The Middle Ground #79 | Mixed Company
If war is hell, then it stands to reason that future war should be future hell, of course. But, as one read through The Complete Bad Company demonstrates, the hell that’s on offer is a very old, very real one indeed.
I was going to start with “For those who’ve never heard of Bad Company,” before realizing that chances are that that’d be most people reading this. So, I’ll just offer a quick history lesson: Company was Peter Milligan’s first series for 2000AD, launching in 1986 (with follow-up series running in 1987, 1993 and 2001), with art by Deadline co-creator and frequent Milligan collaborator Brett Ewins and inker Jim McCarthy. Set in some undisclosed far future where humanity is at war with an alien race called the Krool, the first series is very much Milligan playing with the war comic genre and seeing how far he can take it, but it’s what happened afterwards that makes it into the kind of comic that’s worth going back to over and over again.
I’m not sure if it was a result of Milligan realizing that he had little interest in returning to the same story as the first series over and over again, or Milligan becoming the Milligan we’d know and love in his Shade The Changing Man heyday or whatever, but as Bad Company goes on, it becomes less a story about war and more a strange, wonderful existential tale about conflict, whether it’s with an external enemy, the idea of change, or time itself. Milligan takes the characters – Really, just two of them, his favorites and the only ones guaranteed to have a better than average chance to make it to the end of each storyline (Although that’s no guarantee that they’ll make it there in one piece, as you realize fairly early on) – to very unexpected places, both figuratively and literally as he drops fun little ideas in the background like the destruction of Earth (No spoiler needed; it happens off-panel and rates one mention). War becomes a backdrop for, as cliche as it sounds, a story about people and the changes (and regrets, and disappointments and failures and and and all those other things) necessary as they get older
(It helps that the series essentially went on hiatus for six years, then again for eight, between the latter stories; Milligan allows the characters to age and get repositioned, allowing for the series to renew itself and move on – The penultimate series wasn’t even called Bad Company in its original serialization – keeping things interesting for the reader and creator, I suspect.)
Even as Milligan stretches and plays with the ideas of what his future war series can be, he keeps it within the 2000AD pacing of five-or-six page episodes, each one feeling substantial in and of itself. That, and the Ewins/McCarthy art (especially in the first two series), ground what could otherwise become overly pretentious nonsense in a very populist, mainstream reality and it’s the tension in that conflict that really makes Bad Company into what is possibly one of the best examples of the potential not only of war comics, but science-fiction comics, that I can think of. War is hell, but as Bad Company likes to remind you, so if life no matter what.