Tuesday, December 13, 2016

No. 91 Steve White

First Prog: 880
Latest Prog: 1068

Total appearances: 96
-including two art credits on the cover, but not including his work as colourist on various issues of Judge Dredd: Lawman of the Future.

This is Steve White on art duty

Co-Creator Credits:
Black Light

Other writing credits:
Judge Dredd (one episode in a special)
Rogue Trooper (Fr1day style)
Venus Bluegenes
Urban Strike!*
Vector 13

Notable character creations:
Emma Paris
Midge (Fr1day’s back-up girlfriend after Gaia died and before he bumped into Venus…)
Notable characteristics:
Military jargon. Over the top action barking. Procedure. Loud shouting. Not taking anything too seriously. And he has a love of dinosaurs that he really didn’t get to show off enough in 2000AD, even with a series of Flesh under his belt.

Playing around with a mix of actuion cliche and military speak.
Art by Steve Tappin

On Steve:
I don’t know anything of how most creators got there start in 2000AD, but Steve White, I think, was a tried and tested comics pro already. In my head, he’s a writer brought into the fold at a time when 2000AD was starting to lose its second wave of reliable scribes (the likes of Ennis, Milligan, Morrison and Millar), and needed people Tharg could turn to for reliable quality while also training up some newbies (mostly in the Megazine).

White's first published work for Tharg was a fun TMNT pastiche
Art by Dermot Power

But more than that, he’s clearly a fan of all things military. Whether he has a background in the armed services I don’t know, but I’d bet he’s read a lot of Andy McNab (or even some more hardcore military thriller writers I haven’t heard of). And so it is that his main association with the Prog was to tackle something like a three-year continuous stint on Rogue Trooper.

"Let's knife!" is a phrase you're never far from in White-penned Rogue Trooper
Art by Henry Flint
It was a poisoned chalice, to be sure. By the time White took over, any connection to Gibbon’s and Simpson’s War Machine was long gone – no room for the artiness or angst of that series. Fleisher’s action-based run was the template, hampered by a gaping problem that there wasn’t any overarching plot or series hook. Readers kind of know what to expect from a generic Rogue Trooper story, but it always worked best when the hero had a mission.

White sets out his vision for what Rogue Trooper is.
Art by Henry Flint

 In my head, a basic Rogue Trooper template involves our man stumbling into a war zone, encountering some sort of Sci-Fi idea, be it a community, a team of soldiers, or most often some crazy weapon idea. He gets shot at, picks a side, takes out the baddest guys, then mumbles something pithy about war being bad, but it’s the only thing he knows.
Compared to Finley-Day and Fleisher, White turned the mumbling into shouting, was a little less apologetic about the gung ho of war, while at the same time being perhaps more honest about the horrors of war. He also went quite a little less Sci-Fi, showing off his knowledge of contemporary military procedure, tactics and even weapons. I’m guessing he sci-fi’d it all up a bit, but it felt kinda modern. To me, anyway, who knows nothing of actual war, or even military history.

I do know my way around wordplay and tenuous metaphors, though.
Art by Steve Tappin
Over many short, sharp bursts White built up a supporting cast for Fr1day, including mercenary Midge, a set of biochips with distinct personalities (some of them more annoying than others…)

Eightball was, for some reason, infantile, and believed Venus was his mother.
Art by Henry Flint

Top was a leader and strategist; Lucky was a risk taker
Art by Steve Tappin

 and the reintroduction of the original Rogue, Gunnar and Venus Bluegenes.

The original bio-chips, not so much.
Note the doubling up of the insignias on the vests.
Art by Edmund Perryman

He managed to put the war into some sort of context, developing a plot about religious zealots taking over Nu Earth city by city, which I was quite excited by. This plot took a twist of involving evil alien lizards as the ‘gods’ manipulating the zealots**, which I was also interested in.

Rogue must be a good guy, because he has no truck with religious extremists.
Art by Henry Flint

Venus is awakened to the truth - there is no Karvanu...
Art by Greg Staples

But by then Tharg had got bored and the plug was pulled. The overwhelming legacy of the series, in my head, is the endless procession of hard talkin’ tough jokin’ military hardware lovin’ war comics. In which any plot was secondary to running, jumping, shooting, shouting and above all, exploding…

Skoshi Tiger! Skoshi Tiger! Let's Knife!
Art by Steve Tappin

Venus Bluegenes got her own, brief series, in which White delivered more delightful trademark one liners.

