Friday, November 13, 2020

Forgotten Books: Hit the Dirt: Six of the Best Comic Book Adventures from Battle Picture Library - Steve Holland, ed.

BATTLE PICTURE LIBRARY was a British comic book series featuring World War II stories of approximately 60 pages in each issue, much like COMMANDO, which is still being published today. BATTLE PICTURE LIBRARY debuted in 1961 and ran until 1985, but it was most popular in the Sixties and Seventies. There are a number of anthologies of stories collected from its pages, and I’ve rounded up several of them. These volumes were edited by my friend Steve Holland, and he’s done a fine job of putting them together. The first one I’ve read is HIT THE DIRT, which concentrates on the war on the ground. These reprints don’t include writer and artist information, so I can’t tell you who wrote and drew these stories, but I can tell that they’re good.

The first one, “Top Secret”, is from BATTLE PICTURE LIBRARY #160. It’s about a team of British and Canadian commandos infiltrating a castle in Germany where some sinister scientific research is going on that could change the course of the war. The team has the usual sorts of conflicts and back-stories among its members, but that traditional plot is executed very well and the script holds a surprise or two along the way. This is an excellent tale to begin the book.

“Diggers Defiant”, from BATTLE PICTURE LIBRARY #128, starts out as a P.O.W. story as a group of Australians escapes from a Japanese prison camp where they’re being used as slave labor to build an airstrip. That seems like enough for a complete story right there, but this yarn follows several of the men as they return to the war. It’s an interesting tale as it considers the effects that their brutal experience has had on them and how it influences them as they continue to battle the Japanese.

Originally published in BATTLE PICTURE LIBRARY #119, “Fire—and Destroy!” intertwines the stories of a soldier disgraced in battle because of a mistake that resulted in the deaths of sixty British soldiers, and the war correspondent who’s trying to get to the truth of the matter. This is an excellent story with lots of emotional depth to go with the plentiful action and some top-notch art, to boot.

“Honours Even”, from BATTLE PICTURE LIBRARY #133, follows a British soldier from Dunkirk to the fighting in the aftermath of D-Day and the odd circumstances that keep allowing him to win medals and honors that maybe he doesn’t deserve. The unknown author of this one does an excellent job of characterization, ultimately leaving it up to the reader to decide what their opinion is of the protagonist.

“The Scorpion’s Sting”, from BATTLE PICTURE LIBRARY #129, is about a tough British sergeant who run any risk to protect his men, even when that courage borders on recklessness with his own life. The reason for that is a secret the sergeant carries, and it’s a very nice twist, followed by another twist very late in the story. I saw that one coming, but it’s still effective, making this an unusual but very good yarn.

This collection wraps up with “Blood Feud”, from BATTLE PICTURE LIBRARY #123. This story is set in Burma and centers around the clash between two officers, one of whom believes the other is to blame for a Japanese trap that cost the lives of almost an entire company. When they have to work together on a mission to protect a vital bridge deep in the jungle, fireworks are inevitable, and not just between British paratroopers and Japanese soldiers. This yarn has the same sort of moral grayness that runs through many of these stories, but it also has the best art I’ve seen so far in any of these British war comics. I have no idea who the artist is, but he did an excellent job.

Overall, HIT THE DIRT is a really good collection. All the stories are good, and there’s a nice variety in settings and plots. I don’t know how many such volumes there are, but I’m going to be looking for more of them.

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