Friday, 30 October 2015

The Complete Battlefields, Volume 3 Review (Garth Ennis, Russ Braun)

This is the third and final volume in Garth Ennis’ Battlefields series, a title which focuses on Ennis’ favourite subject: WAR! Volume 3 is made up of two three-issue stories: The Fall and Rise of Anna Kharkova, drawn by Ennis’ The Boys artist Russ Braun, and The Green Fields Beyond, drawn by Judge Dredd co-creator Carlos Ezquerra. And, like the other books in the series, it’s a quality read! 

Set in 1944, Ennis returns to Anna Kharkova, the female Soviet pilot we met earlier in the series in The Night Witches, who goes against her patrol orders to raid a Nazi unit and gets shot down. From there we see her convalesce in a Nazi prisoner of war camp, get court-martialled by her own people (Stalin believed if you didn’t fight back when you captured, you were a traitor – didn’t matter that she couldn’t walk, let alone fight back!), and train Korean pilots in the Korean war. Women pilots always got the crap assignments but headstrong Anna kept going against orders to fly the men-only planes on the fun dogfight missions – and it’s her downfall. 

Fall and Rise is a moving and fascinating story with a great strong female protagonist that highlights the brutality of the Soviet regime and the courage of Anna’s actions to follow her dreams regardless of the consequences. It descends into pure fantasy in the finale but Ennis has never written a more heartfelt farewell to a character. And that’s what I love about these comics: Ennis writes very real, very human characters – along with exciting story elements – against the inhuman nature of war. 

Ennis has a (well-earned) reputation for writing over-the-top, action/violence-heavy comics but he’s also a quality writer who can write amazing character pieces when he wants to. There’s a deep respect for the characters in this book who, while fictional, are representations of real people. War stories are traditionally aimed at boys so it’s refreshing to see Ennis writing about the women who took part in WW2 who are too often underrepresented in the genre as active – and key - participants in the conflicts. 

The Green Fields Beyond is set during the Korean War in 1951 with Ennis and Ezquerra returning to catch up with Stiles, their character from Tankies, another story from earlier in the series. British Tank Sergeant Stiles and his latest recruit Robinson get separated from their unit - and their tank – and wind up with the 1st Battalion, The Gloucester Regiment aka The Glosters, defending a hill against literally thousands and thousands of Chinese soldiers.

I know very little about the Korean War so it was interesting to find out that it was basically a dress rehearsal for the Vietnam War – America and Soviet Russia battling indirectly, using the Koreans as their cover. If Communist China hadn’t intervened, the West might’ve prevailed and there wouldn’t be a North/South Korea divide today. 

Green Fields is a more traditional war comic with lots of guns, tanks and battles – it’s a lively, fast-paced read with the action ranging from one-to-one combat to armies fighting. Once Stiles and Robinson make it back to their Centurion tank (Stiles finally gets a decent tank!) things get very, very gory – be warned, this is an incredibly graphic read with Ezquerra showing the full horrors of war. 

The one criticism I have of this story – of this book really – is the Geordie accent (that’s Newcastle to the non-Brits) Stiles has which is infuriatingly written phonetically! “Ah’d still put it oop against owt there is, sir. It’s that canny it’ll even make ye a cup o’ tea.” - what?! Man, is it annoying to read! I wish all accents were written normally in fiction – it’s always the worst when you’ve got to sloooow doooooooown to sound out the words on the page and figure out what on earth anyone’s saying! 

The Complete Battlefields Volume 3 is an outstanding book by one of the best comics writers ever, Garth Ennis. It’s a gripping and powerful read that’s very well-researched and richly-written with the creative teams bringing history to life on the page. If you want to read great war comics, Garth Ennis is your man and Battlefields is among his best!

The Complete Battlefields, Volume 3

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