1 out of 5
You tell me, Rogue Trooper fans: Did you understand what the Hell was going on in 86ers? From page to page – heck, even within certain scenes I would feel at a loss as to what Rennie and artist P.J. Holden were trying to tell me, and this is a creative duo which I otherwise very much adore. Part of me wants to allow for my lack of foreknowledge regarding Trooper: that has made some RT-related tales in 2000 AD occasionally a challenge, and there’s much referenced in 86ers – other races, events – that suggests that you gotta be like Rennie, i.e. all in on the history – to keep up the pace. And that might very well be true. But even the most world-buildy bound tales (and yes, I’ve made this upcoming comment before) adhere to some narrative tenets that allow you to move forward; 86ers, though, is lacking that. It has eight different main plots that are all treated like B-plots, and first-time appearances of someones or somethings that are handled like twisty reveals. Big things are referenced that occur off-page; character setup is done for no discernible payoff. It really reads like a series of thrills with chapters cut out, or like the tie-in issues to some major event going on elsewhere, but I internet search-eled some of these characters and the progs featured here are their only listed appearances, so…?
The frustration is how Rennie keeps kicking at the base of a cool story: The 86ers are sort of the Suicide Squad of the Souther flight squadrons – outcasts and traitors tossed together to take on the outlier missions. To this club is sent Rafe, a G.I. Doll – a female genetic infantryman, developed for war but inevitably used as ‘companions’ – who’s broken free of her Doll origins to fight the good fight, despite the snickers and judgmental glares from all around. …Or are the Dolls actually undercover agents with latent spy memories waiting to be triggered? Is Rafe actually there to root out a Nort spy? And what of a certain Doctor Friedkin, and his mad explorations of the depths of the rocky citadel in which the 86ers roost? The questions keep getting posed; the focus keeps shifting. Answers are offered but it’s completely in passing – keeping with the completely fractured nature in which this “story” is told – and always on the way to the next question in the list.
In the same way that Jaegir was fueled by Rennie brainstorming regarding the Norts’ deformities – and proof that he can work on the Trooper legacy while still allowing me readers to read along – there’s the sense that the author wanted to explore more about the G.I Doll who is sort of the book’s main character, as well as the 86ers concept in general. But neither of those end up getting much page time versus the confused conspiracy plot. I sincerely can’t tell what the overall point of these thrills was – or even if there wad some intention to build on it further – but the fact that there’s a writer change late in the game (to Arthur Wyatt) to wrap things up suggests something wasn’t going exactly according to plan.
Even the art disappoints: Karl Richardson kicks things off with his gritty, Image style, but all the characters he highlights almost never show up again. Holden steps in for the rest of the book, but his framing is super weird, placing the camera in places that don’t make sense for scenes, and the limitation to rocks and space for backgrounds make the general look pretty bland.
The rare boring – and somewhat confusing – read from a set of generally reliable creators.