“Bloody Good Show”
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Colin Wilson
Publisher: DC Comics/Wildstorm
I’ve enjoyed the first three issues of the new Wildstorm five-issue limited series Battler Britton by Garth Ennis and Colin Wilson, but I also have a few reservations about the series. For one thing, each issue seems like a variation on the other two.
With the exception of a few panels in each issue, I could swear I’m simply re-reading the same thing I read the month before. Essentially, the elements that have been present in each issue (with slight variations in chronology) since the second half of the first issue are these:
--The US Army Air Force squadron (commanded by Lieutenant Gilhooley) and the Royal Air Force squadron (commanded by Wing Commander “Battler” Britton) fly missions together from the North African airbase where both squadrons are stationed. They engage in dogfights above the sands of Africa, soundly defeating the German pilots they encounter, but always at the expense of one or two of their own pilots. These deaths in their own ranks always convey the somber notion that “war is hell” and that “good men die because American pilots are inadequately trained and careless.”
--On the ground, the two squadrons try to get along as best as can be expected (considering the Americans tend to be inadequately trained and careless). Some male bonding transpires between the Americans and the Brits during these “on the ground” scenes. The Americans grudgingly accept that they have much to learn, and the Brits are a bit surprised to realize that the Americans are a good-hearted lot despite their ineptitude.
--However, Lt. Gilhooley of the USAAF continues to resent the fact that (in his view) the RAF boys have been brought in to show the Americans how to do their jobs. In particular, Gilhooley resents Wing Commander Britton despite grudgingly admiring Britton’s abilities. In turn, Britton resents Gilhooley’s ineptitude as a commanding officer while grudgingly accepting that they’re on the same side in the war.
--The two commanders spar verbally (and sometimes physically) due to their mutual resentment of each other. However, with each issue, Britton manages to teach Gilhooley a thing or two about being a commanding officer, such as how to write a proper letter of condolence to the parents of two of his pilots (in the second issue) and how to fly effective cover in a defensive circle so that German pilots will never have the advantage of being on one of your pilot’s tail.
It really does seem as if each issue is written to make sure it covers the above points. Perhaps the original Battler Britton comics in England followed a formula from issue to issue, and Ennis is merely continuing that tradition of formulaic writing, but it’s not likely to keep many readers coming back for more once they figure out the formula.
Fortunately, there is a bit of change from issue to issue. For instance, the Americans grow less inept with each issue since their more experienced British counterparts are there to teach them.
Unfortunately, in the first issue, the ineptitude of the American pilots cost the British squadron some good men, and one British pilot in particular (a chap nicknamed “Patch”) resents the Americans on something bordering hatred. Yet even Patch admits that the Americans learn quickly, though he also points out that the British pilots didn’t have tutors teaching them the ropes when they were learning to be better than the German pilots.
Reading these issues in which the American pilots are depicted as well-meaning neophytes who have a lot to learn about tactics and proper air etiquette, I get a feeling similar to what my mother must have experienced watching Hogan’s Heroes. She’s from Germany, you see, and for the longest time she hated that old TV show for the way it depicted Germans as inept idiots.
Of course, the Americans in Battler Britton aren’t anywhere near as bad as the Germans in Hogan’s Heroes, and I must confess that I’m intrigued by Ennis’s depiction of the Americans. For instance, I wonder if it was Ennis’s decision to include the American squadron or whether he was told by his American editor/publisher to include the American squadron for the American market.
If it’s the latter, then I guess Ennis’s resentment of having to team this long-time British comic book hero (Battler Britton) with an American squadron is reflected in the resentment of the Americans toward the British pilots who are obviously so much more skilled and better trained.
I’m enjoying this series for its verisimilitude, for its accurate illustrations of World War II military aircraft, for Ennis’s obvious knowledge of history (including historical tactics), and even for the banter between the characters (despite the repetitious similarity of that banter from issue to issue).
Despite the similarity between issues and the broad-stroked characterization, the book is well crafted and well researched (and in today’s mainstream comic books, those two elements are rare). Now if only there was something that would allow a reader to distinguish one issue from the next.
Oh, we did get a little development on that front in the third issue. For instance, in a thawing of the relationship between the two squadron commanders, Britton learns that Gilhooley was recently promoted after the previous squadron commander (who was even more inept) had been sent packing. Thus, Britton now understands the root of Gilhooley’s resentment of Britton coming in to troubleshoot and clean things up before Gilhooley had a chance to put his own stamp on the US squadron.
Additionally, the third issue ends with Britton and Gilhooley flying off together on a mission (by themselves). Back on the ground, one of Britton’s men comments that the two are likely to kill each other during the mission.
My bet is that they bond during the mission, the way that only heterosexual males who resent each other can. By the final issue, they’ll be good friends after Gilhooley realizes that he had a lot to learn from his British counterpart, and that he’s now a better man for having known Battler Britton.
What did you think of this book?
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