejected the concept wholesale, but to their credit, both Paul Gulacy and Eclipse's Dean Mullaney were willing to go along with McGregor, risking the year it would take to produce a book about an unknown character in an untested format. Everyone thought they were insane.

The year is 2020, and, after decades of food shortages, energy crises, pollution, terrorism and nuclear ' accidents ', America has become a police state, all individualism expunged from the populace. This is the future, but clearly, it's not that far removed from today.
Sabre, a lone rebel against the government, has escaped a trap set for him by the forces of the state, but in the process, other resistance fighters have been captured, and taken to an abandoned amusement park as bait for our hero. Joined by his test tube created lover, Melissa Siren, he breaks into the park, intent on rescue.

Sabre, in the eyes of government bad guy The Overseer, is an anachronism, raised on vid-cassettes of old movies, he sees himself as the last great romantic hero, and, while wandering through the park, he & Melissa discuss at great length the nature of fantasy, heroism & freedom, even stopping mid-rescue to make love, all the while watched on monitors by The Overseer & his gang.

These scenes are where I always have a problem with Sabre. The sheer artificiality of the situation (you're supposed to be rescuing your buddies, Sabre!) makes the reader step back from the material, and become aware that what you're reading is more an intellectual exercise than a story.

Eventually, Sabre & Melissa board a copy of an ancient schooner, so that he and paid mercenary Blackstar Blood can indulge their sword-swinging fantasies together. Blackstar, although a bad guy, is as enamoured of the heroic ideal as Sabre, and plays the part of honourable villain perfectly, just as Sabre plays the noble hero.

Captured, Sabre is 'reprogrammed', all the idealism & individuality wiped from his mind, before being forced to watch Melissa being gang raped by The Overseer's robot minions. Although this scene stops before the actual rape, I've always found it to be an unnecessary and pointlessly nasty part of the story, reminiscent of the kind of gleeful " now we can draw naked chicks " policy of Heavy Metal. Though maybe that's McGregor's point.

Anyway, Sabre is, of course, faking it, and without too much hassle manages to escape. Melissa too, kills her captors, and succeeds in breaking out the prisoners in time for the slam-bang finale.

In a race against time, Melissa hurries to help Sabre take on the Overseer, being rescued along the way by noble bad guy Blackstar, and the two arrive just in time to watch hero & villain in their final conflict.

In a poetic epilogue, Melissa is revealed to be pregnant, but Sabre, as all heroes must, is already on his way to his next adventure. ( Which came, of course, in the Billy Graham drawn sequel An Exploitation Of Everything Dear. )

Sabre, like I said, has always felt to me more of a treatise on heroism, than an actual story.
Firstly, the setting doesn't quite work. The world of 2020 is barely seen, and roughly sketched in, plus the environment of the abandoned fun park is very deliberately a fake place, a fantasyland for Sabre to romp around in. Also, unlike Killraven or T'Challa, it rarely feels like you're reading about real, breathing people. Sabre, Melissa and all the other characters spend so much time stepping out of their roles to discuss them, it means the reader moves back a little too far from the cast. You're obviously watching archetypes, and not characters.
Imagine a Conan adventure where, when you look away, he deconstructs the very nature of the story with Red Sonja. Fascinating intellectually, but unengaging emotionally.

I realize that the desconstruction of the hero, and of fantasy itself, is what McGregor intended here, but I also know that he likes the reader to care about his characters, and he tried to have it both ways with Sabre. Which is to not say he shouldn't have tried; An experiment that doesn't quite work is infinitely preferable to the same old pap, and Don McGregor was then, and still is, better than 99.9% of his competitors. This was, after all, a first step in adult comics.
Luckily for all involved, the experiment did work in terms of sales, making Sabre one of the first successful graphic novels aimed at grown-ups, and an important chapter in the history of comics. It's just that it's an easier book to admire, than it is one to love.


  1. I get everything you're saying, and pretty much agree with you all the way, but I fell in love with the book the first time I read it, and love it still. along with the first Detectives Inc book, it's my favourite Don McGregor. great post.

  2. Hey, disagreeing over the merits of our favourite comics is what makes this hobby fun! Haven't read Detectives Inc. but plan to get a copy this year.
    ( Since starting this blog, I'm painfully aware of how much stuff I haven't read that I really should've! )

  3. I hear you, pete! since setting up on The Street, I've pretty much had to give up buying new comics, just so's I can scrape up the moneys to get all the old ones I suddenly want. . .

    damn this infernal comicy fun!!!