Thursday, April 2, 2009

The VCs: You're Hit, You're Dead!

In other news, while Rebellion tends to focus on releasing collections from more recent properties or big name characters, every so often they do head back to the comic's early days and surprise everybody with a great book full of thrillpower from the past. Such is the case with this new edition of The VCs. This is the original run of 32 episodes from 1979-1980. Most of the installments are written by Gerry Finley-Day, with a couple of fill-ins by Steve MacManus. The art is principally by Cam Kennedy, who contributed the cover, and Garry Leach. Mike McMahon drew the first episode and John Richardson the last five, but everything between them is by Kennedy or Leach. Probably nobody finds that as interesting as I do.

Anyway, The VCs is a pretty standard war story, just dressed up with aliens and spaceships in it. There's the green rookie, disliked by his new crew, and ugly enemies you can neither understand nor sympathize with, and trapped-behind-enemy-lines stories, and callous officers who probably interact with our heroes more than any other company in the military. That's not to say it's at all bad, but I reread this while continuing a once-a-week reread of Battle Picture Weekly produced during the same 1979-80 period and darned if this series couldn't have been flawlessly slotted into that comic. If you enjoy this style of comic storytelling, then The VCs will certainly please you, even if it's only rarely eye-opening.

Actually, I should probably qualify that: if you're coming to this from an American background, there's a lot more to this than simply "another war comic." I grew up reading DC's Sgt. Rock and The Haunted Tank, and later Marvel's G.I. Joe, with their casts of unkillable regular characters. Compared to these, British war comics are a complete revelation, with surprising fatalities among the cast. Any new reader coming to this collection will probably be pretty surprised by this story as it progresses.

There were 32 episodes of The VCs, but this is a pretty slim book, since the episodes were an unusually short 3-4 pages a week. It runs a little light on extras, since there were so few from the period. The strip was spotlighted on 2000 AD's cover only once, and there was a single star scan of the lead cast a few weeks after it finished, and those are included, but there are no other contributions from the period from any of the creators. In lieu of blank pages filling up too much of the back, the first episode of Finley-Day's better-known future war series, Rogue Trooper is included, but honestly, I'm hard pressed to imagine anybody buying this collection who hasn't already read the first Rogue episode plenty of times already. That's not to say that I don't think potential readers are out there, and I hope you'll give it a read, just that I'm not really sure this was the best use of the pages in the back when a new interview would have been very nice.

(Excerpted from Thrillpowered Thursday.)


Anonymous said...

I think that The VCs - much like Gerry Finley-Day's other 2000AD work - is a much under-appreciated series. It bridged the gap between strips from the more juvenile IPC titles of those years and later, more mature works. It certainly laid the groundwork for Rogue Trooper and Bad Company, two hugely influential future war strips in their own right.

From today's vantage point, the platoon-of-misfits, new-guy-POV does seem rather hackneyed, but then we are seeing that through the prism of Platoon, Hamburger Hill, Full Metal Jacket et al. At the time it felt (certainly to me) fresh and vibrant, edgier than a lot of the storylines in 2000AD. As you rightly point out, the mortality of key characters comes as a jolt.

Anyway, thanks for the write-up, you've inspired me to go dig out my old Best Of 2000AD Monthlys!

PS How do you rate Harry 20 On High Rock?

Grant, the Hipster Dad said...

Oh, I like Harry 20 a lot. That Alan Davis artwork is lovely, and the Ben 90 twist is fantastic.