Commando Annual 1989

By various (DC Thomson & Co)
ISBN: 0-85116-422-6

Dundee-based DC Thomson is probably the most influential comics publisher in British history. The Beano and The Dandy revolutionised children’s reading, the newspaper strips Oor Wullie and The Broons (both created by the legendary Dudley D. Watkins) have become a genetic marker for Scottishness and the uniquely British “working class hero” grew from the prose-packed pages of Adventure, Rover, Wizard, Skipper and such action-packed  picture papers as Victor, Hotspur and Warlord.

Their comics for girls also shaped generations and still evoke passionate memories – don’t take my word for it either – just ask your mum or grandmother about Judy, Bunty, Diana, Mandy and the rest.

In 1961 the company launched a digest-sized title called Commando. Broadly similar in dimensions to a slim paperback book, it offered 68 black and white pages per issue and an average of two panels a page. Each issue told a complete war story (generally based in World War I or II – although all theatres of conflict have featured since) and told tasteful yet gripping stories of valour and heroism in stark dramas which came charged with grit and authenticity. The fully painted covers made them look more like novels than comics and they were a huge, instant success. They’re still being published.

A number of these stirring sagas have recently been collected in sturdy, capacious hardback volumes, re-presenting  a dozen classics at a time – and I highly recommend them (see for example Commando: True Brit in our own archive section) but in its decades of unflinching service Commando has occasionally produced other collections such as this redoubtable annual from 1989 (the first of two) which contains shorter stories in a more traditional panel format, rendered in varying degrees of colour and offering all new stories.

Because of previous company policy these tales are all uncredited, (happily not the case nowadays) but as I’d rather not prove my ignorance by guessing who did what, I’m saying nothing and you’ll have to be content with the work itself, although the many fan-sites should be able to provide information for the dedicated researcher. Typically when looking at British comics Gold, this book is readily available through a number of online retailers and wonderfully reasonable in price.

Behind the stunning wraparound cover by Ian Kennedy lie seven cracking yarns. In full colour ‘The Young ‘Un!’ follows coal ship crewman Joe Simes as he struggles to come to terms with his father’s death; a victim of the Royal Navy’s foolish, doctrinaire policies – or at least that what he thought until he joined up… whilst ‘No Surrender’ sees intransigent troublemaker Angus McKay fight his own comrades and Germans with equal passion during a mission to Norway and ‘Duel in the Sun’ pits rebellious Australian pilot Mark Hudson against his own commanders when all he really wants is to kill the Japanese genius shooting down allied pilots as if they were sitting ducks…

‘Killed in Action’ is the part-colour tale (black, white, grey and yellow) and sees cruel, cowardly lieutenant Vivian Fawcett-Bligh challenged by a common soldier who knows all his secrets. Set in the African desert in 1941, it doesn’t end the way you might expect… ‘Big Bird, Little Friend’ is another spectacular full-colour air adventure featuring two rival pilots – one British and the other an American – whose bitter quarrel is finally resolved in the flak-blistered skies over Europe and ‘The Good Soldier’ looks at the war through German eyes as Panzer commander Martin Winter becomes increasingly disaffected and appalled by SS atrocities on the Russian Front…

The strips conclude with another half-colour adventure ‘The Three Musketeers’: wherein three boyhood chums are reunited with explosive results on the beaches of Dunkirk, and this classy package also contains a wealth of feature pages and many brilliant painted pin-up pages.

So ubiquitous and effective were Thomson’s war publications that they moulded the character of three generations of boys – and continue to do so eight times every month. This magical slice of the Blitz Spirit is a wonderful example of purely British comic-making: rousing, passionate and winningly understated, so if you’re looking for a more home-grown comics experience, well-written and wonderfully illustrated, get some in and check this out…
© 1988 D.C. Thomson & Co. Ltd. All Rights Reserved.