A German soldier carrying an injured British soldier on his back through the desert - painted by Ken Barr, this cover to the first ever issue of Commando has become something of an iconic British comics image since it was first published in June 1961. Today the original artwork hangs on the wall of the National Army Museum in London as part of their Art Of War exhibition. Yet how many of the people who recognise the image have actually read the story that it promotes?
Commando has been celebrating its fiftieth birthday in a variety of different ways this year and one of them has been to reprint the first twelve issues of the title, in reverse order, at the rate of one a month throughout the year. Issue 4453 brings this to its conclusion with this reissue of number 1 that has been printed from the original fifty year old artwork.
In North Africa in the early years of World War II, the British Army found the German Africa Korps before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour brought America into the fight. The crew of a Matilda tank taking part in a major attack are left behind when their tank is damaged and their commander killed. With their tank patched up, they realise that they are lost and after a brief fight with a lone German tank, they capture its commander and head out into the desert before the Germans can counter attack against them. With their water and fuel running out, the crew must decide what to do with their prisoner who seems to know more about where they are than they do.
The story by Eric Castle is set in the Libyan desert (and shows its age by using the Lybian spelling) which would put it some twenty years before the comic was published. While we tend to think of WWII being a long time ago now, that is the equivalent of a brand new Commando being set during the Gulf War. While the artwork by Garcia is relatively crude, and his depiction of a Matilda tank is somewhat ropey in comparison to the accuracy that Commando art has become known for, the story is anything but a typical child's war story. Here we have a German officer depicted as confident and intelligent, while the tank's crew have to make a moral decision on how to treat their prisoner of war when they themselves are in a fight for survival against the desert as well as the enemy. It makes for an intriguing story that set the basis for Commando's emphasis on characters above combat, an emphasis that it retains to this day.
In the end it doesn't matter what I think of this issue since the story is fifty years old and a part of British comics history. Yet with that thought in mind, and considering that it is the run up to Christmas, this then would make an unusual (and cheap) Christmas present for someone who is either into war comics or old British comics or, for that matter, simply remembers reading Commando in their younger days.
Commando 4453: Walk - Or Die! is available in newsagents from now until 21 December 2011 and costs £1.50
There are more details of Commando on the official DC Thomson Commando website.