Once upon a time, before trade paperbacks became a thing, the publishers of 2000AD exploited their rich back catalogue with a monthly compilation of a series from the early days of the comic. This was the way I discoved things like The Ballad of Halo Jones, early Slaine, Strontium Dog and Nemesis The Warlock, and The V.C.s. The V.C.s was an epic tale of future war that saw the well worn trope of a rag tag band of military misfits buck authority and win a war against their galactic enemies, the insect like "G'egeekajee" or "Geeks" for short. Set in the early 26th century all the human colony worlds were dragged into the conflict between Geeks and Human, and the V.C.s are made up a various colonists who tend to resent Earth born humans. And it is one of the Earth born humans, an everyman called "Steve Smith" who is assigned to the V.C.s fresh out of military training school whose eyes we see the conflict through. The V.C.s name is short for "Vacuum Cleaners" which they gained for their ability to score clean kills with little to no debris. Nicknamed "earthworm" by the rest of the crew, Steve Smith narrates the story as he struggles to prove himself and gain acceptance from the rest of the crew. It's magnificently grubby space opera with sterling early work from artists such as Mike McMahon, Cam Kennedy, Garry Leach and John Richardson. The script is by Gerry Finley-Day and Steve MacManus. There has been a trade paperback of the strip released in 2008 called "You're Hit, You're Dead" but is infuriatingly out of print. Luckily I own all three Best Of 2000ADs the story was serialised in (#30-32 if you're looking for a cheaper way to get a hold of the story) and this is where I am getting my scans from. With that intro out of the way, lets dive in.
|The original gang.|
Steve then gets a harsh lesson in how the V.C.s operate. His supply ship rendezvous with his new posting and the sergeant, Jupe flies out in his space suit to guide Smith to the ship as the coffin of Smith predecessor is ejected into space. But then then the Geeks appear. The V.C.s take them out, but the supply ship is destroyed in the process. Smith protests that some survivors could have been saved but Jupe says, "Ain't no such thing as wounded in this war kid. You're hit, you're dead - all clean and quick."
|The whole sick crew.|
We then cut to the V.C.s ship chasing down a Geek ship. It manages to hide out in a field of wrecked spaceships. Jupe and Smith suit up to go and smoke the Geeks out. Smith is excited but Jupe wants him to stay "hard guard" in the airlock much to Smith's annoyance. But a large Geek attacks him and Smith shoots it, and thousands of eggs pour out of its dead body.
Ringer hits the airlock button and the Geek and the egss are sucked out into space. Smith is then chewed out for killing a "Kamikaze Geek". Then the Geek ship is wracked by an explosion thanks to Jupe, and the gunners onboard the V.C.s ship blast it to pieces. Smith thinks to himself he still has a lot to do to prove himself a V.C.
|The V.C.s ship.|
The Geek ship ablaze drifts into Pluto's orbit and two life pods eject. Jupe and Hen-Sho suit up to go kill them. Smith wonders why they are bothering as the Geek'll die on Pluto within a couple of days.
Jupe: "Listen, Smith letting Geeks die in their own time may suit other troopers. But not the V.C.s! We like to keep things clean, so we gotta follow them down and fight it out!"
Ringer is left as acting Captain and when Smith notices another two Geek lifepods eject, Ringer and Dwarf Star brush it off as more debris. But Smith decides to suit up and go down to Pluto and watch Jupe and Hen-Sho's backs.
|Off to hoover up the last bits of rubbish.|
Jupe finds the frequency and tells Smith to run over to them, he'll cover him and Smith can use his Hades grenade to deal with them which Smith does so. Jupe and Hen-Sho thank Smith for saving them and Smith is pleased to finally feel "my first bit of comradeship with these vacuum cleaners."
Loon, armed with a knife and smeared in camoflage paint, leaps on Smith and tries to kill him. Jupe appears and knocks him out, he says he's gone too far this time and they'll dump him at the next planet they call at. Then Brother comes back online but with a whole new personality. He's now a sterotypical sixties hippie and refuses to countenance combat operations. Smith has an idea and introduces Loon to him. Loon as a "fellow hippie" convinces Brother to come around to the idea of war. Brother thinks about it for a couple of hours then agrees, and this allows Loon to stay aboard as well.
|Brother gets a new look.|
Smith: "So you're like a couple of binary dwarf stars, huh?"
Dwarf Star: "I've heard it a million times Smith! But I don't mind - you're gonna make out OK."
The reach Midge's ship and find it's been in recent combat. Midge communicates to them over the comms, while Dwarf Star suits up and starts to fly over. Midge repeats a phrase in his message to them to "Get Everything on an Even Keel". Realising this is a message that the Geeks have Midge's ship captive they call Dwarf Star back to their ship saying he needs his weapon checked so as not to arouse suspicion, also three Geek ships are about to "back jump them" informs Brother.
|Midge pleads for a mercy kill.|
Smith: "I did the right thing - the only thing. I saved Dwarf Star's brother from a fate worse than death, but I blew any chance of being his buddy. Yeah... I'm beginning to learn it's a dirty job keeping space clean."
