Beware enemies of America! Sgt. Mike Battle is here to save the day….
Sgt. Mike Battle: The Greatest American Hero! (Issues 1, 11-14)
(Great Steranko pastiche covers from Mike Battle by Graham Pearce.)
Tongue jammed firmly in cheek, join me on a Nazi / Kamikaze/ Commie / Iraqi / Taleban stomping adventure with Sgt. Mike Battle; fearless, brave, with great teeth and a pure heart he fights whomever his president tell him is axis of evil bad guy #1 this week – for truth, justice and the American way. Hitler, those Red Commie types, Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden – they all get a good stomping. Sure, he might lose the occasional teen sidekick along the way, but what the hell, they knew it wasn’t forever when they took the job, right?
I cracked open issue 1 and to be frank, thought it wasn’t all that great. It”s a fun idea, some good bits of tongue in cheek writing but had art that, shall we say, wasn’t quite ready for publication. Even Graham says as much on the inside back cover –
“Whilst even I cringe at the artwork and lettering, I love the fact that you can see that with every panel, the artwork gets better and better…..Can you believe it’s drawn by the same guy…?“
He’s right about the art, and that progression can be seen all the way through these comics. Likewise, Pearce’s story improves as it goes along – I ended up enjoying each increasingly ridiculous scenario, smiling to myself with every snide in-joke, every all too patriotic remark, every far-fetched escape, every incredulous twist and implausible turn.
Next up was 11-14. In the intervening 9 issues Pearce has put in the work, honed what he does, really refined his comics nicely. Issue 11 is a throwaway Battle meets (and beats up) the Taleban affair, full of ample opportunity for Pearce to set up Batttle with some choice lines:
(Yep, that’s right Sarge, a completely accurate history lesson. God Bless America etc etc. From Sgt Mike Battle issue 11 by Graham Pearce.)
And finally we have issues 12-14; the complete Sgt. Mike Battle: Agent of S.T.A.R.S. A.N.D. S.T.R.P.E.S. (get ready…. Superior Terrestrial Assessment & Response Strikeforce of Allied Nations Defending Society from the Threat of Russina Invasions whilst Providing External Security). This is where it all comes together in one great, rip-roaringly fun adventure that lovingly references James Bond films and Jim Steranko era Nick Fury/ S.H.I.E.L.D. comics.
Mike Battle teams up with the impossibly suave and sophisticated Roger Knightly, and Pearce milks the 60s style icons for all they’re worth in a tale of the marriage of Knightly and Battle’s fellow US agent Shapely Charms. Unfortunately those darned commies seem intent on spoiling the wonderful event. Why, there may even be time for a spot of double agent intrigue as well.
(It’s the wedding of the year for the forces of freedom – what could possibly go wrong? Oh. Yes, the Russians could turn up looking for their double agent. From Sgt Mike battle issue 14 by Graham Pearce.)
Action, intrigue, laughs, these three issues really do deliver the lot. Maybe still a little too heavy on the dialogue at times – overblown is one thing but there are moments where it just swamps the story and slows it all down too much. It’s all wrapped up in what is an obvious love of both James Bond and Steranko’s Nick Fury from Pierce. In fact, there’s a sneaking suspicion that he’s a little more keen on his Bond character than he is his title character here and Battle is relegated to being a bit of a dumb buffoon. Or possibly, even more of a buffoon than normal.
The art in 12-14 is the strongest of the lot. Still not the finished product, still with flaws; too fine a line and a reluctance to bring in more blacks to fill his pages, but very nice and solid stuff, reminiscent of the Bruce Timm cartoon, square jawed Batman Adventures style. What is striking throughout the book is the great sense of design Pearce shows in his quite gorgeous pinup pages. They may be filler, but they point to what Pearce should be trying to achieve on his comic page. He’s nearly there, but not quite.
(Two of those great mock covers, full of great, stylised art from Sgt. Battle by Graham Pearce.)
So we leave Sgt. Mike Battle at the end of issue 14, the highpoint of the series so far. Part of me wants to go back and read the issues I’ve missed, but a big part is worried that they wont live up to these. Pearce’s work from issues 1-14 is perfect evidence of taking an interesting, fun and funny idea, developing it, and simultaneously developing the craft of making comics, refining the writing, refining the art with every page. I may be wary of going backwards, but I’m looking forwards to seeing issue 15.