Battle Action

Battle Action

Garth Ennis, Kevin O'Neill, Mike Dorey, John Higgins, Patrick Goddard, PJ Holden, Chris Burnham, Keith Burns, Sally Jane Hurst, Len O'Grady, Jason Wordie & Rob Steen



96 pages

Buy Now

Here's an easy one: you lay in bed, or you sit in a bar, you drift off in a Zoom meeting, you've got a long commute. The same thoughts won't leave you alone, memories of the things you loved as a child, the stories you pored over, the movies you rewatched obsessively. Maybe there were drawings you tried to imitate, maybe you got close, maybe you bought tracing paper. There's a parent you can remember following around as you told them your version of how the story SHOULD have ended, monologues of how someday you'd make your own movies, this time they'd say this, then she'd do this, and then, and then, and then.

If you're you, then you're probably stuck in a reality where you did none of these things. You're a grown-up now. You could make a zine about your John Carpenter fantasies, sure. Then you could go to a show, and table alongside somebody 20 years your junior who is going to outsell you; charm beats pity, and pity is what you've got. You like The Fog the best? I bought a birthday cake because it was Saturday, nobody stopped me. You can too.

Unless you're Tom Cruise, then you can make Top Gun: Maverick.

If you're Geoff Johns, you make everybody read about Barry Allen again.

From "Crazy Keller". Script by Garth Ennis, art by Chris Burnham & Len O'Grady, letters by Rob Steen. Characters created by Alan Hebden & Eric Bradbury.

And, if you're Garth Ennis, you make Rebellion pay you and your friends to publish a hardcover zine about a weekly comic newspaper that lasted for all of 44 months, and they get to charge 25 bucks for it!

Call it what you want, but when you bring in your friends, convince them to draw your remixes of the stories you loved as a boy, and each of those remixes is prefaced by an impassioned one-page essay where you explain why you loved these things then and now, and more than one of these remixed rehash stories includes you combining characters from different strips with the same youthful surety that powers an as-yet-unpoisoned child when they put Darth Vader on the same team as two American Girl dolls, a Slinky and a couple of Thor: Love & Thunder Happy Meal toys - buddy, that's a lot closer to a zine than it is to Kramers Ergot. It may have an ISBN, international distribution and two different covers (the one above by Andy Clarke), but in the same way your pubes won't uncurl if you call them a mustache: a zine is a zine. And Battle Action is as much a zine as Cometbus.

Ennis' opening essay lays it out for you. Two households, both alike in dignity: Battle Picture Weekly, a British comics magazine that lived up to its title, and Action, a British comics magazine fatally disinterested in subterfuge. In November of 1977, the 142nd issue of Battle was released as Battle-Action (for the ill-starred Action was no more), which it remained until July 1981. The result, according to Garth Ennis–and while it may not fly in a court of law, there's only one authority that matters when you get this personal, and that's the personality in charge–"can only be described as legendary." Ennis has already lent his name to reprints of Battle-Action strips for Rebellion in the past. He's written recaps, revamps and continuations of some of these characters as well. And, of course, he's written his fair share of war comics that would've fit right alongside much of what is on offer here. (The less said about the rest of his body of work–much of which contains war stories, even if they weren't actually published as War Stories–the better, if only for the sake of a pretense towards brevity.)

From "Johnny Red vs. Skreamer of the Stukas". Written by Garth Ennis, art by Keith Burns & Jason Wordie, letters by Rob Steen. Characters created by Tom Tully, Joe Colquhoun, Gerry Finley-Day & Rossendo Franch.

The question remains the same. In this hardcover selection of seven original Garth Ennis-written short comics starring the characters of Battle-Action, is there anything new? Ennis is something I'd call a "post-success" comics writer. When you cast him against the rest of the Alan Moore progeny, Ennis is really only second to Neil Gaiman in terms of making it, with Grant Morrison never managing to land a culturally successful TV adaptation (for this category of comics writer, that's a form of validity more potent than an Eisner), Warren Ellis not managing to convince anyone to want to be around him, and Mark Millar... well, Millar is technically more successful than Ennis, and depending upon how much you attribute the Avengers franchise to his work on The Ultimates, potentially more financially impactful than Neil Gaiman... and that's without taking into consideration the Kingsmen franchise, all the Netflix stuff... that really awesome fight scene with War Machine drawn by Carlos Pacheco that nobody gives enough love to... but it's Mark Millar! You can't root for Mark Millar in 2022, that's like pulling for Russell Wilson.

Anyway, there was a question here, and the answer is: no, there isn't anything new here. There's more of Ennis doing Johnny Red air combat, some leftover Night Witches stories (more air combat), more stories that could have served as flashbacks told by Tommy Monaghan's drinking buddies in DC's Hitman, comics pitched at the same humor level as a Marvel Knights Punisher (the only thing missing besides the costume is Jimmy Palmiotti), and a continuation of Ennis' second-favorite war comic obsession after all the air combat stuff: tank comics. Remember the official World of Tanks video game tie-in comics? How about Tankies? How about "Johann's Tiger"? "Children of Israel"- I mean, you're ultimately watching a succession of story tics played out in a schizophrenic visual tableau in which industry greats like Kevin O'Neill are juxtaposed against whomever else was available.

From "Kids Rule O.K.". Written by Garth Ennis, art by Kevin O'Neill, letters by Rob Steen. Characters created by Chris Lowder & Mike White. Above illustration includes elements from the original 18 September, 1976 Action cover by Carlos Ezquerra.

And: regarding that Kevin O'Neill comic—out of all of the work on display, that chapter, where Ennis and O'Neill go meta and examine the morality behind a comic about a kid killing a cop (famously depicted on Action's cover by Carlos Ezquerra) by essentially retelling that comic's story from the viewpoint of its editorial and publishing staff, a technique which allows Ennis the opportunity then to critique the entirety of the magazine's other stories as well—that chapter is certainly worth remarking on as yet another installment in Garth's lifetime passion for depicting the acidic cruelty of power, cop power, state power, masculine power, and having it depicted as close to possible against his other lifetime passion, which is when masculine power is not bad, but extremely fucking cool. It's a dance that doesn't work all the time, or doesn't work anymore (Preacher!), but when it does work it feels both smart and very cool (Punisher MAX!). Here, due in no small part to Kevin O'Neill's facility with depicting the damage what violence does to a body while still being able to worm a visual gag in between, it works extremely well.

It's followed up immediately by some air combat comics where one of the Night Witches hops into a warm cot with a cameo-making Johnny Red after doing airplane shit.

We may all be in the tank for comics creators making it big, but one thing that we should also all be in the tank for is that after they make it big, they should do something that befits making it big. It would be nice if that was charitable donations, or raising up the working class, but another thing that is nice is to see somebody achieve success and go oh shit man, check this out, look at these comics I loved, they are STILL FUCKING GOOD!! And if Garth Ennis wants to do that on a professional scale while the rest of his Fan Club (mail me an SASE for your membership card) desperately awaits the latest installment in The Definitive Frank Castle - in my opinion, that's a hell of a lot more aspirational than hanging out on Facebook and searching mentions of your own franchises so that you can go mmm, pardon me at some rando mental patient. If you have a million dollars, quit clicking on your own hashtag. Spend it on something cool.