Long ago in ages past (the 1980's) trade paperbacks weren't really a thing, so 2000AD exploited its back catalogue by providing a monthly collection of a random serial for about fifty pence. In this way I caught up with on-going series such as Slaine and Nemesis The Warlock as well as being introduced to serials that were over and done with such as The Ballad of Halo Jones and the V.C.s. The V.C.s (short for "Vacuum Cleaners" due to their reputation for clean kills with little debris) was very early story dating back to the 1979-80, a future war saga that introduced us to a motley collection of human soldiers hailing from various Earth colonies, throw together to fight the insect-like aliens the "Geeks". The viewpoint character was an Earth native called Steve Smith, who had to fight their prejudice against Earth based humans (his nickname was "Earth Worm"), and the cost of the war was very high as by the end only Steve and Jupe the sergeant and ship's captain, a certified badass who wasn't really slowed down by being rendered blind survived from the original crew. Now a major, Steve led an an attack on the Geek homeworld that ended the war and the original strip, and I covered the original series during my last UK comics month. But many years later in 2002, 2000AD scribe Dan Abnett decided it was time to give the concept another go round and thanks to my very good friend Lucy who gave me the trade paperback collecting the first three new Books of the V.C.s ("Back In Action") I can write about the sequel storylines as well. I'm covering Book 1 first, plus the related one-shot "Escher's Well". The further books will be covered in further UK comics months.
Throughout this story, Steve is haunted by the ghosts of four of the original V.C.s, Hen-sho, Ringer, Dwarf Star and Loon. Only Steve can hear what they say and they only appear if he hasn't taken his medication. Through this plot device current readers are able to get some idea what the original storyline was about and how the current situation compares.
|An aged Steve Smith.|
Steve: "Because times change. For one thing, the modern corps is a place for hot-shot college graduates with Masters in Gravitics and Astro-Physics. They don't have a place for grunts like you and me. We're a dying breed".
Steve is summoned into the ship he's cleaning and told he has a visitor. He is alarmed to find it is a Geek and freaks out a bit. The Geek apologises for upsetting him. He is just a historian composing a work on the Human-Geek war.
Because next month is "Peace Day" celebrating fifty years of peace between human and Geek, he believes the time is right. He wants Steve's input because he played such an integral part in the end of the war.
Geek: "I want to reflect the human history. Like many of my generation I am ashamed of the brutal behaviour of our fore-fathers."
He says in the past fifty years the Geeks have not rearmed, nor have the stirred dissent, the war "is a shame we will bear for a long time." He asks Steve is he is going to Peace Day. Steve says probably not, though he has been invited. The Geek says he'll see his old comrades again, Steve says he sees them plenty.
|Keege the friendly Geek.|
He takes Steve to an old Star Ship of the kind Steve flew during the first war. There are only fifty left in service and will all be taking part in the Peace Day fly-bys. Onboard, Smith meets Jupe, now with eyes again, "cheap graft jobs". Jupe asks when they get to fly. But Johnroe says the Air and Space museum has insisted that only their staff operate the antiques. "We're all antiques" comments Jupe to Steve.
|Jupe and Smith feeling like relics of a bygone age.|
Steve: "This enlightened confederation of alien cultures. With ten thousand years of peace and harmory beind them and technology that makes us look like cavemen. Where were they during the Geek war? They could have stepped in. Stopped it. Saved lives."
Jupe says humans are an infant species and needed to prove "we were worthy of contact not rescue." Then the Geek flotilla arrives, Jupe comments how relieved he is that they aren't allowed weapons.
He returns to Jupe, who calmly says they are losing badly. The Geek Blink ships are way beyond their capabilities and even the ships from the original war have some kind of bleeding edge shielding, "Smith, we're losing so frickin' bad it's not even heroic" comments Jupe.
The ship they are in makes Landfall on the moon. The Captain tells them to keep calm, Jupe says the veterans came through a war, they do calm pretty well. The Captain, behaving like an arsehole, invites them to "come and observe how we do combat these days. If your hearts can take it." Meanwhile Steve is given an idea by Hen-Sho's ghost and sneaks off.
The Captain shows the Geeks infantry on the moon coming for them via an advanced scanner. He lists off all the modern technology their own soldiers are equipped with, but when they and the Geeks clash, the Geeks easily wipe them out much to the Captain's horror. Smith then appears in an old V.C. suit. The Captain demands to know what he's playing at and Jupe snaps.
Jupe: "No idea Captain. But he's the only man I can see not dying or talking out of his ass".
Steve leads a group of similarly suited up soldiers out on to the moons surface. Jupe asks if he has a plan, "We put out the mat, and start cleaning" says Steve.
|Time to get cleaning.|
He examines one of the Geek's body and finds a shield bonded to the thorax that he takes for reverse engineering. They start to leave and one of the rescued soldiers says they might still be able to save some of the injured. "No time. No point.. One rule, you're hit, you're dead" says Steve. When the soldier protests, Steve says it's a rule that works.
