Back in the golden age of 2000AD there were landmark characters. Judge Dredd is the most famous. Mutant Johnny Alpha, the Strontium Dog comes a close second for me. In my opinion, the third most memorable character was the blue-skinned genetically-engineered infantryman known as Rogue Trooper. It was therefore with a great deal of relish that I got review duties for the collected stories, assembled from the beginning, and bound in a satisfyingly thick tome from Titan Books.
One of my proudest possessions is a piece of original Rogue Trooper artwork by Chris Weston, given to me personally. Chris had been toying with the idea of having my band ‘The Adventures Of Parsley’ at his wedding. When I sent him a video of us playing, he and his fiancée reasoned that we might be too loud for the senior attendees. To apologise, he sent me the magnificent artwork. No apology was necessary, but hey, I’m not complaining.
Chris was a later contributor to the Rogue Trooper saga, and this volume contains the scene-setting and core character-building episodes.
So, what are the odds? You’re the only survivor of a massacre of your whole squad, and you run from the army to find out who betrayed you. You go rogue. By a twist of fate your long-standing nickname has been ‘Rogue’. Stranger still, you carry the biochips (biologically impregnated chips of personality) taken from the bodies of three dead friends.
A guy called Gunnar’s chip is now in your gun. A guy called ‘Bagman’ has his chip on your equipment bag. A guy called ‘Helm’ is now occupying the chip slot in your helmet. To quote Harry Hill, “What are the chances of that happening?”
But did we, the comic readers of the early 80s, care? Not a bit of it. In fact, it was almost absurd to see the lengths the stories went to in preserving the unlikeliness of the naming convention. It was almost as if a computer game had been transcribed into the comics medium. This was rather unfair on Rogue Trooper, because several of the stories were hard hitting and powerful. On reflection, it was like the TV show Battlestar Galactica, starting with a potentially cheesy setup, but becoming a hard edged view of human behaviour in war.
Rogue Trooper was created by writer Gerry Finley-Day and artist Dave Gibbons (of Watchmen fame). The stories in this anthology are written by Finley-Day and legendary comics writer Alan Moore (V For Vendetta, Watchmen, League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen etc.). They are classic 2000AD writings, and prophetic in the portrayal of future war and even in setting the tone for how war would be fictionalised in the years to come. Eat your heart out, Hurt Locker!
In fact, the blue-skinned infantryman, genetically designed to function in a hostile environment, and have his brain functions moved from one body to another, finds a massive echo in the futurewar sequences of Avatar.
The back story is that Nu-Earth was a paradise. Ruined by chemical warfare, it is now a slugging ground for the Norts and the Southers. Everyone is in chemical protection suits, but the Norts have a faintly Nazi feel to them and wear goggles in their headgear, whilst the Southers look more human with their visors showing their full faces. However, Rogue’s knowledge that someone senior on the Souther side betrayed the GIs (Genetic Infantrymen) makes him suspicious of everybody.
The delicacy of human existence in this nightmare world (one breath of the native air and they choke to death) seems at odds with the cavalier violence of the warring factions. Much of the action is people dying as their suits or environments get damaged. Of course, they are all fascinated by the genetically-engineered Rogue Trooper, surviving without the need for such careful protection.
Another line in the stories is the madness of war, driven home by Rogue’s biochipped dead friends, talking to him, but not really giving a damn now that their lives are about being pieces of military hardware.
The anthology covers some good ground, from the slightly laboured ‘set up’ stories, through some suspense and combat ones, into some crazy surreal warped war situations.
The artwork varies quite dramatically from the meticulous detail of Colin Wilson and Dave Gibbons, through the more fantasy-feeling approach of Cam Kennedy and Brett Ewins, to the other extreme of Mike Dorey’s quickie monkey madness story with a much more ‘dirty’ approach to the images.
The biggest chunk of story in the book is given to the 19 episodes of the Fort Neuro saga, where an isolated fortress of soldiers has become a lunatic asylum of groups of soldiers following crazy historic fads e.g. Napoleonic Wars and partying Romeos.
The black and white artwork is a disguise for the pure comics’ gold of the content within. If you’ve seen anything like it, chances are it happened in these stories in the pages of 2000AD first.
The Rogue story veered away later, and opinions were divided about how successful it was, but this anthology is from the solid beginnings, is a very satisfying read, and as such is ‘must have’ material for the core 2000AD fan base.