On this day, 6 January 1979: Battle Action
On this day, 6 January 1979 … It’s always a pleasure to see a comic celebrating one of its landmark issues – an anniversary edition or its arrival at one of the big numbers such as this, the 200th issue of Battle Action (previously Battle Picture Weekly and Battle Picture Weekly and Valiant). I’ve noticed some publications (for example, Doctor Who Magazine) offering apologetic editorials for the self-indulgence of celebrating their own success, but I don’t think there’s any need for such modesty. Making a big deal about one’s longevity is a reward for the readers as much as for the publishers, and has always been something to look forward to – especially if it is accompanied by something special, such as a new look, free gifts, or, in this exciting edition of Battle Action, a dynamic new line-up of stories.
I wasn’t a reader of Battle at the time, but I bet it seemed even more fresh and new by virtue of being released at the start of a new year and following a fortnight’s absence – issue 199 had been dated 23 December 1978, so this was the first break in the comic’s weekly publishing schedule since its launch nearly four years’ previously. Also, IPC had been numbering the front cover since the 193rd issue, which would have generated a sense of anticipation for the double-centenary edition.
Actually, there’s a mix of new and ongoing stories here – each badged with a commemorative ‘Battle 200 Action’ logo – but it’s still treated as something of a ‘jumping on’ issue. As well as the new strips, the best of the rest, Johnny Red, is full of establishing backstory designed to introduce the character’s complicated situation to new readers. This episode is the first of artist John Cooper’s five-and-a-half year run on the classic series, taking over from Joe Colquhoun who was moving on to a definitive series of his own.
The Sarge – attempting to liberate Caen during the Normandy landings, by the strip’s new creative team of Scott Goodall and Phil Gascoine – and Crazy Keller – uncovering the German’s new, jet-powered Messerschmitt Me 262 – both continue from the previous week, as does The Spinball Wars which, despite its lovely Ron Turner artwork, seems out-of-place in Battle and long past its use-by date, having transferred from Action over a year previously. The four new stories trumpeted on the front cover comprise: a two-page colour centre-spread, Danger at 20,000 Ft., the first of a series of ‘True Life Heroes’; the weak Glory Rider, featuring a cigar-chomping, whip-wielding American officer as its anti-hero; episode one of John Wagner and Mike Western’s excellent H.M.S Nightshade battleship saga; and this issue’s true gem, the beginning of Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun’s Charley’s War. Despite its unassuming start, in which sixteen year-old London bus cleaner Charley Bourne signs up to fight for king and country, the opening image of a ghoul-eyed, gas mask-wearing horse and boy is a haunting premonition of the horrific images of war that would follow in this stone-cold classic strip – arguably the best and most important serial ever published in a British comic.