Monday, November 10, 2008

Charley's War: Back to the Front

After being wounded at the Somme and earning himself some much-needed rest in Blighty, Charley Bourne is heading back to the front. It is April 1917 and the front for Charley's regiment is the Ypres Salient, known to the troops as "Wipers", a little corner of Belgium that was defended against German incursion in some of the bloodiest battles of the Great War. The action here takes place shortly before the Third Battle of Ypres at Passchendaele.

There's a change of pace for this volume as the British and German forces face each other across the trenches. Charley has to face more trouble from his own side than from the enemy across No Man's Land: there's the haughty Lieutenant Snell, the Sarge (soon to be demoted to the ranks) and his terrified comrades, who try to make the best of their situation with black humour. Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun, as always with the "Charley's War" series, throw in layers of detail that keep the story moving even in episodes where there's no real action (for instance, one episode is almost wholly taken up with Charley writing a letter home and Snell censoring it). The story can turn from funny to tragic in a frame.

This fifth collection contains strips that ran in Battle Picture Weekly between April and October 1981 and the quality of both story and art is astonishing for a strip that had already been running for 27 months. Mills' research is infamous when it comes to Charley's War and his afterword makes fascinating reading as he discusses which bits are based on true stories and which bits are from his imagination. Joe Colquhoun's artwork is amongst the finest ever published and it's a delight see his talent and professionalism explored in a brief introduction penned by his daughter for this volume. From its sombre dust jacket and on through 112 pages of black & white, mud-drenched artwork, Charley's War continues to be the finest of the reprint volumes Titan publish.

Charley's War: Return to the Front. Titan Books ISBN 978-1845767969, October 2008. If you've not read the four earlier volumes, you can find further details here.

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