Review by John Freeman
Edited by Justin Marriott
• Available from Amazon UK (Affiliate Link)
The Book: Brits at War! War at sea, in the air and on land, as seen through the pages of classic British comics. The war comic has been an enduring part of British pop culture, from the invasion of the pocket books in the 1960s, through to the explosion of weekly strips in the 1970s. Often dismissed and derided, the time has come to reassess their importance as entertainment and education. In these pages are 215 capsule reviews of war comics from the 1960s through to the 2000s, with insights to the creators, themes and sheer readability. Strips from well-loved comics such as Action, Air Ace Picture Library, Battle Picture Library, Battle Picture Weekly, Commando, Valiant, Victor, War Picture Library and Warlord.
Fully illustrated with covers and panels from the stories reviewed, many of them by top European creators.
The Review: Justin Marriott, editor and publisher of Battling Britons, who, also publishes titles such as Paperback Fanatic, Men of Violence, Hot Lead and The Sleazy Reader, tells us he didn’t actually set out to produce this publication – but I’m very glad he did, because I think it’s going to prove an indispensable guide for British war comics fans. It also, Justin has told us, won’t be the last.
Justin was working on Paperbacks at War, a new zine about war paperbacks, and thought it might be cool to include some reviews of old British pocket books amongst the paperbacks. “I picked up a bulk lot on eBay for peanuts and was amazed at the standard of some of the art,” he says, “and that many stories did not conform to the ‘Captain Hurricane’ style cliches that I thought I might find.
“Artist Victor De La Fuente has been an absolute revelation to me, as was spotting Jose Ortiz, whose work for Warren magazines I loved, plus Tacconi and Luis Bermejo, and more. I was so bowled over I wanted to communicate my passion for these dismissed comics… I hope people will enjoy it is as enthusiastic yet balanced series of reviews from fellow readers, rather than judge it as a history of the war genre by an expert.”
Well, I’m delighted to say that Justin’s passion for his subject matter – while not pulling punches if a story doesn’t work, either – shines throughout Battling Britons.
Well illustrated, offering a selection of pithy, pointed reviews by Justin, Jim O’Brien, Steve Myall and James Reasoner, the title also features a quick introduction to British war comics, a foreword from award-winning journalist and war comics expert Paul Trimble, who was also founder of the Battle Fans Facebook Group, and a splendid afterword from Commando scripter Gary Martin Dobbs, both items nicely book ending a great selection of reviews
The 200 reviews, published in alphabetical order, ensuring plenty of variety, span a wide variety of titles published from the 1960s onwards, offering a snapshot of what was on offer down the years from dedicated war comics such as DC Thomson’s Commando, Battle Picture Library, War Picture Library. Plus, we’re also treated to reviews of serialised stories such as “The Coffin Sub” from Action, “Cadman“, from Victor, brilliantly drawn fro the most part by Mike Dorey, “Death Squad” from Battle Action, by Alan Hebden and Carlos Ezquerra, which is being released as a collection later this year through the Treasury of British Comics, and many more.
What I like most about Battling Britons is not simply that iit’s valuable reference work, which hopefully offers fans issues of certain tiles to track down, or that it might give publishers such as DC Thomson Media the heads up on what they should be collecting in future. The best thing about Battling Britons is that it offers candid, no criticism spared reviews, written by a knowledgeable team, whose interest is in wider fiction, not just comics.This gives their “graded with grenades” views a new, fresh perspective on a popular British comics genre, and, as mentioned, has paved the way for follow up collections.
It should be noted that Battling Britons does not include reviews of long-running strips, such as Battle‘s “Charley’s War” or “Darkie’s Mob“, although they are mentioned; Justin has hinted these will be covered in the future, hopefully. While some fans have noted the lack, that simply gives me more to look forward to!
Battling Britons offers a terrific smorgasbord of opinion, skilfully stitched together, the reviews well written and informative. I suspect it will have some of you racing to eBay or Amazon to track down some of the strips or individuals issues mentioned. Good luck on your quest!
If you’re a fan of British war comics, then this reviews collection is a welcome treat. If you’ve never read one, it might prove a revelation.
• Digital editions of Commando Comics from Issue 4341 onwards are available from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link) – search also for Commando Comics
• Nothing But a Fan
Our late contributor Colin Noble’s blog on comics, with plenty of ar comics information