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Monday, August 5, 2019

"Aftermath!" - a Review from Blazing Combat 1

Blazing Combat #1 (October 1965)
Archie Goodwin-Angelo Torres

I don't often grab a book right from the shelf and buy it. While I can be an impulsive shopper, I tend to be patient with books. Call me a slave to online discounts, but I get butt-pains in the wallet area when I think of paying full price for books. I know, I know - when the brick-n-mortar stores are dead and gone, I'll have that blood on my hands. I know. But hey - not only did I snag the Fantagraphics Books totally-awesome hardcover collection Blazing Combat while I was in Washington, DC last month, I also purchased George Takei's autobiography They Called Us Enemy (I have a review of this scheduled later in the fall) at cover price. Maybe I'm turning over a new leaf.

Blazing Combat lasted a mere four issues back in 1965-66. In the introduction to the hardcover collection, editor Michael Catron tells that the series was scuttled by the United States military, comics wholesalers, and the American Legion. As Archie Goodwin's tales took a sympathetic bent toward soldiers as people - as moral agents, and definitely toward "war is hell", some of the powers-that-be felt that it was unpatriotic. At a time when US involvement in the Vietnam War was escalating, the book was certainly politically charged. And apparently too hot to handle. But what Warren wrought in those four issues is a feast for the eyes, with talent like Frank Frazetta, Wally Wood, Gene Colan, John Severin, Russ Heath, Redd Crandall, Alex Toth, and many others providing the art. The collected edition is absolutely beautiful - one of the best looking reprints of black-and-white comics that I own. Catron writes that Fantagraphics used the original printer's films "for the finest quality possible". He ain't lyin'.

Let's do our thing. Today I've chosen the second story in the book, a troubling examination of themes from America's Civil War.

100-Word Review:
Set in 1863, we’re dropped into a scene of standoff. The Union forces have scattered the Confederates, save one Rebel who has a bead on two Union men. Getting off a clean shot, the Rebel drops one of the men in blue. Forced to find cover, his partner can’t move. But as the shot man cries out and it’s obvious that his death will not be immediate, the Rebel calls to his enemy to assist his friend. The Rebel goes so far as to call a truce and assist in helping his victim. What happens when enemies come face-to-face? 
The Good: Angelo Torres's art is superb, as your own eyeballs can attest. I did not mention Torres above when I rattled off the hall-of-fame caliber participants in this series. But I'm telling you, the man can hold his own against any and all comers. Wow. If I'm not mistaken (and at this writing I am not terribly far into the book), in each story the artist worked alone. So you're getting the whole Angelo Torres enchilada. And it's beautiful.

The Civil War is often described as brother against brother, and the common threads that bind these enemies together - duty, honor, self-preservation - may as well make them brothers. When the survivors meet in their mythical no-man's land, they share jerky and tobacco and a common hatred for the wild hogs that they know will eat the dead warrior. But as they sit down, perhaps to further explore their similarities, one sentence blows it all up. Perceptions, history, political affiliation, and the banners we wave all congeal to immediately end the ceasefire. The end is swift, painful, and Archie Goodwin leaves us with the question of whether or not it was inevitable. I paused upon completion and wondered if we aren't traveling along that same path in our times. It's scary... perhaps we are.

The black-and-white mags are heavily populated with short stories, and Blazing Combat has only that - six to eight page tales. The creators largely knock it out of the park despite the confined space. Lots of plot as well as character reveal in these six pages.

The Bad: Archie Goodwin did that thing for which Chris Claremont has been maligned, and that's attempting to write characters with accents. Works well (generally) in film, not so much in literature. In film, we can largely tell what the character is saying despite changes in tone or inflection; on the printed page, however, it can get a little wonky. Admittedly, on my reread for this review I did not find it as much a distraction on my first tour. Goodwin does it again in the very next story, which was set in the late 1930s.

The thought of the hogs feasting on dead soldiers and/or civilians is a stomach-turner.

The Ugly: War sucks. People suck. Hatred sucks. Those seem constants in life that I'd love to see broken during my lifetime. I hold on to optimism, that some day we'll figure it out. Each semester in the introduction to my Social Injustice class we analyze the lyrics to Sly & the Family Stone's Everyday People. It remains pertinent learning.

Sometimes I'm right and I can be wrong
My own beliefs are in my song
The butcher, the banker, the drummer and then
Makes no difference what group I'm in
I am everyday people, yeah yeah
There is a blue one who can't accept the green one
For living with a fat one trying to be a skinny one
And different strokes for different folks
And so on and so on and scooby dooby doo
Oh sha sha we got to live together
I am no better and neither are you
We are the same whatever we do
You love me you hate me you know me and then
You can't figure out the bag I'm in
I am everyday people, yeah yeah
There is a long hair that doesn't like the short hair
For bein' such a rich one that will not help the poor one
And different strokes for different folks
And so on and so on and scooby dooby doo
Oh sha sha we got to live together
There is a yellow one that won't accept the black one
That won't accept the red one that won't accept the white one
And different strokes for different folks
And so on and so on and scooby dooby doo
I am everyday people


  1. Oh, man, Doug, it's hard to be optimistic after the events of this past weekend in particular. And yes, the American Civil War remains weirdly and unfortunately topical to this day in a way that it really shouldn't. Thanks for including the lyrics to Sly's "Everyday People" at the end; I've got the tune in my head now, and it makes me feel a tiny bit better, and hopeful.

    This is a good story, and book, to highlight and I like your review; I'll probably be adding the book to my already immense want-list.
    Angelo Torres, by the way, is really one of the better artists who got his start in the 1950s working for EC and doing other illustration work. In my mind, he stands shoulder-to-shoulder with guys like Severin, Heath, Wood, Al Williamson and, yes, even Frazetta.

  2. Powerful book, powerful review, powerful artwork. Good pick, Doug. Like Edo I find it particularly sobering after Texas and Ohio. But like you, I'm by nature an optimist, convinced that most folks are guided by their better natures. We have to keep reaching out and looking higher.

    'War' comics are a genre I avoided until my 40's. Then, exposure to some of EC's classic output and DC's gems from Kanigher/Kubert, prompted further exploration. This book you highlight today is a great example of why that exploration is justified. Torres' art is gorgeous. Such linework. Attractive, even if the story itself is a gutwrencher. Like Edo, I'm adding this volume to my 'must find' stack.

    Oh, and also like Edo, I appreciate the Sly Stone lyrics. May go play that later (followed by War's "Why Can't We Be Friends"...

  3. Thanks for the comments, friends. The news has left me discouraged these past two days. The review is timely, unfortunately. Maybe one day we'll figure this out...


  4. We didn't have a Social Injustice class in my school. Every school needs a Social Injustice class!!


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