Charley’s War: 1 August – 17 October 1916

Charley’s War: 1 August - 17 October 1916 

By Pat Mills & Joe Colquhoun (Titan Books)
ISBN 1-84023-929-8

The lavish second volume of Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun’s groundbreaking anti-war strip sees likable everyman Charley Bourne slowly begin his descent from fresh-faced innocence to weary, battle scarred veteran as the war reaches beyond the cataclysmic events of the Somme and into the conflict’s most bloody events.

Closely following the actual events of the war is not the strip’s only innovation in the history of war comics. The highly detailed research concentrates as much on the characters as the fighting, and reveals to the readers (which at the time of original publication in the weekly comic Battle 1976 – 1986 were presumed to boys between ages 9-13) that “our side” could be as unjust and monstrous as the “bad guys”.

Picking up from the first book’s cliff-hanger conclusion, Charley is despatched as a runner to stop the Allied shelling that is inadvertently falling on British troops, and encounters still more Officer arrogance and stupidity before the battle ends. He and his surviving comrades suffer battlefield punishments and Military Justice before the introduction of Tank Warfare changes the world forever.

A fascinating sidebar is the strip’s concentration on the German reaction to this innovation. The Central Powers considered the tank to be an atrocity weapon in just the same way that modern soldiers do chemical and biological weapons. Nothing ever changes, and this would seem, more than anything else, to be the theme of Charley’s War. The book closes on another cliff-hanger as a much-heralded German counter-attack by the dreaded Judgement Troopers begins with a sinister infiltration…

Charley’s War is undoubtedly one of the greatest war-stories, let alone comic tales, of all time. I pray it finds an appreciative audience and takes its place among the accepted classics like Birdsong or All Quiet on the Western Front. But most of all I wish that volume III and beyond were out tomorrow…

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