In Review: Battle Action #1

Review by James Bacon

This first issue of Battle Action from Rebelllion is a stunning piece of work, offering two brilliant stories that capture the essence of the originals from the classic British war comic.

Battle Action Issue One (2023) - cover by Keith Burns
Battle Action Issue One (2023) – cover by Keith Burns

This first issue of a five-issue mini series sees Garth Ennis and Keith Burns return to “Johnny Red” and Dan Cornwell on art duties, with the original writer, John Wagner, on “HMS Nightshade“.

The “Johnny Red” story is beautifully drawn. Keith Burns who has done two of the three covers for this issue, is superlative; there is a really gorgeous and unexpected element to this story, that was brilliant, and Keith’s ability to portray action, to give aircraft the sense of movement and speed, as well as his incredible level of detail to the aircraft themselves, all complement a really well told and tight story, that had me smiling many times.

Battle Action #1 (2023) - Johnny Red by Garth Ennis and Keith Burns
Battle Action #1 (2023) – Johnny Red by Garth Ennis and Keith Burns

The accuracy and detail is superb. Not many artists and writers, for example, would use a Henschel Hs 129 ground attack aircraft at the end of 1942, with the correct gun, for that time, a 30mm 101 or more likely 103 cannon. There is a subtlety to the portrayal of the relationship between characters, and also between Johnny Red and Nina Petrova that is really well done. Also, the loyalty, the determination of Johnny to look out for his squadron, and his reaction and response when one is in peril, is really well done, for while a leader in war, he is incredibly human and also caring, his squadron are his family and friends.

I was well impressed again with the details in the aircraft, be it Soviet or German, and there are other aspects that are really quite stunning. Suffice to say, this is the perfect stand alone story, it brings you back to the world of Johnny Red and while I might be impressed that there is a Junker Ju 88c with possibly locally modified ventral Bola gondola fitted with 20mm cannons, the story is accessible and a great jumping on point.

Whether you want a well told story that will remind you of tales from your younger days, or desire that attention to detail, or really stunning coloured artwork, some of the dusk scenes are incredibly well done by colourist Jason Wordie, this story has it.

John Wagner makes a welcome return to “HMS Nightshade” here, too, and there is a nice introduction from him, as he speaks to the brilliance of the original artist, Mike Western, and how the story had come about, after “The Flight of the Golden Hinde” had not worked out, leaving a consensus that Navy stories did not work in Battle. But John proved they did, when tasked to do so by editor David Hunt for issue 200, back in 1979.

Battle Action #1 (2023) - HMS Nightshade by John Wagner and Dan Cornwell
Battle Action #1 (2023) – HMS Nightshade by John Wagner and Dan Cornwell

Dan Cornwell demonstrates immediately that he has a clear and comprehensive understanding of the ship, which were based on a whaling ship, of 700 tons, ordered in large quantities in 1939 and 1940 with a total of 294 being built. These ships were slow, at 18 knots, but formidable in their own way, useful for convoy protection, and cheap to build. The ships went through a series of modifications, and we see here HMS NIghtshade has the longer Focsle and Mast at the rear of the bridge. While it is good to see the twin Lewis Guns, sub optimal, compared to the 2 x 2-pounder “pom-pom”, in time of war, it should be noted that bespoke modifications would be made. All is accurate, and really nicely drawn.

The story follows the pattern of its predecessor, George Dunn reminiscing about HMS Nightshade, telling us the story of two men. It is poignant, thoughtful, and of course shows the horror of war, and the tragedy that was the Battle of the Atlantic. We see multiple attacks, including from U-Boats and Torpedo bombers. The interior scenes are really well done and the dialogue is fluid.

The new anthology offers three fantastic covers, two by Keith Burns and one by John Higgins. The format is a large size ,just like the original Battle Action comic, but the quality of production is very nice and the wraparound Keith Burns HMS Nightshade cover is unbelievable.

Both these stories are perfect if you just want to discover Battle Action stories for the first time. They are complete, well told, beautifully drawn, well constructed and satisfying in their length. If you wonder what the current best war comic stories are, or recall how these stories were over forty years ago, this first issue comes highly recommended, and if you have been loving the return of Battle Action, and we must give Garth Ennis, and the Rebellion team who have really worked hard to revive and bring back Battle, real credit.

This is a fabulous comic, that really does the originals justice.

There is so much passion here. Garth Ennis, John Wagner, Keith Burns and Dan Cornwell were all at Enniskillen Comic Fest last weekend, for the launch of the comic, putting themselves out to the fans, welcoming them to the issue, a really unique opportunity.

Keith Burns stunning “HMS Nightshade” art for the cover of the 2000AD and Treasury of British webshop exclusive edition of Battle Action #1
Keith Burns stunning “HMS Nightshade” art for the cover of the 2000AD and Treasury of British webshop exclusive edition of Battle Action #1

At Lawless, John Wagner had the original of the Keith Burns wraparound cover, and was happy for fans to see it, and between himself and Dan Cornwell, there was an actual flower class corvette model that Dan had made, so that he could have accurate reference. This is dedication and passion that comes through the pages, and is waiting for readers.

• Battle Action #1, published 31st May, is on sale in comic shops across the UK and beyond, and available to order here from the Treasury of British Comics web shop – or you can order a bundle including all five issues here | This title will not be available in newsagents such as WHSmith

• Read our guide to the returning strips in Battle Action, and an interview with Garth Ennis

The subsequent five issues will be:

• Issue 2 (On sale 28th June): “Crazy Keller” by Garth Ennis and Chris Burnham and “D-Day Dawson” by Dan Abnett and Phil Winslade
• Issue 3 (On sale 26th July): “Dredger” by Garth Ennis and John Higgins and “Major Eazy” by Rob Williams and Henry Flint
• Issue 4 (On sale 30th August): “Cooley’s Gun” by Garth Ennis and Staz Johnson, and “Death Squad” by Rob Williams and PJ Holden
• Issue 5 (On sale 27th September): “Hellman of Hammer Force” by Garth Ennis and Mike Dorey, and “Nina Petrova and the Angels of Death” by Torunn Grønbekk and Patrick Goddard

Web Links

• Battle Action #1 launched at Enniskillen Comic Fest

Journey Planet Battle Picture Weekly Cover

• There is a Battle facebook group with nearly 3000 members

• Hibernia Comics has released an updated second edition of Blazing Battle Actionread our news story | Buy it from Hibernia Comics

Journey Planet: Battle Picture Weekly

A number of years ago James co-edited a Battle fanzine that is free and full of interesting articles

James Bacon (he/him) is an Irish fan, a train driver living in London. A Hugo Award-winning editor of the fanzine "Journey Planet", he is a comic fan and enjoys comic art, war Comics, Star Wars, Irish aspects to comics and railways in comics or otherwise. He has been writing about comics for over thirty years.

Categories: British Comics, British Comics - Current British Publishers, Comics, downthetubes Comics News, Features, Reviews

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  1. In Review and In Pictures: Enniskillen Comic Fest 2023 –
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