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Home ¦ Reviews ¦ Bad Company

2000AD Review Extra 8th March 05

2000 AD - Bad Company
Bad Company
By Peter Milligan, Brett Ewins & Jim McCarthy

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What to Expect: A group of war-hardened soldiers against the alien Krool...

Review by Gavin Hanly

There are a couple of things that long term readers of 2000AD will think when coming to this new collection of Bad Company. The first is - why doesn't it include Bad Company 3? The second - after a moments's contemplation is - thank god it doesn't include Bad Company 3... So indeed, put aside all memories of that unfortunate revival, and instead witness what may be one of 2000AD's greatest moments, finally collected in one volume.

We've heard that Bad Company was originally an idea tooled by Grant and Wagner for the aborted Judge Dredd Monthly, some time in the distant past. Once that didn't happen, Peter Milligan is said to have taken up the idea and beat it into the shape we see before us. I'm not sure anyone knows just how much of Wagner or Grant's idea stayed in the final version (if you do, let us know in the forum) but the whole piece certainly has a very "Peter Milligan" feel to anyone who has read his other work, especially when compared to something like X-Statix.

Bad Company first saw print way back in Prog 500 in 1986 (as opposed to the first appearing in the Megazine which is what this collection erroneously tells us) and was something of a breath of fresh air. Rogue Trooper was all well and good, but was at heart pulp sci-fi a,d the comic had never really managed to tell a great down and dirty future war story - i.e. something like Charley's War in space. Bad Company was to change all that.

Part of its success was the length and pace. Running 19 episodes, the first series was allowed to develop slowly, concentrating on developing the individual characters, so that by the time they started meeting unfortunate ends, we did indeed care about them. And meet their ends they do, with the growing realisation throughout the series that none of them seem exempt from some particularly nasty, and indeed sudden demises.

Bad Company
Something a writer doesn't get to write often...

Told from the perspective of Danny Franks, the original Bad Company tells how Franks and the platoon he serves with are taken under the wing of Bad Company. "Taken under the wing" may be stretching it a little, as their new mentors have little or no regard for their charges' safety and even use them as bait to draw out the Krool enemy (a particularly nasty alien species with next to no redeeming characteristics). Their leader is Kano, a huge hulking frankenstein of a man who seems almost invulnerable to Franks but hides a secret that he keeps in a small wooden box...

This collection also includes the sequel, comprised of The Bewilderness and the Krool Heart which further explores the nature of the Krool and Kano's connection to them - as well as introducing a new batch of company recruits - even nastier than the first lot. Whereas the first Bad Company has the team grudgingly staying together because they know nothing better, the second tale is filled with backstabbing and hidden agendas.

Both join up together to make one of the most satisfying stories ever printed in 2000AD. Every episode of the original run is a joy to read, with many of the episodes working as an individual act or scene that builds towards a whole. There are very few real cliffhangers, but plenty of revelations that come at the end of each "act". This is an immensely satisfying way to construct a weekly strip, and it's a huge testament to Milligan's writing that he pulls it off. Each week we got a mini story concentrating on a particular aspect of the planet or on one of the members of Bad Company, while all the time the overall plot moves on slowly.

Bad Company
The Krool witness Kano's good side...
Mind you, there isn't much of a plot in the first series, as Bad Company is really all about the characters. Whether it's Danny Franks' slow transformation into a card-carrying member of Bad Company, Mad Tommy's incessant babbling, or Thrax's hatred of Kano - all this becomes much more important than any overall mission the team may have. This shifts somewhat in the sequel to a Magnificent 7 style, where the members of Bad Company are gradually built up and their motivations questioned before they embark on their mission to try and destroy the Krool Empire once and for all. As such, it works well as a sequel as it doesn't feel too much like a retread of the original, while letting us get far deeper inside Kano's head.

Milligan also peppers the tales with some completely bizarre sequences - the team getting drunk on mud, a villain with a harpoon in his head, the truth behind Protoid and finally the utterly strange, yet fitting end to it all (which gets ruined by the third outing - so as before, let's pretend that didn't happen...).

As for the art, it's as much a masterpiece as the story itself. I have to admit to not being a particular fan of either Brett Ewins or Jim McCarthy (note that's McCarthy to whoever proof-read the cover..) but together they seem to metamorphosise into an astonishingly good team. There's something almost pop-artish about much of the art here. There's a great deal of photocopying of some scenes and enlarging them or using them in different situations. Now I remember, at the time I first read Bad Company, that this was something I wasn't terribly impressed with - but I have to say, it's aged extremely well, and is in many ways ahead of it's time. The composition of panels that uses these effects works astonishingly well, offering an almost movie like "zoom in" style, that befits a series where "surprise revelations" is often the name of the game.

The designs of the various characters of Bad Company merits mentioning, from the hulking presence of Kano to the "crazy eyed" look of the Krool warriors. The art also team excel themselves when depicting Kano's slowly evolving body and indeed in Danny Franks' slow transformation from new recruit to battle-worn soldier.

Bad Company
Danny had been away for a very long time indeed...

There are other factors which explain why Bad Company was such a success. The first strip ran 19 episodes straight and it was less than two years after the first episode that Bad Company 2 wound up, almost 250 pages later. So there's much less hanging around in-between parts, forgetting who the characters are, something that has be a problem with 2000AD in the recent past with its shorter runs (although there do seem to be efforts underway to change this). So the readers didn't have time to forget the members of Bad Company and when read together in one chunk like this it all comes together wonderfully.

There is, however, a concern with the art of Bad Company 1 - in that it's stretched to fit the dimensions of the trade collection. This is certainly quite annoying and fairly obvious when you first start reading the book. Bad Company 2 seems to be produced in its original aspect ratio, but the original can look odd at times - and this may well put some people off. The typos mentioned above also seem a tad sloppy, and as I've mentioned before - the absence of any back up material or even an introduction by Peter Milligan is something of a let-down (and indeed a missed opportunity for many of the DC reprints).

But at the end of it, this is a fantastic story, finally reprinted in its entirety (still ignoring part 3) and is an absolute must-buy for anyone not fortunate to have read it before. And even if you did read it all those years ago, this story is an essential part of any respectable 2000AD fan's collection. It won't be the same without it and at less than a tenner from Amazon it's extraordinarily good value for money.

Very highly recommended indeed.

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Original content (c) 2002 Gavin Hanly (contact 2000AD Review).