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Battle picture weekly - Terror Behind the Bamboo curtain 
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In readiness for Battle-Action's 200th week and a host of changes, there was the matter of wrapping up several stories from the preceding issue - cover dated: 23/12/78. Along with "Skreamer Of The Stukas", "The General Dies At Dawn" (yet another German protagonist) reached a decisive climax - a series wherein the court-martialled general recounted his war tribulations and continuous friction with the Gestapo via an episodic format. With each passing week, an appointment with a firing squad neared while news of advancing US troops offered the general a glimmer of hope.

Although a short-lived series, 11 episodes in total, it proved popular to warrant an inclusion in a collected volume of "Garth Ennis Presents Battle Classics" that was published early in 2014. Once again, Alan Hebden had written a good, solid series with aplomb, a tersely scripted foil to his ongoing colourful, off-the-wall "Crazy Keller" stories. And, if that wasn't sufficient, he also afforded the script for a complete story "Fool's Gold" in the same issue with artwork from Bill Lacey whose work was last featured in Battle over 100 issues ago. John Cooper provided the artwork for "The General Dies At Dawn". Acclaimed for his urbanesque pencils in "One-Eyed Jack" and having just completed 46 episodes of "Dredger", he proved that he was also adept at weaving the atmospherics of past warfare.

The third series to complete was "Operation Shark", a story that was set on Nazi-occupied Channel Islands where upon a local terrorist teamed up with a group of schoolboys to continually beset German operations. Mirroring its conclusion, the series proved ambiguous, lacking in something of a bite or an edge that sizzled in its contemporary strips - notably "Johnny Red" and "The Sarge". With a little tinkering, the strip could have easily graced the pages of "Buster and Monster Fun". Yet, its popularity was sufficient to resurrect it from apparent limbo.

Following an initial run of 10 episodes, Shark was prematurely suspended with a "Will Return" caption when Battle incorporated Valiant. As the months went by, however, it seemed that the series had befallen a similar fate as "Sergeant Without Stripes" which, after 10 episodes, was placed on hiatus and, despite assurances from the editor, would not return except with sporadic appearances in later annuals. Eventually, after 21 months, Shark returned and chalked up a further 24 episodes. At this time, only 12 other serials had enjoyed a greater longevity.

Proving as resourceful as Alan Hebden, Tom Tully wrote "Operation Shark" alongside "The Spinball Wars" and "Johnny Red" in the same issue. Mike Western and Vano shared the art duties on the first run while Alex Henderson assumed control on the second run after Mike Dorey's contribution of 3 episodes.

Notwithstanding the ending of these series, this issue of Battle-Action is mostly remembered for Joe Colquhoun's final pages for "Johnny Red". However, neither Joe nor Johnny was finished with Battle yet.


Tue Mar 28, 2017 4:40 pm
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A while ago, after reading the first 100 issues of Battle, I compiled and posted a couple of charts: firstly, artists with the most pages of printed art (excluding covers and illustrated features); secondly, series with the most number of episodes. These are printed below to save on searching.

Giralt - 300 pages
Geoff Campion - 235
Carlos Ezquerra - 204
Jim Watson - 191
Colin Page - 172
Mike Western - 160.5
Massimo Belardinelli - 138
Pat Wright - 120
Bill Lacey - 97

Bootneck Boy - 99 episodes
D-Day Dawson - 88
Eagle - 79
Rat Pack - 63
Major Eazy - 45
Darkies Mob - 25
Merrill's Marauders - 20
Team That Went To War - 19
Fighter From The Sky - 19
Lofty's One-Man Luftwaffe - 18

After 200 issues, here's an update on those charts.

Mike Western - 443.5 pages
Giralt - 434
Carlos Ezquerra - 415
John Cooper - 402.5
Joe Colquhoun - 335.5
Jim Watson - 322
Eric Bradbury - 319
Pat Wright - 304.5
Geoff Campion - 243
Ron Turner - 206.5

Bootneck Boy - 140 episodes
Eagle - 102
Johnny Red - 98
Rat Pack - 88 (includes Rat Pack v Major Eazy)
D-Day Dawson - 88
Major Eazy - 87 (includes Rat Pack v Major Eazy)
The Sarge - 76
Joe Two Beans - 58
The Spinball Wars - 56
Dredger - 46

With regard to the artists, this chart highlights how Battle's "Magnificent 7" had dominated the year 1977. Only Giralt's run on "Bootneck Boy" denied the "7" a clean sweep. Other than Giralt, Ron Turner is the only exception to offer the "7" a little competition. Geoff Campion contributed 8 pages only during the last 100 issues, and tumbled from a lofty runners-up position to 9th. The eye-opener in this chart is what actually lies below Ron Turner.

Colin Page - 178
Massimo Belardinelli - 156
Bill Lacey - 101

Now, these statistics emphasize just how much of a monopoly the "7" had. However, there were casualties throughout 1978. Ezquerra drew his last "Major Eazy" in June, Pat Wright disappeared after "Hellman", and Jim Watson's contributions dropped alarmingly. Still, the chart illustrates a high level of consistency in which Battle revelled - a period that many would refer to as its "Golden Age".


Thu Mar 30, 2017 4:24 pm
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During the first six years of its history, Battle had the luxury to forsake the necessity for free gifts that were primarily designed to boost a title's readership. Apart from the customary "giveaways" in its initial three issues, Battle's next free gift appeared in early 1981. Even the pre-ban "Action" deigned to offer an extra free gift issue beyond its No.3. "Bullet" granted an extra two gift-laden issues while Battle's instigator "Warlord" provided more than its share of cheap enticement in no less than 11 issues by No.70.

Battle had other ideas and engineered a cunning policy that manipulated readers into believing that they were receiving something "free": mega posters, booklets, and board games that would grace the colour centre pages over a four week period. A series of cut-out features (Battle's Mystery Extra) was an inventive idea that occupied the rear page for several months.

Informative features were also reserved for the rear page: "This Amazing War", "Battle's Master Plan", and "Names of Glory" to mention a few. For pure entertainment, "Big War Films" (debuting at the beginning of 1978) was a hugely popular series whose single page was made up of an illustration, actual photo footage and a concise plot of the selected movie. For a princely sum of £2, if featured, the reader was coaxed into writing his/her war-themed movie request.

Big War Films... 42 (All Quiet on the Western Front) appeared in Battle's 199th issue. Flicking through the 1979 issues, I found that the series showed no sign of abating from which many films jolted the memory: "Sands of Iwo Jima", "Sink the Bismark", and "The Hill". Of course, there were the obvious: "The Great Escape", "Battle of Britain", and "Battle of the Bulge". And to the obscure: "Albert R N", "The Wooden Horse", and "Yangtse Incident". One of the most modern films featured was "A Bridge Too Far" which underscores a bygone era. Still, the series offers up a nostalgic jaunt.


Thu Apr 06, 2017 12:33 pm
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On the inside cover of Battle Annual 1979, published and released around the Autumn of 1978, the list of contents read like an old school boy's reunion for Battle - practically reviving the weekly's debut cast: "Lofty's One-Man Luftwaffe", "Flight of the Golden Hinde", "D-Day Dawson", "The Bootneck Boy", and "The Rat Pack". Yet, to the apprised reader, mild surprise turns to a little frustration upon discovering that half of these are actually reprints. Dawson was initially printed in Battle's 29th March 1975 cover dated issue, Golden Hinde - April 19th 1975, and Lofty - May 10th 1975. Annuals loaded with reprinted material from the archives were very much money-spinners for IPC in its heydays. However, the company managed a self-rule policy whereby only material that was over five year's old could be reprinted. Even taking into account the annual's cover year of 1979, this rule was obviously relaxed for this annual.

Still, to Battle's credit, reprints were not allowed to run riot. Many features were crammed into the package and, while a cynic would view such material as padding, they were engaging. "Sergeant Rock - SAS" offered further pages of reprint (originally appearing in "Smash" during 1969) that jarred with its outdated "feel" alongside the contemporary strips. Major Eazy was much welcome and, although his weekly adventures had ground to a halt, he would continue to appear in later specials and annuals. Gaunt also made a return, albeit in a text story with Pat Wright's illustrations. In mentioning Pat, there was no appearance from "The Eagle". Although he was long killed off in the weekly, death was by no means prohibitive for a yesteryear hero to burst back on to the page. Panzer G-Man proved this, resurrected for more action against the Russians with Jim Watson sharpening his pencils again for the German protagonist.

Thankfully, there were strips for living characters who were still appearing in the weekly around this time. Long running serials - "Johnny Red" and "The Sarge" boosted proceedings of which the latter strip further utilized the skills of Pat Wright who, sadly, would not contribute anything more to the weekly for the next two years. Still, if not in the weekly, at least these annuals continued to showcase such talents as Wright and Watson.


Wed Apr 12, 2017 8:05 pm
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geoff42 wrote:
"Sergeant Rock - SAS" offered further pages of reprint (originally appearing in "Smash" during 1969) that jarred with its outdated "feel" alongside the contemporary strips.


As an aside, the Sergeant Rock strips originally appeared in Hurricane (and then in Tiger and Hurricane) as Paratrooper. They were later reprinted in Smash!

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Wed Apr 12, 2017 11:03 pm
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Thanks for that, Lew. I couldn't get this information from anywhere else. Maybe, I just didn't look hard enough. Anyway, cheers.


Wed Apr 12, 2017 11:44 pm
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Courtesy of Lew and his reference to Hurricane and Tiger, I have been able to research Sergeant Rock - Special Air Service with more fortune than previous. The Sergeant began life as "Paratrooper" in Hurricane's cover dated issue of 04/07/64 as a narrator, a device to introduce war stories from, presumably, archived material. At the same time, three further new stories accompanied the sergeant: Juggernaut from Planet Z, Black Avenger, and Hurry of the Hammers. Later, he became more interactive in his own stories. These were mainly pencilled by John Vernon. He survived Hurricane's merger into Tiger on its cover dated issue of 15th may 1965 when he became known as Sergeant Rock - Special Air Service. This series lasted a short while until 17th July of the same year; Carlos Cruz was the main artist by this time. Then, his Hurricane appearances were reprinted in Smash five weeks before the title's actual relaunch under the banner of IPC. These reprints would endure until around Jan - Feb 1970. Of course, he would later feature in Battle's Summer Specials and Annuals. But for Lew, and those lucky few with a collection of Hurricane comics and the early merger issues with Tiger, Sergeant Rock would have been considered a Smash strip, as I initially assumed. That is exactly why Comics UK is an invaluable reference site for British comic enthusiasts.


Fri Apr 14, 2017 12:27 am
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geoff42 wrote:
But for Lew, and those lucky few with a collection of Hurricane comics and the early merger issues with Tiger, Sergeant Rock would have been considered a Smash strip, as I initially assumed. That is exactly why Comics UK is an invaluable reference site for British comic enthusiasts.



I only have one or two issues of Hurricane (I was never keen on it myself) but Steve Holland published an invaluable book on it (and Champion) several years ago. I think it may be out of print now but here's some details about it if you wished to track it down...

https://lewstringer.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/hurricane-and-champion-index.html


Fri Apr 14, 2017 1:53 am
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Cheers, Lew. The book is still in stock and has been ordered. :cheers:


Fri Apr 14, 2017 10:16 am
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Battle's celebrations for its 200th issue were unexpectedly placed on ice for a week. An anticipated 30/12/78 cover dated issue failed to materialize. A union dispute sprang immediately to mind and yet several titles from IPC's stable occupied the newsagent's shelf over the Christmas period of 1978: "2000 AD", "Roy of the Rovers", and "Tiger & Scorcher". Upon its belated emergence, Battle-Action had rung a host of changes for its milestone issue of which one in particular must have aggrieved many fans of "The Sarge". After 75 episodes, the original creators - Gerry Finley-Day & Mike Western moved on and handed the reins over to Scott Goodall & Phil Gascoine. Any artist would have had one hell of a task in following up Western's refined strokes on this series and, on first impression, it seemed that Battle's editor (Dave Hunt who had played a master stroke with regard to Johnny Red and Charley's War and their respective artists: John Cooper and Joe Colquhoun) had dropped the ball where The Sarge was concerned.

With Phil Gascoine, the successor to Western; his caricature-like quality would have easily complemented either a humorous or irreverent strip. As regards The Sarge, such art teetered on the edge of lampooning a well established series and threatened the integrity of a popular character. While the sudden transition was problematic, Gascoine was thankfully offered a spade to dig himself out of trouble - that spade was Scott Goodall. From the evidence of the 201st issue, Scott had already grasped the mechanics of the series with aplomb. Having depleted Sarge's section by more than half, Gerry had given Scott more than a degree of leeway to introduce his own characters. With new characters, Gascoine was given the opportunity to at least eke out some salvation in his thankless task to overhaul a familiarity that had flourished for over eighteen months.

Up until this point, only Jim Watson had deigned to fill Western's shoes for several weeks with regard to The Sarge and had not proved so intrusive as opposed to Gascoine's initial episode. Pat Wright drew The Sarge in Battle's Annual of 1979 and could have succeeded Western with his stark photo-realism and added an uneasy edge in the same way that he crafted Hellman's bleak intensity. Still, with Scott Goodall's literal spade, Gascoine was determined to dig in his heels rather than his grave. As the 1979 issues of Battle-Action unfold, I shall report whether or not he succeeds.


Sat Apr 15, 2017 1:43 am
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As a matter of interest Phil Gascoine's work for Battle did win him a chance to draw DC's 12-part Unknown Soldier maxi-series in 1988/9.


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Sat Apr 15, 2017 3:03 am
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For my sins, I associated Phil's work mainly with girl's comics and, therefore, I confess to surprise that not only had he gained limited success in the states but also contributed regularly to Marvel UK.


Sat Apr 15, 2017 3:04 pm
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I paid Phil Gascoine a disservice on my last post as regards "The Sarge". On reading Battle's 204th issue, I made a mental note that Phil had toned down the caricature-like features of certain characters. A niggling suspicion then prompted to me to reach for and flick through issue 203 where upon I noted an unfamiliar, previously missed, moniker: "May Alonso". Backtracking further, I ascertained that Phil and Alonso had alternated on the early episodes of The Sarge. From Alonso's pencils, such art teetered on the edge of lampooning a well established series - a charge that I had laid at Phil's feet in my earlier post.

So, who the heck is May Alonso? Neither Google nor Bing are saying. But for Alonso's occasional exaggeration where expressions are concerned, his strokes almost mimicked Phil's. Was Alonso instructed to "ghost" his art? If so, then why did he sign his work? Still, a degree of continuity is maintained in the series as a result. Also, writer Scott Goodall's underrated way of introducing debut characters to the readers while, at the same time, impressing upon them that a sense of familiarity has already bonded the Sarge's new section was nothing short of subliminal. Dare I hazard that Scott would go on to eclipse Gerry Finley-Day's original fine run?

There was no danger of confusing the art of Colquhoun and Cooper. While Colquhoun switched allegiance to Pat Mill's "Charley's War", Cooper slipped unobtrusively into Johnny Red's cockpit, undaunted from the sudden transition. While he could never have duplicated the intricacies of Colquhoun's art, Cooper immediately captured the essence of "Johnny Red" and ensured that a top series was a long way from nose-diving. Some would argue that Cooper's work on Johnny far exceeded his urbanesque offerings on both "One-Eyed Jack" and "Dredger".


Thu Apr 20, 2017 11:54 am
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Geoff, it is supposed to be Matias Alonso. He is one of my favourite Spanish artists. Here is a link to his website.

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Thu Apr 20, 2017 5:57 pm
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Cheers for that, Col. Now I have something of interest to research. That's what I like about this site... there's always someone, somewhere with either an answer or an inkling at least :wink:


Thu Apr 20, 2017 7:00 pm
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