Written by: Pat Mills
Art by: Joe Colquhoun
Price: £19.99 (UK)
This Graphic Novel reprints the following Charley’s War stories:
- Battle (October 1982 – January 1985)
Coming in at a whopping 368 pages, this third and final volume of Charley’s War provides readers with plenty of bang for their buck as the First World War hurtles towards a brutal climax. After experimenting with secondary protagonists in the second volume, Pat Mills focuses more on Charley’s extended family in this final volume, showcasing aerial and naval warfare alongside the infantry war. Developed as a supporting plot thread in previous chapters, Charley’s younger brother Wilf takes the main stage as he joins the Royal Flying Corps and attempts to progress up the ranks, despite his lack of education and class. Mills challenges the romanticism of air pilots, presenting them as egotistical and foolhardy whilst also exposing the class divide as Wilf and his friends are relegated to more menial tasks. Wilf’s story is more tragic than his older brother’s and demonstrates the fragility of war through its sudden conclusion.
One aspect of the third volume that I was apprehensive about was the inclusion of Adolf Hitler into the storyline – I’d read a previous review that mentioned that the real-life dictator made an appearance in the series and I was worried that it might upset the tone of the series. While the series is rooted in fact, and Hitler was indeed enlisted in the German Army during World War One, I worried that the series would be overly reliant on foreshadowing and demonising the future führer. I needn’t have worried as Mills incorporates Adolf into the series seamlessly, using the character wisely and without excessive fanfare. It never wobbles into “Captain America punching Hitler on the chin” territory and actually acts as an interesting character study into Hitler and his delusions of grandeur.
While Mills avoids making Hitler into a nemesis for Charley, he does revisit the character of Lt. Snell and re-positions him as a personal antagonist for our hero. Those scenes set during the final hours of the conflict are emotionally charged, as Charley confronts his arch-enemy once and for all. Joe Colquhoun’s art is tremendous during this sequence, capturing the rage and sense of pointless loss as several characters meet their end moments before the ceasefire. If Charley’s War is an opera, than this sequence set in Mons is Mills and Colquhoun’s crescendo, delivering an emotional punch to the gut in those final moments of the war. While the story does continue beyond this point with Charley enlisted to help out during the Russian Civil War, the sequence at Mons is quite possibly the pinnacle of the series.
Charley’s War is peppered with plenty of wonderful character moments in amongst the major drama and disasters, and Pat Mills’ script captures the grim ‘gallows humour’ of the time – a sense of humour that is so identifiably British. The series also develops Charley as a character throughout his time on the front-lines as he eventually advances to Corporal rank, taking responsibility of his own team of men in the later years of the war. Looking back at the series as a whole, I was struck by how well Mills develops these characters over the course of six years of weekly stories (Jan 1979 – Jan 1985), maintaining consistency in a magazine where its target audience was unlikely to re-read past instalments or collect the series in its entirety. The quality never dips under Mills’ tenure, as he creates an engaging and ever-evolving epic.
A true testament to the horror of war, Charley’s War is the perfect marriage of script and art as Mills and Colquhoun produce one of the most important comic stories put to print. This new collection from the Treasury of British Comics spruces up the artwork and lettering, offering readers an enhanced version of the series that doesn’t tinker with the winning formula like George Lucas would. Colquhoun’s artwork is truly magnificent and affecting, bringing the awful tragedy to life in haunting black-and-white panels. Not just essential reading for comic book fans, Charley’s War is essential reading for everyone and should be on mandatory reading lists for history students studying World War One.
Having finally finished all 1,024 pages of Charley’s War: The Definitive Collection, I can say without a doubt that it is the definitive war story. There is nothing better out there.
Score – ★★★★★
Charley’s War: The Definitive Collection (Vol. 3) – “Remembrance” is available in print from Amazon and The Treasury of British Comics’ Webshop. A special edition (limited to 150 copies) is exclusively available from The Treasury of British Comics’ Webshop and includes a bookplate signed by Pat Mills.
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