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Geoffrey D. Wessel and Dan Cornwell talk action and politics in new 'Rogue Trooper' story

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Geoffrey D. Wessel and Dan Cornwell talk action and politics in new ‘Rogue Trooper’ story

The intriguing “Souther Belle” is out this week in ‘2000 AD.’

Since its inception in 1977, 2000 AD has launched a whole slew of intriguing characters. That includes not only the iconic Judge Dredd but also Tharg the Mighty, ABC Warriors, and Nemesis the Warlock. But there’s at least one more series/name to remember, Rogue Trooper.

The “Genetic Infantryman” first launched in 1981 with a story from 2000 AD legends Gerry Finley-Day and Dave Gibbons. While there’s been several character reboots over the years, Rogue Trooper is effectively about a solider that uses this kind of “living equipment” (actually three distinct minds uploaded to his tech) that’s part of a seemingly never-ending war on Nu-Earth between the Southers and the Norts (sort of like an allegory for the Civil War). There’s a massive bibliography of Rogue Trooper tales, and they’re perfect for anyone who loves military history, weirdo sci-fi, and genetic engineering.

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Or, you can start with a brand new Rogue Trooper story that kicks off in the brand-new 2000 AD Prog 2386. In it, writer Geoffrey D. Wessel and Dan Cornwell team up for “Rogue Trooper: Souther Belle,” in which our titular hero “hears a distress call over the radio from a familiar-sounding voice – but who is it?” It’s one of several Wessel-penned Rogue Trooper stories for 2024 and 2025, and when you factor in the Cornwell’s continually popular work in 2000 AD, now’s the time to get on the Rogue Trooper train.

2000 AD Prog 2386 is out this week (June 12) – head here for more info. In the lead up to the book, we got a chance to speak with both Wessel and Cornwell, who talked about the character’s popularity and stories, how they handle this next chapter, and the value of 2000 AD in general, among other topics/tidbits. Plus, amid the actual interview, enjoy some exclusive pages from the Rogue Trooper story.

Geoffrey D. Wessel and Dan Cornwell talk action and politics in new 'Rogue Trooper' story

Courtesy of 2000 AD.

AIPT: What should any newbies know about Rogue Trooper? How does it compare to some other 2000 AD stories/properties?

Geoffrey D. Wessel: Rogue Trooper is one of the top five 2000 AD characters of all time, and has a movie coming in 2025, directed by Duncan Jones. It debuted in 1981, created by Gerry Finley-Day and Dave Gibbons, and many creators have worked on it since. At its heart, it’s a story about a revenge quest in the middle of the war between the Norts and Southers (Rogue and his fellow Genetic Infantrymen are with the latter) on Nu-Earth, a strategic planet where the use of massive chemical weapons have made the atmosphere toxic.

It also features a cloned super soldier as the title character, personalities stored on computer chips, a black hole, and mecha of all shapes and sizes. And this was in a time before things like cyberpunk, Mobile Suit Gundam, and mecha anime were so ubiquitous in our pop culture — so in a lot of ways it was ahead of the curve in that respect.

Dan Cornwell: I also don’t think you can compare him to any of the other 2000 AD characters. They’re all so different, which is what makes 2000 AD so great. Rogue is a G.I (Genetic Infantryman) soldier, made in a lab, to fight a future war on a poisoned planet called Nu-Earth against the Norts.

AIPT: Rogue Trooper has such a deep, deep bibliography. Is it harrowing or exciting working on something that’s so massively well established?

DC: Personally I see it as a challenge, to be working on characters who are so well established. To be honest, most of the characters in 2000 AD are established and working on any of them is a joy, and an honor. These are characters I’ve been reading since I was 11 or 12 years of age.

GW: Oh, a little of both, really. I was pretty floored, like, jaw dropped, when Tharg the Mighty asked me to write the Rogue Trooper story for last year’s Christmas/year-end issue, Prog 2362, and then even further when I said I had some ideas pop up through writing the ‘Runaway’ story, and he accepted those, too.

So it is exciting, but also, it is daunting to be able to add to the story of Rogue whilst also hoping you’re as good as what came before – and that you are actually adding to it, rather than taking away from it.

Rogue Trooper

Courtesy of 2000 AD.

AIPT: What is “Souther Belle” about specifically? Is there an elevator pitch? Maybe a quick catch-up for the folks?

GW: The main plot hook of “Souther Belle” is Rogue, Helm, Gunnar and Bagman (the latter three being the biochips of Rogue’s dead fellow G.I.s who reside in Rogue’s helmet, machine gun, and backpack, respectively) encounter a Nort propaganda scheme, a la Tokyo Rose or Lord Haw Haw.

They realize that the voice behind Souther Belle is a familiar one, and mount a rescue mission. Anything else… would be massive spoilers.

AIPT: This book is meant to kick off a new Rogue Trooper series. What can you tell us about where it’s going — big story beats, cool panels, etc.?

