Wednesday 15 April 2020

Review: War Picture Library - Battle Stations

Art by Hugo Pratt, Story by Donne Avenell

Rebellion publishing have fairly recently started on a project to restore a huge archive of British comics to their former glory and reprint long forgotten classics. Battle Stations is the first in a new series collecting stories from War Picture Library as part of their Treasury of British Comics imprint. This is a comic that has not been collected in book form before, and marks the start of a mission to publish all of Hugo Pratt's UK work.

Battle Stations is the story of a group of British Seamen involved in the war in the Atlantic in 1942. Divided into three parts, it begins with their encounter with a U-Boat while defending an American tanker aboard an anti-sub trawler. The trawler is sunk, but while the survivors are waiting for help in their life rafts the sadistic German U-boat crew gun them down, leaving only three men to tell the tale. Injured and shaken, they are rescued and returned to U.S. shores where they rest and recuperate before setting out on their next voyage aboard the H.M.S. Vengeful. What follows is a tale of retribution and reconciliation as the three men encounter German warships and come face to face with German sailors for the first time. Driven by anger and thoughts of revenge, they are blinded towards the humanity of the enemy they encounter, with tragic results.

Hugo Pratt is a celebrated name in comics, and it is hard to believe this story has been languishing in an archive for 60 years! The artwork is sharp and atmospheric throughout, Pratt was equally adept at portraying vast oceans with warships silhouetted against the horizon and the cramped confines of a naval vessel at war. The best artists always enhance the storytelling and this is no exception, almost like watching a film at times rather than reading a book.

Long gone are the days of seeing Commando or Battle Picture weekly on your newsagents shelves, I had always thought they were a bit old-fashioned, full of Tally Ho English and Donner und Blitzen Germans. Not so here. This is a story of grit, emotional conflict and tragedy, a harsher read than many modern comics (despite some slightly naive characterisations), with artwork to match. This comic sets the bar high for the Treasury of British Comics, if they can keep this standard coming out war comics could be the next big thing...

I look forward to it!

By day, David Mustill is a Human Workhorse for a chemical company. Naturally, every possible moment away from this existence is spent gaming and painting miniatures.

A steady diet of rock, metal, punk, comics, gaming, miniatures and genre movies has moulded David into a renaissance geek, for whom no gaming company or genre is too obscure, and no graphic novel is unreadable.

He is currently the Chairman of Milton Hundred Wargames Club, which affords him the privilege of running the Broadside Games Show. He will not let you down. Unless you're after selfies. He is rubbish at selfies...

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