War Stories volume 1

By Garth Ennis, David Lloyd, Chris Weston, Gary Erskine, John Higgins & Dave Gibbons & various (Avatar Press)
ISBN 978-1-59291-238-4 (TPB)

Garth Ennis is a devout aficionado of the British combat comics, strip and stories he read as a lad. He’s also a major writer of mature-audience fiction with a distinct voice and two discrete senses of humour. In 2004, he demonstrated this lifelong affection for the past and his unique viewpoint in an occasional series of WWII one-shots for DC’s Vertigo imprint. The tales were graced by an impressive cast of illustrators assembled to produce some of their finest work.

The first four of these were collected a few years later in War Stories from Vertigo/DC and again in 2015 via Avatar Press in both trade paperback and digital editions. They remain a true highpoint in the history of combat comics, with this edition closed by Ennis’ Afterword, detailing the historical events that formed the basis of these astounding fictionalised encounters, plus a bibliography of sources used to craft them.

Kicking off the Big Show and limned by Chris Weston & Gary Erskine, “Johann’s Tiger” charts the retreat of a Panzer crew from both the Russians and their own Nazi Field Police, with their guilt-wracked commander urgently seeking Americans he can safely surrender to…

Set in 1944 and illustrated by John Higgins, the next mini saga sees raw English posh boy Second Lieutenant Ross join a combat unit of Ulstermen slogging their way through the supposedly “cushy” part of the war – namely the 20-month campaign to re-take Italy. It’s no picnic and mental health is not a priority, especially with the Nazis and booby traps and disparaging remarks in Parliament by Lady Astor who apparently deems their slow, bloody demise the work of “The D-Day Dodgers”

Dave Gibbons illuminates a thoroughly unconventional take on boots-on-the-ground America’s contribution in “The Screaming Eagles”, wherein a squad of weary G.I.s take an unsanctioned – and thoroughly debauched – furlough in a palatial chateau only recently abandoned by Nazi top brass. With time to decompress, minds turn to pleasure and peace, but the war isn’t that far away…

David Lloyd then closes this volume (the first of two) with the moody and moving “Nightingale”: Ennis’ painfully powerful tale of dishonour and redemption featuring a British Destroyer on escort duty and the sorry fate of those who chase death in the name of duty…

These are not tales for children. Due to Ennis’s immense skill as a scripter and his innate understanding of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances these stories strike home, and strike hard whether the author is aiming for gallows humour or lambasting Establishments always happy to send fodder to slaughter.

The visuals, from a brave band of Britain’s finest artists, are equally uncompromising: offering dangerous visions nobody should ever see except as a warning or in a nightmare. This is not glorious. This is madness made to stop future insanity and honour the lost.

These are the realest of people. This is war as I fear it actually is, and it makes bloody good reading.
© 2015 Avatar Press. Afterword © 2015 Garth Ennis. WAR STORY: JOHANN’S TIGER © 2015 Garth Ennis & Chris Weston. WAR STORY: D-DAY DODGERS © 2015 Garth Ennis & John Higgins. WAR STORY: SCREAMING EAGLES © 2015 Garth Ennis & Dave Gibbons. WAR STORY: NIGHTINGALE © 2015 Garth Ennis & David Lloyd.