Roachmill is an 80s and 90s comic which started off on the lower end of the publishing world and eventually made semi-good. But you’re probably saying, “It can’t be that good if I haven’t heard of it, can it?” But then you’re hearing right now, so what does that tell you? Probably nothing. The five issues collected here were first published by Blackthorne Publishing- the firm famous for their 3-D comics and who went out of business by acquiring the rights to do a comic on Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker, a comic which nobody bought. After Blackthorne, Dark Horse (still an unsteady entity at the time) picked up the series and ran it for another ten issues, until it was scrapped.
This is a sci-fi adventure in a future where Earth is part of a vast connected group of planets tied by trade routes. The problem is that many of these alien races come from very violent backgrounds, and thus the job of exterminator has expanded to include the destruction of aliens. Roachmill, a grim-jawed Clint Eastwood type, who has extra two cybernetic arms-hence his name, I suppose, is one of the most famous exterminators about. In this case he is framed for an unlicensed killing and has to figure out who laid the trap for him and why.
The problem with this story is that there is no set tone. It varies wildly back and forth between serious sci-fi, satire, and even some slapstick - making it overall an unsatisfying read. Neither fish nor fowl. For a story to have a lasting impression it must stick with a tone and quite frankly (apart from Red Dwarf) humorous sci-fi, especially ones revolving around a grim-faced killing machine, never work out.
Red Dwarf is the exception because it is primarily character driven, with the humor deriving from the flawed character’s reactions to circumstances. When, as in the case of Roachmill, you have a character devoid of almost any personality, then what is there to work with. The grim faced fighter who can beat the shit out of anything is almost the biggest cliché in comics. Very rarely is it memorable or interesting.
The only thing which recommends this book is the extraordinary art. Black and white, it is crisp, clean and highly emotive. The artist plays with shadows excellently to create an excellent noir atmosphere, or would have if the story didn’t try to be “witty” or “clever”.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst.