Writer: Alan Hebden (AKA Mark Andrew)
Artwork: Eric Bradbury, Carlos Ezquerra
Release Date: 24th November 2020
During World War II it was common to see German punishment battalions consisting of disgraced, or substandard soldiers. These battalions were often sent on the most risky, practically suicidal missions, and ironically those that survived became some of the fiercest, best trained soldiers in the German army.
Death Squad tells the stories of one such punishment Battalion and their attempts to survive not only the murderous theatre of war that was the Eastern Front, but also the insane orders of their commanders who are desperately trying to turn the tide of war as Hitler’s monstrous ambition falters in the face of both the Russian army and a climate that is hell-bent on carrying every German soldier to the gates of Hell.
While Battle was already a well-established and widely read comic, having first been published in 1975, Death Squad didn’t appear in its pages until July 1980, when Alan Hebden assumed the pseudonym of Mark Andrew in order to bring us the adventures of Grandad, Gus, Frankie, Swede and Licker. Drawing his inspiration from the books of Sven Hassel, Hebden and co. turned what was supposed to be a 5 or 6 part story into a 21 part saga.
As a kid, publications like Battle, Commando, and Warlord were staples of my reading material and I have fond memories of reading Death Squad in its original serialised format. This then is a real nostalgia fest and a trip down memory lane for me.
Reading these stories for the first time in over 35 years, it’s easy to see why they were so popular when they were first released. There’s a real Dirty Dozen/Kelly’s Heroes feel to these characters. Even when faced with the irredeemable Gefreiter Kopple (AKA Licker) and his unwavering loyalty to the Nazi party, these are characters that you want to read about and they are characters you root for and want to see succeed despite the odds and the near certainty that they are one insane order away from death.
As a child brought up on war movies, books, and the stories of both my grandfather and great grandfather’s service during the first and second World Wars, it came as something of a shock to me that anyone would write a series where the Germans were the heroes of the story. At that age I didn’t really understand the concept of anti-heroes or that there weren’t just black and white hats in any conflict, and I remember feelings slightly nervous telling my grandad about the series until he introduced me to the dozen or so Sven Hassel books that he already had on his shelves.
This series was one of those great series of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s that really didn’t pull any punches. The war on the Eastern Front was terrifying and brutal, and the conditions that the men were fighting under were horrific. Death Squad doesn’t have any problems dealing with this in a comic that was aimed at children. Throughout the series the conditions the soldiers fought under a quite graphically displayed on the pages, as are the atrocities committed by the SS in the misguided belief that they’re proving their genetic superiority through acts of barbaric cruelty in the name of their Fuhrer.
The artwork is just superb. Eric Bradbury is one of those artists that seems to have as much fun detailing equipment and vehicles as he does the characters and action and it really, really pays off here. There are panels that have more detail on tank building than I’ve seen in actual non-fiction books on tank manufacturing. Everything from uniforms, transports, even the junk you find lying round depots and barracks, all have a fantastic level of detail that has stood the test of time of the last 40 years superbly well.
The action scenes themselves are if you’ll pardon the pun, explosive. They are dark and gritty and you can almost feel the heat from the explosions and hear the bullets whistle overhead.
I honestly couldn’t tell you which parts of this series were Bradbury and which were Carlos Ezquerra but frankly I don’t think it matters, for the era you really aren’t going to get a better pairing on a title than these two.
If like me you’re *cough* mid-late forties *cough* then you need to buy this book purely for the nostalgia of nipping down the newsagents to pick up your copy of Battle. If you’re of the younger generation and are even remotely interested in war stories, then please, do yourself a favour and pick this up, and when you’re done with this have a look at some of the other war stories that Rebellion have resurrected as part of their Treasury Of British Comics imprint.
Available in print from: book stores, Amazon, and UK comic book stores via Diamond
The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Mark Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek