- Posted by Johanna on December 10, 2011 at 11:00 pm
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: written by Pat Mills; art by Joe Colquhoun
- PUBLISHER: Titan Books; $19.95 US
Charley’s War was a comic that ran in Battle Picture Weekly beginning in 1979, although it was set during World War I. The title character was a boy soldier who lied about his age to enlist and wound up taking part in almost every major battle of the war. He was a mechanism to show grunt-level action and occasional atrocities for the boy comic audience.
In this volume, it’s December 1917 and we start by meeting Hitler, a corporal picking fights and overreacting with exaggerated patriotism against his own comrades. Although the book is named after him, he fades out of the story after a bit, with no conclusion to the appearances shown here (but we all know he survived).
On the British side, Charley is training as an assistant sniper. A later lengthy section, taking up half the book, also shows us Charley’s brother Wilf, who’s a gunner in the flying forces. His story is disturbing in showing how disloyal the pilots are to their fellow soldiers, even firing on each other during an aerial fight. Wilf is ambitious, wanting to learn more and improve his standing, but his mates tell him not to bother and keep his head down to avoid getting the wrong kind of notice, demonstrating the class-based nature of British society, even during wartime.
The art is detailed and dark, focusing on the muck and daily tedium of ground-level battle. The material was reported extremely well-researched, and it feels authentic, even though the chapters are each only three pages long. There’s lots of death, and not much story, other than seeing who’s going to get shot this week and how Charley manages to survive. There’s no resolution by the end of the volume, just more tedium of the soldier’s life, attempted revenge (by an officer with a grudge), and life-or-death consequences.
History buffs will find this volume an unusual take on familiar material. The book opens with an essay about Adolph Hitler’s early life in Austria and his career in the German army, and writer Pat Mills provides some short, sometimes self-indulgent comments looking back at the comic episodes. (The publisher provided a review copy.)