“It has been thirty years since writer Gerry Finley-Day and artist Dave Gibbons first unleashed Rogue Trooper, last of the Genetic Infantrymen on the world in the pages of 2000AD #228, and the old Rogue has been through more than his share of changes in the meantime. Yet he remains one of British comics’ most enduring characters even though it’s been years since he had a new adventure. So, just why is the Rogue Trooper so popular with generations of readers? Let’s find out…”
4.5 out of 5
More from Broken Frontier’s Brits on Top week.
More 2000 AD love from Broken Frontier:
Joe Dredd, lawman of Mega City in a future where the earth has been nuked and people reside in cities that grew to the size of the Eastern Seaboard, represents at his best a satirical outlook on today’s world of Man (and Woman, Dredd is an equal justice dispenser, a perp is a perp). At his worst, it is a solid piece of straightforward hardcore sci-fi action. Dredd is civilization’s drive for order personified, a natural force of man’s need for organization, for equality for all driven to such an extreme height that the absurd trickles in on the edges and firmly plants the seed of satire.
And here is the secret: it is all played with a straight face. Even Dredd’s nickname is “ol’ stony face”. And what race of man exists that has given us the pure unadulterated glory of Monthy Python’s Flying Circus, Spitting Image, Blackadder and That Was the Week that Was :the Brits of course, pip pip! A race of beings that, in the face of genocide will spit out ‘Bad show, wot?’ and light their pipe staring intently at the horizon, pondering whether or not tea time is right around the corner.
As good old sir Winston Churchill has said
It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.
I’m sure Dredd would wholeheartedly agree.
Broken Frontier continue their reviews with Hondo-City Law:
Robbie Morrison, co-creator of beloved 2000AD characters like Nikolai Dante and Shakara, has created a shiny yet dark reflection of a Mega City in Hondo-City. A place perfect on the outside but rotten on the inside, the only force for good are the Judges and even there corruption is present in the highest ranks. Hondo-City Law collects a variety of stories, all born in the streets of Hondo-City.
Our Man in Hondo recollects the first meeting of Judge Dredd and Judge Inspector Sado (who would later play a pivotal rol in one of Dredd’s multi-arc events). Sado is Dredd’s perfect reflection in another part of the world, Clint Eastwood versus Toshiro Mifune. Written by Dredd’s co-creator and main chronicler John Wagner, it is a stunning game of chess (well… chess with robots, explosions and rogue sleeper agents) between the two seemingly perfect Judges, trying to find the crack in each others harness. They find themselves to be two Judges riding the same bleeding sharp knife of the law but on different edges of the blade, who will crack and who will turn out victorious? Colin MacNeill paints it all in hues that are bright and grungy at the same time, topping off the inner duel to perfection.
Next up is Shimura spotlighting Hondo-City’s other top cop, Judge Shimura, accompanied by cadet Judge Aiko Inaba, who take on a cybernetic corporate entity bend on dominating the Japanese megacity. The story is a nice mix of action and cyberpunk with some Japanese storytelling mixed in, but is especially noteworthy for deepening the dark underbelly of the Judges in Hondo-City, revealing questionable ethics for the sake of profit and ties to the Yakuza underworld. Glimpses of the dark beast beneath the shining pavements of Hondo-City. It also features one of the earliest published works of current superstar artist Frank Quitely. From the start his excellent sense of staging and space is apparent. His clean style is spot on for Hondo-City’s antiseptic streets, while his posed and transfixed figurework and facial characteristics exemplifies the inner troubles of being a Judge in Hondo-City.
Hondo-City Law is an action fest TPB full of double ententes, shady ethics and ofcourse uncompromising characters in a shady world where nothing works as good as a big explosion. The clean Japanese counterpart of the American Mega Cities is highly recommended as a visiting place in all tourist destination packages in the worlds of 2000AD!
Broken Frontier give us a history of Strontium Dog:
Johnny Alpha, the star of the long-running British series Strontium Dog, lives in a world far removed from that of Marvel’s spandex clad, super-powered superstars, where being a mutant is definitely more of a curse than a blessing.
Originally introduced in the short lived but fondly remembered StarLord comic in 1978, Johnny was a mutant bounty hunter, a ‘Search/Destroy’ agent in a post-holocaust world some two hundred years into the future; the SD on their badges and the cause of their mutations, Strontium 90, led the ‘norms’ who hated them to label the bounty hunters ‘Strontium Dogs’, and they were shunned and feared by most non-mutants. The majority of the mutant population had been exiled from Earth and given only one possible career path to follow.
