On 27 June 1961 DC Thomson published the first issue of Commando as a response to the combat picture libraries being published by their competitors. Today, exactly fifty years later, those titles like Battle Picture Library and War Picture Library are long gone but the Eagle Award winning Commando proudly marches on having just passed the 4400 issue mark and it continues to have wings in the air, keels in the sea and boots on the ground.
The current batch of Commandos includes issue 4404, Misfit Squad, which was specially written as the 50th anniversary issue and includes an introduction by editor Calum Laird:
Lots of things have changed over the last 50 years... the Berlin wall has risen and fallen, the moon now has bootprints on it and the internet has changed the world in a way that could not have been foreseen in June 1961.
But amongst all these changes, some things have remained unaltered. Take Commando for instance - it's still packed with action and adventure, everyman heroes and villains, and the best comic art still resides on and between its covers. To celebrate our 50 years, a special story has been written. And it's got all those qualities that make Commando something special. This is that story and the whole Commando team, past, present and future, hopes that you'll enjoy it as much as No 1 was enjoyed in June 1961.
It is 2011 and workmen preparing a remote British hillside for a new wind turbine discover a multiple grave. The police involve the military when it becomes obvious that these are British soldiers but when Military Policeman Captain Mike Proctor begins investigating the case, he is warned off from making further investigations for reasons of national security.
Unofficially he continues, basing his investigation on a name written in a 50 year old war comic found on one of the bodies which leads him to the dead soldiers' commanding officer who, though unwilling to discuss the case, unofficially gives Proctor a book detailing what was believed to have happened on the hill half a century before. Four privates, childhood friends who were about to all flunk their military training, were lead out onto the hill at night by their sergeant in an attempt to improve their soldiering. Unknown to them, they were about to run into a Soviet military infiltration squad and the Cold War was about to turn very hot.
Written by Mac MacDonald, with interior and cover art by Carlos Pino, Misfit Squad sets up its modern day story quickly which then bookends the main plot of the rookie soldiers of 1961 and their WWII battle hardened sergeant fighting it out in the dark against the Soviet infiltrators. It is a neat way of placing this anniversary story in both 2011 and 1961 and of course the war comic found with the bodies is a Commando. Since Commando has very few ongoing plotlines, the comic is able to set up main characters that may or may not survive to the end of the story.
Back on that hillside in 1961 men on both sides are picked off one by one as the British SLRs are matched against the Soviet AK47s in a story that is brutal enough to make you wonder if any of the characters will be alive by the end of it - and that is one of the strengths not only of this story but of all Commandos.
Commando issue 4404 Misfit Squad is available from newsagents from now until 6 July 2011 after which the next batch of Commandos will be available. The cover price is £1.50.
There are more details about Commando on the official Commando website.
Commando editor Calum Laird was interviewed on the downthetubes blog in January 2011 about what was happening during the comic's 50th anniversary year. You can also read career interviews with Calum Laird, former editor George Low, deputy editor Scott Montgomery and Ramsey's Raiders writer Ferg Handley, on the downthetubes main site.
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