Sgt. Mike Battle: The Greatest American Hero is one of my favorite titles. It is often hilarious, with a characteristic satirical edge, but there's always a solid adventure story underneath all the pasquinades, making for a unique and always entertaining comic. Up until now, that is.
Now don't get me wrong, #16 is still entertaining as an action story, and still has a vein of biting humour running through it, but Graham Pearce mentions in his editorial that this issue started out as a six-page short story, and that he's been trying to find a way to expand it for years. And, to be honest, it shows.
Part of the problem is that the issue is a continuity implant, pitting Battle against Hitler in the days before the US joined the Second World War, but the two can't come into direct conflict because that confrontation occurs later, in an earlier issue. In fairness, Pearce does get some mileage out of the restriction, including a wonderful sequence in which the two face off but each whisper lengthy asides to the reader about how they can't do anything to each other, but he never quite manages to disguise the boundaries he has set for himself.
As such the usual action-packed storytelling feels curtailed and constrained, leaving the comedy to do the heavy lifting, and here too things feel a bit underdeveloped. There are some witty barbs about US intervention in World War II that carry the characteristic SMB: TGAH edge, but most of the jokes are of the national stereotype variety, and while some -- the RAF giving out strings of onions to their pilots to use as a disguise in case of a crash-landing in occupied France, for example -- do raise a chuckle, it is a guilty one, as such jingoism seems a bit old-fashioned and conventional. That said, the previous 15 issues have been made up of jokes at the expense of the United States, so it is perhaps a tad hypocritical to complain now.
Pearce's art is of the usual high standard, with chunky and expressive line art and strong characterisation, including charming portrayals of Churchill and Hitler -- well, Hitler's not charming, but you get my meaning -- and good storytelling throughout. The issues based on pop-culture parodies tend to give Pearce more opportunities for inventive designs, so the more historical, down-to-earth setting this time around -- although let's be clear, "down-to-earth" is a relative term -- results in less in the way of visual flair, although we do get treated to some fun elements, like the Nazi Super-Sub, which should probably be called the Uber-U-Boot. On the whole though, the title looks better when Pearce is lampooning Rob Liefeld or GI Joe.
This issue of Sgt. Mike Battle: The Greatest American Hero constitutes not only a narrative flashback, but also a flashback -- the improved art aside -- to the early days of the title, before it hit its stride as one of the best action-comedy-hybrid comics on the market. It's certainly true to the title's origins as an absurdist retelling of history, but since then the comic has evolved, and this issue feels a little bit like a step backwards. All of which still makes it one of the better comics being published today, but I've come to expect more of both Mike Battle and Graham Pearce.
Kelvin Green erupted fully formed from the grey shapeless mass of Ubbo Sathla in the dark days before humans walked the earth. He grew up on Judge Dredd, Transformers, Indiana Jones #12, the Avengers and Spider-Man, and thinks comics don't get much better than FLCL, Nextwave and Rocket Raccoon. Kelvin lives among garbage and seagulls and doesn't hate Marvel nearly as much as you all think he does.
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