Comic Book / Battle

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Charley's War in Battle

Battle (known variously as Battle Picture Weekly, Battle and Valiant, Battle Action, Battle Action Force and Battle with Storm Force and more over its lifetime) was a long-running British war comic, published weekly by IPC from 1975 to 1988. It was founded by John Wagner and Pat Mills as a competitor to DC Thompson's Warlord, and written by a whole host of writers that would go on to work on titles like Action and 2000 AD, including Alan Hebden, Tom Tully and Gerry Finley-Day.

Battle marked an interesting transition in British comics. Though it would never quite engender the same controversy as Action and 2000 AD, its war stories typically defied the "Boys' Own" mentality of the likes of Commando, Valiant and Warlord in favour of a more '70s and anti-authoritarian sensibility and willingness to depict the uglier, but equally true aspects of war. Like Action, many of the stories were "dead cribs" — direct rip-offs of popular or iconic films or books. They also made game attempts to do stories set in wars other than WW2, in defiance of conventional wisdom about what would sell. And they (usually) had a policy of doing the research — their aim was that if Grandad was sneakily reading it over your shoulder, he wouldn't turn away in disgust.

While initially successful, Battle suffered from declining readership and editorial changes that saw it move away from war stories and into a more general "action" genre. At the same time, sales were slipping, and by 1984, the comic was approaching cancellation and merger into the re-launched Eagle. It was saved by a marketing deal with Palitoy, the UK licensor of G.I. Joe toys, which saw the comic re-branded as Battle Action Force. The titular team's adventures gradually came to dominate the book (Occupying the valuable centre colour pages, the covers and as much as half the pagecount), but at the same time turned around its sales and kept it alive for several more years.

The death knell of Battle came in late 1986 when the Action Force rights were suddenly revoked and handed over to Marvel UK. After six weeks reverting to the Battle title, it was relaunched in January 1987 as Battle with Storm Force, the focus given over to the titular new story. Even then this wasn't enough, with Battle merging into Eagle in January 1988. Only three stories made the transition; the iconic Charley's War and Johnny Red (both of which were reprints at this point) and Storm Force.

The comic has seen a bit of a resurrection recently, as resolved rights issues have led to the more famous stories being reprinted, and the likes of Garth Ennis, a longtime vocal fan, helping to spread the word.

Needs More Love.

Historical, war stories that Battle produced include the following:

  • Charley's War: Pat Mills' and Joe Colquhoun's story of sixteen year old Charley (and later his friends and family), who joins the army just in time for the battle of the Somme. Horrific, extremely well-researched, absolutely no unseemly heroics, and bristling with anger. Alan Moore called it "one of the most emotionally affecting comic strips ever published."
  • Rat Pack: Originated by Finley-Day and Carlos Ezquerra, a story about a group of convicts released from prison to carry out suicide missions, inspired by The Dirty Dozen.
  • Major Eazy: By Alan Hebden and Ezquerra, about a laid-back, cigar-smoking British officer, based on James Coburn, and with the tone of films like Kelly's Heroes. For a time, Eazy became commander of the Rat Pack.
  • Darkie's Mob, by John Wagner and Mike Western, where a group of soldiers lost in Burma meet renegade Captain Joe Darkie, who leads them on a vicious guerrilla war against the Japanese, and who may not be quite who he seems. Heavily inspired by both Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now.
  • Johnny Red: By Tom Tully and Colquhoun, about a disgraced RAF "Hurricat" pilot who ends up stranded in Russia and joins the Russian "Falcon Squadron". It was revived in 2015 by Garth Ennis.
  • HMS Nightshade: By John Wagner and Mike Western. George Dunn tells his grandson Davy about his time on HMS Nightshade, a Flower-class escort ship on the dreaded "Murmansk run".
  • Fighting Mann: Col. (retired) Walter Mann USMC goes to Vietnam to track down his son, who's "Missing, Believed Deserted". One of the first British comics stories to tackle Vietnam seriously.

