Wednesday, 29 October 2014

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

"I was dead inside and surrounded by darkness" - Danny Frank's Diary

So, here is part two of my look at this collection of the first (and best) three story arcs dealing with future humanity's war with a genocidal race of aliens called the Krool.  Bad Company were a team of misfits fighting on the planet Arrarat, led by a huge brute of a man called Kano who has had half his human brain removed and replaced with half a Krool's giving him a special hatred of them.  At the end of Bad Company, most of them were killed taking out the Krools main base on the planet Arrarat.  Kano's whereabouts is unknown while the most "normal" of Bad Company, Danny (our POV character), Mac and "Mad" Tommy also survived and escaped the dying Arrarat in a Krool spaceship.  Now it's two years later, both Earth and Arrarat have blown up and humanity is reduced to a few "ghetto" colony planets and the Krool remain a major danger for them.  It's decided that a new Bad Company will be formed with Danny, Mac and Tommy as the basis of this new team. The first arc - The Bewilderness - concentrates on the collecting of the new members and Kano's struggles with the Krool side of his brain periodically taking him over and driving him to commit heinous acts outside of his control.
The "mysterious" being.
Danny, Mac and Tommy arrive on the planet Flow My Tears where General Honda assigns them their first mission, which is to find and destroy a beast that has been travelling between planets, killing Krool and human alike.  We see the masked "beast" in action, it is obviously Kano, accompanied by a tiny, mute, flying fairy-like alien.  General Honda then shows them their first recruit, a Protoid.  He is a shape-shifting alien with a symbiotic ship, which will be able to sneak them past the Krool ships in space.  Honda then transforms into Protoid, who had been impersonating him and the real Honda appears.  Mac wonders what Protoid's motivation is.

Danny: "Maybe there's no such thing as motivation anymore. Maybe that only belongs in books and plays. Maybe real life is badly plotted. The story all wrong.  Just a meaningless string of meaningless unrelated incidents."
De Racine and Protoid
The four of them then go and find their next member, an Elite called De Racine.  He is hanging out at the Kano Kult Klub and when he is attacked by some members, fights them off via his battle upgraded body.  Poison darts in his tongue and lethal poison for blood.  He agrees to join, but states he will kill Protoid who he sees as an abomination, once their mission is over.  Protoid is not scared by this, but looks forward to fighting him.  The story keeps cutting back to Kano as he loses control time and again. He finally mutters to himself:

Kano: "The wilderness.  I must lose myself in the wilderness. It is the only safe place.  No more people.  No more Krool.  I must lose myself in the bewilderness."

Back with Bad Company, they collect their next member, Rackman.  He is a human survivor of a Krool torture camp, who says he learned to enjoy the pain they dished out on him and now chases that pain by always wading into where the fighting is hardest.  They then head out to get their final member, a woman called Sheeva.  She is a human woman with psychic powers, a "Boom Baby", one of a few created as an experiment and the only one left alive.  She is able to blow things apart by "making the atoms dance" but she also has empathic healing abilities as well.
Rackman.  Can you tell he loves pain?
Before they collect her, Bad Company have a battle with some Krool.  Protoid points out that they are looking strange, because the Krool Heart, which is the entity that links them all telepathically is old and corrupt.  A new Krool Heart will be growing in it's belly ready to bud off when the old Heart dies and the shared conciousness transmigrates to the new, fresh Heart. Protoid knows this because he shares all his ancestors memories and "six cell splits ago" one of them visited the Krool Heart and saw it happen.

As they leave to collect Sheeva, Mac queries the motives of their fellow companions:

Mac: "An alien who hates humans.  A human who hates humans. A man who loves pain, and a madman who's a total pain. Just what or who are this lot fighting for Danny?"

"Don't know, Don't care" is basically Danny response, he himself is fighting for revenge.  They find Sheeva caring for some sick aliens.  She demonstrates her explosive powers then as they leave Mac steps on a landmine.  When he comes to, he discovers he's lost an arm.  Sheeva comes to comfort him, saying his arm is part of the universe now, creation and destruction, the cosmic dance.   But as Mac bitterly notes:

Mac: "That still doesn't help a one armed man untie his boots at night does it?"
Kano is on the planet All Our Yesterdays killing Krool, while things are less than harmonious in Bad Company.  De Racine made a move on Sheeva and now she wants to kill him.  Danny orders her to stand down, but she tells him to move or she'll kill him too. But she can't and faints.  Danny says he thought she might have formed a psychic link to him that would prevent her killing him, similar to falling in love. "Better pray she doesn't go off you" snipes Mac.

