Someone has been really nice to me and loaned me their copies of the short-lived fanzine Achtung! Commando, a title published nearly 20 years ago now, dedicated to DC Thomson’s long-running war comic, edited by comics artist and historian Peter Richardson, While I have been enjoying it, one feature stands out – people picking out their favourite issues.
To me, that’s as bad as asking a parent who your favourite child is. It’s going to cause nothing but pain and is a question usually best never asked. But I have always been a glutton for punishment, so I am going to go for my best in each decade.
To start with, I am going to define each decade as running from the 1 to the 0 as that is what it says in the dictionary.
So let’s start with the 1960s, where Commando began. Usually, you find that a comic starts strong and slowly winds down to that dreaded stage where it is Great News For All Our Readers – which means that your favourite comic is going to end up as part of another and will disappear very soon from the publishing landscape. However, Commando hit the ground running and continued to build up a serious following with contributors such as Ken Barr, Gordon Livingstone, Matias Alonso and Victor de la Fuente.
Top Draw Pick
My best for this decade features neither of those worthies but instead demonstrates two Scottish artists at the top of their game and despite the similarity in name, they never met until the last few years: Ian Kennedy and Cam Kennedy. The issue in question is Issue 469, published in early 1970 and titled “Death Of A Wimpey”.
With a great story by Ken Gentry of rebellion, repression, release and redemption, it’s no surprise that this is my nomination for the best of the first decade of Commando.
The Best of the Rest
Here, I’m going to list some of the issues that I never get tired of reading and with many of them, it would have been a fight to decide which one was best if I had not gone for “Death Of A Wimpey”.
Secrets of the Nazis!
The first one that I would have struggled with would have been Issue 98 – “Valley Of Secret Weapons“, with a beautiful Ken Barr cover and fantastic Leopoldo Ortiz art for the internal story. With a script by war veteran Eric Hebden, the only surprise is that I have not picked more of his.
Commando 98: Valley of Secret Weapons
Originally Commando No 98 (December 1963), re-issued as No 591 (October 1971) and Commando 4455 (December 2011)
Script: Eric Hebden Art: Ortiz Cover: Ken Barr
The Valley of Destruction, the Germans called it. It lay deep in the heart of the Tyrolean mountains, and there Germany’s most brilliant scientists worked night and day building Hitler’s deadly V for Vengeance weapons.
Sun-ray cannons, flying saucers, sound cannons, rocket-propelled tanks and jet-propelled soldiers – strange, terrifying weapons, years ahead of their time.
They were all there in that valley, being made ready to unleash on Britain…
Isn’t that just a great cover?
The next one to be given an honourable mention is Issue 298 – “Desert Monster“, with a Lopez Espi cover and Miguel Quesada doing the story art and a great script from Skentleberry gives this Commando a feelgood A-Team vibe.
Commando 298: Desert Monster
Originally Commando 298 (November 1967), re-issued as Commando 4397 (May 2011)
Script: Skentleberry Art: Miguel Quesada Cover: Lopez Espi
“No, Herr Hauptman, I have not been out in the sun too long. With my own eyes I saw it…it had six sides, as many guns as a pocket-battleship and moved like a great crab at about one hundred kilometres an hour. A tank? No, it wasn’t a tank. It was more like a monster…”
And after that report from a badly-frightened radio operator came into Nazi HQ, a wave of fear swept the desert. What was the Thing that struck from the shadows like a prehistoric beast? Only four men knew… and they were all listed as dead!
I was going to miss mentioning this one, but I just can’t give Issue 384 – “Flying Fury” – a miss. It’s a great flying story and also happens to be the very first issue that is illustrated by the late great Argentinian artist Jose Maria Jorge.
Featuring a dynamic cover by Ricardo Sanféliz Permanyer and a rock solid script by Ken Gentry, there is no way I could pass up mentioning this beauty.
Commando 384: Flying Fury
Originally Commando 384 (February 1969), re-issued as 1107 (March 1977) 4360 (January 2011)
Story: Ken Gentry Inside Art: José Maria Jorge Cover Art: Sanfeliz
Painted on the fuselage of Otto Koll’s Messerschmitt fighter were many RAF roundels, the number of Spitfires and Hurricanes he had shot down. He was a master-flyer. He reigned supreme.
But there’s a lot of truth in the old saying, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.”
All the RAF needed was something impossible… a pilot who could out-fly and out-fight Germany’s best!
Moving on to Issue 422, this is one of my favourites since I started reading Commando back in the 1970s and that is “Battle-Wagon“, with anotherRafael López Espi cover and internal art rendered by one of my favourite Spanish artists Matias Alonso. However, the script was written by the less exotically named “Smith”.
Commando 422: Battle-Wagon
Originally Commando 422 (August 1969), re-issued as Commando 1203 (March 1978)
Script: Smith Art: Matia Alonso Cover: Lopez Espi
Born in Barcelona in 1937, Rafael López Espí is perhaps best known for his superhero work for publisher Ediciones Vértice in the 1960s and 70s, but his comics career, which began in 1953, has included covers for DC Thomson’s Commando and the Fleetway titles Air Ace, Battle, Roxy, Marilyn and Valentine.
His strip work includes western stories such as “Rex Raven”, “Billy McGregor” and “Riffle”, as well as several war and romance stories, and “Mytek the Mighty”. In the 1970s, he drew a number of Marvel superhero posters offered through Marvel UK title, which we’ve featured here on downthetubes. His official web site, in Spanish is at www.lopezespi.com
I could easily add in a dozen more to this selection of best 1960s Commando comics – but all I would be doing is proving how important a good editor is, as Chick Checkley made sure that we Commando readers were exposed to nothing but the best in terms of scripts, covers and art.
The good that I can take away from this post is that subsequent Commando editors have also felt that these stories were good examples of the brand as each one has been republished and it allows fans of the comic to pick up copies of these stories for pennies rather than pounds.
• Some of this material first featured on my own blog, Nothing But a Fan
• Official Commando web site: www.commandocomics.com
Some great Commando-related features appear on Peter’s Cloud 109 blog, but if you still want to track down copies of the original publication, copies do turn up now and again on sites like eBay and Amazon
For a great introduction to Commando comics, Commando 50 Years: A Home for Heroes, by former editor George Low, contains six of the best comic stories, 50 of the title’s most iconic covers, profiles of the best artists and writers; and the inside story of Commando HQ at the publishers DC Thomson. It includes a complete Commando comic book listing from Issue 1 to Issue 4404.
Commando © DC Thomson