More Geek swarms appear, but Jupe has a "Blitz Cannon" and mows them down. This clears the main assault swarm but another is approaching in a canyon nearby. Using a jump pack, Smith peforms a "D.L.", Detonate and Liquidate with some "Hades Grenades". With them dealt with, they return to the ship.
On the way one of the rescued soldiers bemoans that with all their state of the art defences and weaponry they were "crucified" while the veterans using antique killware and armour saved the day. He does admit it was pretty "amazing" though.
Then we are shown a Starship Troopers style propaganda film for the humans. It informs us they are fighting back. They are unlocking the secrets of the Geek tech while going back to basics with "old style ships and old style weapons.. all back in style this season!" Many are volunteering to fight and people like Steve Smith will be leading them, "who better to lead the new generation of troops over the top?" It ends with two new recruits saying "Earth can take it!"
It's now six weeks after Peace Day, and Smith is meeting his new crew; Ronsalle, Kali, Lin Fu and Ryx. There sixth crewmember will be with them by the end of the week. They go out on a exercise patrol and it doesn't go so well.
|Steve's rookie crew.|
Steve: "I know, I know. Well maybe I was that bad when I started out. That's not the point. I had you guys to whip me into shape. You're all gone now. It's just me out-numbered by those dumbass rookies. How much worse could it get?"
It does get worse. His sixth crewmember is a Geek, the same one who wanted to interview him and who specially requested assignment to Steve's crew. His name is Keege and he says the "current cycle of violence has been initiated by extreme racist factions". Thousands of Geeks are opposed to them and want to join the fight against them. Steve angrily responds:
Steve: "Suck it in Keege! You talk all fine and high-minded. But there is one detail you can't change. You'll always be a frickin' Geek!"
However he is forced to take Keege anyway and now complete, his ship and crew go out on their first patrol.
|Keege the V.C??!|
Steve is dubious as how he could miss a ship unloading everything at them. Steve says he thinks Keege just couldn't bring himself to fire on his own people and suspends him from duty, saying they'll drop him off at the nearest supply depot. Later that night Keege sneaks into the communications room, but Steve is waiting and points a gun at him demanding to know what he is up to.
|Keege proving his innocence.|
The rest of the crew are dubious, but Steve goes to think in private. He says to his ghosts he thinks that "I'm afraid I'm being blinded by my prejudices". Then he is called to the Bridge. Lin Fu and Ronsalle did a sweep for the sound and found it coming from a wreckage field nearby, a "Solar Death Bar" says Steve. They suit up and go in for a closer look, and find millions of eggs, "The Geeks are hiving in here!" cries Steve in alarm.
Kali says she doesn't know how she'll manage to work the missile deck as well, and Keege says he can do it, just cut him free. Kali refuses at first, but Keege says to "flood the cabin with white noise" to block out the infrasound transmissions. Keege takes the missile deck and when the missile locks on he fires it saying "this is for Ronsalle you frickers". The missile wipes out the spawning hive and the others, minus Ronsalle get back to the ship safely.
|Things that make you go boom.|
That brings Book One to a close, but there is a one-shot called "Escher's Well" which follows on from it before Book Two starts.
Steve wakes from a dream of an old battle with his old comrades, the dream had turned into a nightmare in which he sees Jupe killed. Having woken with a start, he calls Jupe up and they meet for a drink at a bar called Escher's Well which uses gravity to work like the Escher picture of all the stairs at right angles.
Before Steve can say anything to him Keege comes into the bar and the other patrons react poorly to his prescence and Keege is attacked. Steve punches out the man who attacked Keege which inflames the others but the rest of the V.C.s come to the rescue and soon a full fledged chaotic bar brawl ensues which Diderot joins in with and which the V.C.s win.
|Nothing bonds a crew like a good old bar brawl.|
This is a worthy sequel to the original. I think my positive writes up of Saga, Halo Jones and Prophet show I've a bit of a weakness for grand space opera and the V.C.s was and is enjoyable sci-fi hokum. It was a very clever idea to have the obselete equipment and tactics from fifty years ago be the only thing to work against a more advanced army, which meant the return of those awesomely cool armoured space suits (that HAD to be a big influence on the look of the Space Marines of Warhammer 40K) and the harsh philosophy of battlefield survival. We also get a Geek in the role Steve Smith played in the original V.C.s, a distrusted outsider who proves himself loyal and worthy in battle. Finally having Steve talking to his old ghosts helps fill in the backstory of the original series (which is frustratingly out of print right now as a modern TPB) and help us see how much things have both changed and stayed the same. Dan Abnett's writing is great and it's obvious he has a real love for the original series as he writes in this collection's introduction. Henry Flint's artwork has a nice "chunky" feel to it, which again reminds me a bit of the Warhammer 40,000 universe I have so much affection for. There are two more Books in this trade so I'll be covering them in future UK comic's months, if you like tales of future war then keep an eye out, this stuff should be right up your street.