Axa.. Artist: Enrique Romero.

AXA

Original medium: Newspaper comics
Appearing in: The Sun
First Appeared: 1978
Creators: Donne Avenell (writer) and Enrique Badia Romero (artist)
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It's a science fiction theme that's at least as old as science fiction itself. The hero lives in a near-utopian society, but feels smothered by its oppressive atmosphere, where everything, down to the smallest detail, is regulated and planned. He (or in this case, she) hightails it off to the wilderness, braving its dangers for the chance to live free. What follows could almost pass for a barbarian adventure story, or almost pass for a sci-fi epic. Axa was a hero to …

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… rival Red Sonja, but she lived in a world with enclaves of high technology taking the place of nests of wizardry.

Axa's story began in the year 2070, when she suddenly ditched the Domed City where she'd grown up, because its rigid rules and stifling conformity had finally driven her over the edge. Her first act of defiance was to rip her shirt off and treat readers to the sight of her naked breasts — but then, this appeared in Britain, where nudity taboos are much less restrictive than those in America. And that appearance was in The Sun, a newspaper which apparently takes the attitude that any excuse is a good excuse, for baring a woman's breasts.

Axa lived in a world decades past a nuclear holocaust. Her life of adventure began as soon as she left the protection (but smothering atmosphere) of the Domed City. It continued for several years, as she faced danger after danger, with no end in sight, and no goal except to keep out of the Domed City's clutches.

The Sun gave the assignment of writing Axa to veteran comics writer Donne Avenell, who had built his reputation writing The Phantom, whose worldwide impact can't be contained in a single newspaper comic. For the artwork, they chose Enrique Romero, the Spanish artist who was regularly drawing Peter O'Donnell's Modesty Blaise at the time. Readers were attracted by the sci-fi premise, the non-stop action, and the frequent nude scenes. Romero was probably chosen at least in part, for his proven ability to handle such scenes in his current work, where they occurred much less frequently but still often enough to provide amusing counterpoint to the hero's given name, Modesty.

Axa began in 1978 and ran daily, but not Sunday, in The Sun. In 1986, in the midst of behind-the-scenes corporate wheelings and dealings, it was abruptly canceled. In fact, word came down that the plug was being pulled while the strip was in the middle of a story, and that story wasn't even finished. Ironically, the title of that final, uncompleted story was "Axa Betrayed". Romero went back to Modesty Blaise and Avenell continued his freelance career, which within a few years came to include Disney comic book stories for Egmont Publishing Services, which licenses Mickey, Donald etc. in most of Northern and Eastern Europe.

During this time, Axa arrived in the U.S. Ken Pierce Books (Abbie & Slats, The Spirit) published the first American edition of Axa reprints in 1981. It contained an illustrated foreword by Maggie Thompson (Comics Buyers Guide), titled "Women Removing Clothes in British Comic Strips". More reprints followed. The series was completed, including the final unfinished story, in 1989.

Just after Axa stopped appearing in The Sun, Pierce, in conjunction with Eclipse Enterprises (Destroyer Duck, DNAgents) put out a non-reprinted edition in full color comic book format. Artwork was still by Romero, but the scripts were written by Chuck Dixon (Airboy, Robin). Two issues were published. Both appeared in 1987.

It's been a couple of decades since Axa was in print on either side of the Atlantic, but interest in Romero's work on it remains high. Unizarre International has announced a forthcoming movie version, but information on the cast and release date doesn't seem to be available.

— DDM

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Text ©2009 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Romero.