On this day, 23 September 1978: Battle Action
On this day, 23 September 1978 … Having debuted in July of this year, Crazy Keller had taken only a few weeks to become the full-colour centre-page star of Battle Action. He was the latest in a long tradition of ‘maverick’ heroes (or anti-heroes, depending on your perspective), created by IPC to ‘do it their way’ on the battlefields of the Second World War, the pitches of the football league or the cities and spaceships of the future. Keller was an American signalman with a self-interested but fearless streak – seen here single-handedly taking out a German pill box on the ‘Omaha’ beach in Normandy, with the motivation of getting some of the besieged US troops to help rescue his stranded jeep, while future stories would see him playing the black market in occupied France.
It’s good, action-packed stuff, if a bit formulaic for Battle, but what really makes this story stand out for me is Eric Bradbury’s art, especially the stunning centre-page spread of the US Navy attempting to storm the beaches on D-Day. There are some fantastic colours on display, and Bradbury’s heavy inks have a haunting, impressionistic, typically British quality that emphasises the humanity and vulnerability of everything he drew (opposed to the superhumanity one might more commonly find in American comics).
Skreamer of the Stukas is a fairly vicious serial about a psychotic Nazi fighter pilot, Otto Skreamer, who flies a deadly Stuka plane with a shark-like mouth on the nose, and a young British lad whose dad is killed mercilessly by Skreamer, on whom he plots revenge. The serial spans the whole length of the Second World War, but the second episode shown below covers the crucial moment in which Jimmy’s dad is killed trying to protect a boatful of wounded Normandy evacuees.
This issue of Battle Action is opened and closed by two of the comic’s most iconic strips. Johnny Red is the first story, drawn here by Joe Colquhoun, and features a particularly breathless episode in which Johnny is forced to fly a plane while temporarily blinded after a crash landing. The only person who knows his secret is his co-pilot, Captain Nina Petrova, of the ‘Angels of Death’ women’s night-bomber squadron. Oh, those Russians. Guarding the back pages is Mike Western’s moody The Sarge, in which Sergeant Jim Masters’ section is on night watch on Allied lines in Italy when a German ambush nearly catches them cold.
Operation Shark is set in the Occupied Channel Islands, where three schoolboys assist a masked resistance fighter codenamed ‘Shark’. And this issue of Battle Action features two strips from the now defunct Action (merged into Battle almost a year previously): Dredger, now drawn by the excellent John Cooper, brings his unique brand of secret service thuggery to a chopper over Westminster and Tower Bridge, and The Spinball Warriors, drawn by Ron Turner, are a continuation of Action’s Death Game 1999.