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.|
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 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|
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.
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!|
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?|
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.|
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.