Action’s carcass was consumed by Battle, and the first ‘combined’ issue arrived with a cover date of 19th November 1977. It was obvious from the start that this was hardly two great papers joining forces. The Battle Action theme was all-out war, it was as simple as that. In a matter of weeks, the Action logo shrank to almost nothing, although after a nightmare of graphic design changed the look of the comic, the Action name was visible again, but Battle clearly ran the show.
Unlike Action, Battle had retained many writers and artists of quality. Not everyone went off to work on 2000AD, but those that did either came back again, or still found time to do some work for Battle. Quality stories like “Major Eazy“, “Johnny Red” and the fantastic “Charley’s War“, kept up the standards.
In the first issue, “Hellman” went back to the start of the war. As Action’s only war story at the time, it seemed to make sense to continue the strip for as long as possible. As Action was drawing to a close, so too was the Second World War for the men of Hammer Force. An obvious solution was to cover the years before Hellman’s first published adventures began. Thus we had “The Early Adventures of Hellman of Hammer Force“, not the snappiest of titles, but it did exactly what it said. “The Early Adventures” continued for a few months, trampling all over the character’s established continuity, then it was time to pick up where Action left off, and finish the war on the Russian Front. Hellman and the last two survivors of Hammer Force were captured by Allied Forces on the 8th July 1978, looking ahead to the possibilities of life after combat. A facsimile of the Panzer major would appear the following year in the Tornado strip “Wagner’s Walk“.
Hellman got away with the transition, and finished in some style without a major change of format, “Dredger” and “Spinball” were less lucky. D.I.6. became the S.I.S. as Dredger was dragged into some sort of paramilitary nonsense much like “One-Eyed Jack” from Valiant had before him. Breed was killed by a rogue agent in the first episode. As the man responsible for much of Dredger’s exposition to the reader, Breed’s absence would be noticed, and so the writers were forced to make Dredger talk, turning him into an overly articulate loner. It didn’t really work and the story finished with a whimper on the 7th October 1978, as the fomer killing machine went all soppy over a few children.
The “Spinball Slaves” became “The Spinball Wars”. Once again Taggart and Co. became condemned men forced into playing spinball, this time as the official team of the US Army. After matches, the Black Gladiators could be found carrying out covert and entirely stupid missions using heavily armoured spike irons. The story wrapped up in three panels on the 3rd November 1979. Having completed their final mission, the General in charge of the team calls to say “Thanks very much for your help guys, we’ve dropped the murder charges against you so you can all go home.”
This lamely concluded the final Action story, killing the title for good. I’d given up reading Battle Action by March 1979, so luckily I missed this weak finale. Action Annuals were released regularly until 1984 (the annual dated 1985). Following some sporadic reprints, a final fling was to be seen in Fleetway’s Big Adventure Book 1988, which featured an amalgamation of strips from cancelled comics, including Action’s “Hook Jaw” and “Dredger”, plus others such as “The Steel Claw” and “One-Eyed Jack”, and the short-lived All-Action Monthly, which was neither.
A sad end to a comic with such great potential, killed before its time.
Text © Moose Harris
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