This is the tagline that you find on new issues of Commando comic currently being published. When I first picked up a Commando almost 40 years ago, the tagline was War Stories in Pictures. And both tags apply equally. In every Commando story, the stories are always about war and you always have a recognisable hero of the story.
I knew that when I started this blog, I would talk about Commando at some point. The surprise is that it has taken me 11 posts before I got round to having a post dedicated to Commando.
While I may not like every artist used, I can live with the style of most of them. Keith Page has grown on me and I just drool over any issue drawn by Jose Maria Jorge, John Ridgway, Matias Alonso, Denis McLoughlin, Jim Watson or Cam Kennedy. I can live with any done by Frederick Alan Philpott and I enjoy the ones done by Keith Shone. I am sure that I am missing dozens of artists, but I am trying to make the point that after 54 years, Commando comics are as good as ever.
The first issue I ever bought was issue 968 Avalanche! back in 1975. This was the first time I was allowed to pick my own issue of Commando. Before that, it was whichever issues my brother brought back. Looking back, I have a feeling that it was the issue number that swayed me as the only other Commando in that foursome that would have tempted me would have been issue 970 Rescue Mission which also had an Ian Kennedy cover. And the reason for the issue number swaying me would have been that with the addition of one number, it would have given me the year of my birth.
I have recently picked up some of the more recent issues and I really want to highlight issue 4811 Fighting Frank, which has instantly gone into my top 100 issues. I have a rotating top 100 depending on which ones I have read recently and which stories are my current favourites. If you are asking me to narrow it down to anything less than 50, I would say that you are mad as there are too many great issues that I could never narrow it down to so few.
Many people seem to assume that all Commando comics consist of hackneyed stereotypes of evil Nazis, short sighted Japanese and cowardly Italians who all say Achtung, Banzai or Avanti! And while the words are used, the stereotypes are there in surprising low numbers. And to look at this in more detail, I am going to use the first Commando I ever bought and the latest one that I have. And with 40 years between them, we should get some interesting results should we not? I hasten to add, that this copy of issue 968 is not the one that I originally bought, as that went with many comics during one of the clearouts that my mother would decree on an occasional basis. When I think of the comics that went to the local charity shops or the nearby military base, my inner geek still winces.
So let’s see what these issues have in common? First off, they both have Ian Kennedy covers and that is never a bad place to start from. Secondly, they both deal with the use of Special Forces by Britain during WWII. Avalanche! deals with a destroying an enemy airfield in Norway, while Fighting Frank deals with operations on mainland Europeand and the murky past of Frank Raymond, a small-time thief who decides that it will be safer to hide in the Army when a safe he robs has more than just cash in it.
What they do not have in common are the credits. I would love to take the credit for being this knowledgeable about Commando, but I can’t. However, the Commando team prove how good they are by kindly providing me with full credits. Avalanche! was written by R A Montague and illustrated by (Frederico) Maidagan. Fighting Frank was written by George Low, the previous editor, and drawn by the wonderfully talented Clemente Rezzonico. Once again, I am stunned at how little recognition these artists and writers have.
To see if either Commando matched the stereotypes of lantern-jawed heroes and 2 dimensional villains, I trawled through both issues to find a villainous Nazi stereotype and I could only find one in Fighting Frank, but he is offset by the fact that he scares his men as much as he scares the enemy.
The lantern-jawed heroes are not so much men in the mould of the classic heroes of the British Empire, but men who have their owns doubt and fears to face. And sometime, they have more to fear from their own side than the enemy. Both feature the redemption of a character, be that Frank as a small-time thief turned hero or Dick Blake realising that Lars Munssen is no Quisling and having to come to terms with his misinterpretation of Lars’ behaviour.
Both issues are good examples of why Commando has lasted so long. They have engaging stories, have art that can be enjoyed as part of the story or in its’ own right and a natural rhythm of going through the story in a linear fashion, without going all over the place with flashbacks and flash-forwards like some avant-garde production of Moose Murders.