on 25 March 2011
This first appeared in the boys weekly comic"Battle"in the late 70's,and is written by Judge Dredd creator John Wagner.It is a particularly blood-soaked story of World War Two jungle combat,set in Burma in 1942.Captain Joe Darkie transforms a run-down platoon into a ruthless fighting machine,feared by the Japanese Army.Darkie is unhesitatingly violent,a single minded,obsessed man ,his only purpose is to kill as many enemy as possible.In the first episode alone,he beats up the injured lieutenant,beats up his Sergeant,pushing his hand into a fire.And kills three enemy soldiers really messily with his kukri,a nasty curved knife.
This is a well-written and drawn piece of work.This and many Battle stories demonstrated a new approach to classic war comics,combining dark humour,realism,historical research and a dose 70's movie cynicism.I remenber this making the Commando books and comics like Warlord look simplistic and childish.This book features really impressive artwork from Mike Western.His dark jungles are the background to his convincing realised characters.He transports the reader to a steaming,humid dangerous and unexpected world,the men's faces masks of fear and weariness.His combat scenes are most impressive,lots of flying blood and faces in agonised death-throes,Darkie has a particularly violent stabbing style,quite often his Kukri goes through and comes right out the other side,with lots of spurting blood...
There is a mystery about Joe Darkie and we pick up little pieces of the puzzle on the way.The grim humour and constant blood spattered action made this a favourite the first time around.Looking at it now,it is actually much better and more gory than I remember.I hope this super book will bring these lost comics to a new audience.My 12-year old thinks it's fantastic.
on 6 April 2011
"Captain" Darkie has more than a passing resemblance to Marlon Brando's Colonel Walter E. Kurtz in "Apocalypse Now and like the good Colonel is as mad as a bag full of badgers, driven in obsession to wrought havoc on the Japanese and uses whats left of a British Infantry Platoon as his weapon of vengence.
This complete "Darkie's Mob" includes a Preface from Garth Ennis, himself turning out some cracking stuff in his "Battlefield" series. In this Preface he pretty much hits the nail on the head with a quote from the late George MacDonald Fraser's Wartime memoir "Quartered Safe Out Here" where he recounts his time in the 14th Army in Burma.
This is a must for all those middle aged men like myself who read this comic strip over thirty years ago, it's stood the test of time in writing and artwork and its a great pleasure to see this released along with the Epic "Charley's War","Johnny Red" and "Major Eazy" I only hope that "HMS Nightshade" is also up for a second lease of life too.
on 13 January 2013
I started collecting Battle after this story had ended, but remembered it from old issues I got hold of, so looked through this book when I saw it in Waterstone's. I found Mike Western's art and the dialogue - grittily realistic compared to other strips I rember - compelling, so popped it on my wishlist and my brother bought it me for Christmas.
When I opened it I thought 'Interesting, but I'd've preferred a Charley's War volume'. Then I read it and changed my mind.
Apart from the art, this strip's narrative and plot structures are amazingly innovative. As others have noted, rather than the usual 'The Sarge and his section continue pacing up Italy / thrrough Normandy..', or 'One day Johnny Red and the Falcons were tangling with some Bf109s overr Stalingrad..' box intro, Shortland's diary - discovered after the war on a battlefield - gives us a 1st person perspective on the story. I'm not a comic expert, but can't think of another that uses this tactic. This also suggests the narrator was killed in action sometime in the Mob's story OUTSIDE THE STRIP - and in comics, you don't get anything 'outside the strip' - e.g. Battle stories tended to introduce characters in episode 1, go through the war, then kill them or the war off. Writer John Wagner exploits this tease in the last episode (which I won't spoil for you).
On a more 'tactical' level, Western's art conveys the crowdedness of the Burmese jungle very well; I felt Japanese scouts or snipers lurking in those panels, and the problems of sustenance and disease in remote jungle warfare are covered (tho I'd've liked more on this). The Mob's irregular nature (based on the old 'lost patrol' trope) allows for variation in appearance, usually a problem with war stories' uniforms!
For similar reasons, it would've been better identifying more individuals earlier on, to build our empathy wtih them. One way Wagner raises the drama is the Mob's conflict with other Allies they meet, e.g. Chindits. Despite the series' caveat about 'language some may find offensive', the stories show individual Burmese characters to good effect (and Japanese - whose treatment I won't spoil for you, but it's another original idea). I'd've liked to see Chundra's daughter, or another Burmese (or maybe British?) woman, joining the Mob - it would've given the saga more opportunities for innovative plot twists (Women were rare in Battle, but not unknown).
On more technical points, I think the Mob encounter far more motor transport (esp. tanks) than the Japanese would've had, they probly wouldn't've had Sten guns, the British Army uses 'Pte.' for 'Private' (not the US 'Pvt.'), and Western's Japanese bears no relation to the actual language. However, these don't spoil anything in this very impressive collection.
on 12 February 2016
This is a really superb story , written by the Master of 2000ad , John Wagner ( creator of Strontium Dog , and Judge Dredd ) -
I first read this as a young child in 1975 , and was mesmerised by the tale of a group of desperate British Soldiers , who are part of the retreat
from the defeats in Burma - from the Japanese ( read Longest Retreat by Tim Carew - for the true story of this episode , rarely covered )