Later, after getting a lead on where Kano is, Bad Company fly to All Our Yesterdays.  There Kano has been restrained by a gang of humans and is allowing them to hurt him, he's given up and wants to die.  But one of the humans kills the little fairy that had been Kano's companion and this sends Kano into a rage and he starts lashing out, then comes face to face with Danny.
So we meet again...
Danny puts Kano back in charge of Bad Company, then Sheeva does some healing and calming work on Kano's mind, while Danny looks wistfully on.  Later Sheeva comes up to Danny and says she loves him, they kiss then "Sheeva" turns into Protoid, who has done it for a laugh.  When Danny retaliates by attacking him, Protoid grabs him snarling he's been too long denied a human kill.  But Kano comes up behind and disables him:

Kano: "I know something about Protoids. There's one spot on the back.  Grab it hard and right and you're useless aren't you.. can't even change shape."

Later round a fire, Kano tells them about his losses of control.  Protoid calls them "neuroflips".  Kano's travelling to the Krool dungeon where half his mind is while the insane Krool half takes over Kano's body and lashes out indiscriminately.  So Kano, now resolute gets up and says:

Kano: "I'm going to a reunion party Danny.  I'm going to the Krool Heart."

He tells them that if he can learn to control the Krool he shares a brain with, he can do serious damage to the Krool Heart now it's at the end of it's cycle and weakened and corrupted. They decide to test it by tying Kano up in a restraining cage and letting him deliberately neuroflip.  Alas the cage is not strong enough and Kano bursts free and with the Krool in charge of his body he ends up killing Mad Tommy before he can regain control.  They commit Tommy's body to the stars and carry on towards the planet of the Krool Heart.  And so ends The Bewilderness arc.
So speaks Kano.
It's hard to assess The Bewilderness arc on it's own, so heavily tied to the next that it is.  It's mainly setting up the characters for pay-offs that happen in The Krool Heart arc.  Still, it's very good.  While the first Bad Company arc was Danny's story of losing his innocence and turning from fresh faced, naive soldier into the dead inside revenge seeker we now see him as here, with the other characters only lightly sketched around him.  Here we have a smaller number of more well defined characters with more complex motivations and it feels more like a team story than before. With the death of Mad Tommy showing us that the "anyone can die" nature of the series is still there, we're left wondering just how our gang of misfits can take down the Krool when the might of the military had failed.  And so onto the final arc in the book, The Krool Heart.

The Krool Heart arc differs from the others in that as well a excerpts from Danny's diary it is told in a manner that implies a flashback, from an omniscient narrator who's identity is revealed at the end.

Narrator: "I have no face.  But the route of this story will define it's contours and show me who I am."

They land on a planet near the Krool Heart one and find a huge torture camp.   Their pain is being distilled and collected in a pit of "universal suffering".  Danny decides to rescue everyone but during the battle Kano neuroflips and knocks Danny into the pit.  After the battle is won they pull him out and he tells them what it was like.  It was "wonderful".  He tries to describe it, that it hurt so much it became unbearable bliss instead.
The pit of pain.

Sheeva: "A religious experience Danny.  You have been behind the curtain."

Danny: "And now I know it's not pointless. There's something beyond all this suffering and pain.  All this means something."

The others are somewhat skeptical and they arrive at the Krool planet.  Restrained, Kano neuroflips into his Krool body and takes control of it and starts to cause mayhem in the Krool ranks. Kano's body starts to change much to Protoid's amusement, who expected this. Rackman, Sheeva and Danny head down to the planet surface.  Rackman's feet are trapped in some rapidly growing vines.  He falls forwards and a crevice opens up beneath him and his hands are secured on the other side.  The crevice starts to grow, stretching him painfullly.  Danny and Sheeva can't free him and realising he is going to die, he reveals his terrible secret - he wasn't tortured by the Krool, the Krool made him torure other humans as his punishment and he has been seeking redemption via pain ever since.  Sheeva puts him out of his misery and she and Danny move on.

