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Sunday, 22 August 2010

Yesterday's Papers - Battle Picture Weekly

To round off our current, "Yesterday's Papers" mini-series we will look at Battle Picture Weekly, which still holds an exalted position in my memory - in fact it is probably my favourite comic book ever. But besides that Battle displayed a stunning use of the medium over its run and of course gave us a genuine comic book masterpiece in Charley's War - but more on that seminal strip later.

Battle was launched in answer to rival D C Thompson's (see previous post) successful war strip title, Warlord and although born out of imitation Battle did better Warlord and is perhaps one of the, if not THE, most important British comic titles ever.

Battle's answer to Warlord's main character, Lord Peter Flint was Mike Nelson codenamed The Eagle - however readers preferred the more gritty strips in Battle and Mike Nelson, although featuring in several series of adventures, was soon dropped. It is indeed telling that the character was not featured in the recent trade paperback, The Best of Battle.

Early stars of Battle Picture Weekly were D-Day Dawson, The Bootneck Boy and the truly exceptional Rat Pack which was based very much on the popular movie, The Dirty Dozen.

o well remebered are The Rat Pack that Titan Books have a trade paperback collection due shortly that collects together many of their most popular stories.

which one is Lee Marvin?
"We were looking to movies like Dirty Harry and the spaghetti westerns for inspiration," writer Pat Mills said in his introduction to the story in Titan's Best of Battle. "And with Rat Pack we got it from the movie, The Dirty Dozen. It's an archetype that will never go away."

Another early strip that was hugely popular was D D Dawson - it told of Sgt. Steve Dawson who took a bullet during the D-Day landings but survived. However the bullet moved closer to his heart with every adventure and he knows that it will inevitably kill him. And so he vows to fight on until his own personal D-Day finally arrives. And arrive it did in the issue dated 22 Jan 1977 when the character finally went down. The next two scans depict D Day Dawson's last adventure - click on the images for a bigger readable version.

                                                                                       The comic merged other titles into it during its long run and the details are:

  • Battle Picture Weekly (8 March 1975 - 16 October 1976)
  • Battle Picture Weekly and Valiant (23 October 1976 - 12 November 1977)
  • Battle Action (19 November 1977 - 20 February 1982)
  • Battle (27 February 1982 - 1 October 1983)
  • Battle Action Force (8 October 1983 - 29 November 1986)
  • Battle (6 December 1986 - 17 January 1987)
  • Battle Storm Force (24 January 1987 - 23 January 1988)
When the Battle itself began to fail it was merged into the new relaunched Eagle but by then the glory days of British boy's comics was long over.

The world of Battle was a non-PC world where the Americans were Yanks, the Japanese were Japs, the Germans were Nazis and the British were Limeys, but it wasn't always as clear cut and one strip in particular, Charley's War  created by Pat Mills with almost photographic artwork from Joe Colquhoun, was an anti-war strip in a pro war comic and today stands as a true masterpiece of British comics. Titan have published several deluxe hardback volumes collecting the stories with still more to come.
True depth in the comic book medium

It's a bleak and terrible story, but despite the overwhelming cynicism and negativity that surrounds the trenches, there's just a grain of faith in the human spirit. Not enough to ever make this remarkably sad tale ever attractive to Hollywood, but there's something genuinely moving in Charley's letters to his parents and the real friendships forged among the men in the front line. Like most of the great comics Pat Mills created during his most vibrant period of, say, 1976-89, the power of humanity is greater than the power of the "authority" which commands it to do terrible things in the name of royalty, nation or planet.

                           Battle truly was an exceptional comic book and it's great that the legacy is still remembered and felt even today. It may have started off as a typical gung ho style comic book but the skill of the creators soon led it into avenues previously unexplored in the comic book medium. It was incredible reading for a young kid to be presented with war in a realistic fashion in strips such as Charley's War and Johnny Red. to be presented with the unglamorous truth and to discover that bullets really did hurt and that the glory of fighting for one's country soon becomes secondary to surviving when the reality of war is felt.

Oh you are awful but I do like you!
             On a lighter note Battle had the popular Airfix Modellers Club page which was presented by British comedian, Dick Emery. And the letter's page was supposedly edited by Captain Hurricane that hangover from the days of Valient Comic.

To fully cover the importance of Battle would take more than one, two or even several blog articles - indeed a full scale book would be called for, but the article here is merely a taster of a time when British Comics really were a formidable creative force.

 And thanks to the ongoing Titan Book trade paperback series the stories are still around for readers to enjoy today. And long may this continue to be the case.

Notable websites:
Best of Battle

 Blimey another blog about comics regularly looks at British comic books.

Comics UK



1 comment:

Steve M said...

Top comic. One I read faithfully week after week from issue one. My favourite had to be Johnny Red, and I'm looking forward to the book when it appears in a month or so.