After a long wait, Titan Books has published a full, uncensored collection of Darkie’s Mob, John Wagner and Mike Western’s hard-hitting Far East World War 2 adventure, first published in Battle Picture Weekly.
In the hellish, humid jungles of Burma, renegade Captain Joe Darkie leads a rag-tag squad of British soldiers behind Japanese lines, transforming them into the brutal ‘Darkies Mob’. Narrated in diary form by hapless Private Richard Shortland, Darkie’s squad face hardship, horror and vicious combat at every turn, as their Captain’s mania threatens to engulf them all.
But what is Darkie’s terrible secret, and how many will have to die before his bloodlust is finally sated?
Darkie’s Mob was created by John Wagner (perhaps best known for his work on 2000AD‘s ‘Judge Dredd’ and his graphic novel, A History of Violence) and legendary British artist Mike Western (The Sarge) and ran in Battle and Valiant between 14th August 1976 and 18th June 1977.
“Darkie’s Mob was about as grim as Battle could get,” notes Moose Harris, who provided scans for the new collection. “John Wagner had just turned freelance when he began writing it, and needed to get a good, strong story under his belt. He researched the Burma campaign extensively, and Darkie’s Mob reflected his findings. The scenes where Darkie is nailed to a roof to bake in the sun, where Meeker’s arm is amputated with a hunting knife, and where one of the mob is crucified and left to die, were all based on actual events.
“This didn’t save the Battle editorial team from the attentions of Parliament at the time of the investigations into Action. When the strip was reprinted by Battle in the post-Action era, five episodes were dropped because of their content. Mike Western, a veteran of many years and many stories, found certain elements of the narrative disturbing, but still regarded it as his favourite collaboration.”
This is the first time the strip has appeared in its full uncensored form since its first publication in Battle, and Titan Books have been understandably careful in their presentation, warning on the cover of ‘strong language’ – a reference to the jingoistic parlance of the characters. But the hard-hitting story, when read as a whole, hides a grim secret that puts Darkie’s hatred for his enemy in grim perspective once revealed.
Asked in 2002 if there was ever the threat of censorship during the strip’s original run, John Wagner said: “Surprisingly, no. It was one of the things that made the story readable. No plastic soldiers like ‘Captain Hurricane’, this was an attempt to portray the reality of war and the strong emotions and sometimes desperate condition of the men who fought it.”
Speaking about the strip in 2007 to David Bishop, John felt the strip was “a wee bit repetitive” when read in one sitting. “I’m surprised that we got away with some of the stuff we did,” he said. “Most of it is based on real incidents.”
The story is a grim adventure tale, exposing the jungle war as a savage setting – for both sides in the conflict. Joe Darkie is an unforgiving anti hero, and it’s no wonder the tale influenced stories such as Bad Company in 2000AD later.
Moose Harris has done a sterling job on scans for the book – often no easy task given the original printing – and deserves praise for his graft.
Overall, Darkie’s Mob is a powerful tale that some will no doubt find offensive – but could it be any more offensive than glossing over the realities of war, and all it brings, as some comic stories have done?
• Colonel Marbles John Wagner Interview
• Vicious Imagery: John Wagner talks about Battle Picture Weekly Part 1
David Bishop talks to John about how he came on board at IPC
• Vicious Imagery: John Wagner on Battle Picture Weekly Part 2
The origins of Darkie’s Mob discussed