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Sunday, March 12, 2006

Commando #1504 [1981] (Random Comics Theatre)

Random Comics Theatre

Commando #1504 [1981]

COMMANDO, published by DC Thomson in England since 1961, might have more issues published than any other English language comic book, with #4000 due to come out in about a year, thanks to its 8-times-a-month schedule (currently two reprint and six new every month). It's a 68-page digest sized magazine, with painted wraparound covers, 63-page black and white interior stories plus a few ads and features (covers of concurrent issues, military equipment and history features and, oddly, photos of British sports figures). It's a shame these aren't more widely available in North America, as they're a lot of fun, and I'd love to be able to go down to the newsagent once a fortnight and see the four new issues and maybe drop a quid to pick one up, eh wot, guv'ner.

#1504 features "Treason", with art by Jose Maria Jorge, a South American artist who's been drawing for COMMANDO since 1969, continuing to this day, with about 150 issues to his credit.

This is the story of Barry Mayor, a young sub-lieutenant in the British Navy, assigned to a corvette that is escorting convoys through the North Atlantic. While on leave in the US he sees a familiar face, a man he's sure is the one member of a sabotage ring who had escaped in South America back when Barry was still a merchant sailor. Always taking the initiative, Barry follows the man and is ambushed for his troubles. He's able to subsequently lead the authorities to the rest of the spy ring, but not before the leader escapes, though they now have a name, Rigg, to go with the face.

Back on his ship in a new convoy, Barry is suspicious when there are stray coded radio transmissions coming from one of the ships, and then one of the tankers falls behind due to sabotage. It turns out Rigg had fake papers as the radio operator of the tanker, and is planning to be picked up by a U-boat to bring the various secrets he's picked up to Germany. Various gun fights and sinkings go on between our heroes and the nazis, leading up to a dramatic showdown between Barry and Rigg.

COMMANDO is always a fun read, a nice light way to spend a half-hour reading. The stories are long enough to have several twists and turns, and while there isn't much in terms of deep characterization you do get the occasional clever bit. The plotting does tend to take advantage of coincidence (the same guy chasing down a saboteur in South America, running into him in a bar in the US, being on the convoy escort of his ship in the North Atlantic). The editing can be a bit spotty though (Barry becomes Harry for a dozen pages in the middle of the story). The art is usually a lot better than the writing, especially in the ones I've seen with Jorge drawing. He puts a lot of detail in the military aspects, the ships and uniforms, as well as the period backgrounds, probably much more than is justified by the small size and crappy printing of the books. I'd sign up if someone would publish a volume of some of his best work with better production.

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