Deep Cuts: Blazing Combat

Blazing Combat (by Archie Goodwin, Gene Colan, Frank Frazetta, Alex Toth, Wally Wood, and more.) collects the entire four issue run of a then-controversial war comic that debuted in 1965.  There are twenty-nine short stories set in wars throughout history, though most feature American troops in battle from the Revolution to Viet Nam.  All the stories were written by Archie Goodwin, and all the art was drawn a slew of legendary cartoonists, including Gene Colan, Frank Frazetta, Alex Toth, Wally Wood, and John Severin.

Some of these stories may seem somewhat stilted or dated by current standards—audiences are more tolerant of brutality and gore (not to mention swearing) than they were 50 years ago—but at the beating heart of all of them lies a timeless empathy for people enduring the misery of war, a virtue which led to Blazing Combat’s cancellation after only four issues.  Apparently, Goodwin’s willingness to cast our then-escalating war in Viet Nam in a less-than-heroic light, particularly with the story “Landscape”, which cataloged the increasing miseries of a peasant farmer stuck in the middle as American and Viet Cong forces fight over his village, led to the magazine’s banishment from newsstands.

It’s a great pity, because Goodwin was a master of short-story writing.  None of these pieces run more than eight pages, and many of them are deeply moving vignettes about the ways war can make us suffer.  The pen and ink art not only evokes newsreel footage and battle photography from the 19th and 20th centuries, it also creates a muted emotional tone akin to film noir.

You should buy this book if: you enjoy ‘grittier’ superhero stories like the Punisher, survival horror stories like Walking Dead, or slice of life comics by cartoonists like Chester Brown or Seth. This is also a must-have for devotees of great cartoonists like Toth, Wood, and Frazetta, and it would make a fine gift to people who don’t think of themselves as comics fans, but who enjoy war stories or military history.  It’s also likely to pass muster with parents concerned about exposing their children to violent art.

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