Non-historical titles included:

  • Action Force: a licenced strip based on the UK versions of GI Joe toys. Initially focused characters unique to the British version of the toyline, it was later re-tooled and focused around more familiar American characters.
  • Storm Force: A replacement for the above, Storm Force featured the exploits of a high-tech strike force who fought colourful terrorists and criminals. Also the last original story during Battle's run.

The comic itself provides examples of:

  • Comics Merger: The failed revival of the classic Valiant was folded into Battle early on. Action would also be folded in after its gutting at the hands of Mary Whitehouse and Co, to become Battle Action. Later, Battle was merged into the relaunched Eagle; the resultant merger represented the legacies of over twenty different books.
  • No Smoking: Reprints of Major Eazy removed the major's signature cigars.
  • Merchandise-Driven: Late in its life, as Battle Action Force, the comic was taken over by tie-in material to that toyline, a European rebranding of G.I. Joe. Although in all fairness, Battle was in decline before the takeover, and running the severe risk of cancellation.
  • War Is Hell: Many of the Battle creators (but perhaps especially Pat Mills) wanted to get this across.

Individual stories provided examples of:

    open/close all folders 

    Charley's War 
  • Aborted Arc: We were supposed to get more of Jack's story, focusing on the Battle Of Jutland, but according to Pat Mills, editorial insisted naval warfare storylines were unpopular with readers, so the idea was scrapped.
  • Ancestral Weapon: Blue's American comrade in the Legion, Lacey, is rather fond of his father's Single Action Army. Its black powder cartridges leave evidence that he stole water from Krotowski's flask.
  • Anyone Can Die: Look, the first part of the series is set during the battle of the Somme. This is a given.
  • Arrested for Heroism: Lieutenant Thomas is executed for cowardice for making a tactical withdrawal during an artillery bombardment. He saves the lives of his men, but his superiors don't see it this way.
  • The Atoner: "Lonely", the Sole Survivor of his original platoon's massacre thanks to an order by Lieutenant Snell, performs a Heroic Sacrifice by marching out into No Man's Land where the Germans are ready to ambush the British, where he's promptly shot, exposing the Germans and their ambush.
  • Blood Knight:
    • Ol' Bill Tozer was a veteran of the Boer War before the Great War broke out. Having survived the entire thing, he volunteers to go to Russia with Charley and when Charley meets up with him again in 1933, notes that the country needs another war to get the country going again. When the Army refuses to let him re-enlist on age grounds at the outbreak of World War II, he joins the Home Guard instead.
    • Charley's World War II Sergeant, Bert Nickles, is implied to have enlisted just so he could kill people, having concealed the fact that he has only one eye from everyone.
  • The Bully: Grogan becomes this at Ypres to conscripts like Scholar by constantly berating them for not having been at the Somme with him. He even takes Scholar's books and throws them into No Man's Land. Charley becomes a sort of Bully Hunter by standing up for the new guys, noting that they're all supposed to be on the same side.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Smith 70, the platoon's eccentric machinegunner has some pretty nutty ideas, such as training rats to fight, using his machinegun to play musical tunes and rigging up a revolver as a servants' bell for the officers to use. He also describes everything he does as "a bit technical". However, he is an excellent machinegunner. Thanks to some mathematical calculations, he works out a way use his machinegun to lay down indirect fire on a café occupied by some Germans in the same manner as an artillery strike.
  • Captain Crash: Smith 70 gets kicked out of the Tank Corps because he kept crashing his tank into people's houses.
  • Child Soldiers: The British Army is more than willing to overlook the fact that Charley is only sixteen when he enlists. It gets worse when his thirteen year old brother tries to sign up until Charley steps in and stops him. When Charley goes back to the front, he enlists under an assumed name.
  • Cold Sniper:
    • The first story has Kurt, a German sniper who wears steel plating over his face and body who revels in killing Tommies. His own comrades can't even stand him, as they're as fed up with the war as the Brits. He's the first person Charley ever kills thanks to a bayonet to an exposed point where the plates join.
