It feels like it has been a long time coming but Titan's Best of Battle has finally hit the stores and surprisingly, for a "Best Of" book, the wait has been worth it.
Battle Picture Weekly was IPC's answer to DC Thomson's Warlord, a straight shooting war comic named to tie-in with IPC's long running Battle Picture Library digest which was some 890 issues old when the first issue of Battle Picture Weekly appeared dated 8 March 1975. Battle quickly amalgamated the older Valiant and in late 1977 was given the remnants of Action to become Battle/Action. While the title would eventually become home to Palitoy's licensed Action Force toys and, for a while at least, lost some of its individuality in a Whizzer and Chips style two comics in one publication, everything included in this book is from the early years of the title.
Taking its cover from the 1979 Battle annual, the Best Of Battle has total of 18 different stories - from the popular Johnny Red set in the USSR, to the acclaimed Charley's War set France, via Vietnam in Fighting Mann and Burma in Darkie's Mob. Each story has a one page introduction with background information on the creation of the story plus copious quotes from editors Pat Mills and Dave Hunt. While it would have been nice to see a similar short introduction to the comic itself at the beginning of the book, perhaps using the two pages given over to the single cutaway of an aircraft, this is a minor gripe as these introductions raise the quality of the publication above the normal multi-story reprint books.
The book has art by a lot of names familiar to British comics fans such as Joe Colquhoun, Cam Kennedy, Mike Western, Eric Bradbury, Pat Wright, Jim Watson, John Cooper and Mike Dorey and it also shows just how much of a crossover in artists there was between Battle and Warlord. Perhaps most interestingly, for 2000AD readers at least, it has two stories with pre-Judge Dredd art by Carlos Ezquerra. Rat Pack was Battle's version of The Dirty Dozen and a popular early strip while Major Eazy, rather more bizarrely, was a laid back James Coburn-style loner driving his 1930s sports car around the North Africa desert during WWII. Yet the strip that stands out for me is Fighting Mann, a much later story, both story-wise and publication-wise, about US Marines Colonel Walter Mann's battles against the Viet-Cong while trying to discover what happened to his son. The story by Alan Hebden gives Cam Kennedy the chance to include a wide range of well drawn military equipment in his work and is different enough that I would like to read much more of it.
The problem with "Best Of" reprint titles is all too often the question of just who the audience is. While the books must always be aimed at the general public, are they actually of interest to the fans as well? Carlton/Prion's Best Of 2000AD fell into the double trap of reprinting partial stories that the fans knew were available elsewhere in more complete forms while also pricing the book so high, at £20, to put off the casual purchaser who only remembered the title because they bought the comic as a youngster. At a cover price of £9.99 for a flexi-covered 288 page B&W reprint book, The Best Of Battle is much more competitively priced and while the Charley's War pages are available in the first of Titan's Charley's War reprint books the rest of the stories, so far, are not.
For the casual reader who may remember the comic this is a good purchase with its wide range of stories and its cheap price. For the more dedicated reader of Battle it gives a wide range of stories from 1975 to 1982, enough factual information on them and a very pleasing selection of artists in a well presented, good value book that hopefully will stimulate interest in the Titan's forthcoming collections of Darkie's Mob, Major Eazy, Pat Pack and Johnny Red that are to come.
There are more details of Battle on "Captain Hurricane's Best Of Battle" website and "Colonel Marbles' Battle" website.
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