Rogue Trooper: Tales of Nu Earth vol.2 (2000 AD) review
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From a classic stable, but is Rogue Trooper in itself a classic strip...?
When I was a kid I never really got into 2000AD. The more I think about this the stranger it seems – after all, I was a bona-fide sci-fi shut-in (homemade Boba Fett costume and all) and was a pretty avid comic reader, starting with The Beano when I was about six and moving up from there. So why wasn’t I spending my hard-begged pocket money on Judge Dredd and his dystopian chums? Only thing I can think of is that I missed out on account of age – for a while those lurid and vaguely horrific covers seemed a bit too mature for me, and by the time I was old enough I was largely spending my time moping about in pretentious self-pity and reading JD Salinger, cursing a world that failed to recognise the tortured genius of anyone who moped about and read JD Salinger. Either that or my Mum got vaguely snooty over those selfsame lurid covers and outright banned me from buying it. I don’t recall.
So I was pretty intrigued by Rogue Trooper. Could this be the dawn of a new comic-based awakening? Would this be the time when I’d finally discover what I was missing out on all those years ago? Well, yes and no. Having devoured this chunky volume in only a couple of sittings, it turns out Rogue Trooper is pretty much exactly what my six year old mind expected a 2000AD strip to be.
The premise is simple: The eponymous Rogue Trooper is a genetically engineered infantryman whose body has been specifically designed to withstand the surface of Nu-Earth, a war-ravaged planet made inhospitable by the use of chemical and biological weapons. But the war’s still raging. Wearing the white hats are the Southers, who designed and built the Rogue Trooper in the first place, and battling them are the vaguely Teutonic Norts, who naturally wear black and are ever so evil – so much so, in fact, that they routinely replace ‘C’ with ‘K’ in their dialogue (“You have your orders, Kaptain!”) and say ‘Nain!’ instead of ‘no’. At this juncture it seems moot to point out that Rogue Trooper ain’t exactly progressive when it comes to international politics.
So far, so hokey. But there’s more. It turns out that the Rogue Trooper is the last of his genetically engineered kind, thanks to a massacre masterminded by a traitorous Souther General. The lone infantryman now stalks Nu-Earth hell-bent on revenge, aided in his task by his sentient equipment, namely a rifle, a helmet and a bottomless knapsack. These all contain biochips, the preserved memories and personalities of three of his fallen comrades, and act as his would-be squad.
All of which ramps the hokeyness to nigh-on stratospheric levels. If you’re looking for intellectual stimulation in your graphic novels, it ain’t here – you’d find more sophistication in a glass of orange squash. The characters, such as they are, have less depth than the paper they’re printed on. The Rogue Trooper himself is little more than a one-man war crime and even his biochipped buddies are bland and interchangeable, more often than not used for clumsy exposition or the deus ex machina disposal of a bad guy. Bit of a wasted opportunity, really. The whole thing would have been far more amusing if, say, the gun was from Norfolk and the helmet had Tourette’s.
The individual stories (all penned by 2000AD staple Gerry Finley-Day) don’t fare much better. There’s a few more interesting offerings, but most (and in particular the two-part tales) never stray from a pretty predictable formula: Rogue Trooper finds himself in some deadly new environment, then gets attacked by a Nort patrol, then kills the Nort patrol, then moves on. From week to week in the original run it must have seemed a bit more engaging, but reading them back-to-back you’re soon overcome with a numbing sense of déjà vu, and the lack of character progression (either from the Rogue Trooper himself or the occasional appearance of equally-flimsy recurring villains) really becomes apparent.
"I know this kind of comic isn’t really the place to find moral certitude, but some kind of motivation would’ve been nice. As it stands, they’re fighting for fighting’s sake, with no more justification than providing Rogue Trooper with a war to be in"
Rogue Trooper isn’t the most pro-active hero, see. His plan to find the Traitor General mainly consists of wandering around until he bumps into his nemesis by accident (he should try shopping in Sainsbury’s – I always seem to bump into my ex there) and when these battles do occur, it’s mainly because the Traitor General has found him, not vice-versa. The decision to locate many of the stories of Nu-Earth is also a bit of a limiting factor – you constantly get the feeling there’s not much that can be done with yet another barren wasteland, and things only really pick up when we move beyond them and learn something of the wider universe Rogue Trooper inhabits.
Unfortunately, these hints are few and far between. Very little insight is given into the war that serves as the comic’s backdrop, which is kinda frustrating. Likewise, the opposing armies of the Norts and the Southers seem to differ only in name – I know this kind of comic isn’t really the place to find moral certitude, but some kind of motivation would’ve been nice. As it stands, they’re fighting for fighting’s sake, with no more justification than providing Rogue Trooper with a war to be in.
The artwork is fairly serviceable, not straying too far from 2000AD’s trademark rough-pencil look. One notable exception is Brett Ewins (Judge Dredd, Bad Company), who adopts a far bolder style that starkly delineates detail through light and shadow. Though slightly more cartoonish, it works well with the broad strokes and exaggerated nature of the stories. Unfortunately, only two of the stories in the collection are drawn by Ewins, which is a shame, as his style really seems to showcase the Rogue Trooper ethos well. Less successful is Boluda (Time Twisters), whose panels are often crammed with far too many figures than they can reasonably accommodate. At best they look cramped, at worst they’re just plain confusing, particularly in the story The ‘Frisco Phog.
"It’s exciting. Admittedly, it’s only exciting in the same way The A-Team or Die Hard are – pulpy, blokey and disposable, lightweight Boy’s Own nonsense."
Yet despite its failings, Rogue Trooper can be pretty exciting. Dumb? Sure. Unashamedly macho? Without doubt, and while we’re at it, we might as well add that it’s humourless and juvenile in a way that can only appeal to awkward teen boys (all the female characters – bar none – turn out to be traitors or psychopaths) but nevertheless... it’s exciting. Admittedly, it’s only exciting in the same way The A-Team or Die Hard are – pulpy, blokey and disposable, lightweight Boy’s Own nonsense. It’s often so overblown it verges on camp (random quote: “Heads up, sea scum! BREATHE CHEM-CLOUD!”) and it’s here, I think, where Rogue Trooper’s appeal lies.
It’s histrionic and unsophisticated, verging on the brainless, and when you’re reading it I’d advise wearing headphones to stop your brain from dripping out of your ears. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s just basic, which also means it’s readable and, providing you put your pretensions to one side, pretty enjoyable. In short: Everything you’d want from a guilty pleasure. This volume doesn’t belong in your bookcase next to your David Lynch box set or your critical guide to Asimov. Nope, Rogue Trooper should be kept away from judgmental eyes, perhaps in that box under your bed along with your DVD of Cannibal Ferox and your homemade love-shrine to Captain Janeway. Well, that’s where my copy’s going, anyway. I hope my mum doesn’t find it.
Rogue Trooper: Tales of Nu Earth v 2 (2000 Ad) is released on the 19th May 2010
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