I’ve set out on a mission to acquire all the old Eagle comics from the 80s. I’m talking about Judge Dredd, The Strontium Dog, 2000AD, Robo Hunter, and The Stainless Steel Rat!
I really love these books so far. Something about them just speaks to me. Particularly The Stainless Steel Rat. Bold colors. Rich textures. Lots of ink. All just really well drawn. Strong art that brings a good story to life. With its strange name and what artwork I spied online, I envisioned an action/SciFi adventure starring a James Bond/Sterling Archer sort of character. Turns out I was right!
Each consecutive pair of the six issue series is based on one book in a trilogy of novels written by Harry Harrison. While I prefer comics have their own original story, reading up on these books convinced me the series was a faithful adaptation of the source material. Getting hooked wasn’t something I expected. I figured I’d probably just enjoy them with casual amusement, but I wasn’t prepared to actually like them. Well I did, and quite a bit!
The main character is James Bolivar diGriz, otherwise known as “Slippery Jim” (mainly to himself), and of course as The Stainless Steel Rat (pretty much exclusively to himself). While he might not be the playboy that Sterling Archer or James Bond are, he’s every bit as clever, skilled, sarcastic, and badass as.
The first story arc is basically a galaxy-wide “chase down the bad guy” routine. Only here the “good guy” is actually the galaxy’s best thief, diGriz, recruited by the “Special Corp”, a kind of elite galactic police force. By the end of the second book, diGriz’s life has changed considerably, but not completely. In the end diGriz remains the galaxy’s best thief, only now he’s got some company. Our new lovable antihero get’s off to a great start!
The third issue begins a time travel arc. Admittedly, I balked. But to my surprise the story didn’t collapse or spiral out of control. And it wasn’t time travel used as a splash of color to an otherwise weak story. No, this time travel had reasons that actually drove the narrative. And Napoleon. And Martian soldiers. And a Time War! And Daleks!!! Sorry, no Daleks… All together, it was an engaging time travel story without any consequence that remained interesting throughout.
The last story arc starts as a classic who-done-it murder mystery. Slippery Jim sets off with his equally criminal and deadly wife, Angelina, to find out why someone was killed while trying to contact Jim. This mission gets a bit larger than they anticipated, so Jim calls in some extra reinforcements in the form of…their twin sons! It’s a good old fashioned family affair that turns into a coup d’etat to overthrow an evil president.
Thee stories are packed with grand thefts, long cons, a handful of high-speed chases, and a few unfortunate but necessary deaths. While the plots aren’t overly complex, the inherent humor in the writing carries the stories along. The writing is never excessive, and all the moments of narration, by Slippery Jim himself, really tie the character in with the stories.
What makes Slippery Jim enjoyable is his staunch unflappability. When things gets out of hand his composure and bravado always allow him to get the situation back under his control . He approaches every scenario with a sense of humor and confidence, but a complete lack of certainty. He get’s knocked out a lot, but always comes to as if it was all part of his plan. Jim will go to any lengths to complete the job but is loathsome to actually kill. It’s an admirable stance given his already shady ethics. He might be the galaxy’s best criminal but he does have a code. In the end the Stainless Steel Rat has a silver tongue and a heart of gold. If you can pick up these comics for a good price I’d recommend doing so. They’re not masterpieces, but they are worth the read!
image source: [HarryHarrison]