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The Lives and Times of 2000AD's Rogue Trooper

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It has been thirty years since writer Gerry Finley-Day and artist Dave Gibbons first unleashed Rogue Trooper, last of the Genetic Infantrymen on the world in the pages of 2000AD #228, and the old Rogue has been through more than his share of changes in the meantime. Yet he remains one of British comics’ most enduring characters even though it’s been years since he had a new adventure. So, just why is the Rogue Trooper so popular with generations of readers? Let’s find out…

Rogue (the only name he ever had) was from the very beginning that ever popular stereotype: the maverick hero. He was introduced to readers as the last survivor of a unit of genetically-engineered soldiers created to operate unprotected by any special gear in the poisonous atmosphere of  Nu-Earth. This was a planet which had been devastated by decades of war between opposing  human factions, the Norts and the Southers (loosely based on the opposing sides in the American Civil War, though the Norts seemed also to be influenced by Communist Russia).

The G.I.s (Genetic Infantry) had been betrayed by a high-ranking Souther officer who had given away their landing site to the Norts, and as a result the entire unit were wiped out when they were dropped onto the planet in what became known as ‘the Quartz Zone Massacre’; all except one, Rogue, who went against orders from Milli-Com (the Souther high command) and struck out on his own on a quest to hunt down the ‘Traitor General’ who had killed his comrades.

His only allies were Helm, Gunnar and Bagman, talking ‘bio-chips’ numbered 1, 2 and 3 slotted into his helmet, rifle and backpack, which contained the personalities of three of his dead friends, downloaded  onto the chips at the moment of physical death and salvaged from their bodies by Rogue (every G.I had a bio-chip in his brain which in theory could be placed in a new clone body at a later date, but they had to be harvested within sixty seconds of the brain’s death in order to survive). They were a mismatched team, forever bickering but clearly inseparable, and readers loved them instantly.

Over the following four years, Rogue and his boys travelled the wasteland of Nu-Earth encountering a vast number of bizarre characters: from the body looters Mr Brass and Mr Bland to the psychotic G.I Officer Major Magnum (a biochip slotted into a handgun, who technically outranked Rogue) to the deranged denizens of Fort Neuro, driven mad by the ceaseless struggle and indulging a variety of  eccentric obsessions, (including re-enacting the French revolution and Disco dancing contests). Here, Rogue encountered the Nort femme fatale ‘Sister Sledj’.  He also later even met a ‘re-gened’ Gunnar, given a new clone body and telekinetic powers by Milli-Com in order to trap Rogue (naturally, Gunnar eventually saves Rogue but ends up in the rifle again).

             


But in 1985 the decision was made to bring closure to Rogue’s quest by having him finally dispose of the Traitor General.  It was, with hindsight, the wrong decision. Having Rogue return to Milli-Com’s fold and undertake missions for them undermined the whole core of the character, while  a desperate attempt to turn him into a Galactic hit man working for mysterious aliens who wanted to stop the war merely led to a meandering storyline which went nowhere, eventually abandoned in favour of flashback stories set during his quest days. Eventually,  the ‘Hit’ storyline was quietly concluded in a 2000AD Special with Rogue discovering the aliens have used him and walking off into the wilderness to die, leaving the bio-chips to grow up in new, infant clone bodies with no memories of their previous existence, in the care of some kindly scientists. But that was not the end for Rogue Trooper.

In October 1989, Dave Gibbons returned to reinvent Rogue Trooper, the character having gone through several creative teams in his original incarnation,. The new Rogue, actually named ‘Friday’, was physically pretty close to the original but the previous continuity and the bio-chips (which Gibbons disliked) were initially dropped in favour of a more conventional war story. Friday, like Rogue, was a G.I whose unit had been wiped out, this time at Hill 392, taking his buddies Top, Lucky and Eightball with it (he inherited Top’s helmet, Lucky’s pack and Eightball’s gun, but with no pesky personalities this time). In a not very surprising twist, given the general disillusionment of the time however, this time the massacre turned out to have been perpetrated by Friday’s own bosses, the controllers of the satellite computer intelligence called Highside, who were secretly running the war for profit.

