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posted April 9, 2009
Archie Goodwin, Joe Orlando, Ben Oda, Angelo Torres, Gray Morrow, George Evans, Reed Crandall, John Severin, Arlene Williamson, Al McWilliams, Al Williamson, Alex Toth, Gene Colan, Wally Wood and Russ Heath
Fantagraphics, hardcover, 208 pages, March 2009, $28.99
Add Blazing Combat
to the list of works that the comics industry seems determined to put out to satisfy my life-long shopping list of works to own. Like many of the best reprint projects and all too few of them in total, this republication of the four-issue Warren war magazine into spiffy hardcover form features work that you can't easily buy anywhere else, is historically significant and offers its buyers a lot of very good comics. The work is frequently discussed as an early career highlight of the late Archie Goodwin in his under-appreciated role as a comics writer; you also sometimes see Blazing Combat
offered up alongside more successful Warren stabs at horror as a document of what might have happened if the EC books of the 1950s had been allowed to continue, what artists might have participated and what those books might have engaged.
Fantagraphics' treatment of the work encompasses those things if you want, and also spotlights the book's troubling history as a counter-cultural magazine, banned from military bases and allowed to die on the vine in distributor warehouse for the sometimes politically charged nature of the work. You'll be forgive if you don't pick up on those elements as quickly as you might were they presented in the course of a magazine article and simply enjoy the comics. There is some lovely, lovely work here and while Goodwin's stories are a tiny bit labored in terms of how they grapple with whatever formal choices are on display, they're mostly taut and effectively underplayed. It's hard to pick stand-out artwork considering the murderer's row of talent involved, but re-reading these comics for the first time in a while my eye stopped on a few for a full-reading before my initial flip through the pages was completed: Reed Crandall's innovative page layouts in "Saratoga," a turn by Gene Colan in a story called "U-Boat" that made me imagine an entirely different career for that artist, and the almost luminous figure work by Russ Heath in a story called "Give and Take." It's not like there's any lack of good-looking work here. The Alex Toth pieces might be worth the price all by themselves.
I'm not sure what else I can say. None of the works are groundbreaking, and in fact the stories owe an obvious debt to approaches utilized by Harvey Kurtzman and company a decade earlier. I also think we're at a point in history that even after the relentless self-mythology of the baby boomers regarding the 1960s that we know there were many Greatest- and Silent-Generation members that distrusted war and were expressing those feelings in art well before anyone slid a flower into a rifle barrel. So I doubt that will be a discovery for as many people as it might have been 20 years ago. Blazing Combat
is simply a handsome, well-presented selection of very good comics that for having them around we're all a bit richer as comics readers. I'm glad it's here.