OR: Invictus Horror & Razor King

A review that originally appeared on the Case Notes blog at ttapress.com on the20th of September last year:-

This is a week for satirists, though aside from that label there’s little else in the way of common denominator between the gentle but pointed humour of Mervyn Wall (a reference to another review posted that week on the Case Notes blog – Pete) and the savagery and acerbic bite of Lord Horror author David Britton’s barbed prose. Britton is a satirist who might make even the Swift of A Modest Proposal blanch, but we live in different times, an age when atrocity is part and parcel of our common heritage and not something to have the great and good shaking with holier than thou outrage at the mere suggestion of such a thing. And these different times require stronger measures on the part of those writers wishing to hold a looking glass up to the zeitgeist of the age, though how much stronger remains open to debate.

I reviewed two previous books by Britton, La Squab and Lord Horror: Reverbstorm, back in Black Static #37 (link at foot of page) and today I’ll review a couple more.

At the start of 2013 release INVICTUS HORROR (Savoy Books hc, 138pp, £15) the twins Meng and Ecker are spending Christmas at the Porchfield Square, Manchester residence of their mentor Lord Horror, but their festive spirit is seriously undermined and/or complemented by a series of incursions and apparitions, not the least of which is Horror himself reinvented as a giant glass statue. And of course there are the usual attacks on Jews, so over the top that they are hard to take seriously, at least by any criteria other than the Swiftian proposal kind. All of which is but the curtain raiser for the reappearance in the twins’ lives of Doctor Mengele, the man who separated them in Auschwitz and who has subsequently decided this simple division was rather a complex mistake. He intends to reunite Meng and Ecker, going on in the best spirits of The Human Centipede to conjoin them with a host of other people in the hope of driving humanity to some kind of apotheosis.

Or something like that.

I’m not really sure what this book is about or where its author is coming from, despite reading it three times (the sacrifices we reviewers make for our art, or possibly the ‘punishment’ for not making notes the first or even the second time around). The story doesn’t really seem to go anywhere much and adds nothing substantial to the Horror mythos, at least in as far as I’ve been exposed to Britton’s work. The plot such as it is, appears to be simply an excuse for the author to throw grotesquery and comic cartoon style ultra-violence at the page, the book reading like a mash up of Schindler’s List and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, with toons in lieu of real people, or vice versa. It is going to be dismissed by many as simply an exercise in giving offence, and certainly there is a lot of offence waiting to be taken, but again, as with Swift and his proposed solution to the Irish famine, Britton’s work stands as dark satire inviting us to hold up a mirror and see what stares back at us, to question our own visceral rather than intellectual response to the problem of fascism, to admit that there is a problem and that we might, just might, be part of it. It’s simply that in this instant I didn’t really feel that the book worked as well as its predecessors. It felt a little too focused on the mechanics of atrocity rather than the reason, which of course may actually be part of whatever ‘message’ the book has.

I have already mentioned that I didn’t really understand it, yes?

As in previous books Britton’s work is accompanied by colour and black and white illustrations by Kris Guidio, lavish spreads that bring an air of decadence to the project and, to fall back on cliché, are worth the price of admission alone.

2017’s RAZOR KING (Savoy Books hc, 300pp, £20) is Britton’s seventh novel and arguably a much more ambitious work. This time around Auschwitozaliala is an independent planet, one in the form of a vast concentration camp, and Lord Horror, ably abetted by a supporting cast of Meng and Ecker and La Squab, is its presiding spirit, dispatching Jews and anyone else who doesn’t tickle his fancy with his trusty razors. Coming close to Auschwitozaliala’s orbit is the planet Plum-duff, whose inhabitants are animated sweets. An emissary named Dolly Lolly Pop has been placed under Horror’s care, while Himmler decides if it’s practical to bring Plum-duff’s people over to feed the starving population of the camps, which means Horror has to fight off the Chews/Jews who wish to devour the Toffee Boy. Ancillary to this are several subplots involving pirate rats and sex obsessed automobiles, with Meng’s sexual proclivities given full rein to the burgeoning disgust of his more philosophical twin Ecker.

I didn’t quite understand this one either.

Ramshackle and sprawling in all directions, the plot is Britton’s attempt at a mash up of pulp science fiction and the westerns so beloved of Adolf Hitler, with the final chapter breeching the fourth wall and the author speaking directly to the reader about the genesis of his characters and some of the ideas behind the book (dedicated to Michael Moorcock’s Prince Elric and the father of the atomic bomb, Oppenheimer). It’s a raucous creation, one characterised by ceaseless invention and a love of the rude, the crude, and the intentionally offensive, like Frankie Boyle on speed. You cannot help being beguiled by Britton’s lurid imagery and command of language, the way in which he can make such absurdities as sex with a fly seem almost possible, with a cartoon character to the racially motivated violence that populates almost every page of the book.

And yet…

Britton seems at times almost disgusted by the things that he describes, inviting us to not only share his disdain but admit our culpability in fuelling the cultural stereotypes that give it life. In chapter 23 La Squab meditates on the philosophy behind the creation of Auschwitozalalia, its place in the common consciousness. “Once created, the camps were eternal. The psyche of the human race would never be without their presence. They transcended time, defined mankind’s potential nature as beyond evil. The memory of the concentration camps defined STOP, it just went on and on, warping and changing into different scenarios. Each succeeding generation re-evaluated them to suit. The end never finished.” And then there is this – “Nothing inhuman could be discounted as a necessary understanding of ourselves.”

Auschwitozalalia is Hell, and in depicting it Britton becomes the Bosch or Breughel of a non-theistic universe. He warns us not to become too complacent, not to think that such things will (cannot) ever happen again – “Look at the millions of white trash on Twitter and Facebook, and marvel at their vulgarity. Do you think if they had been there they would not have partied and participated in similar camps in England? The truth is there for all to see.” And post-Brexit, post-Trump, with the increase in hate crimes and previously unspoken attitudes now expressed freely and with little fear of push back, we can see the flower of fascism once again taking root. To dismiss Hitler as simply a madman and the Third Reich with its concentration camps as an aberration is to leave ourselves vulnerable. Rather we need to look into our own natures, to ask why we are so ready to embrace such credos, hateful as they are.

And yet…

Reading Razor King made me feel uneasy for reasons that had little to do with its surreal and grotesque content. There is a danger here. While I don’t doubt Britton’s purpose in writing books like this, there is I feel the very real possibility that like all true seers his work will not only not be received by its intended audience, but wilfully misunderstood by others. When Britton writes of Hitler “what he spoke was truthful, probably more so than any of today’s or yesterday’s politicians”, and makes comments like “I have not degraded any race that did not deserve it” you have to question his wisdom/intent, the way in which such remarks can so easily be taken out of context (and perhaps here, I am guilty of that) and used to justify the very thing they are intended to oppose.

In closing I’m reminded of the work of another satirist, Kurt Vonnegut who wrote in Mother Night, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

Oh yeah, almost forgot – great artwork by Kris Guidio.

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