World War II
Commando #2493, #2498, #2502
Medium: comic
Year: 1991
Country: UK
Keywords: World War II
Format: Three 63-page stories
Website category: Comics UK
Review date: 2 April 2021
Commando's been going since 1961 without anyone I know having really paid it much attention. I've never noticed it in comics shops. I've never heard anyone talk about it. Nonetheless, it's still going strong in the graveyard that is the UK comics industry, releasing four issues every two weeks (two original and two reprints). They released their 5,000th issue in 2017.
What's more, they don't even have ongoing serials. Instead, it's an anthology title, with a new cast every week. An issue of Commando will contain 64 small black-and-white pages (7 x 5.5 inches), with only two or three panels per page. Technically, this is a similar total panel count to a standard 22-page American comic, but Commando has more story per page. It doesn't do decompressed storytelling. It's story hungry, demanding so much plot that it's effectively a series of little novellas. Every panel's pulling a lot of weight, with outright narration in the caption boxes.
It's the UK's last war comic, with its stories usually but not always set during WW2. What I did here was buy three random issues on Ebay.
Sergeant Mike Stone has been decorated for bravery, yet right now he's doing ten years for cowardice, striking an officer and desertion in the face of the enemy. This isn't just some military holding centre, but proper prison. His cellmates aren't soldiers, but criminals. It soon becomes clear that he's willing to stand up to anyone, which makes his court martial all the more puzzling.
You'll have noticed the story title. Spoiler: the second half isn't set in prison.
It's genuinely very good, with strong characterisation. The officer who framed our hero is human garbage, not because he's a coward (although he is) but because he tried to cover it up by giving deceitful, damaging orders that gave the Germans an opportunity to attack his position. Men will have died in that. Sergeant Stone, meanwhile, will find himself befriending criminals and relying on their questionable skill sets.
The uncredited art reminds me of Mick Austen.
The weakest of the three, for me, but it's still okay.
Captain Paul Grootemann used to run a Dutch tramp steamer, but then the Nazis shot it up and killed his son. Grootemann can only think of vengeance, so he's aghast on being told that the Royal Navy are requisitioning his ship and sending him to Hong Kong. He doesn't care about Japan. He wants to fight Germans.
This is a character-based piece, about the slow thawing of a bitter man. I approve and it's certainly far more worthwhile than the Boys' Own adventure I'd been expecting, but it's still less memorable than the other two issues I bought.
It's about a "Greif Commando". Operation Greif was a special operation under Waffen-SS commando Otto Skorzeny during the battle of the Bulge, in which German soldiers went behind Allied lines in captured uniforms and vehicles. Unfortunately, there weren't enough of those for the hoped-for numbers of troops (not to mention a shortage of good English-speakers), but they did create lots of confusion.
Obersturmfuhrer Klaus Werner is our Nazi hero. He grew up in America, but he returned to Germany before WW2 started and eagerly joined the SS. Now, he's killing Americans.
Halfway through the story, though, the war ends and Werner escapes to America, ultimately joining the US Army and fighting in Korea.
This story kept surprising me. Our hero definitely isn't a nice man, being willing to shoot prisoners even in Korea, but he's a good sergeant. He trains his men well. He's serious about his soldiering, no matter who his masters. Unfortunately, there's a man in his squadron with a clue to the truth. The story's ending was probably inevitable, but it's still strong.
It's good. Don't underestimate Commando. I won't be buying it regularly or anything, but I was quite impressed. It's by DC Thomson, incidentally, better known for the Beano and Dandy. The stronger two of these three stories follow a common pattern, being split in two halves with very different settings and some kind of revenge theme. A sample size of three issues is certainly far too small for me to start generalising, though.
The art's also respectable. John Ridgway drew over 120 issues of Commando, starting in 1971. I'm considering buying a copy of his first issue...