Following in the wake of the considerable success of the Commando collections, this door stop of a book reprises 12 of the best stories to appear in what was the grandaddy of all the war pocket libraries. Fleetway's War Picture Library first hit newstands in 1958 and was the comic that spawned a host of sister publications, Battle and Air Ace Picture Library being the foremost as well as many imitators from rival publishers of which the aforementioned Commando Library from rival publisher D.C. Thomson was the undoubted leader.
This handsome looking book clad in covers with punchy graphics and elements of some of the original cover paintings, is in many ways superior to the Commando collections. The Commando collections are primarily dominated by stories that appeared from the 1970's onwards, they're earlier and infinitely more lurid stories are conspicuous by their abscence. Not so with Holland's selection. He adroitly goes for the earliest issues which were by and large written by men who had direct and (self evidently} fairly recent experience of active service during the Second World War, consequently the stories are much more non PC, "Huns" and "Japs" are a ruthless enemy to be despatched with cold efficiency and there's not an awful lot of agonising on either side over the dehumanising effect of war, these guys mean business and the stories have a consequential drive and dynamic that make reading this collection a really vivid and engaging experience.
The artwork is similarly powerful and throws you right into the streets of war torn Arnhem, the fetid jungles of Burma, the E-Boat infested water of the English Channel or the flak torn skies over the Ruhr. With the talents of superb draughtsmen such as Gino D'Antonio, Hugo Pratt and Jorge Moliterni the feeling that you are there as you read these stories has never been bettered.
There are however one or two minor (ish) caveats. The first is the printing, which is gritty in places and overall too heavy, so that a lot of the more subtle line work is lost. I suspect that some of the problem may lie in the fact that, unlike the Commando collections, the original artwork for these stories was destroyed years ago, which leaves either utilising film that was made at the time or, as seems the case here, scanning from the printed comics themselves. In which instance a certain amount of linework reconstruction is necessitated. This just doesn't appear to have occurred. I gather however that future editions of these books are going to address the problem of the printing, so perhaps best to put this down to minor teething troubles.
We shall see...
My other slight reservation is, as in the case of the Commando compendiums, that there is no attempt whatsoever to credit each story with names of artists and writers. This seems churlish in the extreme and would have made no imposition into the flow of this otherwise excellent book.
Lastly it would have been nice to see the covers represented in a more appealing manner, rather than all cramped together on one page in murky monochrome, these are covers that burned their way into many a schoolboy's subcoscious and they deserve bettter.
But then again both these problems are addressed by two complimentary publications, with Steve Holland and David Roach's "Fleetway War Libraries Index" as an indespensable adjunct to this mighty tome, not to mention the forthcoming "Aargh It's War" collection which features much of the recently discovered cover art.
So minor criticisms aside, all in all a truly brilliant book - get your tin hat on and start reading!