Markley’s Fevered Brain: Off to War

Wayne Markley

Wayne Markley

by Wayne Markley

Quality's Blackhawk #26

Quality’s Blackhawk #26

One of many contradictions I have found about myself over the years is I have always been a devoted pacifist and yet I am a big fan of war comics. Go figure. In the history of comic books there have been titles devoted to war going back to the beginning of comics. During the Second World War, the concept of war obviously became the focus of many titles and inspired the creation of such classic heroes as Captain America. There was another boom of war comics in the 1950s mainly as DC shifted their superhero books to new genres such as All American Comics (home of the Golden Age Green Lantern) becoming All American Men of War (after a brief run as All-American Western) and Star Spangled Comics became Star Spangled War Stories. There were also other titles like Our Army at War and Our Fighting Forces. Quality also had a number of war books including the classic Blackhawk and G.I. Combat. In the mid-1950s. DC took over Blackhawk and G.I. Combat from Quality Comics, adding them to their war line. There were also a number of war books from Charlton and other publishers but none of them rose to the popularity of the DC titles. Most of these DC titles lasted until the late 1990s when they finally faded away.

Sgt Fury #3

Sgt Fury #3

Marvel also had a few war titles, such as Battle, but war was never there main focus throughout their history. With the birth of Marvel Comics (from Atlas prior) in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos. This was about a tough as nails army Sergeant and his crew fighting all over the world in stories that were mostly straight forward action stories that were very similar to all of the type of stories that Marvel was doing at the time. They were character driven action stories in a war setting rather than the superhero dressing. It was gritty tough guy stories that were self-contained. At one point, even Captain America guest started in the book.

Our Army at War #107

Our Army at War #107

DC, on the other hand, had mostly self-contained short stories their war books, mainly about a specific heroic soldier or eent. In the late 1950s, DC started to move towards using regular characters in their war books. For example, Our Army At War Sgt. Rock and Easy Company became the lead feature. Even then, most of the early stories were only ten to twelve pages with back-up stories about all aspects of war. Our Army at War featured a who’s who of great artists with Joe Kubert doing one of the greatest runs on a single character, Sgt. Rock, ever. Based on the success of a lead character in the book, DC added Gunner and Sarge (and Pooch) to Our Fighting Forces.

Our Fighting Forces #125

Our Fighting Forces #125

In the late 1960s, Our Fighting Forces debuted a new series replacing Lt. Hunter and the Hellcats (DCs attempt to do Sgt. Fury) with what I consider a highly underrated series, The Losers. The Losers combined four of DCs war heroes who lost their own books to form a special war task force, consisting of Gunner and Sarge, Capt. Storm, and Johnny Cloud. The series featured a long run with art by the late, great, and highly underrated John Severin. Recently in the pages of Superman, the Losers were given their proper send off in a great love story in the Superman Special by Peter Tomasi. Mlle Marie was added to Star Spangled War Stories, which would later feature The War that Time Forgot (G.I.s vs dinosaurs, every little kid’s dream); Enemy Ace (one of the greatest war books ever) and the Unknown Soldier. One last DC war book I cannot overlook is G.I. Combat which featured the Haunted Tank, where a WW2 tank was haunted (assisted) by the ghost of a civil war general. The book rises far above the silly concept. This book is known for the stunning art by Russ Heath and Sam Glanzman. Sadly, almost none of this material has been collected or is currently in print. What was collected in the Archives and Showcases are now long out of print. If only DC would go back and collect this brilliant material and show it the love it deserves.

All of this history aside, let me discuss the actual topic of this blog, British war comics. As with America, the English were doing war comics going back to the earliest days of comics in England but they were done in the traditional British style, with a fairly vanilla type of story. In the 1970s IPC released a comic called Battle Picture Weekly that changed British comics due to the stories they told were reality based, often violent, and influenced a generation of creators. There were a number of features that ran in Battle, ranging from the silly to the painful, with perhaps the best, and most moving strip, being Charley’s War, about a young soldier and his experiences in World War One. This story is widely considered a classic in the genre for years and has been lost to American audiences. Over the years, Titan released ten hardcover volumes collecting all of Charley’s War (Mostly. There was at least one story omitted in the collection). Recently, Rebellion has issued the complete Charley’s War in three affordable softcovers that are America for your reading enjoyment. Before I address Charley’s War directly, let me say these are an amazing read and they take the best of DC’s character driven stories and add Marvel’s gritty action to combine to make a perfect war book that is both moving, as well as entertaining. I cannot recommend this entire series highly enough.

