A Potted History
What is it good for?
Well, as it happens, a long running strip with a baffling and overly unnecessarily complex continuity and a reboot by a growing American publisher with a respected line of original and licensed comics, actually.
Seems a good time for a quick summary, yeah?
As we all already know, and have probably heard endless times, Rogue Trooper’s origins stem from a readers poll in 2000ad,”Future War” was a topic that was popular with the readers. Mac 1 (Steve MacManus) commissioned the Gibbons and Finley Day droids to create the new strip. Finley Day (GFD) already had form on war stories in the IPC war titles such as Battle, plus, he had real life experience as a member of the Territorial Army and had already written the much loved VCs in 2000ad. Gibbons on the other hand is a design genius, ideal for creating new futuristic military hardware, also Gibbons and Day had previously worked together on “Dan Dare”.
The popularity of the VCs gave weight to the argument to have a future war strip in the Prog’. GFD came up with the concept of “Trooper Tube”, a soldier that that had been created in a test tube and had weapons that could change shape (Michael Bonner, Rogue Trooper Annual 1991). McManus felt that this wasn’t going to work as a strip, Gibbons concurred and rewrote the concept, and renamed the main character “Rogue Trooper” after seeing a documentary on a rogue male African elephant on television. According to his interview in the Rogue Trooper Annual 1991 or, if your read “Thrill power Overload” he took the name from a book about a guy who wanted to off Hitler.
GFD also had issues over the lone roaming soldier idea, and felt that for the narrative he should interact with others, perhaps the ghosts of his dead buddies. It also spared readers the tedium of a tiresome inner monologue (more of which later). To get around this and give the required chatter, McManus nicked the idea of bio chips from a sequence of the “Judge Child” story in Judge Dredd, where the personalities of dead people were burned onto microchips for them to be implanted into bodies and live on again. In this instance the dead troopers’ bio chips were implanted into re-gened bodies, rather than the expense of retraining them.
Rogue was the last of the Genetic Infantrymen, a regiment of soldiers that it was hoped would shorten the war between the Norts and the Southers in a galactic war, but fighting on Nu Earth a planet formerly a paradise but ruined by years of chemical and nuclear war, forces on the planet fight encumbered by chemical warfare suits. Southers are the goodies; you can tell because you can see their faces. Norts are dressed in suitably sinister chem’ suits, goggles, faces hidden, resembling black KKK suits without the pointy hats, with utterly cool swear words like “Stak”.
GIs did not have to wear suits, had been bred for war and genetically engineered to survive the desolation and poisonous atmosphere of Nu Earth; they would give the Souther forces a significant advantage on the battlefield.
The Norts got wind of their deployment from a Souther traitor. As the GIs were dropping onto the Quartz Zone, the Nort Kashan legion was waiting for them. The GIs were decimated, with a solitary survivor, who disobeyed orders and went alone seeking revenge, accompanied by his 3 dead comrades, their personalities encoded on bio chips and stored on his Helmet (Helm), backpack (Bagman ) and gun (Gunnar) hunting down the Souther officer who sold them out – a “Rogue Trooper”, the legend of Nu earth, scourge of the Norts.
To Gibbons chagrin, who had wanted the strip to be a crossbreed of Harvey Kurtzman’s war strips and “Kung Fu”; GFD turned it into “Nazis’ versus Allies in space”, eschewing all the humanity and atmosphere that he felt that combination would bring. Gibbons stayed with the strip for a few episodes before departing, dissatisfied with the strips direction and in “Thrillpower Overload” is quite disparging of GFDs scripts. Thankfully, and in common with the rest of the strip’s runs, he had more than adequate replacements. Kiwi Colin Wilson stepped into the breach, bringing an antipodean Moebius style with him, Mike Dorey brought atmosphere, Cam Kennedy brought his experience of war strips and a grittiness, and Brett Ewins polish, sleekness and gadgets.
GFD took the strip from gritty war (“The Marauders”), to romance (“All Hell on DIX 1”, “From Hell To Eternity”), to high camp (usually anything featuring the looters Bland and Brass),the inevitable (with plotholes you could drive a truck through) origin story (“Milli Com Memories”) and quite frankly the bizarre and unlikely (“Fort Neuro”), all subplots on Rogue’s quest to bring the traitor general to justice. Rogue met a number of foils along the way, with some cheesy names – GI officer Major Magnum (disappointingly easily disptached), Colonel Kovert (yes Souther intelligence), GI doll (a female counterpart) Venus Bluegenes –who becomes very significant later and the aforementioned body looters Bland & Brass.
This could only be played out for so long before you need to get to the punchline. Rogue catches up with the Traitor General, exacts his revenge and reports back to Souther High command. Gunnar, Bagman and Helm are regened. Rogue is tried as a deserter, but is spared the firing squad as the Norts have sued for peace.
The strip had hit a dead end. It needed a new direction.
What it really needed was a kick up the arse.
Sadly, we had to wait quite a while.
Rogue was a popular character, but after completing his mission he had no purpose.Tharg had a choice, you bin the story or give him a new quest, now matter how contrived or laboured it seems to be. Which brings us to Horst.
Rogue’s buddies’ regened bodies fail as a result of a viral infection. The antidote can be found on the planet Horst. Rogue deserts with Helm, Gunnar and Bagman back in his now updated equipment, and hoofs it to Horst.
Needless to say, following these adventures drawn by the late great Jose Ortiz the staus quo didn’t change and Rogue returns to face the music at Milli Com – Souther HQ.
The Hit / Nu Earth Flashback
GFD had had enough, and was outers. Geller and MacManus took over writing chores and came up with a new direction.The incomparable Steve Dillon came in on art duties. Geller had already written a rather spiffy one-off in a 2000ad sci fi special drawn by Brett Ewins.
The Norts and Southers had met to discuss peace terms, but the delegations from both sides had been killed by mystery assailaints.
It soon became clear that a group of aliens wanted to end the war which was engulfing the galaxy and had “hit” upon the plan of “busting a cap” in important and influential officers within the Nort and Souther High Commands. They recruited Rogue to do their dirty work, an intergalactic hitman, the warrior to end all wars.
And yes; it was as laboured and pants as it sounded.
It wasn’t helped by the debut of “Bad Company” which came with all the grit and “war is hell”ness that readers were clamouring for, almost a future war “Apocalypse Now”. Rogue was immediately obsolete. Outclassed. An anachronism.
The Hit came to a sudden conclusion, skidding to a halt in a 2000ad Winter Special scripted by Steve Dillon and drawn by a young Chris Weston. Gunnar, Helm & Bagman are left behind to re gene, and Rogue himself walks into the sunset to meet his destiny with the aliens, who were playing him all along (apparently).
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaand that was that
Or so we thought.
Rogue was to be re booted, making our favourite GI the 2000ad equivalent of “Hawkman” for the cape and cowl crowd. In the meantime, Tharg commissioned mad-as-a-box-of-frogs Script droid John Smith and art droids Steve Dillon and Kevin Walker to create a flash back story set before Fort Neuro. As we are talking acid head John Smith here, it was as bizarre and depraved as you would expect. This was the debut of Dillon and Walker as an art team, and they are just awesome. It was probably the best “old” Rogue story, and revitalised a moribund strip.Mature, thoughful and horrific in equal measure.
A classic, but was to be this version’s swansong – at least for now.