Battle Picture WeeklyWorld War II
Garth Ennis presents Battle Classics volume 2
Medium: comic
Year: 2016
Country: UK
Keywords: Battle Picture Weekly, World War II
Writer: Alan Hebden
Artist: Cam Kennedy, Mike Western
Format: 242 pages
Website category: Comics UK
Review date: 22 June 2023
battle classics 2
These episodes don't really work in a collection like this. They're too rambling and peripatetic to hold together... but that's not a meaningful criticism. (You could say something similar of a lot of Charles Dickens.) Their creators didn't care about that. These were exciting weekly snippets to sell to bloodthirsty children and that's how to read them. Forget that you're reading a 242-page book. Only consider three pages at a time and you'll find that each individual episode is entertaining.
FIGHTING MANN (Alan Hebden, Cam Kennedy, 182 pages, 1980)
Unusually for Battle, this one's set during the Vietnam war, which ended in 1975. Some of the target audience would have had significant memories of that. Fighting Mann happens to be set in 1967, but even that was hardly ancient history in 1980.
What's more, it's portraying a lot of that period's Asian geopolitics, not just Vietnam itself but also India, Thailand, the Soviets, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and more. It doesn't mention American atrocities (examples of which had been public knowledge for well over a decade by then), but it does portray the Americans as clumsy and heavy-handed in their deployment of overwhelming firepower against a guerilla army that was rarely where they thought. The story's indestructible tough guy heroes are mostly American, but it still wouldn't shock anyone reading this story to hear that America ended up losing.
The story's (American) hero, Walter Mann, is often dodging his own side's military (or even the CIA!) because they're trying to run him out of the country. Why? Incompetence. Their left hand doesn't know what the right hand's doing. His comrade in arms is Korean. His best friend in the US military is nicknamed "Lunatic" (because no sane soldier would go rogue and ignore orders as he does).
Lieutenant Walter Mann has disappeared in Vietnam and the authorities don't seem to be looking for him. One man's willing to search, though... ex-Colonel Walter Mann! In other words, dad. Kennedy draws him as a bald, grizzled force of nature, not subject to military discipline and willing to make trouble for anyone. He'll jump into combat if he sees the Viet Cong making trouble, but that's not what he's here for. He trashes an alarming number of helicopters. He learns that North Vietnam had technological capabilities that they really, really didn't.
It's surprisingly hard-edged at times. Mann shoots someone who's surrendered (although he has a reason) and doesn't step in to save innocent men from execution by a Vietnamese revolutionary tribunal. The Khmer Rouge beat one of their own to death with clubs for laughing. There's a mystery to keep us wondering. I never believed that Mann Jr. would turn out to have sided with the enemy (as the story tries to suggest), but this is interesting, ambitious stuff.
WAR DOG (Alan Hebden, Mike Western, Cam Kennedy, 48 pages, 1979)
It's about a dog. No, really. Kazan is a German shepherd who starts out with the Luftwaffe, but ends up travelling to the Russian front, Britain and the North African desert. He encounters wartime quarantine laws and the mutual distrust between the German and Italian armies. (The former regarded the latter as rubbish, with justification.)
There's absolutely no anthropomorphism. Kazan arguably shows less intelligence than you might expect of a real dog, not more. He doesn't have a clue about anything and will attach himself to anyone who feeds him. Nazi? Russian? English? He doesn't care and can't tell the difference anyway. This can create interesting situations where Kazan will try to save a Nazi major who'll kill anyone, friend or foe, and has just been trying to kill Kazan.
This is a far more interesting story than I'd expected, given its unusual structure (built around a non-protagonist) and the pace at which it gallops through countries, people, violence and colourful incidents. Wherever Kazan goes, there's someone who likes dogs... but also someone else who sees him as a rabies risk.
Overall, volume 1 was an easier recommendation to ordinary readers. Volume 2 needs you to be wearing your "three pages at a time" head. It is, though, good fun and a form of UK comics storytelling that no longer exists today. It's history, in multiple ways.