Garth Ennis Presents – Battle Classics
By John Wagner and Alan Hebden (scripts), Mike Western, John Cooper, and Cam Kennedy (art)
Titan Books, Hardcover, 255 pages, $29.95 US
Click here to order from Amazon.
This labor of love, compiled by comics legend Garth Ennis, collects several stories from famed UK weekly comics magazine Battle, which ran from 1975 – 1988. Like its relation, the SF-oriented 2000AD (birthplace to Judge Dredd), Battle functioned as a place for UK comics writers and artists to hone their craft in a hothouse environment with a high quantity of output on a weekly basis.
The longest story in this volume is John Wagner and Mike Western’s “H.M.S. Nightshade,” which outlines the adventures of the crew of a British corvette during World War II. The rhythm of the story, in its short 4-to-5 page weekly installments, is as inexorable as the waves over which the Nightshade moves. At 183 pages total, “H.M.S. Nightshade is a graphic novel with a very definite beginning, middle, and sudden ending, framed by a grandfather telling his grandson stories of his time on the vessel. When we first meet the Nightshade, she has already sunk, and so we’re already aware that she and her crew paid the ultimate sacrifice. Over the course of the story, writer John Wagner (best known for Judge Dredd) brings the ship and her crew back to life, showing their foibles, heroism and sacrifice. It’s an amazing accomplishment for what was nominally a child’s comic magazine, and which editor Garth Ennis feels to be possible Wagner’s finest work.
Battle Classics is rounded out by the 44-page “The General Dies at Dawn,” and three short vignettes, “Private Loser,” “Clash By Night,” and “Hot Wheels.” The vignettes may feel more familiar in style and substance to a US comics fan, as they’re reminiscent of the type of short work which appeared in war comics published by DC in the 1970s. “The General Dies at Dawn,” on the other hand, has a bit more room to breathe as we’re introduced to the reminiscences of Lieutenant General Otto Von Margen, sentenced to die by firing squad for crimes of cowardice and treason against the Reich. As we learn what sort of man Von Margen really is, we become invested in his hopes that the Americans will reach the base where he is held before his execution. But the ticks of the clock are relentless in their march against Von Margen.
This collection is presented in a gorgeous large-format hardcover with a paper slipcover and stitched binding. Paper stock is a high white gloss for best readability, and appears to be equivalent to A4 in size. The only drawback is that as the original strips were printed in an even larger, newspaper-style format, they are by necessity shrunk to fit these pages, and the written text on the pages has become quite small as a result, often running only about 1/3 the size of text in modern comic books. There’s no easy solution for this beyond printing the book in an unfeasibly large edition, which would result in an absurdly high price point. Instead, at only $29.95 for this handsome volume, Titan Books have settled on the best possible compromise between size and legibility.
Our advice to any war comics fan is to pull the trigger on this edition of Garth Ennis Presents – Battle Classics, which will supply any reader with hours of gritty World War II action, drama, suspense and tragedy.