A former police officer known only as “S” operates as a private detective based in New York City, finding people and objects for a fee. S steals a quantity of a strange substance called “Heavy Liquid”. On its own, it is a metallic-liquid explosive, but it turns into “black milk” when cooked, and exhibits mind-altering, drug-like properties. A mysterious art collector who also has a quantity of Heavy Liquid wishes to hire S to find a missing artist named Rodan Esperella (coincidentally S’s ex-lover), whom he hopes will create a piece out of the Heavy Liquid for him. In the meantime, assassins are on S’s trail, looking to retrieve the stolen Heavy Liquid. S finally trails Esperella to Paris, and he tries to broker a deal between her and the art collector. Esperella promises to sculpt a masterpiece on the condition that she never see S again. His job done, S boards a train heading to Prague, where he is cornered by one of his pursuers. S then discovers from his pursuer that the Heavy Liquid is alien in origin, and may even possess some form of consciousness. Ingesting the drug himself, S escapes by jumping onto another train, his physical abilities dramatically increased by the Heavy Liquid. S comes to understand its nature as a medium containing an alien intelligence. Ultimately, on the European train, S experiences first contact with the being.
Paul Pope introduced THB in 1994, the same year he began work for Kodansha, Japan’s best-known manga publisher. Pope eventually developed the manga Supertrouble for Kodansha, which mined the “cutie-pie” girl adventure vein that THB exists in. Pope has self-published some of his work through his own Horse Press, with other work such as One-Trick Ripoff coming from Dark Horse Comics and Heavy Liquid and 100% published under DC Comics‘ Vertigo imprint.
Pope’s work combines the precision and romance of the European artists he studies with the energy and page design of the manga tradition. His storytelling narratives continue to mature with well-paced, deftly-shaded combinations of science fiction, hardboiled crime stories and the Romeo and Juliet archetype. Pope’s two protagonist types are the silent, lanky outsider male of One-Trick Ripoff, Escapo and Heavy Liquid, or the resourceful, aggressive, humorous young teenage girls of THB.