Of 29 battle stories in Fantagraphics’ re-issue of legendary ’60’s war comic Blazing Combat, four are set in WW1. One is about British ace Billy Bishop. Another depicts the American Expeditionary Force at Cantigny.
War is nothing but tragedy – a cutting short of lives that ought to have gone on much longer.
It’s ironic that the life of one of the finest war comics ever published in the 1960’s, Blazing Combat, was itself cut short. It wasn’t for lack of talent. Blazing Combat was written and illustrated by some of the greatest names in 20th-century comics. It died because it succeeded in driving home the tragedy of war. That was bound to draw the ire of powerful entities — ones whose interest lay in promoting a new and costly war… in Vietnam. By its fourth issue, Blazing Combat would be driven from the American publishing scene.
You can’t keep a great comic magazine down
Thankfully, Blazing Combat‘s four-issue run lives again in a single volume from Fantagraphics Books. All 29 stories are there, written by the late, legendary Archie Goodwin and illustrated by such 20th-century comics legends as Wally Wood, Gray Morrow, Alex Toth, John Severin, Russ Heath and Reed Crandall, to name a few.
The conflicts depicted in Blazing Combat span a 20-some centuries period, from the Peloponnesian war through The American Revolution, the War Between the States, two World Wars, plus Korea and Vietnam. Four stories (“Cantigny,” “Lone Hawk,” “How It Began” and “The Trench.”) are set in the First World War.
The artwork throughout is majestic, unstinting it its attention to detail and accuracy. It’s hard to read these stories and not linger amazed over the breathtaking beauty of artwork by so many comics greats. Every page explodes with masterful design and a realism that thrusts you right into the action.
Goodwin’s tireless research and commitment to telling the most powerful stories possible drives home Blazing Combat‘s central theme: that war is costly, and good men frequently die for no good reason.
How Blazing Combat became a casualty of war
The original publisher of Blazing Combat was James Warren, whose Famous Monsters of Filmland enjoyed enormous success due to the monster and horror movie craze of the eary 1960’s. A sister publication, Creepy, featured black and white horror comics not subject to Comics Code restrictions and drawn by the same great artists mentioned above.
Released in October 1965, Blazing Combat‘s first issue appeared to do well. But over the next couple of issues, notes Warren in an interview with Fantagraphics publisher Michael Catron, “problems started… when word got out what the content was.”
Who word got out to was none other than the American military itself and the American Legion. For them, according to Warren, depicting the casualties of war with such relentless realism was anti-American. Warren insists that was never the creators’ intention. Goodwin and his artists’ only intention was to portray war honestly, through great storytelling, without an agenda.
The U.S. military banned sale of Blazing Combat on all its bases — a considerable portion of Warren’s market. The American legion pressured many wholesalers to block distribution of the magazine. By Summer of 1966, unable to absorb the cost so many undistributed copies, Warren was forced to cease publication. A towering milestone in American comic storytelling had been toppled.
Blazing Combat deserved to live far longer than it did. But the truth it expressed goes on. It’s a truth few were ready to hear in the mid-1960’s. In time many did come around, just as today, they appear to be coming around again. It’s the inescapable truth that the human and financial cost of all war — whether in Vietnam or in Afghanistan… on the distant shores of the Pelopponese or across the poppy-stained expanse of Flanders’ fields— is always too high.
Editor/Writer: Archie Goodwin. Illustrators: Frank Frazetta, Wally Wood, John Severin, Al Williamson, Russ Heath, Reed Crandall, Gene Colan, Al MacWilliams, Joe Orlando, Angelo Torres, Gray Morrow, George Evans
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books
Hardcover (ISBN: 978-1-56097-965-4)
Softcover (ISBN: 978-1-60699-366-8)