Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Secret Services: Department Q

Department Q? Where have I heard that name before? Well, there was a real "Department Q" in the SOE in the days of the Second World War, and after all, I did suggest keeping your eye out for that particular letter.

In today's installment of Secret Services, we've reached the 2002 debut of the "Caballistics, Inc." strip in 2000AD, written by Gordon Rennie and drawn by Dom Reardon.

What is Caballistics, Inc? Well, we'll get to that in a moment. First, let's get this other Department Q sorted out.

The site has a ridiculously detailed subsection on Caballistics, Inc., so I'll resist the temptation to simply point you in that direction, and instead quote liberally from it. According to the site, Department Q was...
A secret department of the British Government (Mininstry of Defence) founded in 1941 to combat Nazi occult warfare (specifically Sonderkommando Thule).
So far so good. What else can the site tell us? How about the WWII-era investigations of the group?
  • Something involving apparent Nazi lycanthropes.
  • The investigation of Sonderkommando Thule's Operation Doppelganger.
  • Enigma code broken using psychics and team of Jewish Cabbala scholars.
  • Doodlebugs knocked out of the air using telekinesis.
  • Divination to track u-boat movements.
  • Seances to gather military intelligence.
So far, so good. We're definitely in "secret government agencies that investigate the occult" territory here. Invoking 1940s British intelligence services and dragging in occult Nazi hoodoo is certainly a plus, as well.

So what's Caballistics, Inc., then?

Well, by the time the strip begins, the glory days of Department Q are long gone. Now the staff, which once included a whole host of adventurers, researchers, magicians, scholars of the Caballa, and others, has been reduced to just two paranormal historians, Dr. Jonathan Brand and Jennifer Simmons. The British government, looking to cut costs, is on the verge of shutting the whole department down when Ethan Kostabi, a former glamrock star from the 1970s who went on to become a dot-com billionaire, buys the whole thing lock, stock, and barrel, and uses it as the basis of a new venture: Caballistics, Inc.

Dr. Brand and Ms. Simmons are included along with the Department Q furniture and files, and are soon joined by Solomon Ravne, a mysterious figure who just might be the surviving founder of the WWII-era Nazi Occult division; and Hannah Chapter and Lawrence Verse, hardbitten and heavily-armed demon hunters. Together the five set up shop in Exham Priory in Sussex, which was once the home of Malcolm Critchley, a Aleister Crowley-like "Great Beast" who got up to some dirty deeds back in middle of the 20th Century.

As the series progresses, Caballistics, Inc. is brought in to deal with a whole host of occult menaces, from haunted movie studios to hold-out Nazi threats, from Lovecraftian monsters to demons and devils from Hell itself. Along the way Ms. Simmons becomes possessed by a demon, we learn the backstories of the various characters and start seeing glimpses into the doings of Department Q over the decades, and gradually discover that Solomon Ravne has hidden connections with Ethan Kostabi, and that both of them are much, much older than they appear.

The series, the majority of which is available in two collected editions from 2000AD, Going Underground and Creepshow, is consistently entertaining, clever, and frequently downright creepy. Rennie and Reardon have clearly done their home work, and the stories are littered not only with references to various real occult belief and historical minuteia, but also metafictional nods to the work of a great many other books, comics, and films (the haunted movie studio storyline is full of nods and "easter eggs," in particular).


The name makes me think of K-Section in the Sam Durrell Assignment series. Ever read any of those?
No, don't think I've heard of them before. What are they like?
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