Kano's Krool "brother".
Sheeva and Danny then get trapped by some stone walls that spring up around them.  Sheeva says she is close enough to the Krool Heart to enter it's mind and free them.  She and Danny kiss passionately then she starts to meditate.  An image of her appears to Krool!Kano and warns him about Protoid, then she manages to get into the heart and bring down the walls.  But the psychic backlash mutates her face horribly and maddens her.  She tries to kill Danny but the psychic link they have protects him and she self destructs.

Back on the ship, Protoid reveals his true colours and attacks the rest of Bad Company.  Mac blasts a hole in the side of the ship and gets himself and the caged Kano out.  De Racine is not so lucky and Protoid immobilises him before snipping his head off with his hand that had transformed into scissors.  Kano returns to his body and Danny reaches the heart.  Protoid appears and knocks him down saying he plans to replace the growing baby Heart and have all the power of the Krool birthed into him. But Kano and Mac appear and together the three of them kill Protoid.
Even Protoids have groins it appears.
Kano leaves to find the Krool he shares a mind with and kill him.  Before Danny and Mac can destroy the Krool Heart, Protoid's ship smashes it's way into the chamber.

Danny: "Protoid isn't a creature with a ship, but a ship with a creature!"

Kano is losing the battle with his "brother", but manages to take control of him long enough to steer him over the edge of a cliff.  The Krool dies, leaving Kano finally free. In a panic over Protoid gaining control of the Krool Heart, Danny runs towards it and hurls himself at it.

Danny The Krool Heart:
"Danny hardly feels his legs beneath him.  Is barely concious of the heart before him.  It's as though he's been running to the heart all his life.  Something within the aging heart makes a decision.  It choses Danny.  It knows it will die.  It knows it's offspring will be killed and now I know who I am!"
Danny jumping into the Krool Heart.
Danny crashes into the heart and it absorbs and reforms around him. He becomes the Krool Heart, telepathically in control of their entire empire.  He immediately starts freeing the human prisoners and ends the war between human and Krool. It seems like a happy ending, but this is a 2000AD strip, so nothing is ever that clear cut and a note of caution is thus struck.

Danny The Krool Heart:
"See how already I am letting the people breathe the air of liberty.  I can create whatever universe I please. Not with force but with persuasion. I can see some people will cause problems.  Some people won't understand.  I will make them understand."

Danny tells Mac and Kano to leave in case they try to hurt him.  They do so, with Kano saying that Danny fought Krool his whole life, now he's defeated them by taking over their empire. But all that power...well let's hope this time it does not corrupt.  The story ends with a full page of Danny The Krool Heart thinking to himself.

Danny The Krool Heart:
"I will always remember who I am.  I am Danny Franks.  I am the Krool Heart".
What an ending!
And with that Bad Company II and the collected volume ends.  It's a fantastic ending for the series, I'm not sure why they had to bugger it up with a much later storyline freeing Danny from the Heart.  I love the nasty. perverse things this volume throws up like the line between pleasure and pain being explored and the horrific S&M death of Rackman.  I love how Danny doesn't do what he does in the end because it's the right thing to do, or because it's noble, or because he seeks redemption or any high falutin reasons.  He does it out of sheer, blind survival instinct, the whole story has been about survival and Danny achieves the ultimate form of survival thanks to his sacrifice.  Another strand to Bad Company has been about transformation, the change in Danny from fresh faced "raw" to battle hardened veteran to a virtual death seeker and finally he transforms into the enemy itself, but changes their nature and transforms them in return.  He who fights monsters indeed.  It goes without saying that I love this storyline, the ending is brilliant and thematically sound and it ties itself off nicely with it's final words.  This was one of the best examples of a strip running during 2000AD's mid-to-late eighties heyday and still stands up to this day.  It's grim, it's depressing and it's incredibly cynical, 2000AD then in a nutshell.  If you're interested at all in the best 2000AD has to offer, check it out, I hope you won't be disappointed.


  1. u kept me waiting for this lol, cool ending i agree!

