As Commando continues its 50th anniversary year, and its countdown to the reissue of number 1 in December, the current batch of Commandos reprints Big Mike, a story from 40 years ago and one of the earliest published comic strips by artist Cam Kennedy.
It is the final days of WWII and British tanks are pushing forward into northern Germany. A troop of Cromwell tanks commanded by Major Mike Madden has been tasked with a mission so secret that Big Mike cannot even tell his crews that they are to push forward of the British lines to destroy a possible German nuclear research base at Ravensdahl Castle. Along with a single example of the more heavily armed version of the Cromwell called the Challenger, commanded by Captain Ray Colburn, Big Mike pushes his troop through enemy territory in an attempt to get to Ravensdahl before the Nazis move their new weapon.
As Tiger tanks, German Home Guard units and even 'friendly' American fighter-bombers attack the rapidly moving column of tanks, Colburn gets suspicious of Madden's motives which are putting his men in greater and greater danger.
Written by AC Allan with interior art by Cam Kennedy and a cover by Ian Kennedy, Big Mike was originally published as Commando 522 in January 1971 and then again in May 1981 as issue 1507 so for all the fact that this is the third edition of the story, it is thirty years since it has been reprinted as a comic. Indeed the most striking difference between then and now looking at the cover is that the sky background, always previously green, is now a more natural shade of blue.
Allan's story is fast moving as the tanks attempt to capture or destroy the potentially nuclear tipped missiles before they can be used against Allied cities, while the human story of whether the crews can trust their commander, on what is effectively a suicide mission, is well handled. I also liked the fact that while the British Sherman tanks that carried the big 17pdr guns, the Fireflys, are well known, the story taught me that there were actually Cromwells modified to carry 17pdrs as well and that they were called Challengers. Indeed it is the single Challenger tank that shows off Cam Kennedy's attention to detail in his artwork as he accurately portrays it with six road wheels whilst the Cromwells have five.
Big Mike was only the sixth issue of Commando that Cam Kennedy illustrated but it shows off his gritty yet accurate style that we have grown to know and love since this was first published in 1971. It is treat to see Big Mike again after all these years.
Commando 4439 - Big Mike is currently available at high street newsagents and costs £1.50.
There are more details about Commando on the official DC Thomson Commando website and Facebook page.
Cam Kennedy will be appearing at the Dundee Comics Day at Dundee University of Sunday 30th October 2011 which is also exhibiting a selection of original Commando artwork. There are more details of the Dundee Comics Day on the Literary Dundee website and more details of the Commando Battlelines exhibition on the Dundee University website.