    • Subverted with Len Southgate. He just seems like this when Charley first meets him, but reveals that he only acts that way in front of officers to put them in their place. He gladly teaches Charley the tricks of the trade.
  • Cool Horse: Warrior, a horse Charley saves in the Somme, and encounters throughout the war. Charley shares a bond with him and reckons that war is no place for a horse.
  • Cruel Mercy: When Snell is hit with an acid sprayer, he begs Charley to put him out of his misery. Charley refuses, leaving him to die slowly.
  • Deliberate Injury Gambit:
    • Oiley gets himself discharged from the army after intentionally getting his foot run over.
    • Lucky attempts to shoot his own foot off to avoid going over the top at the Somme, only for Charley and Pops to stop him. He ends up losing a leg in a subsequent shelling.
  • Distant Finale: After a Time Skip after the end of the war, the strip ends with Charlie fighting at Dunkirk in 1940.
  • Do-Anything Soldier: Charley has been a regular Tommy, temporary tank crewman, Snell's personal servant, firing squad member, tunneler, stretcher bearer and sniper.
  • Downer Ending: Though the series continued for a couple of years under Scott Goodall, Pat Mills considers his own ending to be the important one. It's fifteen years later, and an older Charley runs into "Ole Bill" Tozer and reminisces. Charley's unemployed like so many thousands of others, but he's glad other kids will never go through what he did. And he walks down the street to the dole office, passing a newsboy announcing Hitler's appointment as Chancellor of Germany.
  • The Dreaded: Several examples:
    • "The Drag Man", an officer crippled on the front who walks with a dragging limp, now serving in the MP corps who searches for deserters in London. Mothers tell their children to behave or The Drag Man will get them, giving him a boogeyman like reputation.
    • The Germans are absolutely terrified at the prospect of going up against Senegalese troops. They tend to carry a "Coup-coup" in battle. Blue and his comrades are, at one point, so covered in dirt that they are mistaken for African troops.
    • Telegram boys are feared on the home front, mostly because most of the messages they deliver are KIA letters.
    • Sergeant Bacon's military police comrades flee from ANZAC troops who help Charlie and Ginger because they don't want to go up against "convicts".
    • Scottish soldiers scare the shit out of the Germans as well, with them being referred to as "Ladies From Hell".
    • Charley and Len become this as a sniper/spotter team to the Germans. They're shit scared of being sniped and try to bring them down with a grenade crossbow at one point.
  • Dr. Jerk: "Dr. No", an army doctor who simply prescribes a laxative to any injury and sends soldiers with career ending injuries back to the front. For example, he sends a soldier who has lost his trigger finger back to the front as a mortar loader. Turns out he's such an asshole because of the pressure he's under.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Given that it's World War One, many characters die suddenly and quite shockingly. Ginger gets blown up by a shell when he's laughing about a joke sign that someone has put in their trench and Charley's mother dies of Spanish Flu thanks to her immune system being weakened due to her time as a munitions worker.
  • A Father to His Men: Lieutenant Thomas makes a tactical withdrawal to save the lives of his troops. He's so well respected Charley and Weeper refuse to participate in the firing squad at his execution.
  • For the Evulz: During a Christmas truce, the Lost Platoon begin launching supplies in a catapult to the Germans in an act of kindness after they've run out of food. Snell orders Lonely to load a bomb into the catapult and launch it over. The Germans retaliate with a bayonet charge that kills everyone, barring Lonely and Snell. Snell shows no remorse for his actions, thinking that it was a funny prank.
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.:
    • After being wounded, Charley has a mental breakdown in a field hospital, believing himself to still be in the trenches. He snaps out of it when Sergeant Tozer is brought in with a broken arm.
    • Earlier, Ginger's death puts Charley into a deep depression until Sergeant Tozer's own Freak-Out in private shows Charley that even the most experienced soldiers are feeling the pressure.
    • Ol' Bill Tozer becomes a depressed wreck of a man after Snell demotes him to Private after collapsing on a gruelling route march. He gets better when he gets his stripes back.