It doesn't count as a clean kill if you don't make a joke at the same time.
Art by Simon Coleby

 If that’s your thing (and if you’re a 2000AD fan who isn’t, I commiserate as it means you probably hate 50% of all strips), the ne plus ultra was definitely Urban Strike!. It’s an uber-comedic take on a video game that I’ve never played but I imagine simply involves shooting lots of targets from a moving helicopter, with no stories or characters to speak of. Hence this sort of thing in the comics version:

Art by Mick Austin

Somewhat reviled at the time, I’ve a feeling a fair number of squaxx remember it fondly for the full-on silliness that it was. Certainly better than Wardog, another video game adaptation, but that one was played more straight than silly.

Makes Predator's dialogue look po-faced.

White could do serious too, being one of the rotating team of Vector 13 scribes. ‘Serious’ might be pushing it, but the point is it involved tone, atmosphere and was not big on jokes, even if the underlying tone was kind of funny.

Using natural prehistory to create science fiction. Yes please.
Art by Henry Flint

In turn there was Black Light, another White/Abnett co-production, sort of set in the world of Vector 13. It’s a quality thrill that could’ve gone on longer in my view. I barely mentioned it on Dan Abnett’s entry (or co-creator John Burns, for that matter), so let’s give it some love here.

Don't mess with Emma Paris
Art by John Burns

Emma Paris, the lead character, was clearly something of a Scully, but was also her own thing. Throwing the Men in Black into the mix added a level of intrigue – you immediately knew that she could never really trust her supervisors. Sure, the whole thing was super X-Files-y, but goddamit I liked the X Files, and I’ve never had a problem with 2000AD stories that had TV-inspired origins. A couple more stories from Black Light and it could’ve been a proper contender. 
Art by Lee Sullivan
In some ways it set the scene for the likes of Caballistics, Inc. Not the same story at all, but it has a pretty similar set up – a small team of interesting characters with a slowly-revealed background, who investigate Fortean shizz, while always working to uncover a wider conspiracy.

The horrors of contemporary war writ large and vengeful
Art by John Burns
Which leaves us with Flesh: Chronocide – again co-written with Abnett, but possibly more of a White strip since it’s about dinosaurs and those are totally his bag, baby. Check out his books.

I’ve no idea if Mills gave his blessing to this strip (it doesn’t seem to have caused the ruckus that Satanus: Unchained! caused), but Abnett and White do a neat job of bringing Earl Regan back, this time mostly at see, with the inevitable plot of eco-terrorists mixing it up with (un)common thieves. And all getting eaten by huge dinosaurs (and tylosaurs, which like all underwater reptiles are not dinosaurs)

The other White cover, curiously foregrounding not the prehistoric beastie he'd
be amazing at rendering, but the fleeing human. Still v. dramatic!

It’s funny and clever, if perhaps too light on the dino-based carnage one likes to enjoy in Flesh. (Although since Prog 1, it’s always been the evil corner-cutting, wealth-driven humans who are the real villains and cause of misery).

Earl regan, still struggling with upper management
Art by Gary Erskine

There’s been a bit of chatter lately about the editorial history of 2000AD, and how it used to be a mainstream comic (i.e., a comic designed to attract casual readers), but by the 90s it gradually morphed into a cult comic (i.e., designed to attract hardcore readers, and people who like outsider/obscure things). This may or may not be objectively true, but I wonder if Steve White was a victim of this very thing – a decidedly mainstream comics writer edged out of 2000AD in favour of more idiosyncratic fare. Not that he suffered overly, what with his continued career writing and editing with Titan comics (and now Marvel reprints with Hachette)!

More on Steve White:
For the dinosaur love
ECBT's 'potted history' series, always worth reading, has a feature on the Fr1day era of Rogue Trooper
An interview on MyMBuzz covers his early days as well as more recent Dr Who work. 

Personal favourites:
Rogue Trooper: Mercy Killing; Rogue Troopers
Urban Strike!: it’s not big or clever, but it is funny
Flesh: Chronocide
Venus Bluegenes: Bitchin!
Black Light

*I guess Urban Strike the comic strip counts as a Steve White co-creation, but since it’s based on a computer game it doesn’t quite count?

**This from the final series, co-written with Dan Abnett, and it might’ve been he who added in the aliens?

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