It's Veterans Day once again, which means it's time for my annual Charley's War tribute. Titan publishing has managed to complete their collection of Charley's War by Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun with the 10th collection appropriately titled The End. There was rumours of collecting the second half with Scott Goodall doing the writing, but with a title as definite as that, it sounds like interest wasn't high enough to guarantee sales for the second half.
So it's likely that any chance of the Goodall stories won't be seeing the light of day. As disappointing as that sounds, it's probably for the best. Pat Mills original intention was that the continuation of Charley's War would follow the exploits of World War II through Charley's son (who would also be named Charley - a kind of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure kind of thing) but editorial interference denied him of that, and apart from the first three episodes, the rest of the WWII adventures fell into Scott Goodall's hands. To further twist the knife, Charley's son was named Len, so out went that opportunity, which meant that Charley was forced to go back into the war as a veteran in order to find his missing son, leading to a recursive history where Charley wonders (quite redundantly) how all this warmongering began, looping back to the beginning of the story.
Without Pat Mill's research, the overall exploits of Charley's new adventures felt somewhat lacking. While Joe Colquhoun's artwork was as striking as ever, the magic behind the script was gone. I'd heard that the later stories were more adventure based, but having read so many anti-war propaganda, I was unaware of what a pro-war comic would be like. Apparently, it was akin to a typical action comic with little or no attachment to reality involved. (Often involving fisticuffs in a world of tanks and riffles)
Even so, that didn't stop a few gems from showing up here and there. Here's a list of what I consider to be the highlights of the weaker half of Charley's War.
4. Cricketing Officer, Captain Winslow Cariton-Hyde
With Captain Snell gone, there would have been ample opportunity for a new commanding foil to make their appearance. There was the war-crazed Bert Nickles who was rumoured to have a glass eye, but couldn't be discharged on lack of proof.
But I felt more partial to the British soldier who treated war like a inconvenience while concentrating on games of cricket. Another carryover from the Great War where there were actual officers who were more preoccupied with their pastimes than engaging in the distracting war which "would be over anytime now."
3. A "Handy" Man
One thing that Pat Mills was quite successful at was building up a roster of secondary characters who would periodically pop up in the narrative and then be taken out just as suddenly. The most memorable soldier was Smith Seventy (since there were so many Smiths in the war they were assigned by number) with his trademark "Bit technical, know what I mean?"
Goodall's perchance for creating secondary characters was less based on realistic affirmation of life in the battlefield and more preposterous caricatures exaggerated to a large degree. The most notable early example would be Handy Smith, a soldier whose defining trait was hands larger than the average man. Here, we see the results of having MAN-man hands. Eventually, he went out in a similar way that Mad Mick did in the Somme, which goes to show how much blatant mining of Pat's ideas was done here.
2. Bill Tozer's Assistance
One of the things that made Charley's War stand out was not just limited to showing life on the battlefield, but also showing events happening at the home front. Cousin Oiley appeared sporadically through Charley's War as a cowardly profit-monger who would take advantage of any dirty deal that could be made, no matter how small. Likewise, Charley's sergeant Bill Tozer was a rough-and-tumble military man who would lord it hard over his men, but also know when to turn a blind eye to unfair bureaucracy. So when Charley's wife was unjustly framed for a trafficking crime she didn't commit, it was up to Charley's retired officer to help out in his absence. Naturally, this led to the confrontation between a snake salesman and a drill sergeant which ended in the only way it could - through a fistfight. This meeting between two unlikely people also relieved some pent-up frustration from seeing the slimy relative get some sense of justice. For some reason, we can't feel satisfaction until we see jerks get punched in the face.
1. Hortense Flaubert: War Widow
In a typical war comic, it's a safe guarantee that there'll pretty much be a low content of women involved, unless they're prostitutes, high ranking lieutenants, or mistreated citizens.
So it was somewhat of a surprising subversion that we got the intimidating figure of a large woman who managed to overpower the enemy by sheer determination and strength alone. Having plenty of guns and ammunition in her cupboard didn't hurt either.
She was easily my favorite part of the Goodall-written stories so far, even as her abilities and manners remained totally outlandish.
She was easily the most memorable character to date, and much like Fiona Brass in For Better or for Worse, she left too soon in order not to draw too much attention away from the central characters. A pity. She was enough of a presence to deserve her own series.