Sunday, April 22, 2007


Battler Britton was a British war comics character published back in the 1950s and 1960s in titles like AIR ACE PICTURE LIBRARY. Last year DC licensed the rights to the character for a 5-issue series drawn by Colin Wilson and scripted by Garth Ennis, with great painted covers from Garry Leach. I really don't care for Ennis (including what I read of his WAR STORY one-shots a few years back, which had some great artists), so despite liking what I've seen of Wilson's "Dans l'Ombre du Soleil" and Leach's covers I didn't pick up the series until I saw a complete set for sale at $1 an issue recently.

I'm glad I got them all in one shot, since I wouldn't have picked up any more after #1 if buying them as the came out. Fortunately it got a bit better as it went on, and ultimately was worth what I paid.

The mini-series presents a single generically named storyline titled "Bloody Good Show", featuring Commander Robert "Battler" Britton in 1942 in North Africa, given charge of the training of a group of American pilots, including the American major named... wait for it... "Tex". They have an antagonistic relationship, of course, but ultimately wind up both grounded will inside enemy lines and have to work together when they discover a deadly German secret.

The best part of this book, by far, is the artwork. Wilson lovingly renders the planes in mid-air combat, doing a good job of showing the wear of combat on them and leading up to the spectacular explosions. He also does well with the uniforms, firearms and desert setting. Leach tops it all off with some nice covers, including a wraparound one on #5.

The story, though, is pretty much one of the generic war comic stories that's been around for over 50 years. It was told in anywhere from 8 pages to 50 in full sized American comics, and 60 pages in British digests (which translates to about 40-50 pages of a full-sized comic. Ennis is given about 110 pages to play around with, and adds nothing new. The characters are no deeper, the situations no more complex. Sad that he's one of the only ones doing straight war comics for major publishers this decade, with such little ambition (Kubert's recent SGT. ROCK series looks a bit better, I'm looking forward to reading it when it's collected).

It's kind of sad that the best story told in this 5-issue series was Ennis' one paragraph summary of his favourite classic Battler story, "False Glory" from AIR ACE #406 [1968]. If only he had tried to tell a story half as original and clever.

Surprisingly there's going to be a collection of the series out soon, if that tickles your fancy.

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