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Wednesday, 13 July 2011

In Review: Commando - Tally Ho!

After fifty years of publication Commando has quite possibly had its highest public profile ever over the last few years due largely to the success of the large flexi-covered reprint books published by Carlton. These shelf bending doorstops contain 10 to 12 different complete Commando stories along with B&W versions of their covers plus introductions from past and present Commando editors and they present the artwork 25% larger than the original comic publication. The first of these was Command: Dirty Dozen which went, very unusually for a British graphic novel, to multiple reprints plus a re-covered, and partially retitled, bargain version and even a Book Club Associates softcover edition. While these big reprints continue with the recently released Commando: Rogue Raiders, Carlton have now introduced a smaller and more price friendly range of Commando reprint books which includes Commando: Tally Ho!

Published in paperback at almost exactly original Commando size, Tally Ho! features three RAF themed reprints - Whirlwind from issue 640 in April 1972 (reprinted as issue 1772 in February 1984), O For Orange from issue 977 in October (and never reprinted until now) and Hurri To The Rescue from issue 750 in June 1973 (reprinted as issue 1940 in November 1985).

Hurri To The Rescue features the best known of the aircraft in the book, the Hawker Hurricane fighter. Two Hurricane pilots escape the fall of Singapore with their aircraft but end up on a remote island with an assortment of British Army and Royal Australian Navy survivors all of whom have a low opinion of the RAF. However when they discover a secret Japanese submarine base on the island they all have to pull together for the greater good.

O For Orange tells of the crew of a Vickers Wellington medium bomber that has been made famous by a documentary film. Having lost their 'lucky' pilot to a German night-fighter's bullets, can that pilot's cousin take over command of the bomber and convince the rest of the crew that they are still lucky?

Finally Whirlwind spotlights the Westland Whirlwind fighter-bomber and provides the book with that most unusual of Commando subjects, female characters, as a witch's 500 year old curse is visited through the ages on the warriors of the Sinclair family, the latest of whom is flying Whirlwinds on intruder raids again the Germans in occupied France.

The cover, by original 1960s Commando cover artist Ken Barr, comes from Death Flies Fast, issue 184 from October 1965, and the book also includes B&W versions of the Ian Kennedy covers for the three original issues that the stories appeared in. In addition to an introduction by current Commando editor Calum Laird, each story has a single factual page, originally from the comic's inside covers, relating to the subject of each story from a lovely Ian Kennedy pin-up of a Whirlwind, via a cockpit layout for a Wellington to, unusually for a DC Thomson title, a cutaway of a Hurricane.

Unlike the regular comic, but in keeping with the rest of the Carlton Commando range, Tally Ho! contains no credits whatsoever despite the information being known and there easily being enough space in the book to include it. I do think that for this book in particular Carlton are missing out on a selling point by not including them as the Hurricane story in this collection is by fan favourite artist Cam Kennedy, originally published long before his Star Wars work for Dark Horse and even before his first work for 2000AD. Since this book is the same cover price as a copy of the Judge Dredd Megazine, knowing that early Cam Kennedy artwork is included could well be the unique selling point of Tally Ho! for 2000AD fans if they only knew about it. But that is a minor gripe.

Commando has long been a favourite title of mine and of the four new books available I chose the aviation themed one to review simply because I like aircraft. Tally Ho! ticks all the boxes for me but with its selection of early and not recently reprinted stories, its handy size and cheap cover price, it could well tick all the boxes for you as well, even if it is only as a sneaky read to remind yourself how good Commando can be before you hand it off to a younger member of the family.

• The four titles in this new Carlton Commando range are Achtung!, Action Stations!, Banzai! and Tally Ho! There are more details of the Carlton Commando range on the Carlton website.

• The official DC Thomson Commando website is

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