A Potted History
Part I can be found here : https://2000ad.wordpress.com/2014/03/26/rogue-trooper-a-potted-history-part-i/
That Friday Feeling (Rogue v.2)
Gibbons was given an opportunity to re-boot Rogue, make him more like his original vision, but this time, he would write him, not draw (though there is some funky concept art around). Ditching all the bits he didn’t like about the original incarnation, the bio chips, the clichéd baddies, and establishing the character’s inner turmoil.
Gibbons would be joined by Irish artist (and now Game of Thrones alumni) Will Simpson who had drawn some Dredds.
Gibbons’ Rogue Trooper was “Friday” the last surviving member of a regiment of Genetic Infantrymen sent to take and hold a Hill on a small war ravaged planet. Friday witnesses the deaths of his friends, Lucky, Top and Eightball. Friday seeks revenge on his creators, the Clavell Corporation and finds his way to “Highside” its’ headquarters on a moon orbiting the war ravaged planet. It has a very different tone to old Rogue, far grittier, more militaristic, darker & bloodier. Friday is monosyllabic initially, little speech lots of internal monologue
The art is beautiful, spoilt only by the paper quality and occasionally being indistinct. But the story plods, not helped by Simpson being unable to meet deadlines and the 14 episodes took the best part of year to see print, huge gaps in the storyline diluted its impact.
So, unlike the original Rogue, Friday gets to the money shot quite quickly. The Gibbons’ scripted revenge mission lasts 14 episodes. He offs his creator and returns to the planet where he began his war – which turns out to be Earth don’t you know? Leaving it open for another writer to take over and continue his adventures on a battle ravaged Earth as an armed to the teeth, test tube created future war ronin. Gibbons jumped ship again, but had set up the strip to carry on without him. “War Machine” certainly had an impact and was reprinted by “Heavy Metal”.
This coincided with a shift in 2000ad. Creators were leaving, big names seeking their fortune across the water with the capes and cowls crowd. Editorial was perhaps conscious of losing its core readership and becoming more sophisticated, consequently more action orientated writers were invited to submit scripts, including one Mike Fleischer.
Fleischer was an American writer who had written acclaimed runs on Jonah Hex and the Spectre and was now to write the adventures of Friday. The great Ron Smith was to draw the atmospheric, war ravaged battlefields of Friday’s Earth. Sadly, that was two strikes against it. The world created by Gibbons and Simpson had a lot of potential, it was a competent update of the original concept, lacking the occasional levity of the original, but nonetheless there was mileage in it. It had been established as being gritty and atmospheric.
Fleischer’s plots were awful, trite and hackneyed. Scripts were over written, Friday’s rambling internal monologue laborious, tedious and cringe worthy. Fleischer spent most of his time trying to establish Friday’s nobility and his inner conflict, whereas all he succeeded in doing was portraying him as a whiny sod. Art wise, Ron Smith is a genius, but he is not a war artist. Bright primary colours, smiling faces do not a war strip make. Smith’s clean lines were the antithesis of previous Rogue artists who even if the script was a bit silly, made it look like our hero was in a gritty conflict.
Smith alternated with Simon Coleby – who was more suitable. Nice chunky craggy art with a good line in unfeasibly large guns, but coloured by Gina Hart who followed Smith’s use of bright, primary colours, reduced its impact and made it all look a bit silly.
At the time editorial was pushing Friday in a big way. He had the honour of being only the 3rd 2000ad star to get his own annual (after Judge Dredd and Dan Dare). It was a bizarre mix. Being Fleetway it contained a chunk of reprint of the original Rogue strips as drawn by Steve Dillon and Cam Kennedy, alongside new material all written by Fleischer (shudder), but drawn by Dillon, John Hicklenton (which is as grotesque as you would expect), Chris Weston and Smith(?) & Tim Perkins. John Smith wrote a customarily disturbing text story to cap it off, foreshadowing his work as the scripter for his yearbook and Sci Fi Special adventures.
