Battle Picture WeeklyWorld War IICarlos Ezquerra
Medium: comic
Year: 1980
Country: UK
Keywords: Battle Picture Weekly, World War II
Writer: Alan Hebden
Artist: Eric Bradbury, Carlos Ezquerra
Format: 121 pages
Website category: Comics UK
Review date: 19 June 2023
death squad
It's a British children's comic strip from Battle Picture Weekly, where the heroes are WW2 German soldiers. They even end up fighting British commandos. This might sound surprising, but Battle, Warlord, etc. did occasionally run "German strips", e.g. Hellman, Panzer G-Man and Fighter From The Sky.
It's also very good. The first few weekly episodes are throwaway, but the storyline soon gets going.
Our heroes are in a Wehrmacht punishment squad on the Eastern Front. (See also Sven Hassel's novels.) These were real. The Nazis used to collect useless no-hopers and troublemakers into units like this and throw them mercilessly into the most brutal conflicts. Ironically, the survivors often ended up being some of the Nazis' toughest fighters. This is such a group. It contains five men: Grandad (fought in WW1), Swede (big, dumb, Swedish, likes axes), Licker (the group's only hardcore fanatical Nazi, also a liability and an idiot), Gus and Frankie (a pair of thieving criminals).
Firstly, they're in Russia, so it's Nazis vs. Soviets. Who would you prefer to have hating you: the SS or the NKVD? The strip knows exactly what complete and utter bastards both sides could be, so you'll quite often have our anti-heroes going up against their own superior officers. Grandad is capable of shooting one of his own officers and then letting a Russian partisan go free. One storyline creates open war between the Wehrmacht and the SS. This is pretty terrifying. Just when you think things have gone all the way to hell, shit gets worse. Also, Russian winters are unspeakable. If you touch metal without wearing gloves, your skin will freeze to it.
At one point, our heroes are out of bullets and one man could have strolled in and killed them all... but the enemy don't know that. Sometimes, war is bluff.
Eric Bradbury's art is intense and a little disorientating. I don't think his visual storytelling is always the clearest. His pages can feel a little impressionistic, but he's strong both at intense character acting and at military detail. (He reminds me a little of Mick Austin.) Carlos Ezquerra only did one story, for a Battle Annual.
It feels harsher than you'd have got from more conventional heroes. Officers are capable of ordering Deathsquad to shoot one of their friends at dawn. What's more, they'll do it. If they don't make up the firing squad, someone else will. BLAM. There's often little morality to be seen, with a lot of evil vs. evil. Atrocities are ordered and graphically committed. One of our heroes gets tortured so badly that his friends assume they'll just have to kill him. (They don't, but he's stuck in a wheelchair.) Deathsquad are less depraved than their superior officers (and they love taking the piss out of Licker), but they're still fairly unconcerned about who they stick their commando knives in. They also don't have the tough-guy immunity one tends to expect from heroes, with for instance those British commandos beating the crap out of them.
It's also capable of being clever, though, e.g. our heroes' way of sabotaging those Russian tanks.
"This was originally intended to be the start of a 5 or 6-part story," said Hebden, "but it took on a life of its own and turned into a 21-part 'Death Squad' saga." These are weekly three-page episodes in a children's comic, but they're not limited by that format. They soon get ambitious and start telling quite big, complicated stories. They're clever and even sometimes witty. Definitely worth a look.