Sunday, April 18, 2021

Review: Battling Britons

Justin Marriott has built himself a publishing empire, with Paperback Parade, Men of Violence, Hot Lead and The Sleazy Reader as a backbone to a range of one-shots like last year's Pulp Apocalypse. I take my hat off to him.

His latest publication is Battling Britons, a 162-page collection of reviews by various hands of various war-themed strips published in British comics. The earliest date from the early Sixties (issues of War Picture Library, War at Sea Picture Library) and the latest from only a few years ago (an issue of Commando). His introduction reveals that Justin was an irregular reader of comics, but rediscovered them while compiling reviews for another book, Paperbacks at War. Planning to include a handful of comics, he bought some back numbers of pocket libraries, only to re-discover their quality. Thus the seeds for Battling Britons were sown.

The volume looks at strips from the pages of War and Battle picture libraries, Commando, Battle Picture Weekly, Victor, Warlord, Valiant, Eagle, and elsewhere. It begins with a whistlestop history of war comics in the UK before it reaches the meat of the book: over 200 reviews across 140 pages. The strips are listed in alphabetical order, which helps randomize them, so a 1964 Air Ace Picture Library is followed by stories from Battle Picture Weekly, War Picture Library, Commando and Warlord.

The reviews are written by a handful of contributors: Marriott himself, Steve Myall, Jim O'Brien and James Reasoner, with introduction and afterword by Paul Trimble and Gary Martin Dobbs respectively. It's a book that's best dipped into, so let's dip in... Justin isn't keen on 'Beware the Cat', a 1978 issue of Commando involving an astrologer targetted by Hitler because he didn't predict an assassination attempt... 'Johnny Red' gets five grenades (that's the star system) for its gritty storylines and likeable hero... 'Nazi Nightmare' (another Commando) is described as "A souped-up version of the famous thriller The Boys From Brazil"... 'Cope's Crusaders' (from Wizard, 1975) are a group of Brits caught unarmed on a Greek island, holed up in a castle that they defend using ancient weapons... 'Winged Vengeance (Spike, 1983) features a good Luftwaffe pilot, but doesn't impress Jim O'Brien as he begins opposing his own side... 'Cadman' gets four well-deserved grenades, a backstabbing, self-serving weasel who tries to avoid danger at every turn...

You get the picture. There are one or two surprising omissions ('Darkie's Mob' and 'The Sarge' being two instances) but thanks to these descriptive and entertaining reviews, I now want to find and read almost every one of these unlikely yarns. You will, too.

Battling Britons, edited by Justin Marriott
Justin Marriot, 6 April 2021, 162pp, £8.00. Available from Amazon.

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