Shiny Shelf

Battlefields: Motherland

By Jim Smith on 09 August 2010

War Comics used to be a dead genre. Like Romance Comics, they were a former staple  of the industry that became a casualty of a change in the way comics were bought and read; killed off by an American direct market dominated by superheroics. The renaissance in both the quality and, more simply, the number of  them available in recent years owes a great deal to the work of Garth Ennis, who has almost single handedly revived the genre. He’s even skipped from company to company to pursue this kind of story, writing them for half a dozen imprints in roughly as many years.

What’s also remarkable about Ennis’ War Comics is the variety of stories he, as a single writer, has told against the backdrop of the Second World War. He’s written stories about the Eastern and Western fronts and the Pacific War. They’ve featured, off the top of my head, protagonists from America, Britain, Germany, the Soviet Union, Singapore and France. They’ve been pilots, soldiers, sailors and nurses. Some of them have, to paraphrase Fry from ‘Futurama’, even been female.

‘Motherland’ is a sequel to last year’s ‘Night Witches’, which concerned the exploits (and near destruction) of an all female Soviet fighter squadron of a kind that really did exist. It was the best of the initial run of Ennis’ ‘Battlefields’ series from Dynamite and both deserved and had scope for a sequel. (The other real triumph of that run, ‘Dear Billy’, was unsequelable for reasons that will be obvious if you’ve read it and which I constitute spoilers if you haven’t.)

Two issues in, it’s a worthy follow on.  Our skilled but troublesome heroine Lieutenant Anna Kharkova has been transferred to a new squadron as a consequence of her own insubordination rendering her unsuitable for her old one now it’s become an elite guards unit, rather than sky-fodder.  She’s quickly proving her worth and finding herself caught up in the machinations of the local NKVD (party officer), a smirking political fanatic with no experience of the realities of life under enemy fire. The NKVD officer is one of several new characters who are sketched in over the course of these issues. The others include a sad, widowed senior officer and a nervous female aeroplane engineer who hero worships Anna due to her record as an aviatrix. As with a lot of Ennis’ war comics the character interactions are both brutal and tender, but never fall to sentimentality or schmaltz. There are extreme emotions expressed, as befits this story’s setting, but the work is never trite. (There are also some very cool dogfights, should you be wondering.)

If you’re one of those thirtysomething British adults that read war comics back in the seventies, you should be reading ‘Battlefields’ and its ilk. This series is a refinement of what was good about the stories in ‘Action’ and ‘Battle’ and is as good as you remember them being but which, with the exception of those written by Pat Mills, they very rarely were. Dynamite should be supported in their continuing commitment to doing these kind of books and allowing Ennis to continue to do diverse work in a subgenre that he is very close to being able to call entirely his own.

You can buy several of Garth Ennis’ earlier ‘Battlefields’ series, including ‘Night Witches’, on amazon.

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One Response

  1. I love the cover of Motherland. Ennis’s work is amazing.