The original run in StarLord (cancelled and merged with 2000AD after just 22 issues, apparently not because it wasn’t selling but because it was simply too expensive to produce) really told us very little about Johnny Alpha’s world and introduced only the three main characters: Johnny, a mutant whose radiation warped eyes enabled him to read minds and see through solid objects, his ‘norm’ partner Wulf Sternhammer, a gigantic hammer wielding Scandinavian who looked like a Viking (we would later learn that he actually was a time-displaced Viking) who called everyone ‘old cucumber’, and the Gronk, a timid four-armed alien who acted as the pair’s medic out of a sense of loyalty because they had befriended his dead brother (whose pelt Wulf wore as a fleece). When the series transferred to 2000AD however, creators John Wagner (writing under the name T.B Grover), Carlos Ezquerra and later Alan Grant fleshed out Johnny’s world quite considerably.
Finally in 1986, the series turned a dark corner when, in the story Max Bubba, Wulf was murdered and Johnny left for dead by an old enemy. Johnny was subsequently partnered with, at one time or another, both his old ally the Scots mutant Middenface McNulty (introduced in Portrait of a Mutant) and the vampiric Durham Red, but a lot of the humour was gone from the strip. After having been a 2000AD mainstay for years, Johnny’s days now seemed to be numbered.
In 1990 - John Wagner feeling that the series had run its course - Johnny Alpha was killed off in the downbeat epic Strontium Dog: the Final Solution, a decision which so upset original Strontium Dog artist Carlos Ezquerra that he refused to have anything to do with it; instead, Johnny’s supposedly last adventure was illustrated by Simon Harrison and Colin MacNeil.
The story of Johnny’s world eventually continued in various spin-off series, including Durham Red (the vampire woman having proved something of a hit) and Strontium Dogs (which partnered a now militant and gun-toting Gronk with a young mutant named Feral). The latter series never really caught on though (the writer, Garth Ennis, later admitted that Feral was simply not an interesting enough character to carry the strip), and Johnny Alpha remained a popular character, repeatedly being resurrected through the medium of time travel, first in a couple of Judge Dredd stories and later in a series of flashback stories, as well as appearing in a very different medium: audio stories from Big Finish Productions, released on CD, with Johnny voiced by actor Simon Pegg. By this time, Wagner had admitted in interviews that killing Johnny had been a mistake.
Finally, in June 2010, Wagner and Ezquerra set about rectifying the mistake. The Life and Death of Johnny Alpha saw Johnny’s old friend, reporter Precious Matson, trying to uncover the truth about Johnny’s death with the aid of Middenface McNulty in a story which effectively wrote off everything since the final episodes of The Final Solution as folklore, lies and garbled half truths. Eventually, Precious and McNulty learn that (in a scenario which directly contradicts the original story) Feral had actually brought Johnny’s corpse back from the hellish other dimension where it had supposedly been destroyed (Feral is killed off immediately afterwards). In the final episode to date, McNulty bargains with the mysterious Stone Wizards to restore Johnny’s life, apparently at the cost of his own. The story has yet to be concluded (Ezquerra has had significant health problems in the meantime) but at the time of writing, it appears that the original Strontium Dog is at last on his way back. And it’s a return that’s long overdue.
For more on Strontium Dog check out the available trade paperbacks from Rebellion.
The Black Hole is the second volume in Rebellion’s US releases through Simon & Schuster for The ABC Warriors, collecting material from the late Eighties and is especially noteworthy for the appearance of Deadlock, a major character who would go on to appear in the ever popular dark and satirical Nemesis the Warlock series. Befitting for a US release with its unhealthy cape focus, I can surely speak of a crossover that will reverberate throughout the ages!
When the far-future evil human empire of Termight begins experimenting with time-travel, they unleash a force that could destroy the entire universe! To stop them, Nemesis the Warlock — Deadlock’s fellow khaos-worshipper and enemy of Termight — has a plan: the Warriors must travel through the Time Wasters to the central planet of the Termight and destroy their technology.
Art chores are divided between Simon Bisley and S.M.S. Enfant terrible of the British comics scene, Bisley is hard to top though. His high-octane satirical drawing style thrives on Mills frenetic scripts, Bisley’s attention for comic detail in fore- and background, enlivening and uplifting the action and character work, a true interplay of text and image. While S.M.S. certainly is Bisley’s equal in rendering detail and playing out robotic fetishes with brushes and ink, his style comes off as a bit too serious turning ABC Warriors into more off a straight out sci-fi action than Mills intents it to be. Have no fear though, the majority of progs collected are by grandmaster Bisley.
The ABC Warriors volume 2 The Black Hole is surely full metal mayhem! Patt Mills and Simon Bisley fire on all gyros to hammer out an apocalyptic metal gore-fest involving time travel, droids intent on smashing, Deadlock from the Nemesis universe and psycho bikers. Yes, metal psycho bikers from the future. Why aren’t you running to the store yet?
