From the cover of the (one and only) Rogue Trooper annual from 1991 (lots of Fleisher stories- <shudder>)
ABC Warriors – A Potted History 5 of 6
Back in Black (and White)
The Third Element & The Shadow Warriors
5 years after their last appearance, and with a change of editors, the Warriors finally reappear in Prog’ 2000. Tony Skinner had moved on, Mills was scripting solo, Kevin Walker was still in harness, but this time instead of the lush and vibrant painted art of the last two series, this one-off was drawn in his incredibly dense and insanely detailed pencils – beautiful work. Sadly, this was his swan song on the series, but it heralded a change in direction and the status quo.
The Warriors had seemingly abandoned their quest to spread Khaos around the universe and returned to Mars, but for reasons as yet to be explained. The one shot was the precursor to a longer run that wasn’t set to appear for another year. Again in black and white, with a series of artists and split into 5, 3 issue arcs, in the meantime Deadlock had a solo run, but more on that (much) later…………
The arc collectively known as the “Third Element” was controversial. According to Mills, interviewed by David Bishop in “Thrillpower Unleashed” (well worth a read), then 2000ad editor Andy Diggle had wanted Mills to jettison the whole “Khaos” schtick and bring the strip back into more conventional action territory. It is reported that Mills had said he found the strip difficult to write, and relations between him and Diggle were strained, not helped by the commissioning of another of Mills’ creations – a “Satanus” strip by Gordon Rennie and Colin McNeil. Mills has been famously protective over his creations. This coupled with Diggle rewriting some of the dialogue on the ABC Warriors strip was seen by Mills as editorial interference and their relationship deteriorated still further. The return to the old setting of Mars did nothing to arrest the slide the series had been experiencing. The extended lay off didn’t see an increase in quality, if anything it seemed to slide further.
The Warriors had returned to continue their first mission of protecting both the human settlers on Mars and the Martians, the Trimorphs. The settlers had found that they had begun fighting the planet itself. The planetary consciousness, Medusa, had a death wish and had begun tapping into the human psyche to recreate forces to fight the humans from their past and their fiction. Four artists worked on the strip, Henry Flint who opens and wraps up the run, Liam McCormack Sharpe, Mike McMahon (his first work on the strip for 20 years) and Boo Cook.
Flint proves his worth as the quintessential 2000ad artist – born to drawn robots and monsters beating each other up, whereas to the other extreme you have the usually reliable Liam McCormack Sharpe who varied in quality on the same page, veering from beautifully delinated characters, to panels where he seemed to be drawing with his left foot using a jumbo marker.
There were script “anomalies”, most famously the death of Mek Quake, only for him to magically be fit and well at the end of the strip.
There was also the off hand dispatch of Morrigun without a second thought, with barely a reference later in the series and the clumsy explanation for Mongrol’s growth in reason and intelligence (seemingly the purpose of Morrigun being turned to scrap metal).
If you were to be kind it was a transitionary story for the Warriors. It was notable for the return of Steelhorn, aka the Mess (I’d suggest as another reason for Morrigun’s low key demise) as initially the strip’s big bad. He acted as Medusa’s agent, until reuniting with his former comrades, to make them up to the magical “7” again.
The Warriors succeed in resolving the conflict between the planet and the human settlers, but not without giving the president of the human settlers an opportunity to see things from the martian perspective.
The sequel, beginning in 1341, saw the return of Carlos Ezquerra to the strip, lending it a particularly old school feel and harking back to the original Mars mission. Consisting of three books and told over a period of 3 years, “The Shadow Warriors” was definitely an improvement. Less forced, more focused and with a better plot (even if it was pretty simplistic).
Civil War had erupted on Mars between the Union and the Confederacy. The Warriors are caught in the middle, loyal to neither side and fighting to “increase the peace”. The Confederacy see them as a threat, and employ 7 robot soldiers, “The Shadow Warriors” to neutralise them.
In a similar fashion to the ABC Warriors, the Shadow Warriors come from disparate backgrounds, and have their own personalities and foibles. Bootleg, the robot with no history, Dog Tag, a deserter from the Confederate Army, Deus X Machina the saboteur, Mr. Lovebomb controller of an army of drugged up clone soldiers, Doc Maniacus the rogue medical droid, The Rev – priest of Judas and Warmonger a state of the art wardoid. Each of whose abilities could neutralise their respective ABC Warriors talents.
The three books chart the formation of the “Shadow Warriors” and their first brief skirmishes with the ABCs, before the climactic battle in book 3. Although Carlos is indeed King, it has to be said that the story really picks up when Henry Flint takes over art duties from book 2 – he was born to draw grotesque aliens, monsters and robots beating the crap out of each other.
The ABCs overcome overwhelming odds in defeating the Shadow Warriors, though by the end they look like they are just ready for the scrap heap. They must be running out of spare bodies by now.
By no means a classic, it is an improvement on what had gone before, a slow build, rather than a baddie of the week like in the “Third Element”, or an execution of the week as in “Khronicles of Khaos”. But the long gaps between books disrupted the flow of the story, but at least it had direction and more importantly a cohesive and intelligible plot.
The next stage in the strip’s development saw it looking backwards, as it moved forwards.