  • Hero of Another Story: The focus would sometimes switch to other characters to portray different battles in the war, starting with Blue, a French Foreign Legionnaire.
  • Insane Admiral: Snell was bad enough to start with, but a head wound from a ricochet from his own revolver leaves him with brain damage, which causes him to go insane and try and kill Charley. He fails and is locked back into the mental institution he had been in until some genius decides that he's fit to go back into action. He decides to lead a mad charge on the Mons just minutes before the end of the war getting his entire platoon, barring Charley and Ol' Bill killed before trying to kill Charley.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: Colonel Zeiss sends a wave of cooks, stewards and other rear echelon personnel in as the first wave of Operation Wotan. Knowing that their morale and abilities in combat are poor, he fully expects them to both get slaughtered and surrender. When they do, Zeiss sends in his Judgement Troopers to capture the British trenches when they're caught off guard.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Ginger scoffs at Charley's suggestion of sending "lorries with massive guns on the front" into battle instead of horses. A couple of episodes later, the platoon is aided by tanks.
  • Jerkass:
    • Charley's brother-in-law, Oliver "Oiley" Crawleigh, is a cowardly, amoral opportunist who gets his toes run over by a tank to get out of the army and, on returning home, begins profiteering by means of selling the property of civilians killed in Zeppelin raids, selling fake identity papers to deserters and selling fuel from deliberately crashed planes. Charley comes to blows with him often over this.
    • Adolf Hitler is portrayed this way, as opposed to the usual Big Bad portrayal he gets in most media. Since he's not had his post war experiences yet, he's simply portrayed as an ambitious, if sloppy footsoldier with aspirations of becoming an officer who spouts Patriotic Fervor, much to the annoyance of his fellow soldiers. During a truce, when everyone else mingles, Hitler stays in the German dugout on his own.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Turns out that Grogan was, in his own roundabout way, somewhat right about Scholar. Once Grogan dies, Scholar starts acting more pompously especially once he gets commissioned as an officer.
  • The Neidermeyer:
    • Most officers tend to fall under this category, but the worst of all the Lieutenant Snell. He actually makes Charley wait until he's had his tea before reading the message Charley had risked his life to bring him, asking for support for his overwhelmed comrades. This is just after knocking Charley out and using him as a human shield. To him, soldiers are simply expendable and the war is just a sport with him holding a Bodycount Competition with other officers while they shoot wounded Germans during ceasefires. He even gets Charley's unit wiped out on the final day of the war in one last, pointless push. Mills considers him the Big Bad of the strip.
    • Lieutenant "Monkey Face" Volmar is Blue's hated commanding officer in the Legion. He develops a deep personal hatred towards Blue and their coming to blows is what leads Blue to desert. He also sends in untrained Senegalese troops to storm a German trench, who get slaughtered when they first encounter a machine gun.
    • Sergeant Bacon is an NCO example. As a military police NCO, he makes the lives of Charley, Ginger and Weeper hell when they get temporary respite from the trenches back at the camp. He is in charge of administering "Field Punishment No.1", which involves drilling soldiers at high speed in full kit, lugging rocks over and back and lashing them to the wheels of artillery pieces for up to two hours a day. He also arranges "parties", which is basically tying the offending soldier to a tent pole and administering a beating. He's also a coward, with the implication that he joined the Military Police to avoid being sent to the front.
    • The Scholar is a milder example in that he started out as a regular Tommy and got recommended to go on an officers' training course. When he returns, he shows his inexperience and is pompous around Charley.
  • No Indoor Voice: Sergeant Tozer is bombastic on the field of battle. It's noted if his shouted insults don't provoke the enemy, then nothing will.
