Current Reviews


Battler Britton #4

Posted: Monday, October 16, 2006
By: Thom Young

“Bloody Good Show” (Part Four)

Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Colin Wilson

Publisher: DC Comics/Wildstorm

In my review of Battler Britton #3, I pointed out that the first three issues followed a formula that made reading each issue seem like a re-reading. Well, the formula remains in place for issue #4. Fortunately, there is still a bit of change from issue to issue.

For instance, in this issue the American pilots continue to grow less inept as they soak up more of the wisdom provided by the British pilots. In particular, Gilhooley learns a bit more from Britton, such as German pilots flying in large numbers in cumbersome planes with poor turning radii will send half of their number on a feint run past outnumbered enemy pilots so that the other half of the German squadron can assess what the outnumbered enemy pilots are likely to do when engaging in battle. Whew!

Gilhooley also learned that when engaging a squadron of Messerschmitt Bf 109s, you should wait until the last possible second before turning away when approaching them head on because you can then maneuver your plane (eventually) behind a German plane due to the poor turning radii of the 109s.

Oh yeah, Gilhooley also learned from Britton that once you’re shot down by a German pilot you need to immediately get out of your plane even if it’s not on fire because the Germans will strafe your plane in an attempt to shoot you and/or blow up your plane while you’re still in it. In fact, don’t stop to take the emergency rations with you as you quickly evacuate from your plane because that will take too long and give the Germans time to kill you.

See? Gilhooley’s becoming less inept by leaps and bounds. Of course, it was his ineptitude that caused him to be shot down in the first place because he didn’t “get down on the deck and go home” (as Britton was yelling for him to do).

I also indicated in my previous review that rather than “kill each other” (as one of Britton’s men suggested they would do), Gilhooley and Britton would “bond during the mission, the way that only heterosexual males who resent each other can.” Guess what? I was right! Imagine that, I predicted the formula!

The special heterosexual bonding moment takes place after Gilhooley and Britton have been shot down behind enemy lines and are attempting to hike out of the desert without getting captured by the Germans (sounds like Snoopy’s subplot in the old Charlie Brown Halloween Special from the 1960s, doesn’t it?). This touching moment begins with Gilhooley realizing how much Britton knows, and (thus) how much he can learn from Britton.

Gilhooley: When they first came at us . . . you knew that was gonna be a feint.

Britton: Partly because that’s what I’d have done if I’d been the one with the numbers. But . . . well, you’ve got a few kills under your belt now. You’ve had that feeling when you know what the other chap’s about to do.

Gilhooley: Way you took us through that thing today, that’s a lot more’n a few kills’ worth. You know, I heard what you said about your buddy Patch. How everyone gave him the name is gone.

Gilhooley: You British boys. You’ve been fightin’ a long time. (Fade out in the final panel on the page with Britton in shadow walking away in profile, looking world weary and alone.)

They’re bonding in the only way that rugged individualist heterosexual males can: by acknowledging their world weariness and loneliness but with their backs to each other. I get all goosepimply just at the thought of it.

Oh, before I forget, back at their shared home airbase, Britton’s man, Patch, continues to be pissed off at the Americans for one thing or another, and he throws a punch in his anger and frustration. However, in a wrinkle to the formula, this time he isn’t angry because one of the Americans is inept. No, this time he slugs an American who said it was foolish to launch a search party for Gilhooley and Britton.

As the American gets to his feet and replaces his glasses on his face, he explains why it’s foolish to go looking for their missing commanders, “It’s gonna be dark in less than an hour. . . . Be smart an’ wait till first light—okay?”

Yes, this issue is really no different than the first four issues. Each one follows the formula as it advances the plot of the five-issue arc with a barely noticeable baby step. In this issue, we learn that the Germans are hiding an armored regiment in the desert in which the tanks will be used to “run riot” over the allied troops.
So why am I continuing to buy and read a series that has essentially the same formulaic elements from issue to issue?

Well, in terms of mechanics, it’s still one of the more well-written comics on the stands these days regardless of its formulaic quality. Most contemporary comics published by the mainstream publishers contain clunky exposition and bad dialogue. Battler Britton doesn’t.

Even in terms of formulaic writing, it’s interesting to see what variations Ennis will perform within that structure each month. Gardner Fox, who wrote for DC from the 1940s to the 1960s, used the same basic formula for each of his stories of the Justice Society of America (in All-Star Comics) and Justice League of America:
A major menace appears in three or four locations.

The Justice Society (later, the Justice League) breaks into groups that are sent to each location.

The groups of three are defeated in battle, and the JSA or JLA regroup so they can defeat the menace through their combined force.

Of course, Fox would provide variations within this basic framework of the hundreds of JSA/JLA stories that he wrote during his career.
Somewhat similarly, I have a CD box set of live recordings of John Coltrane’s tours of Europe in the early 1960s. There are five recordings of “My Favorite Things,” the old chestnut from Mary Poppins, and there are multiple versions of other pieces as well.

These multiple versions of the same song sound the same for the most part with only slight variations that can be noticed by someone listening for the improvisations that branch off the thematic structure of the standard from Mary Poppins.

For the jazz aficionado, these improvisational variations are of great interest and worth the price of buying a box set that has multiple versions of the same song. However, for someone who just wants to listen to something as background noise, multiple versions of jazz improvisations aren’t worth the cost.

I’m not claiming that either Ennis or Gardner Fox are “jazz writers” who are improvising on the standard skeletal formula that provides a framework for their variations. I reserve that claim for Grant Morrison’s work.

I am saying, however, that if you’re someone who can be entertained by reading well-written variations of the same basic formula each month (or who likes to study such variations), then Ennis’s work on Battler Britton might be for you.

However, if you’d rather read a story in which super-powered characters beat each other up every month for various reasons in various scenarios, then you might want to continue to pass on Battler Britton.

And my prediction for next issue’s finale?

I expect Gilhooley and Britton will get a message through to their men. They will then be rescued by their men in time to get into new planes to launch an attack on the German’s armored regiment.

In fact, Gilhooley and Britton will inspire their respective units with the bonding that they’ve accomplished on their mission, causing the two units to work well together as a single unit. Even Patch will grudgingly admit that the Americans are okay, and he will refrain from slugging one this issue.

Finally, all the men who return from the successful campaign against the German tanks (because, of course, not all will return) will wholeheartedly admit, as they lift their pints of ale in toast, that they’re all the better for having known the legendary Battler Britton.

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