Thursday, January 26, 2012

162. 86ed!

March 2006: In the run-up to the release of the long-awaited Rogue Trooper video game, Tharg does one of the strangest things this comic has ever done. He cancels Rogue Trooper and replaces it with a spinoff. Seriously. Oh, there's some ancillary merchandise, sure. Between October and March, Rebellion issues three graphic novels which, in conjunction with the two previously released during the DC deal, completely reprint the entire 1981-85 run written by Gerry Finley-Day. This month also sees the release of an Extreme Edition that compiles just about every annual and special episode by other writers, along with John Smith's celebrated 1989 story "Cinnabar." But precisely when you'd expect a run of new, color episodes with Rogue himself on the front cover about every other week, the character has been retired. Gordon Rennie had been in charge for a pretty good 25-episode run that was released in chunks from 2002-04. In 2005, he wrote a follow-up three-part adventure and a one-off in a very curious Winter Special full of pilot ideas for new series that don't make it to a proper commission. And finally, in the three issues prior to this one, Ian Edginton and Steve Pugh collaborated on a final three-part adventure. Until Finley-Day returned from retirement for a one-shot in December 2010, that has been the last we've seen of Rogue. Right at the point where we should have seen Mister Blue Bare Chest and his bio-chipped buddies on the cover almost every week, he's shelved in favor of a very dense, subplot-heavy, continuity-heavy series set in the same universe and featuring a similarly genetically-engineered pilot named, strangely, Rafe.

The 86ers is an outer space war adventure, set on an asteroid-based supply station called The Citadel. Its crew is a bunch of bitter jockeys and flyboys, aliens, and disgraced officers from the enemy side who've come to fight with the "Southers," historically the "good guys" in the Rogue Trooper universe. Karl Richardson is assigned to draw Gordon Rennie's scripts, but, strangely, he only does the first two episodes before PJ Holden steps in.

The series will struggle to find an audience. Tharg publishes 10 episodes across three outings in 2006, six more in 2007 and a final six in 2009, with Arthur Wyatt coming aboard as writer for the end after Rennie moves on from the medium of comics for a few years to do work with the video game industry. I'm not sure why it never gelled for me. It's possibly because I've never been all that interested in anything from Rogue's world, including Rafe's kind-of-ancestor Venus Bluegenes, but the story is too complex, and too rich with political machinations, for its own good. It is never as grandiose or engaging as Rennie's Caballistics Inc., and consequently, the same sort of character-based subplotting across similarly-scheduled irregular adventures fails completely. Each time The 86ers resurfaces, readers have to ask "Who's this guy again?"

The double-length episode in Prog 2007, for example, ends with the surprise revelation that one of Rogue's old enemies from his classic series, Colonel Kovert, is behind some of the machinations and goings-on. Even for Rennie, whose most recent Cabs story has, quite reasonably, assumed an awful lot of his audience, this is going way out on a limb. Admittedly, that 1982 story with Kovert has been reprinted something like nine times, and so longtime readers might remember the character, but for anybody who barely remembers, or doesn't at all, what is really just a minor blip in some very old continuity, this really is asking a lot. Then it would be six months before the next story, when we see what the heck the villain is doing on the Citadel.

Back in August, in chapter 141, I wrote about how disagreeable it is to have stories stopping and starting in little fits and coughs of new episodes, and The 86ers is one of the all-time worst examples of that. Read in the collected edition, this is a pretty good series, with some fun moments and very good artwork throughout, but serialized the way it was, with those deeply unhelpful gaps between stories, it really was a pain in the rear.

Speaking of pains in the rear, oh, that game. Well, it certainly looked good. I'm not much of a gamer, and was unfamiliar with what's termed "third-person shooters," in which the "camera" is behind the character on the screen. This appears to be the dominant style of adventure games over the last ten years or so, but, speaking as a potential player who's enjoyed maybe two games, period, since the release of the original Perfect Dark for the N64, this was not a game for me.

I bought a PlayStation 2 to play Katamari Damacy, and then pretty much left it to my children to enjoy. I bought the Rogue Trooper game new, found it absurdly difficult to control or move around, and finally gave up somewhere on the fourth level or something. Every so often, I'd buy a used James Bond game for the system and find them similarly next-to-impossible to maneuver, get riddled with holes while trying to remember which button did what, assuming that I realized that I was getting shot in the first place, and eventually concluded that these games were not being made for me.

While the game's introductory animation was showing off the Quartz Zone Massacre, however, I was the biggest fan of the game in the world. It really did look good, and even though Rogue is not my favorite character, there's that frisson of excitement of seeing anything from the comic adapted with such love and fervor. It looks good, and it looks right. Maybe one of these days, Rebellion will finally make that Strontium Dog first-person shooter that they should have made a million years ago, and it won't be impossible for slow old losers like me to play.

Ideally, this entry should have featured some screen shots from the video game as illustrations, but I'm of the opinion that screen shots always look pointless and unappealing. The above Henry Flint illustration from the current ABC Warriors adventure is, on the other hand, all kinds of appealing.

Stories from this prog have been reprinted in the following collected editions:
The ABC Warriors: The Shadow Warriors (2000 AD's Online Shop)
The 86ers: The Complete 86ers (2000 AD's Online Shop)

Next time, it's the last Thrillpowered Thursday before a short break, and undercover judge Aimee Nixon is guest of honor at a very unusual convention in Mega-City One. See you in seven days!

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