Thursday, October 25, 2007

27. Nu-Earth Nonsense

Still November 1995, still waiting for "The Pit" to begin. It's # 967, and the contents include two one-offs and four ongoing stories. Judge Dredd has a good tale by Dan Abnett and the wonderful Anthony Williams about an old robo-boxing droid, and Vector 13 has a pretty by-the-numbers story by Kevin Gill and Dave D'Antiquis about spontaneous human combustion. The other stories are PARAsites by Mark Eyles and Mike Hadley, Chopper by Alan McKenzie and John Higgins, The ABC Warriors by Pat Mills, Tony Skinner and Kevin Walker and the first part of a new Rogue Trooper storyline.

The Hipster Son has recently begun playing Rogue Trooper for the Playstation 2 and has been confused by the goings-on in the comic strip. At this point in 2000 AD's life, we're in the waning days of the strip, when Steve White and Steve Tappin have been ordered to perform emergency surgery and make something out of the character. See, the original series concluded in 1989 or so, to make way for a new iteration of Rogue devised by his original artist Dave Gibbons. This was meant to be a dark, gritty, future war story bereft of all the accoutrements and silliness from the original run. Unfortunately, despite the good intentions of his first outing, a lengthy 1990 series painted by Will Simpson, Rogue fell into a complete mess in which "silly" would have been a great improvement.

Mercifully, I started writing these little blogs after I'd already reread the three Michael Fleisher-scripted series from 1991-92, and so I don't have to tell you how terrible they were. But I think, apart from all the cliche and half-baked "drama" within them, their worst offense was turning the oppressive, downbeat, realistic, "hard SF" world of the Gibbons/Simpson series into something utterly bizarre, with completely outlandish gadgetry and improbable future tech that wouldn't have been out of place in a seventh-grade game of TSR's Star Frontiers. So when Steve White took over in 1994, he had a long row to hoe...

White's take on Rogue Trooper swings like a pendulum from high to low. There's one episode from early spring 1995 which is something like three straight pages of four identical blue-skinned clones talking about a cellular virus attacking their genetic structure. I really am trying to reread every word in 2000 AD in this exercise, but even I couldn't finish that one. On the other hand, the climax to "Ascent" in prog 949 is heartbreaking and a real triumph. I still think fans who've dismissed this series need to reread this four-parter and reconsider this one outing.

White worked to restore some realism and sense to the series, by relating a future war that works within honest boundaries and a logical backstory. In many ways, I think it's every bit as misunderstood as the Peter Hogan/Rian Hughes run of Robo-Hunter, brought in to rehabilitate an old favorite whose reputation had been tarnished by a previous mess by a lesser writer. White was not as consistent, nor as artistically successful, on Rogue as Peter Hogan had been on Robo-Hunter, but these really aren't bad comics. They're certainly no worse than the meandering original run of Rogue Trooper. I'd much rather read the White/Tappin stories than all that "Antigen of Horst" nonsense that Gerry Finley-Day and Jose Ortiz slogged through forever.

The reread shows me that this was my first prog after a four-week disappearance at the hands of Diamond. This started happening, unaccountably, in the mid 1990s, and it was pretty widespread. In 1996, there was a similar five-week drop, and I later noticed the back issue bins at one of my favorite shops, Great Escape in Nashville, had the exact same hole of five issues in their collection. The last one came in 1997.

In the case of Rogue Trooper, the drop meant that I missed the three-episode story "Descent," which preceded this one. This was a pretty harrowing story in which Friday has a breakdown, unable to cope with half of his supporting cast dying in the "Ascent" story. It's a bleak and fascinating scene, but White and Tappin sensibly didn't wallow too long in this character-driven moment; the series, whether the original, starring Rogue or this version starring Friday, doesn't need very much character introspection. It's a simple, plot-driven premise: vengeful, taciturn man fights lonely war.

My son thinks it would make a terrific TV series, although he suggests that they might not find an actor who wants to be painted blue and run around without a shirt all the time. "For Venus, they'd only have to paint her arms and face," he says.

Finally this week, old business. Paul Rainey, whom you may know from his incredibly fun 2000 AD Prog Slog Blog, which inspired my Thrillpowered Thursday series, this week reread prog 265, which, due to a printer's error, had an almost completely black Nerve Centre, with the week's letter from Tharg illegible. Paul's copy of the prog lacked this inserted note, explaining the error and providing the much-needed weekly communication from our favorite alien editor:

Kinda like that kid in A Christmas Story decoding the message about the Ovaltine, isn't it?

(Originally published 10/25/07 at LiveJournal.)

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