For those who don’t know Battle Picture Weekly or simply Battle, it was a British comic magazine that focused on war stories (mostly WWII) and ran from 1975-88. It was a huge influence on a young Garth Ennis, who has since written and published the excellent Battlefields which is an homage to the old Battle comic strips, some of the best of which are contained in this book.
The first series presented in Battle Classics is "HMS Nightshade" by John Wagner and Mike Western. It follows a ragtag crew of British seamen escorting Allied ships back and forth through war zones, evading the treacherous U-boats when they could and engaging them when they couldn’t. The characters are lovable and brave, but the strips themselves don’t shy away from the realities of war. They remain easily PG rated but tend toward the darker themes of honor and betrayal, bravery and death, loss, love, and beautiful, fleeting life. The second series represented is "The General Dies at Dawn" by Alan Hebden and John Cooper. This series, interestingly enough, follows a Nazi general who is depicted as a man of honor who abhors the ruthless and violent tactics of the SS and, eventually, even war itself. It is told as flashback as he shares his past with his jailer the night before he is to be executed. The final strips are a collection of short stories by Cam Kennedy, each continuing to explore the complex nature of war.
Within these pages you’ll find some of the most charming characters inhabiting some of the most engaging comics I’ve ever read. Despite them being over 25 years old, they still feel vibrant and alive. In fact, it’s refreshing to reexamine this bygone era of mythical simplicity. These creators depict WWII not as some irreproachable monument to our Western values, but rather they look closely at the conflict and see the imperfections, the complexity, the beauty, and aching tragedy of combat.
Now, don’t be daunted if you’ve never heard of Battle or the comics or creators that wrote and drew them. I had only the vaguest awareness of Battle and knew nothing of the creators. But, if you like comics and especially if you like Garth Ennis, you’ll find Battle Classics a valuable and exceedingly entertaining addition to your collection.