The first volume of this series offered up some engaging stories that showed why the magazine “Battle” was so well-regarded in Britain while it was published, and why we get so many war comics from Garth Ennis (who has presented both volumes). If you’ve got an interest in either of those things, then go pick up that first volume if you haven’t already. Vol. 2 is more expensive, has a lower page count, and features a main story which isn’t as strong.
Said story is titled “Fighting Mann.” It’s about retired Marine Col. Walter Mann who heads to Vietnam during the war to find his son, a fighter pilot who is “missing — believed deserted.” What follows is more than a little ridiculous as Col. Mann cuts a wide swath through Southeast Asia by way of multiple helicopters, trucks, and even a fighter jet, and mixes things up with the U.S. Army, the C.I.A., the Russians, as well as the Vietcong leaving plenty of dead bodies and wreckage in his wake.
“Fighting Mann” is basically a very pulpy action story that just happens to be set in one of the most infamous wars that America has taken part in. If you can get past the fact that it’s being used as the setting for this kind of story and shut your brain down, then it’s possible you may be able to actually enjoy it. Writer Alan Hebden keeps the narrative moving at a furious pace, churning through situations and setups in a way that leaves boredom behind. It reads like this was done in the hope that the reader wouldn’t have to think too long on how crazy this all was lest the story fall apart before them.
Except that the people reading these stories were kids. I imagine they were a lot more forgiving of the story’s flaws back when it was originally serialized. Ennis makes the best case he can for the story in his introduction. Upon actually reading “Fighting Mann,” I can’t help but think that he’s been blinded by nostalgia. That being said, Ennis notes that this was the story that sparked his interest in the Vietnam War. Which means that without “Fighting Mann” we likely wouldn’t have had the writer’s excellent stories set during this war from his runs in “Preacher” and “Punisher.” So that’s a plus.
However, as also pointed out by Ennis, the real draw of this story is Cam Kennedy’s impressively detailed art. He nails the setting and look of the era as well as its military hardware. Sometimes the panel layouts can get a little eccentric, yet Kennedy’s work is realistic enough to keep drawing you back in.
Spotlighting Kennedy’s work is this volume’s other job as the artist also draws the back half of the second, and better, story in this volume “War Dog.” It’s about Kazan, a German guard dog in WWII, who winds up getting a whirlwind tour of all the major fronts in the war by way of happenstance and luck. Kennedy is on good form here, as is initial artist Mike Western, giving the story a grounded look that helps to distract from the improbability of Kazan’s journey.
I say “improbable” but there wasn’t really anything in this story that ran right into my suspension of disbelief they way much of “Fighting Mann” did. Save for a sequence involving a British serviceman’s mad dash through the country to save Kazan from being put down due to a rabies quarantine, much of the story comes off like one of those old Disney movies. You know, the kind where an animal would meet up with other people and have lots of adventures as they made the treacherous journey back to their master. So “War Dog” does evoke some nostalgia in me, but it at least offers up this kind of story in a way that I had never seen before.
Even with the ridiculousness of “Fighting Mann” I still enjoyed this second volume of “Battle Classics.” Just not as much as the first one. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of what this magazine had to offer, by way of Ennis’ curation. It’s just that at this point I’d only recommend it to those like me who are in the tank for the kind of war stories this particular writer likes to tell.