Saturday, July 26, 2014


The end of the damned Battle of the Somme, but the tone turns over-pro-British, maybe jingoistic.


The Battle of the Somme was becoming a little boring, so this volume is finishing it up in pain with its balance of losses and wins on one page (unnumbered like the episodes, which is more than irritating, simply unprofessional and disrespectful of the readers, the real readers not the readers including and being simply summarized as the author himself). “The total gain was . . . seven miles and three villages for the wins. But for the losses the list and figures are slightly bigger: “Half-a-million tommies were killed or wounded in the battle of the Somme. . . Many of the tommies who never returned, now lie in a military cemetery in France known as “Blighty Valley’. . . the soldiers who died there were all volunteers. . . the first to volunteer . . . lads eager to serve their country. They were young, healthy and brave . . The ‘Best of British’. . . The battle of the Somme wiped them out.” And we must not forget “It was the only battle where British troops deserted in Great numbers.” With this captions in the bubbles. British soldiers surrendering: “They can stick their stinking war! I’m off!” and the answer of the German soldier taking him prisoner: “If you hadn’t come over to us, Tommy, we would have come over to you!”  This last remark is in full contradiction with the long description of the Battle of the Somme since the Germans were never able to come over and the final balance just under this bubble is a British gain of seven miles.

This balance is extremely bothering since it is in contradiction with the description of the battle and it contains a contradiction, and not only in terms. That leads me to believing that the Germans are not depicted properly and fairly. The balance is of course totally mute on the losses and wins of the Germans, losses and wins that are seen negatively only: they lost seven miles and three villages. But where are the dead Germans? Certainly not in cemeteries in France. They are not numbered and they are nowhere. The comic book then becomes very pro-British, critical maybe but pro-British nevertheless. And that is a fairly serious shortcoming.

But the end of this battle is rounded up with Charley getting hurt by shrapnel, evacuated to the hospital behind the front line. Total loss of memory and haunting nightmares are his state of “mind” till he meets his old sergeant who brings him back to life, to consciousness and gives him an identity because he had lost his dog-tags.

These lost dog-tags enable the author to shift back to England, since Charley is telegrammed as being lost in a way or another (missing in action would be the proper term) and believed dead to his family and then later on telegrammed again as having been recovered, as having recovered his memory and as being alive. And Charley is sent back to England without escaping one more act of barbarity from the Germans who, with one of their submarines, sink the ship on which the wounded, and some dead, are transported back to England. Yet they manage to reach Folkestone and then to go back to their destination, Charley to London. He discovers then the home situation. Silvertown has been gutted by the explosion of several ammunition factories but many are still standing. His mother and father, sister and brother, and the brother in law who was a pain in the ass in the Battle of the Somme and had managed to be sent back home by the “accidentally provoked” loss of three toes on one foot, all of them (not the lost toes of course) are well and healthy.

Charley discovers there is a lot to do and does it. He gets involved in civil defense and makes friend with a Crimean War veteran who was blinded there and this blind man will save the situation on the night when the Germans attack London with their famous Zeppelins. That blind man is able to hear with the special equipment at their disposal the coming of the Zeppelin though the official soldier appointed to that task is not able to and anyway was using the equipment to spy on surrounding neighbors, particularly couples? Voyeurism in war time. Ah! Ah! Ah! The Germans are targeting Silvertown and its ammunition factories. Charley’s mother is working that night. So we have a real hunt and chase in London by night without any light. Charley brings down the lynching of two Russian shopkeepers accused of being German and manages to get his mother’s factory evacuated against the will of the “Sir” who owns it and must produce to feed the weapons on the front.

That is the first time the capitalism that is behind this war is identified. That was a long wait indeed. And yet it is identified in one man with a knighthood on the lapel of his coat, seen too as a coward who tries to prevent the evacuation of the factory but runs away in his chauffeured car as soon as the attack is confirmed.

And finally some human suspense is introduced in this comic book: the first bomb falls in the chimney of the factory with Charley and his semi-conscious mother still inside. The last image of two women in total panic is finally human and not fake military horror, true horror but dressed up to kill the Germans and the readers. The order from the policeman, known as a bobby in London, is “Get down! Hit the ground!” and the last comment from one of the two women is “The bomb’s gone down the factory chimney! And Charley and his mum are still inside.” You can note these pure East Enders do not speak cockney, even under stress and in panic, and I regret it tremendously, especially since the author bragged about the tremendous research done to produce this comic strip in his introduction of the first volume. He must have forgotten that in London they speak a special dialect

That leads me to a last remark, a generic remark. For those of you who do not like pictures, turning pages and reading bubbles, you can always go to the end and read the “strip commentary” which is a summary of the volume episode by episode (they are only numbered in this commentary: so good luck to find the one you are concerned with), one after another in just a few lines for each. In case you haven’t understood the proper meaning of the episodes you can always read the official interpretation of the author.

Comic strip and comic book readers are not very well read in that kind of “art,” in fact they are so badly read in it that they need a commentary. You will get sentences like “It makes the ordinary soldier (and we, the readers) seem powerless in the face of Armageddon.” You can note that Pat Mills dares identifies himself as part of “we, the readers.” If that is not subliminal manipulation, what is? That’s why, Mr. Pat Mills, your comic strip did not have any descent in comic art: you are only manipulating the audience with a purely pro-British subliminal discourse and I can understand that many did not like it.

Your comic strip comes out in the shape of ten comic books because it is the hundredth anniversary of this totally barbaric and barbarous event, just as much on each side of the front and even behind both sides, but you only give one side of the front and one side of behind the front with a very finely and strictly guided commentary that reveals the same finely and strictly guided intention. And that pro-British approach leads at times to some kind of jingoism. Sorry to be obliged to say it.


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