When I was a boy (you know, just last week), I used to be a regular reader of Commando War Stories in Pictures, a series of comic books first published by D.C. Thomson & Co (subscription page) in 1961. There had been 3400 issues published by January 2001 and the 4000th should appear some time early next year. (This includes reprints of some issues.) I’d completely forgotten about Commando comics until they popped into my head this morning. I learn from a search that it’s now Commando For Action and Adventure, and that the stories cover WWI, the Boer War, the Napoleonic Wars and other conflicts. And you thought manga was overdone. Commandomag.com appears to be the official site, although it seems to be pretending it’s a blog. The British Comics site also has pages about Commando comics with links to pages with scans of the covers.
The cover issue No. 1 (reissued as No. 2523) – Walk–or Die! – has a picture of a German (Afrika Korps) carrying a British soldier on his back through the desert. I can’t help observing that it it looks quite gay (our brave Tommy is wearing a rather tight shirt; and some bling – OK, his dog tags), and that the Geneva Convention is being violated in some way. And if the German’s unlucky, it seems that it won’t just be the Geneva Convention that gets violated.
I can still vaguely remember the first issue I bought. It was about some RAF base that was operating secretly from an island in the Pacific. The Japanese were searching for it and, if I remember rightly, saying things like, “By Shinto!”, which is embarrassing. In fact, it gets me wondering whether the racist elements in some of these have survived in the reprints (if they’ve reprinted in more recent years issues with titles such as Jap Hunt 167/807; Hammer of the Japs 178/823) [Indeed such elements remain with the Japanese exclaiming “By Shinto” in the same way Allied soldiers ought to be exclaiming, “By Roman Catholicism!” 23.03.14].
I can still remember some of the issues from 1974 (How did I miss Nobody Loves a Genius? It could’ve been written about me) such as Enemies No More, The Silver Spitfire (pilot has lucky Spitfire bought by the grateful people of Dakpur (?); lucky for him because everyone else he knows gets killed), Hard Luck Hero, Space Pilot, Hair-Trigger (a tale of a British intelligence officer in the North African desert), Patrol of the Lost (that was about some German hypnotist turning Tommies into unwitting stooges for the Wehrmacht; the day was saved by the weediest guy in the platoon, but only because he was on drugs), Yellow for Courage (this seems to be a common theme – stories about the soldier/pilot/sailor who isn’t too keen on the whole dying-for-king-and-country thing, but comes through in the end; or, who is accused of being a coward, but isn’t).
From 1975 we have Air Cadet (obnoxious and obviously bloody stupid rich boy stows away in a bomber which gets shot down over France; as luck would have it, it’s not far from the old family holiday mansion which is now occupied by the Germans who happen to have the plans for the invasion of Britain lying around; our xiao huangdi saves the day and redeems himself), One Man’s War, Brothers in Hate, Secret of the Sands, Clash of Eagles (the continuing battle of a British racing car driver and his German counterpart; our man is captured and challenged to a race by his rival; of course, he uses it as an opportunity to escape, and you wonder how dumb the German was), The Friendly Enemy (I think that was about some German who ends up in the RAF before being exposed).
A lot of the covers are familiar, although I can’t remember the stories. There’s School for Spies from 1976. I remember that being one of my favourite issues. The story was set at a school in Scotland. The local laird lost his nerve in battle and has sneaked back to the family estate. I think his brother was the school’s headmaster and an ardent Scots nationalist who was in contact with German agents. The new, charismatic teacher is actually a British agent; and there’s a 200 year old family mystery as well. Basically, the laird gets back his courage; his missing ancestor’s spirit redeems itself; the boys in the 5th form get to be heroes; and Scottish nationalism is crushed firmly under the jackboot of English imperialism. The ending was a bit limp, though. The laird returns to the school to give a talk and his concluding words were something like, “We’re winning in the desert, and soon we’ll be winning everywhere else too.” Great punchline.
I can’t remember when I stopped reading these. Probably, hmmm, Form 1 or 2. I can’t recall reading any after that, and I have no recollection of what happened to the ones I had.
Well, that’s all the nostalgia we have for today, kids, but come back next week when we’ll reminisce about how I wrote this entry about Commando comics.