We were subjected to such delights as “The Golden Fox Rebellion”, “The Saharan Ice Belt War” and the “Apocalypse Dreadnought”. These weren’t the worst things ever published in 2000ad (though arguably Fleischer was responsible for a contender), but what made it worse, was, despite its occasional silliness, the original Rogue Trooper was great. This was pants.
Readers were obviously making their feelings heard. Fleischer’s plots were hackneyed and meandered. Most controversially, the bio chips were still missing. Fleischer had given Friday some companions, but they didn’t have the same rapport with our clone squaddie as Helm, Bagman or Gunnar. Consequently, the bio chips were to be brought back, in some shape or form.
The problem was that Gibbons had kind of thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Friday’s buddies had died, and at least one had been turned into a blue and red mist. They were D.E.A.D, no chance of resurrection, no mention of a means of recording personality matrices on small pieces of silicone, no get out. On his last strip, Fleischer, alongside editor Alan McKenzie, had the task of turning Top, Lucky and Eightball into Friday’s bio chip buddies. The “Scavenger of Souls” is a transitionary story, the art by Chris Weston and inked by Mike Hadley is lovely, far more suited to the battlefield than the otherwise brilliant Ron Smith. An alien scours battlefields for the personalities and souls of fallen soldiers, storing them on bio chips, enhancing the functions and capabilities of his ship. Friday defeats him, leaves the ship in orbit but rescues Top, Lucky and Eightball and places them into slots on his helmet, backpack and gun that hitherto he wasn’t aware of. Convenient.
This was a turning point, stories began to get better. Steve White, a writer and editor who had an interest in militaria took the reins. This was also the first regular series by the art god Henry Flint, whose style has changed considerably since the early nineties. Fleischer and McKenzie had introduced two religious sects that were fighting for control of Earth, and brought the Clavel Corporation, Friday’s creators back into the limelight. White took these and ran with it. The strip became more dynamic, faster, more exciting (though the excessive use of military slang got boring quickly). It was fun again. The stories were action packed, short and to the point, and the art was fabulous.
Prog’ 900 saw the one and only crossover between Rogue Trooper and Judge Dredd. Friday stops off at Mega City One after being accused of desertion and arrested by his superiors. Lushly drawn by John Higgins and written by John Wagner, much was made of the fact that both Joe and Friday are clones. Well written, well drawn, but perhaps an odd fit? Contrived?
This is followed up in 901 by a 3 parter by Mark Millar and Chris Weston, before normal service resumes with Steve White.
After a promising beginning, things start getting unnecessarily complicated. Apparently, readers had been wondering what had happened to the original Rogue. The seemingly obvious answer was that his story was over, Friday was a reboot and that they weren’t linked, but this wasn’t enough for editorial or Squaxx. Steve White began the onerous task of linking the similar, but entirely separate continuities. Old characters are resurrected, Venus Bluegenes, Norts and Southers all re appear, Gunnar, Bagman and Helm have been re-gened – chaos and confusion reigns.
White comes up with a pretty good explanation how the Rogues are tied together. Over his run he (along with Dan Abnett later on) and artistic cohorts Steve Tappin, Ed Perryman, Charlie Adlard and Alex Ronald spin an increasingly convoluted tale, attempting to straighten out the continuity. Along the way there were casualties, namely Rogue himself, Helm, Bagman and Eightball, Gunnar taking his place in Friday’s hands.
The story collapses under its own weight, and Friday’s adventures draw to a close not long afterward. In retrospect it would have been better to leave sleeping dogs lie and keep the two Rogues separate. Instead you have 2000ad’s equivalent of Hawkman, convoluted, conflicting continuities rendering the character’s back-story almost incoherent and certainly unappealing. Evidence that there was nothing wrong with original concept?