  2. Yeah soz about that, my PC waved the white flag and took a week to get sorted. Glad you enjoyed it :)

  3. Love the names of the planets... All Our Yesterdays is an obvious Macbeth reference, and there was also a planet called Miserere, Latin for 'have mercy'. And did you know that Ararat was the name of the mountain Noah's ark landed on when the floodwaters went down?
    I'm rather pleased with the article I wrote on De Racine:
    To 'deracinate' literally means to 'de-root', i.e. to remove something from its natural environment. Since Earth went for a Burton the whole of humanity has been deracinated.
    So many musings on identity. Rackman is the torturer, not the tortured, but is now tortured by his self-knowledge, by knowing that he escaped torture. Protoid is the ship, not the pilot. The Krool Heart has been contaminated by Danny — or is it the other way round? Nice sinister implications that the Danny Heart will be a not-so-benevolent dictator. Shame a third part was written, no doubt because capitalism means the artists have to keep churning out more stuff. But the entire story works so well as a MIRROR, a diptych, part one and part two, Danny turning into Kano, then Danny/Kano turning into the Krool Heart as Kano (now the raw recruit, as Danny was, lost in his own bewilderness) turns back into a human.
    I like the way Sheeva looks at the universe. Everything, including things like 'love', 'pleasure', 'pain', is just a rearrangement of matter. (Of course, I may be projecting my own views onto her.) Change the way the atoms in someone's brain are arranged, and you change the way they view the world, i.e. their whole inner universe (which is the only universe they have). And that's what Danny does to the Krool Heart, of course, healing it by contaminating it. Like that bloke who got a pole through his brain and went all aggressive. Like me, writing this now, all mellowed out because of the molecules of alcohol whizzing round my system. Like me relying on alcohol to make me feel like this, and fluoxetine just to make me feel normal, because it's ALL ATOMS.
    Needless to say, this is one of the best series 2000 AD has ever done, right up there with Skizz and Halo Jones and the high points of Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog.

  4. Sorry about the lack of paragraphs :-(

  5. Fantastic, glad you agree on his status as one of the greats of 2000AD. I can honestly say I read 2000AD for a decade thanks to this storyline so impressed I was by it. You're right there are so many little references and meaningful ironies in the story, my favourite is the pit of pain, the distillation of despair and hopelessness that actually gives Danny meaning back into his life.

    It's interesting that the other survivor of the whole series is Mac, who in many respects changes the least, his sardonic wit in the face of horror and even the loss of his arm seems to keep him the sanest of all Bad Company, he's an interesting look at another way humanity might save itself - by seeing the funny side.

    I too like Sheeva's philosophy, we're all atoms dancing, part of the universe in different forms. I actually think it might have influenced my own spiritual views growing up which is pretty profound for a "mere" comic!

  6. Yes. Different 'things' that the universe produces: the planet Jupiter, Gordon Brown, ennui, Great Expectations, schadenfreude, Islam, the beanbag I'm sitting on. Everything is ultimately a product of the movement of atoms. Which is SO COOL. I'm a phenomenon of the universe, just like Mars is, or an electron is, or an atom that you can split to make a massive explosion.

    I always thought that Mac changes because he adopts the 'everyman', audience identification role as Danny becomes progressively stranger and more alien. But, of course, that's a change that happens by default — that happens through other things changing around him. Change the background and you change the object. What a knife is depends on whether the background is a kitchen or a crime scene.

    What led to my materialist philosophy was partly me and partly reading books by Richard Dawkins. But don't tell my parents.

  7. That's an interesting reading of Mac and does work as well, he stays the same while life changes around him and your right he does become the anchor of Bad Company II in the way Danny was of the first series. Of course, what would have been more interesting than a sequel would have been a look at what he, Danny and Mad Tommy got up to in the interlude between Bad Company and BC II.

    I know I have somewhere a one off story that I think covers the end of Earth and how this final loss of both home and parents pushes Danny over the edge, but damned if I can find it anywhere in my piles of comics. It might have been in an annual or special because I can see it in colour in my head. Ah well.

    I shan't tell your parents about your materialist philosophy if you don;t tell my Mum about my spiritual one :D

  8. Shame you can't locate it. I'd love to read it. C'est la vie.