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Geek out with the V.C.s

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The year is 2531 AD and the Solar System is engaged in a vicious war against the alien 'Geeks.' Steve Smith is a raw recruit, fresh out of training and ready for action, assigned to a space patrol ship crewed by the V.C.s (or Vacuum Cleaners). But Smith is a little out of place, as he is the only Earth-born crew member amidst halfbreeds all hating his guts and, as the war grows in intensity, Smith finds himself struggling for acceptance.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce - for their first time on the intergalactic walkway - : the V.C.s! The V.C.s' space armor sports a retro look, taking their inspiration from the classic Cylon battlesuits but giving it a whimsical touch with antler headphones, a whiff of Vader, Lord of the Sith breathing apparatus and big ass laser cannons for that extra intergalactic Dirty Harry feel.

2000 AD serves up some classical space thrills here but adds a dash of blood and guts while showing us the horror and chaos of war with their reprint of these tales told between 1979 and 1980. It all begins with Steve Smith who serves as our point of view for the entire proceedings. Trying to fit in in the roughneck halfbreed crew who are not eager to accept him, he has to toughen up and learn the hard way that neither space nor the Geeks offer any reprieve and that Ma Earth is lightyears away. Smith's story used to be serialised in the U.K.'s 2000 AD weekly so the extended storyline comes across as a bit choppy. However, the chapter-like storytelling masks it up a bit, hiding the sometimes rather lackluster ideas behind a staccato rythm of storytelling. The high octane space adventures distract the reader from the fact that plotwise there's not too much going in these pages. The joy comes from watching the characters unfold and seeing them in action against the Geeks. It's all very testosterone-drive though - ladies better stay at home!

Apparently, according to the press release, Gerry Finley-Day holds a special place in many 2000 AD fans' hearts as the creator of classics like Rogue Trooper, Fiends of the Eastern Front and The V.C.s, as well as Harry 20 on the High Rock -The Prisoner-like tale set on a maximum-security prison orbiting the earth that sounds extremely cool - and Ant Wars - but I'm a heathen from Belgium who only knows Tintin and Asterix to be honest. Frankly, he tells a good yarn but it's all very straightforward, never really straying from the rulebook. Every once in a while, there's a nice idea that comes to the front; like an ionstorm that turns the ship's computer named Brother - that speaks through a Punch-puppet attached to the dashboard - into a hippie. Echoes of John Carpenter's Dark Star float to the surface, making for a nice comedic bit between all the true grit.

The stories do have a progression though: as the page count increases, the odds get more hopeless and I found myself captivated by the ever increasing despondency of the V.C.s' situation and the machinations of future warfare. The characters do come across as sympathetic and due to the storytelling rhythm, you invest yourself in them and you want to know how they end up. But it ain't pretty, I can tell you that.

It's a shame that Finley-Day (that's a great name by the way) puts the Geeks forward as an all-purpose evil race like those that are a dime a dozen in tales of the future and the story suffers in terms of depth because of it. It seems like there's not an ounce of thought put into them and the most original idea surrounding this spacefaring insect race is that they build their bases in moons. It's like yoghurt lite but without the taste. The focus stays firmly on the V.C.s' crew and we will have to make do with that. Search and destroy is what the people want - or in this case, search and vacuum!

The rough art is deceptively apt for this western in space comic. Mike McMahon (ABC Warriors, Batman, The Last American), Cam Kennedy (Batman, Judge Dredd, Tharg's Future Shocks, Star Wars etc) and John Richardson (Tharg's Future Shocks, The Mean Arena) all work in the same scratchy style here and Gary Leach (Dan Dare, Miracleman, Judge Dredd, etc) has a rougher look than we're used to seeing from him, maybe because this is an earlier style or maybe he adapted his style for The V.C.s? However, they are all expert storytellers and know how to lay out a page to perfection. Their gritty, scratchy chunky style with lots of spotted blacks makes the universe a dangerous place full of junk and men with hard pasts and fits the dark space opera feel perfectly. Their panels involve lots of oblique angles and stretching across other panels, adding to the unexpectancy of war. It smells of something new but the settings and page and costume design also harken back to the past when everything was more sleek and more innocent - antler headphones anyone? -.

Reading The V.C.s is the equivalent of listening to your grandfather telling his WWII tales. He may not get all the details right and he may leave out some of the background info but goshdarnit it's a hell of a tale! So get your cigar box and your grandfather's homebrewed whiskey and plunk yourself in that comfy chair to spend some quality time in space with the Vacuum Cleaners! Prepare yourself for a hard tale of future warfare that features hard men. A classic adventure tale that puts on a coat of grit and blasters with art that keeps hitting you in the throat as much as the breackneck speed of the tale of these Star Troopers.

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The V.C.s Book one is published by 2000AD and is a 144 pages paperback, retailing at £10.99. It is available from December 8th on at your local retailer.

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