  • Not So Different: The German soldiers have the same attitude to the war that their British counterparts do. Some of them are given character focus to a certain extent. A notable example is when Charley's platoon captures a German trench and finds a young soldier chained to his machinegun. He explains that he did it himself because of his fear that he would flee the battle and didn't want to be seen as a Dirty Coward by his superiors. Charley convinces Pops not to kill him because he's around the same age as Pops' two sons who had died in action. It's kind of a heartwarming moment until Snell walks up and shoots the poor kid in the face.
  • Not So Stoic: Sergeant Tozer, in spite of epitomising the Sergeant Rock trope, is as scared of dying as the rest of the troops. When Charley overhears him having a Freak-Out in his own dugout, he confides in Charley that he lets it out in private before a big battle so that the men won't see him do it and lose confidence in him and that keeping it all bottled up is actually bad for him. This advice helps Charley out, as he was having a Heroic B.S.O.D. of his own after the death of Ginger.
  • Old Soldier: Charley befriends a blind Crimean War veteran known as Blind Bob when he goes home on leave. Bob's blindness is compensated for by his keen sense of hearing, making him ideal for listening for Zeppelins.
  • Rank Up: Later in the series, Charley gets a promotion to Lance-Corporal and, very soon after to Corporal. Snell becomes a Captain. In the final run of the classic stories, Bill Tozer is promoted to Sergeant Major.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Snell's final revenge on Charley is to volunteer him to be sent to Russia to fight the Bolsheviks at the end of the war. Subverted with Sergeant Tozer, who volunteers for the assignment.
  • Reduced to Ratburgers: After Snell has Tozer demoted for collapsing on a gruelling route march (Snell spent the entire march on a horse), Charley gets revenge on him by serving him a rat for his dinner.
  • Scenery Gorn: Again, much of the series is set in the Somme.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: The epilogue for the Somme arc shows British Tommies deserting in droves and surrendering to Germans during the winter of 1916. The Germans note that they weren't far from doing this themselves.
  • Sergeant Rock:
    • Sergeant "Ol' Bill" Tozer is typical of this trope. As an NCO, he does distance himself slightly from the men so as not to get too attached, but stands up for them when Sergeant Bacon tries to give them any shit. He tells Bacon that while his troops are dirty, it's honourable dirt from battle. He comes to respect Charley's courage and the pair of them become Fire-Forged Friends over the course of the war.
    • Charley himself takes on this role as a Corporal. His experience in the field gives him a cooler head when he returns from his second stint of convalescent leave and the newer guys in his section look up to him.
  • Shadow Archetype:
    • While technically on the same side, Blue can be seen as a darker version of Charley had he been born on the wrong side of the tracks. They do have enough in common for Charley to sympathise with Blue and aid his escape from The Drag Man, especially based on their experiences in battle and in being under the command of an officer only in it for personal glory.
    • At Passchendaele, Charley's unit is faced off against a German unit that is given a sympathetic portrayal. Smith 70 has a counterpart named Schmidt 69 and Sergeant Tozer settles his differences with the German Sergeant in a friendly boxing match during a truce. To an extent, Adolf Hitler can be seen as an Evil Counterpart to Charley in that they are both incredibly brave, have a special bond with a particular species of animal (Horses in Charley's case. Dogs for Hitler) and are given Character Focus.
  • Shown Their Work: Pat Mills has always been known for this, but Charley's War took it to an extreme that the reason Mills quit the strip was due a dispute with Battle's owners over his research budget.
  • Skewed Priorities: Snell orders a game of cricket to continue while being shelled by the Germans because he doesn't want to lose to the enlisted men.
  • Tank Goodness: Mark I tanks are used during the Somme to break the German lines. Unfortunately, they are deployed in too few numbers, with poor tactics and are too unreliable to make a difference as a Superweapon Surprise. Later in the war, tanks are deployed more liberally as the technology improves.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: The Scholar becomes more obnoxious after Grogan's death, leading Charley to realise that Grogan might have been right about him thanks to becoming pally with Snell, who helps him with an application for officer training. When he returns to the front as a 2nd Lieutenant, he is outright snobbish towards Charley.
