Sunday, 19 October 2014

Bad Company: Goodbye Krool World (2000AD #500-519, #548-557, #576-585) PART ONE

"No! I'll never be like you!" - Danny Franks

Looking back on the months this blog has been active I was suddenly struck by the fact I hadn't done any 2000AD stories yet.  I immediately had to recify that because, although I had casually read US comics my uncles bought when I was a young kid, it was 2000AD and the strip that ran in Doctor Who Magazine that really got me to notice different artists and their styles as well which writers did the stories I liked best.  They were the comics that turned me into a "fangirl".  2000AD probably needs no introduction, but very briefly, it's a sci-fi comic that debuted in 1977, running first weekly, then fortnightly then weekly again as of now, and is most famous for a) giving the world fascist lawman Judge Dredd and b) nurturing a whole generation of British artists and writers who then went over to the US industry and stuck a rocket up it's behind.  What was so different about 2000AD as well, was unlike the spangly heroics of the US superhero genre, 2000AD was dark, brutal, and to quote Lance Parkin in Magic Words his biography of Alan Moore - "virtually every strip rammed home the message that the world isn't fair, life is cheap and people are mean".

So what better strip to start with than one that first blew me away in 1986 and remains one of my favourite 2000AD stories ever, the grim future war story Bad Company, created by John Wagner and Alan Grant, written by Peter Milligan and drawn by Brett Ewins and Jim McCarthy.  This trade paperback collection contains the three black and white arcs - Bad Company, Bad Company II: The Bewilderness and Bad Company II: The Krool Heart - but not a much later sequel storyline that crapped all over the amazing end to The Krool Heart and which I have taken out of my own personal canon.  I've also split this review into two parts, this first part deals with the intial Bad Company arc, part two will cover the two arcs of Bad Company II.
Introducing Bad Company. Left to right: Shrike Thrax, Mad Tommy, Kano, Scummer, Dogbrain, Flytrap and Wallbanger at the back.  Not pictured, Malcolm and Gobber.
Before I go into more detail, I must just say how much I loved and still love the artwork.  The thick, heavy black lines are almost like medievel woodcuts at times and this is a brutal, brutal story pushing boundaries of showing violence and suffering that are amazing to see in a comic ostensibly aimed at older kids and teens like myself at the time.  Every character is rendered beautifully, making the whole "band of misfits" thing even more obvious and when they perish, you miss them because they felt so real and interesting.  It's a comic that needed to stay in black and white (which might be the other reason the post-Krool Heart series feels so wrong), even if the titular Bad Company have shades of grey themselves, the Krool are so utterly alien and evil they look good by comparison making it a black and white conflict.  So onto the first storyline then.

It's a simple enough tale.  During the battle against the Krool, a sadistic alien race with no redeeming features whatsoever, on a planet called Arrarat a squad of men are cut off behind enemy lines.  One of the is called Danny Franks, whose diary provides the narration for the ongoing story.  They are saved by Bad Company, a gang of mainly ugly, mutated soldiers led by a huge brutish "man" called Kano.  The rest of the story catalogues Danny's slow transformation form naive newbie into a battle hardened Bad Company member where only survival matters and compassion is a weakness that will get you killed.  The newbies join Bad Company because their commander takes some Krool prisoners, but the Krool kill him, and Kano unloads into them, shooting them over and over even when dead.  With little choice left the men join up, but only Danny, Mac and the shortlived Trucker are ever deemed important enough to name.
The Krool live up to their name.
The strucure of the first story is very much geared to the fortnightly nature of the comic, generally something awful happens and then there is a massive gunfight, and Bad Company move on.  Bad Company II, both parts has a more overarching storyline, but the first Bad COmpany is simply about who will survive to the very end.  The first named character to die is Scummer, who flips out after they cross the Golotha Plains that can induce madness via visions.  He grabs the black box that Kano carries with him at all times and starts to look inside it.  Kano guns him down, making it clear that the topic of the box is OFF LIMITS to Danny.

The Company bext attack a Krool camp and Kano and Danny find a Krool experimentation ward/torture chamber.  One horribly emaciated and scarred victim pathetically asks Kano if he is his dad come to take him home. Kano says he is and Danny realises he means he is going to blow the place up.

Kano: "I promised the boy I'll take him home.. and I will.  To the only home he can rest in peace."

The camp is blown up and afterwards Kano thanks Danny for keeping quiet about the experimentation ward, noting that he's "learning".

