On this day, 8 March 1975: Battle Picture Weekly
On this day, 8 March 1975 … the first issue of Battle Picture Weekly (to be variously known also as Battle, Battle Action, Battle Action Force and Battle with Storm Force between now and its merge into Eagle in 1988) went off-sale.
About a year before starting Great News for All Readers! I made a false start on an IPC comics blog and in my introductory (and only) post I listed the titles that would provide my subject matter. I remember saying that war comics and girls’ comics would not be included because I didn’t collect them nor read them as a child. Then I realised that I was limiting myself to a very narrow field and decided I ought to broaden my knowledge of these other publications. As I started to collect and read Battle, it rapidly became one of my favourite of all the IPC titles. I’ve never been ‘into’ war: I didn’t play at it much when I was a kid, although some of my friends did, I didn’t have toy soldiers or tanks or Airfix kits, and I’ve never had a broad knowledge of the key conflicts and events of the two world wars, as many of my contemporaries seem to have. I did once ask for an Action Man for Christmas, and my granny – a pacifist Unitarian whose husband and brother had both been conscientious objectors during the war (personal heroes of mine now) – was very reluctantly persuaded to buy me one, but I can’t remember ever playing with it. However, Battle – I’ve since discovered – is an anthology of generally brilliantly-written tales, with engaging and sympathetic characters in interesting and provocative storylines, illustrated by some of my favourite comics artists, published behind some truly fantastic covers. It’s like reading 2000AD or Eagle or Tiger through green and brown glasses.
Pat Mills and John Wagner were tasked with formulating the launch of Battle in 1975, as a response from IPC to DC Thomson’s Warlord comic. This first issue doesn’t yet have quite the radical feel that the comic would develop over time (with the arrival of stories such as Charley’s War, Johnny Red, Darkie’s Mob and Major Eazy) – in fact it’s relatively conservative in appearance and tone, and the fact that every one of the eight strip stories in this initial line-up are Second World War-based suggests cautious editorial guidelines. There’s national and racial stereotyping (as was fairly common in all comics and wider popular culture at this time), most notably in The Terror Behind the Bamboo Curtain. But there are seeds of some great story ideas – D-Day Dawson, the soldier with only a year left to live due to a unextractable bullet lodged close to his heart, Lofty’s One-man Luftwaffe, in which an escaped British POW goes undercover in the German air force, Day of the Eagle, in which a secret agent is tasked to assassinate Hitler, and Rat Pack, in which a group of British prisoners are released to form a special missions suicide squad (featuring the great Carlos Ezquerra’s first artwork for IPC’s boys’ comics). The cover’s fantastic and that sheet of free combat stickers looks great – even though I wouldn’t have been one of them (not only because I was just too young), I can imagine this being a hugely exciting find for those kids who were readers of the very first issue.
I’ve found creator credits hard to track down (and there are suggestions from a John Wagner interview with David Bishop that it’s not entirely clear who wrote the firfst episodes of some of these stories – some of them could have been Mills and Wagner before passing the stories on to other writers for later instalments), so please do let me know if you can help update the sketchy details below.