3 out of 5
I’m not a huge war comics fan. But a lot of my favorite writers are / have been, and I don’t mind reading war comics: great creators can make the subject matter interesting. Enough cool people were involved with Rebellion’s / Treasury of British Comics Battle revival to get me to read, but given my lack of connection to the topic (or original Battle), pardon if I miss out on direct or indirect nostalgia / genre nods that might make the thing better – I otherwise found it to be fairly average overall.
The title page is pretty cool, setting the old school tone with its dry blue background, regimented structure, and typeface – design is attributed to Oz Osborne, Sam Gretton, and Gemma Sheldrake. (Although I couldn’t really figure out what the scheme was for some strips’ titles being colored red vs. blue.) There are also different plane / technical highlights and illustrations throughout which maintain the classic war comic vibe.
We open with Garth Ennis’ Rat Pack entry. Ennis, in the last decade, has become excessively wordy, but he kept everything in check, here, even his usual gross-out / expletive indulgences. So we get a tight, fun rescue operation tale, over great, rough-edged art from Keith Burns and an awesome light hand at water-colorish blends from colorist Jason Wordie.
Peter Briggs and artist Eoin Marron do a Lofty and the Eagle strip – another rescue operation. I dug that the strip had a nice, kitschy old school feel, but it set a trend that kept popping up in the mag – it’s way too jumpy from panel to panel, and doesn’t do a great job of differentiating characters. The plot is fairly straight forward on this one, though, and keeps the calamity meter high, so it’s still a pretty good read.
Alan Grant and Davide Fabbri deliver one of the better offerings, with an emotional flashback of a man recalling his experience to a group of students of seeing a downed German plane. This was very human and used the premise / medium to explore something that made it very relevant to the mag – not just layering war references atop an adventure strip.
Dan Abnett’s War Child was, unfortunately, way too complex narratively to really land. Jimmy Broxton’s odd artistic style – which is a weird blend of loose and photo reference – actually worked really well, but the way Abnett had several voices speaking at once ultimately confused his attempt at exploring youths coerced into war efforts.
Rob Williams and PJ Holden give us the black and white ‘Destroyer.’ Holden’s art is fantastic – and this was some of the heaviest, steadiest stuff I’ve seen him do. Williams script – about the titular ship, which starts out as a joke of a thing for the way it keeps getting wrecked / wrecking other ships – starts out incredibly strong, but, like a lot of Rob’s writing (by my opinion), sort of flounders and undercuts its grand conclusion.
Karl Stock / Simon Coleby – Sniper Elite. Coleby’s art is a great fit for depicting battle-wracked landscapes, and the Hell of war, and Stock gives us a tense, tight strip highlighting a sniper, yes, but also injecting quite a bit of humanity into what one might brush off due to its video game association. Another highlight.
B.Burrell writes / Carlos Ezquerra draws ‘Vultures!’ – which I’m assuming was a reprint. I looked up Burrell but couldn’t find other references, which is too bad, ’cause this was a fantastic strip, a bit of Tales From the Crypt style revenge on a bastard of a major.
Alex De Campi writes ‘Bravo, Black Lion!,’ Glenn Fabry draws, with a beautiful oil-looking color application from Karen Holloway. This follows a troopers’ survival throughout a crazy gunfight. Fabry isn’t always great at choreography, and it makes the action a bit clunky, but the spirit of the script carries it through.
Double Hero! – another presumed reprint, from Ian Kennedy. This was a two-pager, so not much impact, but nice to look at.
Karl Stock returns with Patrick Goddard on ‘The Scourge of the Skies.’ This was one of the worst offenders of panel to panel jumpiness. It’s overly narrated, and Oz’s letters let in some typos and feel cluttered. Also a two-pager, but juxtaposed against Kennedy’s efforts, doesn’t really stand up well.
Keith Richardson / Tom Paterson do a gag strip called Cockney Commandos. The vibe of the lush, goofy art is great, but, uh, I don’t actually think it’s all that enjoyably to read. In its own way, its as cluttered as the Scourge of the Skies strip, and has that weird disconnect where funny things are happening but it doesn’t actually feel funny.
Alan Hebden / Brent McKee bring back El Mestizo… in that jumpy, character-less fashion I’ve criticized. Mestizo prevents some shiply sabotage, but the choreography and eye direction is in such disarray that it’s hard to be engaged, and Hebden changes scenes on each panel for like two pages straight – I’m not sure why the story didn’t just pick up at a point about three pages in (when the plot proper actually starts) and expand on it from there.
We close out on a good note: Kek-W and Staz Johnson – Gustav of the BearMacht. Yes, we have a bear on our time, and Kek and Staz unleash him with grandiose excess. This brings us full circle to the high adventure tone of Ennis’ opener, and Johnson’s art looks fantastic here, with more great colors, this time from Barbara Nosenzo.