We next encounter the V.C.s dealing with a swarm of tiny Geeks. They are part of a Geek tactic called "Hiving". They drop their eggs into nearby space and when they hatch they have a ready made army in enemy territory. They atack the ship and although some of the V.C.s "vape" loads of them, they still start to overwhelm them and begin to breach the ship.
Armed and looking badass with swords and shield the V.C.s aboard the ship start fighting the Swarm. They fight until the are exhausted and on the verge of collapse. But Ringer has managed to rig a sound that inteferes with the Geeks sonar and jamming it leaves the Geeks milling about in confusion. They deal with the leftover Geeks and blow up the asteroid they were hiving from. Smith says they have some tidying to do. "Cleaning Smith - cleaning" corrects Jupe.
They dock and disembark and the V.C.s meet familiar faces apart from Steve who feels left out. We then meet the General who is a cyborg, they snap to attention "more out of respect to his war record than discipline." He tells them there is a member of the Diplomatic Workforce, nicknamed "Dishwashers" by the soldiers, who is there to speak to them.
Smith: "We hated him and he knew it. As soon as he walked in everyone sat down without waiting for the word."
He gives them the bad news. They are making peace overtures to the Geeks and have withdrawn the bulk of the fleet leaving only a skeleton force in place. Loon's friend Quicksilver freaks out at this and starts screaming abuse at the Dishwasher. Before he gets killed, Smith knocks him out with a chair.
Hen-Sho shows off New Peking a colony of forty thousand people. Ringer says they want "bars, not culture." But they are greeted by guards who say they don't like how Hen-sho is part of the decadent group known as the V.C.s. Ringer aims a racial slur at them, the guard says they have to hand over their weapons before they can enter. Reluctantly they do so.
Inside Hen-sho says drinking is forbidden but he knows of a bar they can go to. Smith doesn't want to go get drunk so goes to the library computers and starts doing research on what is known about the Geeks which is not much. He looks down and sees some guards closing in on the V.C.s. A big brawl ensues as more guards and troopers join in. Even Smith gets some shots in, he finds "I was beginning to enjoy it."
But then the Geeks launch a suprise attack many of them landing on the planet from the ships above. Hen-sho shows them a secret way out of the city and they get suited up in Mars colony space suits. They manage to vape some Geeks but soon realise they are trapped on the Mars surface and New Peking goes up in a massive explosion. Mars and Phobos are dead and they would be soon if not for a miracle.
|The Geeks surprise attack.|
The Geeks have regrouped and are heading for the next planet, Earth! Ringer picks a fight with Smith about why they should care and Smith loses his temper but Jupe keeps a lid on things.
Smith: "We returned to our controls and you could see each man was taut with the strain of worrying if his home would go the same way as Hen-sho's"
Later Smith is waxing lyrical about the Earth and Ringer mocks him for it saying it it's so great why doesn't he go back if he likes it so much and leave space to the guys who can take it. Smith balls his fists in anger. But before they can fight again a call comes through that they have to head for Earth, which renders Smith triumphant.
|Earth, Transatlantic City.|
They discover a platoon of Geeks hiding out on the moon's darkside. Helped by the soldiers from Lunar base they wipe most of them out, but some Geek ships reach Earth and completely destroy Transatlantic City, with at least 80 percent casualties.
Ringer: "Yeah that's a helluva lot of worms cut up".
|Ringer and Smith finally come to blows.|
Jupe: "The Geeks have hit some more worlds. Gannymede in my system has been novad, with two million dead. They've hit one of Saturn's moons, too... the Geeks just started something - we're gonna finish. No more patrolling the system - I reckon we're going to take the war to the Geeks now."
Jupe says they've all suffered so don't laugh at Smith. He asks if Smith wants to go on comassionate leave? But Smith snarls he's a V.C. now, "I'm gonna find the Geek galaxy. Rip back the mat and wipe that filth out! You hear me? Wipe them out!"
|New Dishwasher, new plan.|
Then the recce craft return with information on where the Geek homeworld is so the battalion moves out to take the fight to them. But as they warp in they are met by a huge Geek battlefleet. The nearby twin suns have them running blind. The troopships are to be protected at all costs, so one of the escort ships sacrifices itself to block a Geek attack and the debris from it blocks some of the suns light so they can see to return fire.
They make short work of the Geek battlefleet and escort the troopships to the Geek home planet. The Earth troops beam down, but in the words of Admiral Akbar "It's a trap!". The city is a fake and waiting inside are thousands of heavily armed Geek troops.