  • The Von Trope Family: Defied by Colonel Zeiss. He is very quick to correct anyone who refers to him as such. Other German officers resent him for not being of noble birth and see his tactics in battle as distasteful. He's very much a Combat Pragmatist and Frontline General, with him personally leading his Judgement Troopers into battle and executing prisoners.
  • War Is Hell: World War I is not given a romantic portrayal. People die left, right and centre, the ruling classes are shown not to care about the men in the trenches and several characters are left with horrific injuries and psychological damage.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: Some of the Germans get characterisation from early on, but the most notable instances occur when Charley goes up against a German platoon while working as a sniper. One guy is even waiting on the news of the birth of his son. They even fraternise during an unofficial Christmas truce.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: At the end of 1917 during the Christmas truce, we're told what eventually happens to the German soldiers given characterisation and Charley's sniping partner; Len is killed by a German sniper the following summer while on the German side, Gregor is paralysed six months later and lives until 1971, Bruno's leave gets cancelled and he's dead within two months, having never met his son and Adi, well, we all know what happened to him.
  • Working-Class Hero: Charley comes from a blue collar background, as the son of a cop and a munitions factory worker. He worked at a tram depot before the war, having little education and is described by several characters as being "not too bright". As befitting the trope, he's easily the most upstanding character in the comic.
  • Young Future Famous People: Charley ends up going toe to toe with Adolf Hitler at the battle of Passchendaele.
     HMS Nightshade 
  • Bittersweet Ending: Of course. The Nightshade sinks off Dover with all but two hands (and Dogfish) lost, and, too damaged to salvage, she lies there still.
  • Cool Ship: The "Flower"-class corvette K-70, HMS Nightshade, of course.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Justified example. The ship's adopted mutt Dogfish can hear incoming planes before the crew do, and he gives them enough notice to man the guns in time. He also dislikes Parsons, and the feeling is mutual.
  • Retirony: Poor ol' Never-Gonna-Make-It Brown, who else? Only a day after being discharged due to his injury, he's hit by a bus and killed instantly.
  • Sole Survivor: We learn quite early that by the 1980s, George Dunn is the only survivor of the HMS Nightshade. By the end of the story we find that only he, "Never-Gonna-Make-It" Brown and Dogfish didn't go down with the ship.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Parsons chose the Navy over prison, and rumours spread that he's a murderer. They're true, incidentally. He's also a bully and generally petty and cruel.
  • Villain's Dying Grace: Parsons floods the magazine to prevent the whole ship going down, and he dies smiling.
  • Winter Warfare: The Nightshade does two Murmansk Runs in the dead of winter. The crew have to constantly de-ice the deck because they run the very real risk of the collected weight of ice overturning the ship, and the metal becomes so cold bare skin will freeze to it instantly. And they have to pray for bad weather, because that's the only thing keeping U-Boats and the Luftwaffe away.

    Rat Pack 
  • Army of Thieves and Whores: The four Rats were all convicted of various offences.
  • Crossover: After the Rats left Taggart gravely injured at the hands of the Gestapo, they were for a time led by Major Eazy instead.
  • Darker and Edgier: The series was deliberately darker and pulpier than the title series of DC Thomson's Warlord - rather than an aristocrat who secretly volunteered as a commando on suicide missions, they were a gang of ruthless working-class criminals forced into it, often at gunpoint. And instead of being True Companions, the Rats not only hate Taggart, they usually hate each other as well.
  • Flat Character: The series was not the project of any one particular writer and didn't usually do continuing storylines, so Character Development is generally ignored in favour of action.
  • Suicide Mission: The Rats' whole purpose - as they're already convicts, they're considered expendable.
  • The Squad:

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