Luke Williams takes a look at Invasion 1984, plucked from the pages of Battle, released earlier this year…
By John Wagner, Alan Grant (writing as Rick Clark) and Eric Bradbury
Publisher: Treasury of British Comics / Rebellion
As a kid, my first encounter with boys adventure comics were via a family friend who would feed me and my three brothers Commando, Battle Picture Library, Starblazer and War Picture Library he’d bought to while away his lonely pan-European lorry drives. To top it off, we’d get annuals at Christmas.
Battle Action Force was the first regular action adventure comic I bought, attracted by the much derided marketing exercise for the militaristic plastic toy that half the comic had become from the end of 1983 (more of on which, here). I came in halfway through a load of the regular comics storylines: over three years of reading, it introduced me to “Charley’s War”, “HMS Nightshade”, “Rat Pack”, “Major Eazy”, “The Sarge” the almost forgotten ”The Nightmare”, and “Invasion 1984” a little gem from the Wagner/Grant writing machine.
Wagner and Grant were incredibly prolific during this period, operating under a slew of pseudonyms. Wagner already had begun this practice by using TB Grover (or as Grant &Grover in conjunction with Alan) and John Howard, future ones included Keefripley, Brian Skuter, and in unison they wrote as F Martin Candour and Rick Clark. The writing team’s stories appearing in 2000AD, also writing for a lot of Eagle stories and, of course, Battle.
In “Invasion 1984!” an unprovoked and savage invasion by an unnamed alien race leaves the world reeling. The planet is soon enslaved and colonised by the invaders. Human survivors are enslaved, driven underground or are the victims of an alien-induced disease. Peace overtures are ignored and nuclear strikes are ineffective.
The survivors organise themselves into a scattered and fragile resistance. Ed Lomax, a linguistics professor flees the slaughter with his wife and child. Seemingly doomed, the they’re rescued by Major McVicker and the psychopathic misfits of Storm Squad (think “Rat Pack” / or Wagner’s “Darkies’ Mob”), part of a pocket of resistance hiding out in a military bunker in the English countryside. Lomax is set to work translating the alien’s ultrasonic language, hoping that it will be the key to defeating the invaders. Meanwhile, Storm Squad perform scouting and snatch missions, gathering information for means of expelling the invaders.
Stylistically, “Invasion 1984” is very grim. Think War of the Worlds meets the BBC’s docu-drama Threads about Britain after a nuclear attack, first broadcast in 1984: it’s worlds away from the clean, shiny and bloodless (although admittedly fun) “Action Force” stories that were running alongside it in Battle.
Eric Bradbury’s art is grounded and earthy, bringing a grittiness to the story; lovely black and white art that wouldn’t be so effective in colour. The alien designs are quite dated, even for the 1980s, but equally, they look suitably chilling and merciless.
Grant and Wagner relish dispatching innocent civilians in a sadistic way, passers by are vaporised, sliced, crushed, squealing as they go. Carnage ensues, and in the best Wagner & Grant tradition, no one is safe. Cast members are popped off left right and centre.
Wagner and Grant also have fun with place and character names, such as Geddon Down (and boogie?), even referencing a revered 2000AD lettering droid.
There are a few plot holes. Without revealing too many details, would aliens really use symbols that are easily recognisable by humans? Lomax’s wife is a bit whiny, and Lomax himself seems to be able to handle himself for a linguistic professor – an unrevealed special forces career perhaps? The solution to the invasion is also quite selective. How did they know their solution to the invaders would harm the aliens?
But all of these are minor quibbles and modern comics could learn a lot from the pacing – and the action is relentless.
Timed to wrap for New Year’s Eve 1983, “Invasion 1984” ended quickly, but ended well.
If there was only one criticism, I really wish Rebellion had published this as a hardcover.
Classic British comics.