Battle and Action were ultra-violent UK boys' comics that merged in 1977 to become Battle-Action. Battle told war stories, while Action was happy with any excuse for distressing excess. Garth Ennis was seven years old at the time and loved all that so much that here he's resurrected some Battle-Action characters in new sequels.
This kind of thing has been tried before, sometimes even by Garth Ennis himself. These attempted revivals always die like a dog. You can't sell a comic today based on people's memories of a newsstand magazine that died forty years ago...
Except that here, bizarrely, it worked. It sold. It was a hit. Rebellion are doing more. Issue #2 of the follow-on series goes on sale on Wednesday.
JOHNNY RED VS. SKREAMER OF THE STUKAS (Keith Burns, 12 pages, colour)
Don't expect too much here, but it's okay. It's twelve pages of dogfighting adventure with Johnny Red (a favourite of Garth's) and Skreamer of the Skukas (the murdering bastard anti-hero of a short-lived series in late 1978). Skreamer actually makes a strong enough impact that I was disappointed not to see more of him.
Ennis and Burns previously collaborated on an 8-issue Johnny Red mini-series in 2015, which is better than this. But you'd expect that from 179 pages vs. 12.
THE SARGE (PJ Holden, 11 pages, black-and-white)
This one's a bit odd. The (typed) caption boxes are a non-fiction history lecture about the British infantryman in World War II, with some genuinely surprising bits of information. I liked it.
Meanwhile, the pictures tell the simple, straightforward story of Sergeant Jim Masters and his section against some German soldiers that need killing. (And a tank.) They seem a nice enough bunch... except that Private Unwin bayonets a German to death after he'd surrendered.
CRAZY KELLER (Chris Burnham, 14 pages, colour)
This one, on the other hand, works great.
Crazy Keller is a cheating, profiteering son-of-a-bitch, but also cheerful, easy-going and upbeat. A superior officer blackmails him into going behind enemy lines on a rescue mission. This is a huge mistake.
It's still basically a big action sequence, but Keller is dodgy and amoral enough to keep things unpredictable. I enjoyed his banter with his long-suffering sidekick Aerial, while the action itself is outrageous without being superhuman. They're in a Jeep. The Germans have tanks. Lots of fun.
DREDGER (John Higgins, 14 pages, colour)
Oh my God.
It's not set in wartime, but in London in 1980. Dredger is a sort of secret agent loner psycho mass murderer. Or something. He was kicked out of the Royal Marines for brutality. He crushes someone in a wheelchair between two cars. He shoots someone in the face and doesn't even stop talking to do so. He shuts an 85-year-old in the fridge with no air supply.
Realistic? Ahahahaha, no. He seems to kill, maim, torture, mutilate, etc. on almost every page. If anyone like this were really operating in London, he'd be the world's most notorious criminal by the weekend. He's like the Punisher on steroids, except way more flamboyant. He is, though, a lot of fun to read about.
HELLMAN VS. GLORY RIDER (Mike Dorey, 11 pages, black-and-white)
Yow. It's another crossover, this time between two dark series. Hellman of Hammer Force was a German hero series. Hellman is a tank commander in the service of the Fuhrer. He tries not to commit atrocities and makes enemies on his own side, but he's still going around killing Allied soldiers all day.
As for Glory Rider, he's a crazy American who wants to be a great war general. He'll send his tank crews into battle against impossible odds. They die. They achieve some successes too, but mostly they die. The only person who's realised how dangerous he is is Sergeant Steve Hilts, one of his subordinates.
The story's first half is what you'd imagine. A bunch of tanks meet. There's shooting and death. The usual. Then, though, Hellman and Hilts find themselves sitting against a wrecked tank with a possibly dying man between them. They chat. Hellman's a thoughtful, decent chap who gives Hilts some excellent advice. About murder. Brrrr.
KIDS RULE O.K. (Kevin O'Neill, 14 pages, alternating between colour and black-and-white)
The colour pages are the staff of Action discussing the possibility that they might have gone a bit too far. With their strip called Kids Rule O.K. and the boy with a bicycle chain on the front cover who's about to beat a policeman to death. (Although it's possible to nitpick the details of that.) To mention just the most infamous of many, er, lively Action incidents. (This is all true and it was a factor in what got Action cancelled and then merged with Battle.)
The black-and-white pages are set within the fiction of Kids Rule O.K. and involve Garth Ennis getting into the "whoops we went too far and got ourselves cancelled" Action spirit. The artist is Kevin O'Neill, who has a reputation for this kind of thing and was well chosen. Bloody hell.
NINA PETROVA AND THE ANGELS OF DEATH (Patrick Goddard, 13 pages, colour)
It's Part 2 of the Johnny Red vs. Skreamer of the Skukas story, which made me happy. Nina Petrova was a key supporting character in Johnny Red's adventures, here for the first time becoming the lead of her own strip. It's strong. Good people die. Skreamer returns (hurrah!) to get magnificently dumped on (hurrah!), but it's the loss of Nina's people that will stay with you.
Overall, it's good. Not all the instalments are equally strong, but they're more varied than you'd expect and there's some memorable stuff here. I also love the idea of reviving dormant UK comics characters, as Alan Moore was doing a while ago except completely and utterly different. I see Rebellion are releasing more Battle/Action graphic novels. The Sarge, Hellman of Hammer Force and of course I must, must, must get my hands on Charley's War...