Back to Broken Frontier’s Brits on Top series of articles and amongst a full compliment of droids reminsencing on the comics of their youth, one Simon Fraser looks back on his first brush with thrill-power:
I was 8 years old in 1977, living in Lossiemouth on the Moray Firth, after returning to Scotland from a 3 year failed emigration to Nova Scotia.
Of course that summer’s greatest cultural sledgehammer was Star Wars, it is impossible to overstate how significant that movie was to anyone of my age. The movie industry of today is effectively run by men trying to recapture that Star Wars moment of their youth. But Star Wars was only 2 hours long. I needed more to feed my exploding imagination.
So when my best friend turned up at school one day wearing ‘Biotronic Man’ stickers on his arms, my attention was caught. I missed the first issue (free space spinner) and the second (the biotronic stickers) and even the third (a cardboard decoder wallet) so it wasn’t the bribes that got me into 2000AD. It was the ground together gleeful nastiness of Battle/Action, the gaudy dynamics of those rare American comics, then the sprinkling of absurdist humour with a fearsome set of cliffhanger hooks at the end. 2000AD was so plainly targeted at ME that it was electrifying.
Of those early issues I remember the covers vividly, a T-Rex with 3 human heads, a WarRobot soulfully clutching a puppy, Dinosaurs gnawing on cowboys and Starships blasting other Starships into blistering oblivion. Inside those early Progs the linework of Massimo Bellardinelli is particularly vivid, the robust solidity of Dave Gibbons and Brian Bolland too. For the first time I had names for the artists. People who drew straight onto my gasping imagination…for money. It was enough to change the course of an impressionable young man’s life and it surely did.
Broken Frontier’s “Brits on Top” season provides a handy potted history of the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic:
It was almost thirty-five years ago, in February 1977, that we primitive humans were first hurled into the far, far future world of 2000AD, and what a bizarre world it was! Springing from the fertile brain of Pat Mills, the man who had delighted kids and outraged parents with Action just the previous year, the self-styled ‘Galaxy’s Greatest Comic’ introduced the bewildered kids of mid ‘70s Britain to a universe of limitless possibilities; from futuristic football players to time travelling cowboys trapping dinosaurs for their flesh to feed a starving world. But it’s unlikely that anyone involved back then really foresaw the impact of the phenomenon they were creating.
To begin with, 2000AD was not that different to a lot of the titles that had preceded it, the most notable strips in issue one being M.A.C.H. 1 (essentially a rip-off of the then popular TV character the Six Million Dollar Man, though agent John Probe probably came rather cheaper since he basically got his superhuman powers from a form of acupuncture involving electrified needles!) and Dan Dare, a reinvention of the 1950s hero of the legendary Eagle comic, now inexplicably updated from a spacefaring Biggles to a sci-fi version of Dirty Harry. But then, in Prog #2 (‘Prog’ standing for ‘Programme’, which sounded more futuristic than ‘issue’) a new character appeared, the fascist future cop Judge Dredd, and British comics would never be the same again!
The premature demise of sister comic StarLord brought mutant bounty hunter Johnny Alpha, AKA the Strontium Dog into the fold, as well as the lunatic members of the disaster squad named Ro-Busters, notably the ill matched pairing of sewer robot Ro-Jaws and ex-war droid Hammerstein, forebears of the fan favourite ABC Warriors. The equally swift cancellation of Tornado weekly yielded telepathic teen Wolfie Smith and time-displaced Roman centurion Black-Hawk, now fighting in an alien arena. And as 2000AD moved into the Eighties we were introduced to a whole host of new stars in the comics firmament; Rogue Trooper, Slaine and many others.
The Eighties were a golden age for 2000AD. But more than that they were something of a new golden age for the comics industry in part because of 2000AD, with the creators of strips such as Slaine, Nemesis and Skizz - individuals like Alan Moore, Bryan Talbot, Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons, Alan Davis and Kevin O’Neill - coming to the attention of the big American publishers because of their work on the comic (and to a slightly lesser extent, in the case of Moore and Davis, their work for Warrior magazine and Marvel UK). Many of those creators were duly head-hunted by Marvel or DC, reinvigorating the by then moribund US comics industry, while 2000AD sought out a new wave of talent to replace them - people like Garth Ennis and Grant Morrison - who were in turn snapped up by the big boys in the late Eighties and early Nineties. The cycle continued.
In addition, 2000AD’s publisher, Fleetway, went through changes of ownership, first becoming a part of Robert Maxwell’s media empire, then a part of London Editions, before eventually being sold off (in 2000, appropriately enough) to games developer Rebellion, under whose stewardship it has recovered from the mistakes of the Nineties and become a force to be reckoned with once more. Old troupers like Dredd and a revived Johnny Alpha sit alongside newer stars such as Russian rogue Nikolai Dante, the hapless hit-men Sinister-Dexter and the loveable flesh eater Zombo. And the ideas keep coming.