Danny: [thinks] "Yeah I'm learning.  How to blow up your own wounded, then eat your rations like nothing happened."
Danny's start of darkness
Time moves on and more raws die.  One day Kano asks them all why Earth doesn't just blow Arrarat out of the sky.  It's not because they care about the native Gobbers, they want Arrarat as a place to move too.  Earth is dying and the Elite want Arrarat for themselves.  They then go and attack a Krool convoy which turns out to be a trap and Gobber is killed.  Bad Company kill them all despite this loss.

Later Bad Company camp out underneath a "Blitz Bubble" which protects them from the Krool shelling.  Malcolm, the least crazy of the original Company chats with Danny, saying if they survive this war they can maybe stop the Elite taking over somehow.  Thrax gets pissed with one of the raws and kills him causing Danny to ask Malcolm how he can live like this?

Malcolm: "The main rule is 'don't get friendly'. You have to hate your comrades guts.  So when he is killed - no problem, it's just another soldier gone. I'm newer than most, but I learn quick - you can only bury so many friends without going crazy."

Then the Blitz Bubble is breached and they all scatter and Danny suddenly realises he doesn't have his diary and goes back for it.  Malcolm knocks him out of the way of some bullets and is killed.  Danny reflects that he "got too friendly to stay alive" and buries him.
Malcolm Ex..
The Company moves on.  Later Danny tells Trucker about his two older brothers who enrolled to fight but were killed when their transport shp exploded on the way to Arrarat.  Suddenly a zombie rises up from the ground in front of them.  Lots more zombies attack and Krool too.  Bad Company fight them all off, although Trucker is killed during the battle, leaving Danny and Mac as the only "raws" left.  Kano tortures a Krool they captured and finds out the Krool can create instant war zombies using gas and a special "beat".

The Krool are gearing up to attack Sector 8, the lynchpin of human defence on Arrarat.  Bad Company use a vehicle to get there quickly.  One the way they are atacked by a gang of humans gone native called the "Skull Posse".  They easily fight them off, but the leader swears they haven't seen the last of him.  They find themselves back where they were in the Blitz Bubble, but when Danny goes to check Malcolm's grave he finds it empty.

Danny's Diary:
"I no longer see people.  I see blood and guts wrapped in soft skin.  And sooner or later that soft skin is burst, or scorched, or torn and the blood and guts just flow."
Arrrgh! Bring my brown pants!
They arrive in Sector 8 and Danny notes the troopers treat him with fear like the rest of Bad Company.  Wallbanger says that using the soldiers equipment he can block the zombie beat.  The beat starts up, reviving dead humans but the Skull Posse also attack and start fighting the zombies.  Then the Krool attack too, but are also attacked by the Skulls.  The Skulls put up a good fight, but are finally defeated.  Then Malcolm reappears as a zombie as they attack the camp.  Wallbanger shuts down the zombie beat although Danny thought he saw the old Malcolm come through at the last minute and stopped himself from killing Danny.  Danny buries Malcolm again after removing his head and Bad Company leave Sector 8.

After an interlude where they all get drunk off the processed mud they eat as rations, ominously, Flytrap's grafted on plant arm starts to succumb to disease. Wallbanger then drops the bombshell that this is indicative of the fact Arrarat is dying and has maybe days left before it explodes.  Kano then makes plans to hit the main Krool base.  This is too much for Thrax who leaves with his sycophantic partner Shrike in tow.  Flytrap asks to know what is in Kano's black box, but dies before Kano can tell him.
Kano's last stand?
They arrive at the main Krool encampment, and Thrax and Shrike reappear, with Thrax saying he came back to see the Krool kill Kano.  As the attack is depicted, Danny's diary narrates it but is being written by someone else who isn't Danny.  Bad Company is gunned down one after the other, but take out all the Krool in the process.  Danny and Mac are swallowed by a crevice that opened up and re-emerge after the battle is over.  They find Danny's diary and Mac notes it's been written by someone as pretentious as Danny.

Mad Tommy: "Sorry about the literary style Danny.  Pure mathematics is more my forte."

Danny and Mac are surprised, because all through the time they have known him Mad Tommy has been acting like he was fighting in World War 2, hence his "mad" monicker. Tommy explains that once upon a time he was part of Kano's unit.  Kano took some Krool as prisoners of war, which resulted in everyone in the unit bar Tommy getting killed and Kano taken to an experimentation camp.  Kano escaped but not before the Krool had taken half his brain away and replaced it with half a Krool's. 
The secret of the black box.
The human half became dominant, and with his enhanced strength, Kano fought his way out and was discovered by Tommy who took care of him for three months while Kano was delirious.  Kano made it clear he would kill anyone who knew his secret so Tommy started acting mad as a way of keeping himself safe from Kano.  He also gave Kano a black box with half a brain in it, saying it was Kano's and he had got it back from the Krool, although it was just some random dead soldier's brain.  Kano and he then formed Bad Company:

Tommy: "And Kano did the only thing left to him that had any meaning. He killed Krool."

