Hellman of Hammer Force: Downfall

Hellman of Hammer Force: Downfall
Alternative editions:
Hellman of Hammer Force Downfall review
Alternative editions:
  • UK publisher / ISBN: Rebellion Treasury of British Comics - 978-1-83786-098-2
  • Volume No.: 2
  • Release date: 2024
  • Format: Black and white
  • UPC: 9781837860982
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no

The concept of Major Kurt Hellman is that he’s a fundamentally decent human being fighting for the Germans during World War II because he’s a patriot, not because he’s ideologically aligned with Nazi dogma. His stories from 1976 still stood up very well when collected in 2021 due to writer Gerry Finlay-Day’s considerable ingenuity in packing a complete exciting story into three pages, weaving in historical fact.

Hellman of Hammer Force ended with Hellman in Russia, but the opening episodes here dot around Hellman’s earlier wartime experiences, beginning with the amusingly brutal way Hammer Force acquired the name. They improve for Finley-Day dropping the comedy and concentrating on the action, and the best of them pits the honourable Hellman fighting on the wrong side against the French Foreign Legion, men without decency fighting for just that. Artist Jim Watson creates a suitable band of cut-throats as seen on the sample art, while delivering breathtakingly composed action. The action and locations are varied, and if Finley-Day occasionally pulls a convenience from the cupboard the realism of art by Mike Dorey and Watson counters it.

Those French are a foretaste of what Hellman faces when Hammer Force is relocated to Russia. Finley-Day’s never trivialised the horrors of war, but he ramps them up for Russia, the tone set in an opening story in which Hellman meets a man whose life he’d previously saved and ends up watching him die. If that seems bleak for stories originally aimed at those in their early teens, it’s light compared with what follows.

After a few adventures in 1941 Finley-Day switches to 1945 and the dying days of the war for Germany. The Russians have withstood the German advance and are now pushing the Germans back into Germany and looking for revenge. Recruited convicts Dekker and Max are joined in Hellman’s Tiger tank by the more loyal Kessel, returned from earlier adventures and now crippled, and a youngster who believes Nazi doctrine. It’s a crew designed for internal conflict, which duly manifests, and although the Nazi Heiler is too often a squealing caricature, he’s a threat in collaboration with returning SS officer Kastner.

By this time Patrick Wright (sample right) also draws some strips, characterised by a more static style, but incredible attention to detail and a fondness for showing scenes from distance, which contrasts Dorey and Watson. He’s also more explicit with the death and horror, although that’s in the context of what was permitted and generally seen from a distant viewpoint.

The final episodes take place in besieged Berlin with Hellman having seen concentration camps on his way back to Germany and disgusted with his nation. It’s Finely-Day’s final horror before he switches to action thriller territory, ending Hellman’s wartime with him hunting down his greatest enemy.

For all the initial controversy of a 1970s World War II strip featuring a German hero, Finley-Day prioritises the spark of hope among continual desperation facing any soldier during wartime. That’s a very traditional British war strip, but having a German protagonist means the option of gung-ho triumphalism is absent, making Hellman’s experiences continually contemplative and downbeat. There are contrivances and the dialogue can be banal, but both are trumped by imagination and thrills.

The paperback edition is widely circulated, but a hardcover is only available from Rebellion directly.