More from Broken Frontiers’ Brits on Top series, with British comics creators talking about their early comics influences:
Comic Cuts was the name of the long-running British comic that debuted way back around 1890 and, as such, seemed a fitting banner title for Broken Frontier’s celebratory series of articles during our Brits On Top! event. Join us each day this week as noted British creators share some nostalgic comics-related snippets of their childhood; providing anecdotes that are sometimes funny, sometimes poignant and sometimes wonderfully bizarre…
Tony Lee: 2000AD
As the third of three brothers, both of them over a decade older than me, I spent the first few years of my life reading hand-me-down black and white copies of sixties Marvel comics, of Thor, Spider-Man, Iron Man and early X-Men, but they always seemed dated, my brothers’ era, a good ten years earlier than me. Then in 1977, when I was six years old a new comic came out, called 2000AD. Set in the future, with characters like M.A.C.H. 1 and Judge Dredd, this was a world that I could call my own, that wasn’t handed down, that was found by me for me. The fact that it was British didn’t even register as I grew up, in those days comics were comics, and even though Spider-Man fought in New York, I never felt that I was a different world to the one in my weekly comic fix of future cities and anarchic anti-heroes. That I was six when I first started reading is interesting - these days the six year olds in the UK read Spongebob, The Beano and The Dandy.
The comic I bought as a kid over thirty years ago has grown with its audience, getting older in topic and tone in the process. My last series for it even had a character who spent most of her time topless. Not by choice, I add, the original design was more Mad Men than BDSM and it simply evolved in the art, but I actually wonder what I’d say to my six, seven year old self if I met him - that one day I’d write for the comic that he loved so much - but he’d have to wait a while before he was allowed to read the stories. 2000AD is still going strong and still has a loyal fan base. But when I think of 2000AD, I remember the weekly comic that I would anxiously wait all week to buy before being allowed to use up a chunk of my minuscule, 70s allowance to buy. I read the first issue again recently, and it still stands up against the best of today. But it was better when I was a kid. Aren’t most things?
Over to Broken Frontiers’ Brits on Top week for an interview with the Godfather of British Comics himself and, as always, he is great value:
No celebration of UK comics would be complete without an acknowledgment of the debt we owe to writer Pat Mills. From war comic Battle and the supposedly controversial Action weekly of the mid-’70s to the game-changing 2000AD in 1977, there’s no hyperbole involved in saying Mills’ influence and contribution to the British comics scene has been groundbreaking. BF’s Tony Ingram chatted to Pat about those early days of 2000AD and his years in the industry…
BROKEN FRONTIER: How did 2000AD get its start in 1977? It’s my understanding was created as a direct result of the critical reception to Action. Is that right?
PAT MILLS: Critical? Not sure what you mean. Battle and Action were a success. 2000AD was my next project, taking account of the trend towards science-fiction with Star Wars.
BF: How much of the original line-up were you responsible for?
MILLS: I created all the stories in Prog One, wrote all the first episodes and wrote Episode One of Judge Dredd in Prog 2 – with input from my editor designate, Kelvin Gosnell, and also my publisher John Sanders; e.g. Invasion (Savage) was John’s original idea because he wanted to have the Russians invade Britain. I then built a resistance story around this.
BF: Why was Dan Dare chosen to be the original ‘headline act’ rather than Judge Dredd or one of the other strips? He seems, with hindsight, to be an odd choice given that the tastes of the public had changed a lot between The Eagle era and the debut of 2000AD. He was a totally different character from the original Dare, in fact!
MILLS: Not at all. Your perspective is hindsight, possibly fan-based and you probably don’t realise that the very mainstream (non-Fan) M.A.C.H. 1 was the most popular character for the first critical two months. In that context, Dan Dare wasn’t an odd choice at all.
You have to remember that we were aiming at ordinary readers, kids, and SF and comic fans hated 2000AD and wished us bad. (One guy would come in every day criticising it and comparing it unfavourably to Heavy Metal. This annoyed me so much I eventually put a sign over our entrance which said, “Piss Off All Heavy Metal Fans”)
Only when fans saw we weren’t going to crash like so many other comics did they reluctantly embrace us, but they still had no clue as to why 2000AD worked which was because I was then (and now) very orientated towards mainstream and not elites. In that context I needed all the publicity I could get and Dan Dare achieved that end and helped boost sales initially. It was reasonably popular but the reasons for the change of character and whole story of Dan Dare is probably worth an article all to itself.