Charley’s War: The Definitive Collection Vol. 1 - Boy Soldier

Charley’s War: The Definitive Collection Vol. 1 – Boy Soldier

The series is broken down into three collections. The first is called Charley’s War: The Definitive Collection Vol. 1 – Boy Soldier. This is followed by Charley’s War: The Definitive Collection Vol. 2 – Brothers in Arms. The third and concluding volume is Charley’s War: The Definitive Collection Vol. 3 – Remembrance. All of the stories are written by Pat Mills and drawn by Joe Colquhoun. Pat Mills is perhaps best known for his creations Marshall Law and Nemesis the Warlock, as well as numerous Judge Dredd stories. Joe Colquhoun was best known for drawing Roy of the Rovers prior to Charley’s War. I think a lot of people (including me) overlooked how talented Colquhoun was. While his page layouts are in the tradition of English comics of the ‘70s, the details of his drawings are amazing. Every panel is packed with little things that make the horror and the disgust of the trench warfare of the First World War come to life. It may be a gaping wound of a soldier in the background or a cat eating a rat. While very different, it is as good as Kubert’s work on Sgt. Rock. Just amazing.

Charley’s War: The Definitive Collection Vol. 3 - Remembrance

Charley’s War: The Definitive Collection Vol. 3 – Remembrance

The story is told from the point of view of a 16 year old boy named Charley Bourne who lies about his age to join the war and is taken because the army needs bodies. Each story is three to five page chapters told from Charley’s point of view and each opening and closing of most of the stories being Charley’s hand written letters to his dad back home in England. The story opens in France in 1916, just before the Battle of Somme. The stories continue to tell the horror the men went through to the end of the war. Charley is not the brightest young chap, and his naïveté plays into how he sees the war. There is also the supporting cast, which are at times stereotypical British military type (the bully Sgt., oblivious leaders who are convinced the end is in sight. The young leader who sees the truth). All of these characters help flesh out the pain and suffering that is all around Charley, that at times Charley does not seem to see. Sadly, there are a number of characters you get to know and care for that do not make it out of the war. While I agree a lot of British comics are a tough read for American audiences due to the different storytelling style and page layouts, I think this story is worth your time to struggle though the challenges you might have.

These new editions are also done in a format which allows the original comics to run in their original dimensions, and all of the color sections are restored (covers, annuals, etc.), none of which were in the hardcover collections. The stories were also reformatted to suit the hardcover size, while the softcovers are done in a size to fit the original art. These books are actually larger than the original Battle Picture Weekly comics.

Garth Ennis Presents Battle Classics 1

Garth Ennis Presents Battle Classics 1

One creator who was deeply influenced by Battle Picture Weekly is Garth Ennis. If you look at a lot of Garth’s writing, you will see he returns to the concept of war over and over and he openly attributes his love of the genre to Battle. I have written many times about how great Garth’s war stories are. Just check out his four volumes of War Stories or his Battlefields collections and you’ll see what I mean. These are moving tales of war by a variety of artists that have the passion and reality that Garth read in his youth in the pages of Battle. I bring these up because there are two beautiful hardcovers from Titan Books collecting Garth’s favorite stories from the pages of Battle Picture Weekly. These two volumes are called Garth Ennis Presents Battle Classics 1 and Garth Ennis Presents Battle Classics 2. Both books are oversized and huge, over 250 pages each, and reprint the best of Battle and you can see in these collections the breadth of the pain and suffering war brings. Garth has done an amazing job picking these stories and offers explanations as to why he chose these stories. Both of these Battle collections, or any of Garth Ennis was stories, are highly recommend.

Garth Ennis' Battlefields

Garth Ennis’ Battlefields

This wraps it up for this blog. I greatly enjoy Garth Ennis’ war books, be it his War Stories, Battlefields, Enemy Ace, War is Hell: First Flight of the Phantom Eagle, or any of his other works. I do not think you can really appreciate the depth of his work unless you go back and read this source material (and inspirations) for his stories. Charley’s War is a moving ,and at times painful, read about the First World War and it put Battle on the map in the world of British comics. Between Charley’s War and Garth Ennis’ Battle Classics you will have hours of great reading as well a history lesson. These are not the tough guy Sgt. Fury stories that Marvel did nor the war is hell stories that DC did so well. These stories are graphic at times and always moving, probably closer to the Warren’s classic Blazing Combat more than anything else in American comics.

Are you a big a fan of war books as I am? Have you read Charley’s War or Commando or any of the British was comics? What did you think? I would love to hear your opinions and comments. What would you recommend? I can be reached at MFBWAY@AOL.COM or on Facebook at Wayne Markley. Nothing I have written here reflects the thoughts or opinions of Westfield Comics or their employees. I do hope you have enjoyed this blog and…

Thank you.


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