GW: Like I said above, anything beyond the basics is a massive spoiler, but also, I am getting to do some exploring in the world of Rogue Trooper, how things work for a certain category of Genetic Infantrymen, and maybe even get into how some of the characters really feel, too. As well as the sort of action and banter that Rogue Trooper readers have come to rely on for decades!

DC: It really is full of action, something fun in every episode. And I hope the readers will enjoy my art on this series — I really got my teeth into it. It was fun looking at all the references for it too, the previous work on the series by Dave Gibbons, Cam Kennedy, and especially Colin Wilson’s amazing vehicle designs.

AIPT: Is there something extra relevant about Rogue Trooper in general? Do you try and really play that up or be more subtle with the politics and social commentary?

DC: I think Rogue is a clear indication of how futile war is. And that’s always relevant, especially now as we see the current situation the world is in. We should talk more and fight less. Though in terms of Rogue… that might be quite a dull comic.

GW: I think Rogue Trooper is going to be relevant just because the world has been in an endless state of warfare for the whole of the 21st century. So we’re here, we’re living in it. Over the years, the series has evolved to where it’s not just ‘SOUTHERS GOOD, NORTS BAD,’ and in fact, a lot of times it’s ‘SOUTHERS BAD’ just as much, even in early episodes of the strip.

Rogue Trooper

Courtesy of 2000 AD.

I felt the same way when I was writing my graphic novel (War Birds, drawn by Steve Parkhouse, published by Dark Horse in 2023), war was just omnipresent, and has been for decades. So as long as that’s going on, I feel like Rogue Trooper is going to be relevant for a long time to come.

All that being said, we can have all the political and social commentary we want, but there’s still a certain expectation that Rogue gets into shooting matches with Norts. You want the comic to mean something, but things still need to happen too.

AIPT: Was this your first collaboration — what was it like working together?

GW: Yes, this is the first time Dan and I worked together, although we were adjacent in the Christmas Prog I mentioned above, because he’d drawn the Strontium Dog strip that preceded my Rogue. But yeah, Dan is amazing. I danced a little when I found out he was drawing “Souther Belle.” Dan is one of John Wagner’s go-tos, and how do you argue against that? You can’t. I just hope my scripts were worthy of his art! And of course, I’d love to do it all over again!

DC: It’s been great. I really enjoyed working on this story. Hopefully it’s not the last. I’m sure it won’t be.

AIPT: What does getting published in 2000 AD still mean in 2024?

DC: Everything. As I said previously, I’ve been reading 2000 AD since I was young (mid-’80s) and always dreamt of working for the Mighty One. The fact I’ve been doing it for over six years — on multiple legendary characters — is still mind blowing for me.

GW: It absolutely means the world. I’ve been deep in the worlds of 2000 AD since I was a youngin, when I traded some comics with a friend from school, and got Eagle Comics’ Judge Dredd #15, with a gorgeous Brian Bolland cover showing Dredd in a cascade of Umpty Candy, with a huge, er, candy-eating smile on his face. Completely unlike Dredd, but this was my In!

Over the years, reading the many and varied strips, getting to know and become friends with Script and Art Droids past and present before becoming one myself… It’s amazing, honestly. But also, it’s a learning experience, being able to tell complete stories in 6 pages or less via Future Shocks or Terror Tales or Time Twisters. You really do find your storytelling strengths and weaknesses, and figure how to address them going forward. It’s great.

Geoffrey D. Wessel and Dan Cornwell talk action and politics in new 'Rogue Trooper' story

Courtesy of 2000 AD.

AIPT: Geoffrey, you apparently have several more Rogue Trooper stories for 2024/2025. What can you tell us about those and what role does “Souther Belle” play in that larger campaign?

GW: Yes, I have another serial coming shortly after “Souther Belle” is finished — and I have other stories cooking as well, there but for the grace of Tharg go I. I can tell you there is a direct reference to “Souther Belle” during that serial… however, there are also riffs and references to other classic Rogue Trooper stories as well. That’s what happens when you work within an established story, character set, universe, whatever you want to call it; you want to add your ideas, but also, you’re working within what others before you have set up, and you also don’t want to make life difficult for anyone coming after you either.

AIPT: Anything else we should know about Rogue Trooper, your story, 2000 AD, comics, the art of creativity, life, etc. etc.?

DC: 2000 AD is the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic — fact. And it’s never too late to achieve your dreams. Just never give up. Trust me, I was a bus driver 6 years ago!

GW: Yeah, what Dan said, 100%. I had a long road getting to writing comics professionally myself. That includes many years bumming around, not knowing what I was doing, talking about it more than actually writing… finally learning from more experienced folk, self-publishing through the 2010s… Delayed isn’t always necessarily denied, basically.

Like, Dan said above, it’s never too late to achieve your dreams, and I had another object lesson there last year, when long after I thought it impossible, I ended up becoming a radio DJ here in the city of Chicago; I think I might have had that dream longer than even being a comics writer! So yes, even when it looks like your dreams and goals may never be achieved, you may be surprised!

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