A part of me is kicking myself that I was not running this blog last year as it would have meant that I could have celebrated the 40th anniversary of Warlord, an anthology that truly was a game changer in British comics. But better late than never.
First off, let’s deal with why Warlord was a game changer. Warlord was unique in the fact that it was an anthology of war stories. No sport, no adventure, no humour, just war. For the 1970’s, Warlord hit at just the right time. It was punchy for D C Thomson and featured storylines that did not always guarantee that the good guy would always win. Spider Wells was a good example of this where Spider had to fight against his abusive uncle and accidentally killed him. To avoid the fallout of this act, Spider ran away to join the RFC.
Warlord was allegedly such a hit that it featured in one meeting at Fleetway when the Managing Editor is supposed to have flung it across the table at his editors and told them to have an answer to this or else! And five months later, Battle was published, but that is another story…
If we look at the comic from today’s point of view, it seems quite tame. But we forget how much the past is a different country. We are looking at a society where characters like Gene Hunt bestrode society like giants. For those today, that may not mean much, but in that time, any form of rebellion was strictly quashed. People in their late 40s and 50s will still wince at the mere mention of “six of the best”, “the cane” or “the belt” as that conformity was reinforced into you from an early age.
Warlord was one of the first comics to pick up on the changing winds of society, so we got Union Jack Jackson who wasn’t going to crawl to anyone, Bomber Braddock who would listen to intelligent authority figures that reinforces his sense of right but would dismiss all others no matter how high their rank.
The Wingless Wonder crew were surprisingly fraternal despite having an officer who could have lorded it over the two Senior Non-Commissioned Officers.
And we had Lord Peter Flint who would accept being labelled a coward if it would help fight against the ultimate authoritarian regime. And his codename made him the titular editor of the comic. We also had a blast from the past with a young Bill Samson who would defend his friend Chung against the toffee-nosed peers that he should have identified with.
The difference between these characters and other D C Thomson characters was and is incremental in today’s society, but in 1970s Britain, this was revolutionary stuff. This was the equivalent to the difference to liking Middle of The Road or Slade! In slightly more modern terms, the difference would be between liking Will Young or Evanescence!
And to round off this issue, we had one of the stories that would focus on a weapon, a mascot, a vehicle or some other aspect of war. In issue 1, we had Weapons In Action, with the story being based around the sticky bomb, a grenade that was designed to stick to the target once it had been thrown. This would mean that the effectiveness of the grenade would not be lessened as the explosion would happen hard against the target rather than some distance away.
Now all this might not sound that amazing, but to an impressionable five year old, seeing that first issue of Warlord is still one of the comic memories that I can still remember very clearly. This blew me away as I was used to the idea of conformity, always backing down in the face of those that knew better than us. At that time, the idea of fighting back was alien to me and to have even the seeds of rebellion in a comic that I could read was amazing. I didn’t know that all this was awaiting me. All I knew was that I saw the garish yellow and red of the cover and I wanted to read that comic right now!
Before I discovered comics, I was not a big reader, but Warlord fired my appetite and after that, you could not keep me away from comics or books without chaining me down!