Review by Frank Plowright
Commando is a UK war-themed digest comic that’s been running since 1961, with a publication schedule that began at twice per month, and is currently eight issues per month, although plenty of stories have been reprinted, some several times. Even so, with over 5600 issues in print there’s a lot to select from in these themed 50th anniversary collections, each gathering ten stories.
It should be noted that several accompanying covers aren’t a story’s first printing, so ‘A Marked Man’ by Sydney J. Bounds and Galindo is the penultimate offering, but actually dates from 1971, and Patrick Wright drew the final story ‘Ten Tough Paratroopers in 1974. The earliest story is ‘Half-Pint Commando’ by Ken McOwan and Jorge Segrelles from 1966, and the most recent is 1985’s ‘A Born Leader’, with no credits identified, this neglect so frequently the case with any collection of DC Thomson material. These are provided thanks to the diligent researchers contributing to sites such as The Grand Comics Database, and Last Dodo.com.
There’s a distinct split between the stories originating in the 1960s and very early 1970s and those from later. It’s noticeable that McOwan, Bounds and someone known only as Parsons took the trouble to create characters to resonate with readers and people with a moral dilemma. Validation and redemption provide common themes. In Douglas Leach and Juan González Alacreu’s ‘Terror Team’ from 1969 a soldier keen to be at the heart of the action assumes the identity of a soldier only he knows to be dead. Reporting to his new company he discovers that soldier’s reputation is a coward who let his comrades die. In terms of personality the best selection are found in ‘Time of Terror’, the writer sadly unknown, whose plot creates a team of three very mismatched soldiers each with a difficulty to overcome.
It’s drawn by Gordon Livingstone, one of the more basic artists (sample left), although his work betters some stories where the artist can’t be identified. The best art is a toss-up between the lush brush inks Alacreu provides or Wright’s action and detail (sample right). Most of the remainder is typified by Livingstone, who’s functional without ever really thrilling, although it’s only fair to note the almost universally applied digest format of two landscape panels per page is limiting.
That’s also the case for most stories dating from the mid-1970s onward, where the emphasis is on action all the way with personal problems never affecting what are nothing but the most basic heroic archetypes. You could switch Ken Peel from ‘A Born Leader’ with Alec Barber from ‘The Mad Major’ and not notice the difference, although the latter is the more focussed story.
Inconsistency and basic art means Rogue Raiders struggles to reach an average grade, but the better material noted stands the test of time and makes the collection worth picking up if found cheap.