By Garth Ennis & Colin Wilson (WildStorm)
Today marks the centenary of the Royal Air Force. Weather permitting – it’s Wimbledon fortnight after all – there will be a magnificent flypast of craft modern and vintage over London and many other events all over the place to celebrate.
Sadly, we comics folk don’t venerate our own past achievements nearly as much, so instead of a fabulous Paddy Payne collection, Biggles Archive or any of dozens of other British comics Fly Boys we ought to be commemorating here, I’m re-recommending something a bit modern. At least it’s still a bloody good show…
Garth Ennis is the best writer of war comic books in America today. In fact, if you disregard the marvellous Commando Picture Library series published by DC Thomson (which you shouldn’t – but even now no one admits to reading them in my current circle), he may well be the only creator working in the genre in the entire English Language.
His credentials are well established now and illustrator Colin Wilson has long been lauded for his superb illustration, so it’s no surprise that this re-visitation with one of British comics’ most gallant warriors is an absolute delight.
Battler Britton was first seen in January 1956. “The fighting ace of Land, Sea and Air” debuted in The Sun (back when it was actually a proper comic and before the title was appropriated for the tabloid red top screed joke it is today); the feisty brainchild of Mike Butterworth and the astounding Geoff Campion.
The doughty pilot graduated to the front cover and lead spot in 1958 and took over completely in 1959 when the periodical briefly became Battler Britton’s Own Weekly.
When the title merged with Lion, Britton carried on until 1967 and even transferred to sister title Knockout during 1960-1961.
He also became a key returning feature in the publisher’s range of complete digest series, such as Thriller Picture Library, Air Ace Picture Library and War Picture Library, illustrated by such astounding luminaries as Francisco Solano Lopez, Pat Nicolle, Graham Coton, Ian Kennedy and Hugo Pratt.
He was also a regular standby – in reformatted reprint form – in numerous Fleetway Christmas Annual for years after his comics sorties ended. Why there has never been a concerted effort to restore this treasure trove of comics glory in some kind of archival format is utterly beyond me, but at least he’s with us in this bold adventure which first saw print as a 5-issue miniseries in 2006…
North Africa, October 1942: The dark days before Montgomery’s big push against the seemingly invincible Afrika Korps. Wing Commander Robert “Battler” Britton and his Flight are sent to train an inexperienced group of American pilots hidden behind German lines as a harrying force.
Tensions between smug Brits and pushy Yanks are high and at first it’s doubtful whether the allies or the enemy pose the biggest threat, but in tried-and-true tradition a growing mutual respect eventually leads to successful outcomes.
In spirit, ‘Bloody Good Show’ is one of Ennis’ most faithfully traditional war strips. His love and reverence to the source material is obvious and there’s less of the writer’s signature gallows humour on view than you’d expect, but don’t think that this is watered down in any way.
The dark, ironic madness of battle and disgust with the chinless, smug officialdom that instigates it without getting personally involved is present and potent. Idiots and worse make wars and then send decent people to fight and die in them.
This is a rare thing, here, a reworking of a nostalgia icon that will appeal to the greater part of audiences contemporary and ancient. That it’s a ripping good yarn also means that anybody could read and enjoy it. So you should.
Compilation © 2006, 2007 DC Comics and IPC Media Limited. All Rights Reserved.
Battler Britton and all characters used are ™ & © IPC Media Limited & DC Comics.