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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Blazing Combat. Fantagraphics Books. (2009)

This collection publishes all the four issues of Blazing Combat, an anthology of war stories published in 1965 & 1966 which was effectively forced into cancellation by comic distributors as it was considered to be unpatriotic and un-American in the context of the early stages of the American involvement in the Vietnam War. The stories were written by Archie Goodwin and featured art by Wally Wood, John Severin, Alext Toth, Reed Crandall and others. The tone of the stories is unheroic rather than anti war, they frequently examine the experiences of the foot soldiers and in a crucial case the perspective of a non-combatant Vietnamese farmer caught up in the conflict. It was this story, "Landscape", that was the focus of the groups who closed the comic down.
The stories are all short, usually about six pages in length and for anyone familiar with the weekly war comic anthologies that were distributed in the UK and Ireland in the 1960s & 1970s they will seem rather familiar. They have the same tone and inclination as the stories from the late 1960s and early 1970s when the heroic and overtly patriotic elements were replaced by stories that focused on the experiences of the regular soldiers of every army at the sharp end of conflict. The stories in the collection are very well written, they have to struggle against a common structure which imposes a dramatic, frequently a twist, ending on the episode. To Archie Goodwin's considerable credit this format is much less restrictive or repetitive than it could have been, his talent for creating a situation in a short space and presenting memorable action and characters is very impressive.
The art is simply fantastic, the artists were very experienced comic artists who were working at the height of their skills. The great diversity of styles allied to the different locations and periods used gives a necessary variety to the stories, in particular in a collection like this. For me the most striking art is by Reed Crandall, beautiful figure work with wonderful detail in the backgrounds that are never cluttered. The combined talents of the writer and the artists mean that this is not a historical curiosity, it is a superb collection of comics, fresh and relevant.

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