         

Unfortunately, this original premise allowed the strip only a brief run before it too ran out of ideas and began randomly wandering in a number of less than interesting directions, mostly under later writer Michael Fleischer (Gibbons having left again).  Eventually, writer Steve White was brought in to address a problem that had been resurfacing continually since the revamp; despite having been told there wasn’t one, readers were still demanding to know what the connection was between Friday and the original Rogue Trooper! 2000AD gave in to the inevitable. Having first reintroduced the concept of bio-chips (and with it Top, Lucky and Eightball) White now reintroduced the original Rogue and his boys (now all grown up) and even an old supporting character, female G.I Venus Bluegenes, in a story which ‘explained’ that the two  sets of G.I.s had been developed by the same arms manufacturers on two separate Nu-Earths on opposite sides of the Galaxy!

That cleared up, White then promptly killed off Rogue, Helm and Bagman on an exploding alien space station, had Gunnar (the most popular of the bio-chips) returned to his rifle yet again and given into Friday’s care to preserve some sense of continuity between the two strips,  and even gave Friday a kind of love interest in Venus (who took possession of the rifle containing the mentally unstable Eightball, who believed she was his mother; Eightball’s madness echoed that of the occasionally deranged Bagman in the original series).  None of which, unfortunately, was enough to capture the interest of the readers who saw the strip as a confusing mess with little of the charm and wit of the original.

         

The writers tried to take the series in new directions, and at one point Venus got a short lived solo series, but ultimately it became obvious that the new Rogue Trooper was a failure. Halfway through  a lengthy storyline that pitted Friday and Venus against a religious cult out for universal domination, and with Eightball destroyed and the other bio-chips in the hands of the enemy, Friday fell into a black hole in 1996, a fate from which he has never yet returned.

In 1997, 2000AD launched a new series, Mercy Heights, set aboard an outer space hospital. One of the most popular characters in the series, which was more of a spacefaring soap opera than anything else, was blue skinned ambulance pilot Tor Cyan, but it would be some time before we would learn that he was in fact a clone created by alien technology from the DNA of an old friend; our first indication of this came in a touching scene in 2000AD # 2000, in which Tor returns to Nu-Earth, now a peaceful, tranquil landscape covered in blue poppies, and places a memento inside a memorial tower there, a mangled bio-chip bearing the number 4 and the name ‘Rogue’.  

Tor Cyan and Mercy Heights faded into obscurity soon after, but in 2002 writer Gordon Rennie was tasked with bringing back the original Rogue Trooper in a series of stories set once again during the original quest for the Traitor General, the place where Rogue had always seemed most at home, naturally enough. Returning the original core concept led to these stories being well received, though the series was ultimately short-lived and 2000AD have since seemed reluctant to revamp Rogue yet again, perhaps understandably. The general feeling on the matter is probably best summed up in a line of graffiti painted on a wall which can be seen behind Rogue in the splash panel in which he reappears in Rennie’s first flashback tale.

It reads simply: Thank God it’s Not Friday…

For more on the 2000AD stable of characters check out the official website here. If you're interested in reading more about Rogue and his buddies then Rebellion have a number of Rogue Trooper collections available at their online shop.

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Comments

  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Aug 17, 2011 at 9:36am

    hahah nice one. the original ending with Rouge finding the traitor general was a huge disappointment to me and very very anti-climactic. I think the other incarnations of Rogue Trooper were a lost cause anyway without war story veteran Gerry Finley-Day

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Aug 17, 2011 at 9:46am

    Never understood that reboot. The concept was restarted with an even grimmer, more brutal "future war" vibe and, pretty much as soon as Dave Gibbons stepped away, the grittiness and "realism" was abandoned and the strip slid back into sillier sci-fi. A head-scratcher.

  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Aug 17, 2011 at 9:48am

    the trick was the way Finley-Day built up his war stories, reminiscent of ... Commando ;) etc but with the added value of future warfare

  • Tony Ingram

    Tony Ingram Aug 19, 2011 at 8:13am

    Finlay-Day was definitely one of the better Fleetway writers, it's a shame he basically just vanished. Andy's right about the reboot, it was utterly pointless. It was doomed from the start really; Dave Gibbons was supposed to draw as well as write it but didn't have time, so we ended up with the definitive Rogue artist writing it and someone else drawing it...

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