The Battle special – or, as it seems to be called on the cover, the Battle ‘of Britain’ Special – is the latest in Rebellion’s series of specials to revive classic British comics.
Battle Picture Weekly went through a number of name changes in its original run from 1975-1988, at which point it merged with Eagle. Battle Action, Battle Action Force, Battle with Storm Force and just plain old Battle were all titles for the comic, which was launched as a competitor to DC Thomson’s successful war comic, Warlord. It featured a number of hugely popular and influential strips focusing on various wars – such as the Dirty Dozen-esque Rat Pack, the former slave El Mestizo’s adventures as a mercenary during the American Civil War and the highly acclaimed anti-war WW1 saga, Charley’s War. A who’s who of creators were involved, many of whom will be very familiar to readers of 2000AD: Pat Mills, John Wagner, Gerry Finley-Day and Carlos Ezquerra as just a few examples. War comics are not usually to my taste, but I did read Battle on occasion as a kid – especially when it incorporated the wackier, much less serious Action Force, which was the UK name for GI Joe. On the whole though, Battle’s action was gritty and often quite violent, not shying away from the horrors of war.
The 2020 Special, though given the ‘of Britain’ addition in the title – given that it’s being published during the 80th Anniversary of the famous, decisive World War 2 battle – features an awful lot of content, the vast majority of which is new (there’s a few pages of reprints here, but these are more than welcome).
There’s new stories featuring classic characters (including the aforementioned Rat Pack and El Mestizo) and entirely new tales too. I particularly enjoyed veteran Dredd writer Alan Grant’s short tale of an old gentleman recounting his run in with a downed Nazi as a kid, especially given its somewhat poignant realisation at the climax. Dan Abnett’s story about child soldiers, produced in conjunction with charity War Child, was devastatingly effective, as it should be. Alex de Campi’s ‘Nam-set tale was another highlight for me and it was good to see Rebellion’s video game franchise Sniper Elite represented (without taking the easy option of making it about X-Ray bullets-to-the-testicles) but there wasn’t a dud across the entire selection of stories included in the 100 pages here. Dotted throughout are features on wartime vehicles, the Battle of Britain itself and a few comedic strips to lighten the mostly sombre tone.
It’s all delivered with the expected Rebellion sheen of superb artwork and excellent writing from a star-studded list of creators, as well as some excellent supplemental, educational material. The production quality is fantastic and it’s an excellent magazine for the price; Rebellion really do put mainstream US comics to shame on a weekly basis from a value point of view.
Even if you aren’t normally a fan of war comics then, there’s bound to be something in the Battle Special that’ll appeal to you. I was glad that there’s little glorification of war; that’s one thing that I don’t feel particularly comfortable with at all. I wasn’t overly familiar with every character who’s been given another chance at the spotlight here, but the standalone stories all work without prior knowledge of the classic tales from the 70s and 80s – plus, there’s entirely new creations here anyway. It’s another brilliant release from Rebellion.
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