Review by Frank Plowright
Given Hugo Pratt’s monumental worldwide reputation, this second trawl through the files for his never previously reprinted early 1960s British comics work is surely a financial no-brainer for Rebellion. As with the Battle Stations collection, Pratt’s name appears on the cover in a far larger typeface than Battler Britton, who had a respectable run as a World War II pilot from the 1950s to the 1970s, after which the allure of war comics began to fade. It should be made clear from the start that anyone looking for the Pratt who developed so distinctively on his own Corto Maltese feature won’t find him here. Instead, hampered by the original digest format, Pratt draws two fully detailed large panels per page in a kinetic style that has definite nods to American newspaper strip artists Milton Caniff and Frank Robbins. It’s good art, just not what might be expected.
If only the same applied to Val Holding’s stories, which are standard war heroism with the plot points oversold and the captions overwritten. In the first Battler accompanies an engineer to Nazi occupied Poland where a V2 rocket failed to explode and has fallen into the hands of the resistance. Hitler’s cameo on the sample page early on sets the tone. In the second story Battler’s heroic instincts prevail when he’s sent on a reconnaissance mission in what was then Yugoslavia, and becomes involved in a plot to avoid gold falling into Nazi hands. It’s the better story, with more pages offering more twists, and Pratt’s art selling the action and locations.
Battler himself is a cardboard pastiche using archaic language, although it can also now be read as extraordinary accurate period dialogue. In the mind it plays out as if in the clipped accent Trevor Howard applied to Brief Encounter and 25 years later in Battle of Britain.
Rounding off the collection is a black and white reprint of Battler’s introduction by Mike Butterworth and Geoff Campion. It establishes how the strip would play out, with all-purpose heroics and improbable escapes, but there are some tidy illustrations when the monumentally wordy captions and dialogue balloons aren’t concealing much of what Campion draws.
There’s no claiming these stories are lost masterpieces, but Pratt’s visual dynamism elevates what he was handed to draw.