Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Carlos Ezquerra
Colors by Patricia Mulvihill and Kevin Somers
Letters by Clem Robbins
Covers by Brian Bolland and Glenn Fabry
“When the marines have got a headache..when the paras scream like schoolgirls..when the S.A.S. foul their britches…you send for the Rifle Brigade!”
Set during WWII The Rifle Brigade follows a top-notch team of British fighters, willing to put it all on the line for King and country, to save the Allied army all by themselves. What they lack in luck they make up for with bravado.
I’ve never been a huge reader of war comics. It was not a conscious choice, just that the bright colors of the superhero books, the flashy fistfights and cool gadgets, were always a much easier pull to yield to. That being said, I may have made a mistake.
Out this month from Image Comics and legend Garth Ennis (Hellblazer, Preacher) has delivered yet another great, character-driven story in Adventures of the Rifle Brigade. The Rifle Brigade is a celebrated team of crack warriors led by the gregarious Hugo Darcy, veteran of his majesty’s service and sent home after the “Beef Curtains” harem scandal of 1938. That should set the tone for you for the rest of this story. This is beyond the war story that I would have read growing up in Howling Commandos. This is something else all together. Darcy leads a group of particularly strange individuals. Cecil “Doubtful” Milk, whose nickname stems from his intense love (yes, that kind of love) for Darcy, Sergeant Crumb, Corporal Geezer, Hank the Yank, and The Piper. Together they face an equally colorful crew of Nazis, including Greta Gasch and a Gestapo commander named Venkschaft, in an accidental mission to destroy a secret rocket fuel depot. Mind you, this is just the first half of the book.
In the second half you get a different story, one in which the Brigade must search for Hitler’s lost testicle, a ball of such power that both sides are racing to find it. (Yes. There is no metaphor whatsoever. That’s what it’s about.) Ennis’ homage to Indiana Jones is obvious and fantastic.
What Ennis has done here is what he always does with his stories. He pushes at the borders of what we find acceptable. At what point do we begin to make fun of the Nazis, easily the worst war criminals of the 20th century? Is it too soon? No. The way that Ennis does it, with greatly, wonderfully exaggerated caricatures makes it work. And the way that he’s done the dialogue is genius. Four of the six members of the Brigade speak in the same, phrases, patented from the caricature of their character. Hank says nothing but “Gawd Dammit”. Geezer says “Yer Aht of Ordah”. Crumb: “Ey-oop” and Piper, well, I think Piper is saying something in a brogue, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what it is. It’s a great way to give dialogue to six characters without having to actually coming up with dialogue for six characters.
I was unfamiliar with Carlos Ezquerra’s work, until I looked it up and saw that he was a co-creator on Judge Dredd. Suddenly it made sense why I felt comfortable with the style, why it seemed to easily relatable to me. He continues that beautiful work in this book, and with that style that has become so closely associated with 80’s comic art. He captures the comic essence of bloody war and reflects Ennis’ wry style in his artwork.
Adventures of the Rifle Brigade is part Hogan’s Heroes, part Ilsa the She-Wolf, and all
silly fun. Garth Ennis writes a book that makes me rethink what I thought I knew about war books, and makes me keep my peepers peeled for more.
Brad Gischia is a writer and artist living in the frozen Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He is married and has three kids and a dog, all who put up with his incessant prattling about comic books.
Twitter – brad@comicwasteland