By Pat Mills & Joe Colquhoun (Titan Books)
ISBN: 1-84576-323-8 ISBN-13: 978-1-84576-323-7
The fourth instalment of the magnificent anti-war comic strip picks right up from the cliffhanging ending of the previous volume and shows the hairbreadth escape of boy-soldier Charley Bourne and his mum from the Silvertown munitions factory targeted by a Zeppelin bombing London, before launching into the experimental narrative of the eponymous ‘Blue’.
Writer Mills fully exercised his own political and creative agendas on this First World War series, and as his own commentary relates, was always amazed at what he got away with and what novelties his editors pulled him up on. Firstly, for a weekly war comic like Battle it was rare to allow the hero time away from the action, but here Charley spent the entire story on leave – although hardly safe or sound. Secondly, although unwittingly embroiled in the black market trade in new identities for deserters by his unscrupulous brother-in-law, the hero’s humanity compels him to side against the dictates of patriotism and duty.
Most importantly, whilst aiding the escape of Blue – an Englishman serving with the French Army in the living Hell of Verdun – the episodes become depictions of Blue’s War: A story within a story with the strip’s lead character reduced to an avid and appalled listener.
The horrors of Verdun (the longest single battle in history), related by a British rebel (based on the real-world ‘Monocled Mutineer’ Percy Toplis) wrapped in a tense flight from Military Police and the fearsome ‘Drag Man’ (a obsessive hunter of Deserters) through the eerie streets of a bombed out London, makes for one of the most sophisticated and adult dramas ever seen in fiction, let alone the pages of a kid’s war comic. It is compelling, emotionally draining and dauntingly earnest. But it works.
Lifted to dizzying heights of excellence by the phenomenal artwork of Joe Colquhoun, ‘Blue’s Story’ is a masterpiece of subversive outrage within the greater marvel that is Charley’s War. I pray it never becomes a film or TV series, but I’d bribe Ministers to get these wonderful books onto the National Curriculum.
© 2007 Egmont Magazines Ltd. All Rights Reserved