Spin-offs, Specials, Annual stories and Further (!) Reboots
Numerous attempts were made to retrieve something from the mess. The Babylon 5 meets ER story “Mercy Heights” introduced a very familiar looking blue skinned mohicaned ambulance driver called Tor Cyan, who enjoyed his own series for a while after the parent series ended. Hints were dropped that he was connected to the original Rogue somewhere along the line. All was revealed by Cyan’s creator John Tomlinson and Dave Gibbons in Prog 2000, where it was revealed that Tor Cyan was a clone of the original, a nice epilogue to both Rogue and Tor Cyan’s series.
Rennie and Karl Richardson created the “86 ers”. A story set in the Rogue Trooper universe, following a Souther reconnaissance star fighter squadron based in an asteroid field and stars a female GI. Rennie left before the end of the story, and the plotlines were tied up by Al Ewing.
Rennie is due to return to the Rogue Trooper universe with Jaegir, a tale told from the Nort side, beginning in Prog 1874.
During the height of Steve White’s run he and Dan Abnett wrote a few Venus Bluegenes stories. Originally it was thought that Venus had died at the end of “From Hell to Eternity”, but Grant Morrison and Will Simpson had revealed that she had been picked up by a group of scientists in a strip in a 2000ad Sci Fi special.
John Smith did some weird little one-offs for Friday. This being John Smith, don’t expect anything straightforward, or even easy to follow, but they are all pretty good and much, MUCH better than the Fleischer stories running in the Prog’ at the time.
Alan Moore wrote a couple of Rogue stories, of particular interest is “First of the Few” revealing that Rogue was not the first of the GIs.
Pete Milligan and Jose Ortiz created the “Fanatics” for the 1986 Sci Fi special. Confused and frightened, two Nort soldiers seek escape from the battlefield with tragic results. Definitely worth checking out.
There is the aforementioned Rogue Trooper Annual 1991, but there was also a largely Steve White scripted Rogue Trooper Action Special. Behind a swanky Gibbons cover, Friday has the final confrontation with his creator. Nice art, but marred by Alan Craddock’s overpowering Chernobyl colouring.
There have been 3 (at my last count) Rogue Trooper computer games. An 8 bit isometric game by Piranha software, which was reasonably well received. A 16 bit side on platformer by Krisalis Software and most recently Rogue Trooper : Quartz Zone Massacre by Rebellion which really captures the feel of the original series, dripping in atmosphere. All deal with the massacre and the chase for the traitor general.
And of course we have the scary rumour that Grant Morrison was writing a screenplay for a Rogue film. Thankfully, it’s all gone a bit quiet on that one. Plus there’s the “Crucible” novel, written by Gordon Rennie, who seems to be the main scripter for Rogue’s more recent adventures, plus the “Quartz Massacre” by Rebecca Levene and “Blood Relative” by James Swallow .
From 2002 Rennie revived the original Rogue with stories set before he found the traitor general. Drawn by Mike Collins & David Roach, PJ Holden, Staz Johnson and Dylan Teague, these were largely successful, but where can you go with a character that is already dead? Tharg seems to agree, and we’ve heard nothing recently, other than what has appeared across the pond.
Some things run their course. Rogue is one of them. The concept finite shelf life; the end of the traitor general storyline really was the end of the strip. Attempts to revive or send him off in a new direction have been misguided, badly planned, or just plain wrong. The original concept, which could be credited to MacManus, Gibbons and Finley Day was not necessarily perfect, but certainly had legs, and the revamp was flawed, removing some of the details that had made it so popular in the first place. It wasn’t helped by the editorial urge, said to be due to reader demand, to link Friday with Rogue – big mistake.
The IDW version has promise. Ponticelli is a fantastic artist – witness his work on Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E and Unknown Soldier . Ruckley makes a great comics writing debut. It’s certainly grittier than the last two incarnations, but uses the original Rogue as a jumping off point, but with some tweaks. The future is bright, so long as they don’t try to tie it into the old versions. Though will someone sort out that helmet please?
Here’s to more close quarter clone combat.
Recommended reading :
All Hell on the Dix-I Front
The Fanatics (in 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special 1986)
Cinnibar – A Nu Earth Flashback
The War Machine