Written by Archie Goodwin, with Wally Wood, Reed Crandall and Alex Toth
Illustrated by John Severin, Wally Wood, George Evans, Russ Heath, Alex Toth, Reed Crandall, Joe Orlando, Gene Colan, Al Williamson, Gray Morrow, Al McWilliams and Angelo Torres
Published by Fantagraphics
If you know anything about the history of comic book art, do I really need to say anything more about the quality of the artists and writers in this book? Look at that list of illustrators! How can you not want this book immediately? And if the names above aren’t enough, the covers to the four original issues of Blazing Combat were painted by Frank Frazetta. And though they appear only at a reduced size in the supplemental materials, all four are great paintings.
If you haven’t heard of Blazing Combat, it’s not really that surprising. The back story, explained in interviews with publisher Jim Warren and editor/writer Archie Goodwin that are reprinted in Fantagraphics’ hardcover collection of the series, goes like this: Warren Publishing wanted to launch a war comic magazine to accompany its horror mag Creepy. Thus, Blazing Combat was born, and four issues later – crushed by distributors who refused to sell it due to its controversial anti-Vietnam leanings (this was 1965, when America’s presence was still “advisory”) – Blazing Combat was dead.
Interestingly, despite its anti-war reputation, Blazing Combat is not without its sensitivities to conflict. Taking a humanistic stance, Goodwin rarely acknowledges the need for warfare between nations, but several short stories credit the individual heroism of soldiers. Others, of course, shows soldiers physically beaten down and morally eroded by the incessant stress and anxiety of their circumstances. Among the highlights, a timid soldier in Korea becomes caught in a killing zeal; a Vietnamese farmer, caring more for his crop than his country’s political circumstances, is killed during conflict between opposing forces; a recounting of Benedict Arnold’s pre-betrayal victory over the British at Saratoga (a reminder how history forgets); and the heroism of army medics shines a spotlight on those often overlooked by anybody besides the wounded soldier.
The book’s success grows from two equal creative roles. First, Archie Goodwin has long been recognized as one of the comic book industry’s best writers and editors. He counted Blazing Combat among his best works, and with good reason. As a short story writer, Goodwin has few, if any, peers in comic book history. He’s able to place characters into immediately recognizable circumstances, and their reactions span a range of human behavior. Goodwin’s soldiers grapple with fear, are overcome by bravado, show the value of experience, persevere through unwinnable circumstances, and unfortunately, all too often die sad, unheroic deaths.
The contributing artists, among the finest to ever illustrate a comics page, have rarely been graced with production and paper values this high. I can’t speculate to the print quality of the original magazine run of Blazing Combat, but Fantagraphics’ collected book captures all the nuances of cross-hatching and tensions borne of exquisite gray-tones. Russ Heath’s single story might be the best work of his career, with subtle lighting cues that could’ve come from a photograph, but coupled with Heath’s sense of movement and life. Alex Toth’s minimalism distills each story to its human core, and John Severin does some of his finest ink washes. Gene Colan handles sea battles, while the aerial battles over Britain in World War II are Wally Wood’s domain.
If you’re going to read war comics, Harvey Kurtzman’s EC titles are the place to start. Beyond Kurtzman, the work of Garth Ennis and Archie Goodwin’s Blazing Combat are the most essential reading available. Fortunately for today’s readers, Blazing Combat – nearly impossible to find for over a generation – is now conveniently available and immaculately produced in hardcover from Fantagraphics. Anybody who wants to read great great comics, war stories, or a superb tutorial in short form comics writing and unsurpassed comics illustration needs to read this one.