Writing convincing bad guys is an under-appreciated art form. Too soft, and they won’t be sufficiently menacing. Too hard, and they become one-dimensional. The portrayal of a bad guy organisation is even harder; it’s all too easy to fall into Bond-villain territory. The bad guys in the original ROGUE TROOPER stories definitely fell into the one-dimensional camp. Although I’ve enjoyed the occasional TROOPER story, the tales were obvious World War II allegories. The Norts – complete with chem-masks and lighting-bolt insignia – were communist-Nazis: quite obviously bad guys. The Southers had helmets with open face-plates, and they even got dialogue: these were obviously the good guys. The Norts were nothing more than cardboard cut-outs – presented for Rogue to knock down – whilst shouting “Nein!” and “Stak!”
That preamble out the way, let me start by saying that JAEGIR is absolutely bloody brilliant. Gordon Rennie and Simon Coleby have done an incredible thing with JAEGIR: written a convincing bad guy story, whilst simultaneously fleshing out the wider ROGUE TROOPER universe.
The principle is simple and yet instantly compelling. The Southers and the Norts are stuck in a war of attrition, ensnared in an arms race that leads them to commit ever greater atrocities. The Norts are out-numbered by the Southers, and thus at some point in the past developed cloning tech to overcome the natural disadvantage this presented. However, this has produced taints within the Nort bloodline: causing sudden and dangerous mutations known as “Strigoi”. Enter Kapiten-Inspector Atalia Jaegir, of the Nordland State Security. Often acting in secrecy, it is her job to hunt down these mutants and execute them. She is both feared and loathed by those within the military system: a stranger among her own people.
JAEGIR: BEASTS WITHIN compiles the stories STRIGOI, CIRCE, BROTHERS IN ARMS, and TARTARUS, and there’s barely a page I didn’t like. The art is muted but incredible: every panel drenching you in the horrors that the war causes. The Norts are quickly and effectively fleshed out to such a degree that their military machine feels real; the historical communist/Nazi elements are still there, but meshed with more original sci-fi ideas to create a fresh universe. There are numerous nods to the original ROGUE TROOPER stories, which made me smile. Atalia served on Nu Earth, and like most of the Nordlanders she has heard the tales of the blue demon – “[t]he blue-skinned nightmare that was created just to take Nort lives.” The prose is just awesome: Rogue is repainted as a terror, a thing to be feared, rather than a war hero. My favourite scene has to be when Atalia pursues a suspect into a chem-bar; populated by veterans of Nu Earth, so damaged by their experience of the hell-world that they spend the evenings drinking in a bar with poisoned atmosphere!
Atalia is also a compelling and convincing heroine. Over the course of the four stories, her background is fully fleshed-out and well explored. There are lots of flashbacks and asides, but neither of these is intrusive. By the end of the volume, you’re well aware of the richness of this mythology, and the potential for further exploration of both the world and the character.
In summary, JAEGIR: BEASTS WITHIN is an awesome graphic novel. Available in trade paperback now, if you have any interest in Rogue Trooper or 2000 AD – or even just damned good comics – then pick it up.
That’s on the order of the Office of Public Truth…