The Dishwasher orders the fleet to disengage to avoid further losses and the troops left behind must fend for themselves. No one is to leave their ships to mount a rescue via airlock. But Smith tells Jupe they could leave by missile tube and fly down and organise the troops still on the planet. Jupe agrees and down they go, but not before Ringer warns Smith nothing better happen to Jupe or it will be his fault.
|Jupe organises the troops.|
They make it to the hill and vape the Geeks waiting, the suns starts to rise without their glar shields they'll bein trouble, but the ship arrives in time and picks them all up. Unfortunately Jupe, who was holding off Geek pursuers with a Blitz Cannon looked at the suns too long and has been rendered blind. Ringer is PISSED.
Smith: "I've let them down! I-I've destroyed Jupe! We've lost out leader!"
Angry at Smith and Jupe's disobediance the Dishwasher puts the whole squad on "punishment duties." They are to be locked up, apart from Jupe in the hospital, and let out when they reach the next system and given the dirtiest jobs possible.
The fleet runs into an asteroid belt and they are assigned the job of going outside the ship and repairing the hull damage. Ringer lunges at Smith with a laser cutter and they start fighting. Their oxygen is cut off and they are bought inside. The Dishwasher says the penalty for fighting on duty is death and he pulls out his gun to carry it out.
|Ringer is such an arsehole.|
Smith and Ringer make a drop onto a planet that has severe weather conditions and can't be scanned. He loses Ringer in the drop. He changes out of his armour but hears some yelling and screaming for him, Ringer has been discovered and is being tortured. Smith shoots the Geeks responsible and cuts Ringer down. Ringer grudgingly expresses gratitude.
He puts the top half of his Geek suit back on and they carry on with their mission. They stumble across a giant Geek base. They have a wander round unchallenged, they even have speech translators in the suits. Then a Geek commander says he has found their equipment, they know someone is on the planet.
The Geek leader starts inspecting everyone, he passes by Smith, but Ringer's razor disc cut a hole in his suit and he's discovered. He starts begging for help from Smith again, but Smith doesn't want to blow his cover.
Smith: "I heard him. But I kept still... You're safe Smith. You can turn away like any other Geek. Yeah, this is the chance you wanted.. you've got rid of Ringer at last."
He watches somewhat dispassionately as Ringer is tortured again. He turns away and finds a Geek comms outpost and transmits the details and coordinates of the Geek base to the ship. Then he returns to Ringer and takes the Geek commander hostage. They free Ringer who is almost catatonic and the three of them get picked up as the fleet above come down and attack.
|Ringer breaks under torture.|
Now a Suicide Squad, the rest are dressed as Geek too. The jump to what looks like a dead system, but are then challenged by a Geek ship which quickly sees through their deception. They ride it out to hide by a black dwarf star but there is a secret missile base there. Dwarf Star manages to blow it up, but is hit and the others can only watch in horror as his turret cracks and splinters and Dwarf Star is sucked into space. Angrily Smith says the Dishwasher is a cancer and he's going to kill him before he gets the rest of them killed.
|The death of Dwarf Star.|
They say they'll get him next time, but don't believe there will be a next time, their Geek disguise ploy has run it's course, they'll be killed if they try it again. Nevertheless they fly out and it looks like they hit the jackpot and found the Geek homeworld. They are spotted and put up a valiant fight but the ship is lost and only two lifepods remain. Hen-sho knocks Smith and Loon out and puts them inside sacrificing his life as the ship explodes around him.
|Hen-Sho says farewell.|
Gutted Smith hears a familiar voice then sees the strange sight of himself and his companions still alive. Turns out the Geeks are doing their own bit of infiltration in diguise. They are going to infiltrate the Flagship so they can ambush the rest of the fleet. He has to warn them.
|Loon is blown to bits.|
He comes to a little later badly burned by the lazgun but still alive. He makes his way onto the flagship which the Geeks have gained a foothold in. He makes his way to the med bay and picks up Jupe and Ringer. Jupe casually breaks a Geek's neck, Ringer is still terrified.
|Smith collects Jupe and Ringer.|
Smith hands Ringer a Kill disc, he receives it ungratefully. They shatter the ships power crystal and everything goes dark. Then they storm the bridge, Ringer gets his killing mojo back and Jupe takes out a couple close range as well. With all the Geeks dead the Dishwasher turns on them saying he can't have evidence of his cowardice come out and he draws a gun on them. Ringer throws his kill disc at him but takes a blast from the gun that was meant for Smith. He dies stating that in the end Smith was a V.C.
|Ringer goes out a hero.|
Then the rest of the human fleet arrive and a huge space battle occurs, though the loss of their flagship has demoralised the Geeks totally. As the human troops drop down onto the Geek homeworld, Smith finally passes out and wakes up in sickbay six days later to the news the Geeks have surrendered.
|Cue epic space battle.|
Smith: "At last a bit of dirt, but the general and Jupe put their heads on the block to clean it up for me. Yeah, now I've got a new crew to form, maybe new wars to fight... but I'm never going to wipe away the memory of those first V.C.s... the Vacuum Cleaners."
|Smith is finally rewarded for his heroism. The end?|