Publisher: Titan Books
Out: 23rd August 2016
The Book: Writer Garth Ennis (Preacher) curates a brand new collection of classic war stories from legendary UK comic, Battle, this time collecting the work of renowned artist Cam Kennedy (Star Wars: Dark Empire, Light & Darkness War) on two stories: the brilliant Vietnam-based “Fighting Man” and the canine heroics of “War Dog”!
The Review: There are times when it is really hard to write a good review and there are times when you have to stop yourself from going overboard on the superlatives. I am more than happy to say that for me, this is definitely one of the latter occasions.
For those who came in late, Battle – aka Battle Picture Weekly – was a war comic published by IPC from 1975 until 1988, probably best known for strips such as the iconic World War One story “Charley’s War” by Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun and “Darkie’s Mob” by John Wagner and Mike Western. The comic was the brainchild of freelance writers John Wagner and Pat Mills, originally published as a rival to DC Thomson’s Warlord, – and it was a hugely successful project that led to many others for both, including Action and 2000AD.
Titan have enjoyed huge success with reprints of several strips from the title already (including “Johnny Red“, recently revived as a full colour comic by Garth Ennis and Keith Burns, but they have also published a two collections of the shorter run stories, such as those featured in this volume, the most recent introduced by Garth Ennis – who freely admits how the war stories of Battle influenced his own war tales.
I can honestly say that the art for both of the stories in this latest collection is top notch (for which we must give a tip of the hat to the dedicated restoration work of Moose Harris), with Cam Kennedy drawing the entire run of “Fighting Mann” and taking over the art duties from Mike Western for “War Dog” after the first few episodes. And I cannot forget to say that both have been scripted by one of the best exponents of the war story writers, Alan Hebden.
“Fighting Mann” is the story of Colonel (Retired) Walter Mann USMC, trying to find out what has happened to his son who has been posted as Missing – Believed Deserted in 1967 when he and his Phantom jet disappear without trace over the South Vietnamese jungle. This story is reminiscent of the TV series The Fugitive but here Walter ‘Fighting’ Mann is trying to clear the name of his son and to find out what has happened to him.
When this was originally published in 1980, I was a fan of this story, as I was already addicted to any of Cam Kennedy’s art, but never found out how the story was resolved – so to review this book was a wonderful release as I not only was given the pleasure of devouring the story in one sitting, but I also found out if Walter Mann Jr was a deserter or something more sinister.
“War Dog” was a different approach altogether. I had missed this completely when it was first published, but as I was reading The Crunch, Warlord and Victor at the time, I could not complain too much. However, when I read the description of the story from Garth, I’ll admit I cringed a bit…
This one’s about a dog. There’s no other way to say it, really; War Dog is the story of a huge German Shepherd (or Alsatian, depending on which side of the pond you’re on) called Kazan, who starts out working for the Luftwaffe and then goes walkies.
And then I started to read it and was genuinely impressed with the story telling and the darkness of the tale. This is like Son of Lassie, but the 18 certificate version! For a forgotten gem, this really did shine out and this story was worth being brought back into the light and republished.
While this book may seem expensive at the current retail price, you are getting over 200 pages of the work of two artists that are the top of their game and I guarantee that even the most casual British comic fan in your life will appreciate this as a gift for a birthday, anniversary or even for the dreaded ‘C’ word in December.
• An earlier collection, Best of Battle, was published in 2009
• Although Titan released Major Eazy Volume 1: Heart of Iron and Rat Pack Volume 1: Guns, Guts and Glory, both series were put on hiatus in 2012 – but a fourth volume Johnny Red has just been released in comic shops, with a book shop release of 6th September 2016