Review by Montynero
Popular opinion often has it that Rogue Trooper should have been killed off after he killed The Traitor General. ‘Tales of Nu Earth 03’ tells us what happened next (progs 410 to 603) – providing the perfect opportunity to question that theory.
‘Tales of Nu-Earth’ is a little misleading. This is a brand new mission on a brand new planet - finding the antigen on Horst to make Rogue's bio chipped buddies real men again. It’s a good premise and how much you enjoy it depends on your taste for Jose Ortiz’s elegant art and Gerry Finley-Day's old-school storytelling. Do you smile at the prospect of Alienesque crab combatants catching Rogue in a pincer movement, or revel in dialogue like "Keep firing, Gunnar. I'm going in PLASMA HANDED"? Personally, I love it.
Finley-Day explains the point and the status of his characters at the start of each episode, and wraps up a continuing tale with a cliff hanger designed to lure you back next week. It reads like an adrenaline shot to the neck – something many of today's writers could learn from.
Throughout the late eighties this type of storytelling was eroded by a desire for graphic novel respectability. The age of 2000ad’s readership rose and simple action stories became less popular. The nuclear arms race reaccelerated, neutering the apparent impact of a lone battlefield soldier. What to do with Rogue Trooper? One answer would be to continue the action but add deeper themes and some on-going emotional resonance. Unfortunately what follows is the beautifully drawn ‘Hit’ saga (prog 495–603) by Simon Geller and Steve Dillon.
All sense of Rogue's motivation disappears as he becomes a confused and inept interstellar assassin. The ending to Finley-Day’s ‘Return to Millicom’ is retooled, at a stretch, to cast Rogue as an ultimate warrior trying to end all war on behalf of 'the power that binds the universe'. 2000ad’s editor Steve McManus was so convinced by the new direction he co-wrote the reboot intro, which trumpets much in the way of forthcoming excitement. Dillon’s visual storytelling throughout is fantastic - but the run and gun plotting is witless and empty. Rogue memorably gets knocked out by a cleaner with a mop at one point. It’s so narratively underwhelming that the planned thirteen hits peter out after just four.
Dillon writes two episodes himself, including ‘The Hit: Conclusion’ with art by Chris Weston. This attempts to wrap up the Hit saga in sixteen pages of the 2000ad Winter Special 1989. His script postulates that the dumb action he’s been asked to render for the last few years was part of an alien plan to numb Rogue of his reasoning and combat skills, something that’s only believable when you consider the alien in question was Tharg! It would take a better writer than Steve Dillon to pull this off convincingly, and Weston’s art – while detailed – is not his best. It’s a disappointing end to an ill-conceived arc.
What’s so striking about this collection is Rogue Trooper only makes sense as, well... a rogue trooper. If the war he’s fighting has no reliance on hand-to-hand fighting between infantry in combat then he becomes meaningless. He was designed as the sci-fi apotheosis of heroic Tommy’s fighting in the trenches, with the cool storytelling device of bickering digital comrades in his high tech equipment. Given the history of modern warfare, Rogue’s unique skills seem more relevant now than they did when he launched in the 80’s. Stories that embrace his essential raison d’etre are successful. Stories that don't, aren’t.
Rounding off the collection are seven short and peripheral tales from sci-fi specials (Grant Morrison and Pete Milligan provide the best of them), two Dice man episodes, and seven Rogue Trooper covers including a wonderful final painting by John Higgins.
Personally I'd buy this collection just for the art – but there's a good deal of fun and nostalgia in the Finley-Day scripts and some interesting curios too. With over 400 lovingly rendered pages, it’s well worth getting if you can.
I’ll sum up with a quote from Rogue Trooper prog 567 – ‘The Legend’:
“Cutting himself off from Souther command he roamed the battle scarred planet in his search for the traitor general. He found him…but success was hollow. Without that hatred to drive him on disillusionment set in..."