Monday, May 25, 2009

Review: Blazing Combat

Blazing Combat, written by Archie Goodwin, art by Gene Colan, Reed Crandall, George Evans, Frank Frazetta, Russ Heath, Al McWilliams, Gray Morrow, Joe Orlando, John Severin, Angelo Torres, Alex Toth, and Wally Wood, 2009, Fantagraphics, 208 pages, $28.99

This collection of the 1965-66 Blazing Combat war comic magazine is a stellar publication that scores perfectly on my handy-dandy comic book reprint checklist:
  • Are the original comics long out-of-print and difficult to find?
Yes. Blazing Combat lasted all of four 64-page issues back in the mid-60s before dissatisfaction with its content -- it was seen as "anti-American" because of its realistic depiction of war -- led to the U.S. military banning it from sale on its bases and magazine wholesalers refusing to sell it. Before the publication of this new collection, I'd say you wouldn't have run across these comics in the local Waldenbooks or the back issue bin at Superheroes R Us.

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  • Does the new collection show off the original comics?
Yes. First, it's got everything. All twenty-nine stories that appeared in the original four issues are reproduced here, which will make all you compulsive collectors feel good. Second, it looks great. The pages are reproduced from the original printer’s films, giving the drawings a nice clarity. (It reminds me of the time that New York City cleaned the ceiling of the main concourse of Grand Central Station -- everything seemed to just glow.) And, as Kevin Church has pointed out, the cover design is fantastic. It jumps off the shelf. Finally, the new material (an introduction and interviews with original publisher James Warren and writer Goodwin) is interesting and edifying. The book is a great package.

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  • Are the original comics any good?
This is the most important question, of course, and I'm glad to say that these comics are excellent. The artistic talent arrayed inside -- including several masters of the art form -- is enough to raise the book above your standard fare, but Archie Goodwin's writing left the most impact on me. He hopscotches through history, with each story taking place during one of America's many wars. And he gets personal: instead of focusing on generals and presidents, he tells stories about foot soldiers and peasants, and how war affects their emotions and thoughts. It's a ground-level view of war. He also doesn't celebrate the glory of war; everyone ends up horrified, scared, paranoid, or dead. Finally, he doesn't mince words, telling engrossing and complete stories in six to eight pages.

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It's a master class on how to tell a short story, and I highly recommend checking it out.

Previews: Here is a pdf of the first three stories, here is a video/slideshow preview, and here is the story "Holding Action" with art by John Severin. You can read Michael Catron's introduction here.

Buy it: From Fantagraphics here or from Amazon here: Blazing Combat

Trivia: Jason Aaron read Blazing Combat while researching his breakout war comic The Other Side.

Related: My reviews of other Fantagraphics publications:

Disclaimer: This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.

1 comment:

  1. actually, it's _almost_ all there: the orgininal, awesome frazetta covers are given pretty short shrift, kinda tucked at the back and shrunk down (except for where 1 is cropped for the inside covers). But yeah, it's a good set, and now it's coming out in paperback, so there's almost no reason not to get it if you like war comics. It's a pure (and intentional) continuation of Kurtzman's EC war stuff, and that is some of the best American comics ever.