As they have been talking, they have been coming across the dead bodies of the rest of Bad Company strewn across the battlefield.  They don't find Kano though.  Danny believes he has escaped and the three of them depart in a Krool spaceship, with Danny leaving his diary alongside Kano's black box saying they belong on Arrarat.  End of Bad Company's first arc.
...For Now
It really is heady stuff. There is no camaraderie amongst Bad Company, they hate each other, hate their leader, but hate Krool more which is all that binds them together. The various weird and wonderful characters of Bad Company were very popular, so killing everyone bar the "normal" human ones was a brave decision.  I assume plans were vaguely in place for a sequel and Kano's dual nature and brain transplant will become extremely important during the final Bad Company arc.  Even if there wasn't a sequel the story here comes to a satisfying conclusion with Danny irrevocably changed by his experiences, still clinging to humanity but with a grim fatalism ground into him by the events he's caught up in. The revelation about Tommy's "madness" is a superb twist, explictly showing us that the craziness of the war and their surroundings requires some surrendering to madness, he just took to extremes to survive.  There are questions left to be answered, with Arrarat gone and Earth doomed, how will humanity win the war with the Krool?  These questions are answered in Bad Company II, so stay tuned.


  1. never read 2000ad but this looks like sum cool dark stuff

  2. Very dark. But that was life in 80's Britain ;)

  3. Is that what all the neon was for? To ward off the darkness?

    Yeah, massive props to the artists for their scrotnig work on this strip. Wouldn't have been the same without them, just like Strontium Dog wouldn't have been the same if anyone other than Carlos Ezquerra had drawn it.

    I like Tony's take on the whole Mad Tommy issue: "He gave Kano a box containing half the brain of a dead human soldier and told Kano that it was Kano's own in order to help preserve his sanity (sound thinking there, Tom; few things are guaranteed to instil mental equilibrium as much as being told you are carrying your own brain around in a box)."

    "Start of darkness"... "Malcolm Ex"... I like your puns. Of course, this comic is Heart of Darkness with spaceships. And not as racist. 'Cos I always thought that the message of Heart of Darkness was "Don't go to Africa! The enervating, degrading environment will make you just as savage and immoral as the poor black sods who actually live there!" And, of course, Bad Company is every 2000 AD war story ever done RIGHT. (Apart from the ones that were already doing it right, obvs.)

  4. Yeah, I can't resist a good "pune or play on words" to quote Sir Terry. And it's interesting how much the series avoids Fantastic Racism. In a way, the Krool are like the Borg, a hive mind totally beholden to a central organising principle and more of a force of nature than cackling villains. They can't be seen as stand-ins for enemies in our world and history because of their totally alien nature, which can trip a lot of future war stories up I find when the evil aliens are simply commies or Islamists in different hats.

  5. Yeah, the Norts in the original Rogue Trooper were basically thinly-disguised Nazis, but the Krool are more like the incarnation of evil/strangeness itself. However, I guess part II goes some way towards explaining their strange behaviour: the Krool Heart which guided them was corrupted, and they've got no choice but to do as it does, being more like limbs of a single body than individual beings. For them, the Nuremberg defence really is valid.

    And then, of course, they all become Danny. Unfortunately, by that time Danny has become Kano.

  6. It's another irony that Kano bought himself peace by killing his Krool half, while Danny becomes half human, half Krool like Kano was. The Krool Heart corrupting does seem to have been the problem, up until then it seems they left humanity alone. At least with Danny as the Heart things stand a slightly better chance than if Protoid had got his way!

  7. Hi
    sadly the artist Brett Ewins passed away. He had a lot of issues which caused him to limit his work. He also drew some fantastic stuff for "Anderson PSI division" and "Judge Dredd".
    I dont remember 2000ad ever being a fortnightly though, you may be thinking of the Judge Dredd Megazine.
    Happy Trails.
    PS there was a follow up story last year. With the aftermath of the war on the survivors of Bad Company.

  8. HI Ciaran, that's very sad news, thank you for passing it along to me though as I had totally not seen it had happened. His work on Bad Company was incredible and elsewhere too. Now since I wrote this blog post I yanked all my 2000AD's out of storage and you are right, it wasn't fortnightly. I totally imagined it! Oops. But anyway, Bad Company II was the main reason I stuck with the comic at first and played a major role in my passion for the artform.

    1. Hi
      Its one of the reasons later art work was not as detailed as he was so unwell. There was a follow up Bad Company story last year, drawn by Rufus Dayglo which looks at the aftermath of the wars on the remains of Bad Company. It is full of a few surprises.