Thursday, October 13, 2011


 Entry #9:  
 Well now...  back to the good ol' Sierra Vista Public Library [Cochise County, AZ] stacks for another shot of interesting popular culture!

There it was... in the "Graphic Novels" section [mostly an enormous waste of time; save for some wonderful re-packaging of old time comics, such as the one in question today] staring out at me... from the goof folks at Fantagraphics Books:

A wonderful and complete collection of [for my money anyway] the greatest comic mag Warren Publishing ever produced: the late, great, and long-lamented BLAZING COMBAT!

To say that BLAZING COMBAT was a "war comic" is sort of like saying that Rembrant Van Rijn could draw pictures: a vast understatement.

For 4 glorious issues in 1965 and '66, Archie Goodwin [1937-1998] edited what comic-book historian Richard Arndt has assessed as, "Probably the best war comic ever published".   It was done in magazine format in entirely black and white [so the B&W reproduction is not bothersome this time] and it made a valiant attempt to bring realism and literary quality to the the genre of pictorial combat fiction.

Though it only lasted 4 issues, it has long been sought by collectors for its great quality.  I myself found a copy of issue #4 back in 1997 as a Bible college student in Tempe, AZ and  then and there determined to  read the full collection before I left this mortal coil. 

Now, due to the magic of unexpected re-prints found on the stacks of local public libraries, I can honestly say I have read the whole run... and what a run it was!

If you're familiar with the four original comic books (or rather "magazines," as this title was published)  then you know full well what to expect. If you never saw them then brace yourself-- you're in for a treat!

As much as i love the HAUNTED TANK and SGT. ROCK tales from my misspent youth, as well as the re-prints of the old EC '50s combat classics, the stories in BC are clearly a step above. These are unsanitized vignettes of war from stages throughout world history. It is well worth noting that the concept here [despite the 60s timeframe for publication] was never to be actually anti-war but instead to represent, as nearly as possible, the brutal and perplexing reality of war.  [Don't get me wrong... I am a pretty big peacenik myself-- my Christian/Libertarian stand on war and statism is pretty much summed up by the old Anabaptist Confessions of the 16th century... or the important current writings of Laurence W. Vance.]

Perhaps I should say it this way: if HERE the stories seem to scream the adage "War Is Hell," it is only from the context that it is also a strange and inevitable re-occurrence throughout human history: an unfortunate-- and sometimes even nessessary--  reminder of man's fallen nature.

These 29 stories range in setting from ancient wars, to the American Revolution, to both World Wars and even through the Vietnam Conflict [contemporary at the time of the mag's composition.]

Almost always the tales focus on some lone combatant and his personal  struggle to survive his circumstances and to somehow cling to some semblance of humanity. Some actually tell "heroic" or inspiring stories, such as the neat take on the Battle of Britain, or the cool recounting of the still-amazing career of World War I Canadian ace Billy Bishop (72 confirmed air kills.)

Other sagas show the deeper and more depresing side of war, such as the one about the  WWII G.I. prying gold fillings from dead bodies in the Pacific theater, or the recurring tales conveying the terror of fresh troops walking into mad-house theatres of all-out carnage. One amazing story called "Landscape" not only shows the Vietnam War's effects on a native peasant farmer, but stands as a remarkably prescient critique of all the inherent and intrinsic problems involved in the waging of that sad and misbegotten quagmire of a war.

Editor Goodwin himself is to be given much of the credit for the milestone that is BC, since he wrote or co-wrote nearly all of the stories.  [This is actually a great benefit to the collection as a whole, by the way, since the stories thus share a cohesive and  fairly uniform thematic "voice."]

But still, what would it all have been without all the amazing artwork!?  Severen, Frazetta, Heath, Wood... I could go on and ON!  It's a who's who of graphic greatness... and each of these old masters is caught at the absolute top of their game!

Kudos MUST also be given here to the good folks at Fantagraphics Books. As usual, their reproduction is outstanding. High-quality matte paper retains the detail of the artwork (which was reproduced from the original films) and the overall effect is amazingly, jarringly professional.

All in all, I can't give this one a high enough recommendation.

NOTE: A reviewer at Amazon has actually tallied the settings for the stories as follows: "American Revolution 1, American Civil War 3, Spanish-American War 1, World War I 4, World War II 10, Korea 3, Vietnam 4, Misc. 3 (US Cavalry vs. Indians, Post-Apocalypse, Thermopylae)"
Thanks, pal.

Oh, and as the old DC comics used to always [rather ironically] say at the end:

[It's a nice thought, anyway, right?]

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