Bad Company
Bad Company
Medium: comic
Year: 1986
Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist: Brett Ewins, Jim McCarthy
Country: UK
Keywords: Bad Company, 2000 AD, favourite
Format: Progs #500-519
Website category: Comics
Review date: 27 August 2021
Bad Company is the scariest, ugliest, most brutal gang of motherfuckers ever seen in 2000 AD. Go on, prove me wrong.
It's a war story. Kano (who looks a lot like Karloff's Frankenstein's monster) leads a squadron of savages, monsters and killers on the planet Ararat. They call themselves Bad Company and all they do is: (a) kill, and (b) die. A lot, in both categories. Day after day, they hunt behind enemy lines and slaughter anything they find. Kano will deliberately send his men into enemy ambushes, let them die and/or kill them himself if they learn his secrets. Quite a lot of those men are insane, or else perhaps feigning it to avoid getting murdered by Kano. Thrax looks like the living dead and kills his own comrades for looking at him funny. Wallbanger is a warbot. Dogbrain had his brain replaced by a dog's.
The story was originally devised by Alan Grant and John Wagner as part of the Judge Dredd universe and owed a lot to Wagner's WW2 strip "Darkie's Mob" for Battle Picture Weekly. Here's what Wagner thought about that. "No, didn't see the harm in repeating a good formula. The concept would work as well in space as in the Burmese jungle. However, I did begin to feel that if I had a hand in writing it the story would turn out too similar to Darkie. That's why Alan Grant and I decided to pass it on to Pete Milligan. We thought he would bring something fresh and different to the story, take it off in a new direction."
The two series are still very similar, incidentally, but that just means they're both terrifying. Kano and Darkie (with mirrored backstories) are uniquely monstrous. Kano in particular loses (or kills) his own men at such a rate that it's amazing that Bad Company is still operational, even given their alarming recruitment methods.
And yet, at the same time, it's very Peter Milligan.
Bad Company are savages. They didn't start that way, but they've been brutalised by the war, the endless killing and by Kano. Our hero, though, is an intellectual. Danny Franks is a fresh recruit in an ordinary platoon, with an idealistic commanding officer who believes in humane treament of prisoners. "We must surrender and demand our rights to be fairly treated as prisoners of war." (Incidentally, the enemy's only weakness is their love of torturing humans and the story's first page had ten hours of torture.) Guess how long that captain survives. Danny Franks joins Bad Company (with no choice in the matter), but he doesn't give up his worldview and indeed will have nightmares of turning into Kano.
Danny keeps a diary, in which he'll talk about, say, the Latin origins of the word "miracle". He's aware of how he's changing. He's different from the others (e.g. he'll dig a grave for a friend, "however crazy that makes me"), but he's becoming ever more like them. He ponders things like people's desire to follow and the bloodbaths that Bad Company have deliberately walked into, simply because they're following someone. It's not military discipline. It's more primeval than that. They're certainly not under any illusion that Kano is sane and/or cares two pins for their survival, but he's the meanest, ugliest thing on the planet and it's impossible to disobey him. (Unless you're Thrax.)
Milligan's names aren't subtle. The enemy are Krool, while the place names are Biblical references. The planet is Ararat (the mountain where Noah's Ark landed after the flood) and it has a nightmare zone called Golgotha (aka. Calvary, where Jesus was crucified). What's more, Earth's situation isn't dissimilar from the apocalypse of the Genesis flood. In the world of this story, planets are dying. Kano hates the elites on Earth almost as much as he hates Krool and he tells his men flat-out that even if they survive Ararat, they're going to get sold out by their own superiors and discarded as garbage. Win or lose, the future will have no place for them. Kano's not fighting for the sake of humanity, but simply because he needs to kill and kill and kill.
The crude, horrifying art of Ewins and McCarthy is perfect for the subject matter, albeit shameless with that oft-repeated trick of a panel just being the previous one blown up larger with a photocopier.
It's one of my favourite 2000 AD strips... and I haven't even reviewed all of it here. Sequels appeared for the rest of the 1980s, again in 1993 and then surprisingly in 2015-18. (I hadn't known about the latter until just now, but word is that it's not as good as the 1980s originals.) This series is black-and-white hell. Peter Milligan has a hard, nasty streak (e.g. Skreemer, Face, The Eaters) when the mood takes him, but Bad Company is special.