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Blazing Combat Paperback – May 25, 2010
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After its success replicating the classic EC horror comics a decade after their demise, the publisher of the black-and-white horror magazine Creepy followed the same formula in 1965 with a publication that emulated EC’s ahead-of-their-time war comics. Like Creepy, Blazing Combat was drawn by many EC veterans, including Wally Wood, John Severin, and Joe Orlando, as well as such talented artists as Alex Toth and Gene Colan. Scripter Archie Goodwin followed the EC model by eschewing the typical gung-ho, Sgt. Rock approach in favor of a generally antiwar tone and penning stories embracing historic conflicts from the American Revolution and Civil War to the then-current Vietnam War. It was that contemporary touch that led to the title’s undoing. A story in the second issue, told from the viewpoint of a peasant rice farmer whose village was occupied by the Vietcong and then destroyed in an American counterattack, induced wholesalers to reject the magazine and the military to banish it from PXs. Nevertheless, Blazing Combat’s four issues constitute a high-water mark of the war-comics genre. --Gordon Flagg --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“…[T]here was a time when a [war] comic mag got down right truthful.... Blazing Combat was an anthology comic that showed the very dark and very real side of war…. It’s a who’s-who of monster talent...”
- Chris Marshall, Collected Comics Library
“...Jacques Tardi returns to the world of guns, crime, betrayal and bloodshed with this stunning, grisly, and remarkably faithful interpretation of Manchette’s last completed crime thriller.”
- Josh West, Comicsphere
“Probably the best war comic ever published.”
- Richard Arndt, comic book historian
“Like many of the best reprint projects... this republication of the four-issue Warren war magazine features work that you can’t easily buy anywhere else, is historically significant and offers its buyers a lot of very good comics... Blazing Combat is simply a handsome, well-presented selection of very good comics that for having them around we’re all a bit richer as comics readers. I’m glad it’s here.”
- Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter
“There was a time when War Comics told War Fact. They showed us the blood, death, camaraderie and horror. [Blazing Combat] did just that and didn’t hold back.”
- Chris Marshall, Forbidden Planet International
“[A]mong the high points of 1960s comics, and this handsome collection is one of the most welcome reprint volumes of the last few years.”
- Robert Martin, The Comics Journal
“For lovers of great art, lovingly rendered in black and white and gray ink wash..., this is as good as it gets... This is one collection of war comics that even those not inclined to care about the genre can appreciate, and now it’s more affordable than ever.”
- Johnny Bacardi, Popdose
“[T]he artistry on display is… mind-boggling, particularly in the case of Crandall, Heath and Severin… The creators clearly had a real love for this kind of material, so much so that I wish things had tipped slightly in their favor a bit more.”
- Chris Mautner, Robot 6
“[A]n amazing collection of… stories… written by the outstanding Archie Goodwin… throw in some of the most amazing art, all of it sharply and expertly reproduced, and you’ve got some real dynamite here. ... And there’s fantastic bonus features.”
- Tom McLean, Bags and Boards
“This book is why Fantagraphics is one of the best and most important comic publishers in the business today. ... This is a brilliant collection of stories that should be required reading. Intelligent, gripping stories and fantastic art! Grade: A +.”
- Tim Janson, Mania
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What you get is this book, Blazing Combat.
Writer Archie Goodwin teams with artists like Joe Orlando, Wally Wood, Reed Crandall, John Severin, Alex Toth, Gene Colan, Gray Morrow and Russ Heath on tales of war spanning Thermopylae to the future. (Just once for the future, thankfully. Despite the Alex Toth art it's the weakest story in the book.)
The title, Blazing Combat, is a bit of a misnomer. It brings to mind lesser contemporaries like Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, while this is anything but rah rah cartoon war.
The book strives for slice of life realism and often succeeds. There are few heroes here, just men good, bad and indifferent doing a job and striving above all to live to get home.
Of particular interest, and generally exceptional quality, are the Vietnam stories. Landscape (which I've seen reprinted before but in an annoying half-sized format) tells the story of a lone Vietnamese farmer struggling hopelessly to ignore the war. Viet-Cong has a particularly modern resonance, as an American adviser watches his South Vietnamese charges torturing a prisoner by water board. Depressing, isn't it, that as a nation we've forgotten something about what constitutes torture that we understood nearly 50 years ago.
For my money the best story in the book is Conflict, a tale of a black medic and a bigoted white soldier wounded in the Asian jungle, with transcendent Gene Colan art. To take on war and race relations all at once in the bygone world of 1965 might have taken a lot of guts, though I doubt Goodwin thought of it that way. He was just telling a story, and a damn good one, without a an instant of preachiness lurking about.
Lest my emphasis on the Vietnam tales mislead you these stories span a wider net. There are plenty of yarns set in WW2, Korea, the Civil War and the American Revolution and many of them are on the same level as the Vietnam tales. In fact. the universality of the experience across different times and places may be one of the strongest points made by this outstanding book.
Sadly, those Vietnam tales ultimately doomed the book. Anything less than whole-hearted support of the war was still politically untenable at the time. The military banned the title from sale in PXs, and wholesalers let the book pile up and rot in warehouses rather than face the wrath of veteran's groups like the American Legion. Despite decent sales for issue #1 few copies of #2 - #4 ever saw the light of day.
Bonus material consists of interviews with writer Goodwin and publisher James Warren. Possibly because his primary publications, Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella, declined so precipitously in later years he rarely receives the credit he receives as one of industry's true visionaries. This volume benefits greatly from the simply fact that Warren, alone among his contemporaries,thought to save the original printers film, resulting in magnificently pristine reproduction compared to so many collections that print from scans of printed books or worse yet, recreation.
A few small complaints: it would have been nice to see the pages reproduced in their original published size, or better still a larger format for reproduction. Though it might add ten bucks to the cost of the book I've always believed that the rather limited audience for this sort of product would happily pay a slightly higher price for a better product.
Particularly disappointing is the treatment of the original Frank Frazetta covers. They appear only in a greatly reduced size accompanying an interview with Archie Goodwin. Surely space could have been found to afford them all a full-page sized reprinting.
Still, the material and Fantagraphics production are five-star all the way.