By Garth Ennis & John McCrea (Fleetway)
Aged 19, Garth Ennis dropped out of college to become a writer in 1989, and certainly kicked off with an enviable bang by creating a mini-masterpiece in the thoughtful and engaging Troubled Souls: a multi-layered and wonderfully even-handed exploration of coming-of-age in Belfast during the undeclared civil war euphemistically called “the Troubles.”
Crisis (63 issues from 1988 to1991) was an experiment in socially edgy adult comics launched by Fleetway Publications during the Dog Days of Thatcher’s regime, and it paved the way for many a starry career in its day. After science fiction series New Statesmen and Third World War concluded the magazine became more experimental, reflecting a more contemporary worldview, and new strip Troubled Souls quickly became an unmissable fortnightly treat.
Tom Boyd is a young Protestant man in Belfast at the end of the 1980s. The constant sectarian bloodshed and British occupation have largely left him untouched, except for the economic cataclysm that has made Northern Ireland a place of no jobs and no hope for the young. He lives with his parents and yearns for something better; girlfriend, career prospects, hope.
At least he’s got enough dole money for bevies with his mates…
One notable night in the pub his friend set him up with a blind date, and that’s fine, but when a British Army patrol comes in on a search, a total stranger surreptitiously dumps a gun in his lap and surrenders himself. Shocked and startled, Tom can’t understand why he doesn’t shop the gunman, but his bewilderment turns to rage when he sees what the Squaddies do to the suspect…
Later Catholic terrorist Damien McWilliams reclaims his gun, and insinuates himself into Tom’s life, challenging his cosy preconceptions, terrorising and blackmailing the lad into participating in a bombing. Through it all Tom is the helpless pawn of powerful, corrupt and hate-filled forces, but still finds time for first love, real life and a true friend, but the centuries of hate that have plagued the country can’t be denied or thwarted and a wholly unique and personal tragedy is going to occur whatever he does or doesn’t do…
Poignant, engaging, genial, funny and scary, this richly moving human drama, set on a stage everybody only thought they knew, is still one of the best stories Ennis has ever written, and fellow neophyte John McCrea has seldom produced such varied, evocative, sensitive art since. Because of the subject matter I can understand why it hasn’t been republished, but with twenty years distance and original copies fetching $50 or more isn’t it about time somebody thought about a new edition? Perhaps combined with its more broadly comedic sequel For a Few Troubles More (coming soon to a review blog near you…)?
© 1990 Fleetway Publications. All Rights Reserved.