Garth EnnisCarlos Ezquerra
The Complete Battlefields volumes 1-3
Medium: comic
Year: 2009
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Carlos Ezquerra, Peter Snejbjerg, PJ Holden, Russ Braun
Format: Eight limited series, totalling 612 pages
Website category: Comics
Review date: 22 February 2022
It's one of Garth Ennis's two war meta-series. This one was for Dynamite Entertainment, set during WW2 for vols.1-2 and in the Korean War and afterwards in vol.3. The other's War Stories, which he wrote in two halves for Vertigo (2001-03) and Avatar Press (2014-17). He's written many other war stories too, but those are his biggies.
This one's good, obviously. That hardly needs saying. The trade paperbacks include a bibliography of historical sources and long essays by Ennis about the historical context and how often these story's events were taken directly from real incidents. It contains dark stuff, obviously. If you don't think rape belongs in war, for instance... well, it would be nice if the world agreed with you. (Some of Ennis's readers were upset, apparently.) These stories can be funny, sometimes, but that's only because Ennis has a knack for dialogue and banter. He's absolutely not taking the piss. There's nothing flippant about these stories. He cares about this subject matter and he's willing to portray war atrocities, injustice and suicide endings.
All the artists' historical research is superb, incidentally. You might not notice anything, just thinking to yourself "more war stories", but it took serious work to get all the details this flawless.
1. NIGHT WITCHES (Russ Braun, 2009, vol.1)
It's about the Soviet all-female 588th Night Bomber Regiment, aka. the Night Witches. This is actually less horrible than it might have been, bearing in mind how bad things got on the Russian front, but it's still shocking. What would happen if a Night Witch got captured by the Germans, for instance? Yup. The story has two groups of protagonists: the Russian Night Witches and a platoon of Germans. These range from would-like-to-be-nice (one) to the monstrous (Herr Feldwebel). "Fucking sub-humans are too stupid to be scared of anything. Male or female, doesn't matter."
2. DEAR BILLY (Peter Snejbjerg, 2009, vol.1)
"First they raped us. Then they walked us into the shallows and turned machine guns on us."
The British and Americans are fighting the Japanese, but this story's hero is a nurse. She's damaged. It's a world of racism and shocking attitudes (not just from the Japanese). This one's strong and slightly horrifying.
3. TANKIES (Carlos Ezquerra, 2009, vol.1)
It's the first amusing one, with the bantering culture clash of "I say old chap" officers, some ordinary Londoners and a Geordie. It's also more gentlemanly, since the German-British fighting wasn't as savage and terrifying as Russia and the Far East. (Well, I say "gentlemanly"... this means that the British don't start shooting Germans who've surrendered until after something's happened to make it a sensible precaution.) That said, though, you wouldn't have wanted to be a WW2 tankie. The British and American tanks were cheaper and weaker than the German ones, which were so well-armoured that it could happily sit there and let you shoot it until it was ready to blast you into oblivion. And you can imagine what happened to a tank's crew when an armour-piercing shell penetrated its hull and exploded inside.
"North-East, up near the border with Jockland. All talk like bleedin' lunatics. They're a bunch o' savages, they eat their own fuckin' young." (That's people from Newcastle, not Germans.)
4. MOTHERLAND (Russ Braun, 2011, vol.2)
A sequel to Night Witches. Anna Kharkova's mood has got shittier and the NKVD are scary and disgusting, but Mouse is lovely. Nothing that happened in Russia in WW2 was anything but horrible, but the ending at least avoids despair.
5. HAPPY VALLEY (P. J. Holden, 2010, vol.2)
Australian pilots and amusing banter.
6. THE FIREFLY AND HIS MAJESTY (Carlos Ezquerra, 2011, vol.2)
A sequel to Tankies. This one's set in February 1945, when the Nazi cause is obviously doomed and the Allies are advancing into Germany itself... but the German army was still fighting tooth and nail. Their soldiers were better and their tanks were tougher. Sergeant Stiles is still the protagonist, but there's a deuteragonist in the charming, loyal, polite Obersturmbannfuhrer who's commanding a Tiger II for the Fuhrer.
It's both fascinating and horrific. Tank vs. tank combat is unlike all other kinds of fighting.
"Jesus, Sarge, isn't this a bit blasphemous?"
"Ah wouldn't know, ah'm a fookin' pagan. Fire!"
7. THE FALL & RISE OF ANNA KHARKOVA (Russ Braun, 2013, vol.3)
It concludes the Night Witches trilogy. Bloody hell. Just... Jesus. And, yes, WW2 heroes in Russia did indeed often have it this bad.
8. THE GREEN FIELDS (Carlos Ezquerra, 2013, vol.3)
This concludes the Tankies trilogy... and, ironically, it's not the strongest Battlefields story. To some extent, it falls into the trap of relating history rather than the story of its characters. That said, though, it's still very good. Personally, I also found it fascinating because it's about the Korean War, about which I'm afraid I knew very little.
Also, in fairness, it is still telling a character arc. It's just that Stiles's inner journey is relatively understated, compared with the hell he's going through.
"Ah wasn't much cop in civvie street, sir. It was as if al the fire went oot o' me. Then one weekend ah was doon in London, seein' some o' the old eight army wallahs for a few pints, like. An' before ah knew it ah was walkin' into a recruitin' office for the hoossars."
I haven't read Ennis's War Stories yet, but I believe the main difference between the two meta-series is that War Stories has almost no sequels. In contrast, three-quarters of this is Anna Kharkova or Sergeant Stiles. That's well over 200 pages each... and if you buy Battlefields vol.1, you should buy vols.2-3 as well. I don't think these stories are as powerful as the best of Ennis's Punisher MAX work, but they're in a similar ballpark and I'd strongly recommend them.