Regular readers of this blog will probably have guessed that my very favourite comics tend to be from the IPC stable of the 1970's, notably Battle Picture Weekly, Action and 2000AD. And one of my favourite stories from that period was MACH 1 (Man Activated by Compu-Puncture Hyperpower); basically we're talking The Six Million Dollar Man, an agent (John Probe) given superpowers by having an internal computer controlling his every action. The strip degenerated fairly quickly into your average secret agent story although it did end on a high in prog 64 when MACH 1 was shot dead by his own side; we hadn't seen that happen in British comics before and to 2000AD's credit, they never brought him back to life. Mind you, we did later get the ever-more bizarre stories of his Hulk-like predecessor, MACH Zero.
So around 4 years ago, I was quite excited by the thought of a sort-of return for our hero. More a re-imagining by original series creator, Pat Mills. Greysuit was a story about British agent John Blake, trained (tortured) from childhood to bear extreme levels of physical and mental stress and to produce massive levels of adrenaline that essentially gave him MACH 1-like superpowers. All this was related in the first story, Project Monarch.
Now I had thought that this was simply Pat Mills exercising his imagination, building on his original premise and giving it a more modern, believable air. It was not until recently when I bought Rebellion's excellent collected edition of Greysuit and read Pat Mills introduction that I began to get an inkling that this was all more than just his imagination. I did as he suggested and looked up Project Monarch on the internet. There are all sorts of pages out there, some a bit bonkers, others looking all too legitimate. What I found amazing is how many of the ideas Pat Mills incorporated actually seem to have a basis in reality. That governments like Britain's really are capable of torturing their own agents in order to try and create a better one. That the different classes of agents, Omega, Theta and suchlike genuinely existed (exist?). And as for the Arizona market, I think that is probably a bit too unpalatable to cover on a comics blog but lets just say Mill's Greysuit does not exaggerate!
Pat Mills gets bashed by some fans for his sometimes heavy-handed, leftist leanings but taking a look at some of the facts behind his stories I can see where he's coming from. I found reading Greysuit was a far more enjoyable strip read in its entirety than it did as short weekly episodes and credit too to John Higgins' very consistent and excellent art. Knowing some of the realities behind the story does lend the whole thing some gravitas and its down to Pat Mills' masterly storytelling that he can take all of that and still shape it into something which is a more than worthy successor to MACH 1.