Garth Ennis is probably best known for two styles of writing: the extremely violent sensationalism of graphic novels like Preacher; and more recently, his hard-hitting but historically accurate and empathetic War Stories. Battler Britton follows in the latter vein, fictionalising the heroics of World War II without shying too far away from the immense destructive force of modern warfare.
If the book’s name sounds familiar, you may have come across Britton before, though not for a long time. The character is another of the classic characters from IPC’s archives which, along with Albion and a handful of others, have been resurrected for a modern audience.
Robert “Battler” Britton is a fighter pilot with the Royal Air Force. Commanding his own squadron of trusted veterans, he’s one of Britain’s most successful pilots, thanks to his superior strategic thinking, his courage, and his survivalist instinct that always seems able to get him back home if he has to ditch his aircraft.
Ennis’s take on the character sees him teaming up with an American squadron, camped behind enemy lines in the heart of the Sahara desert. Although the two squadrons take a bit of time to get over their cultural differences, Britton’s leadership pulls the group together to take on some serious German opposition.
If it sounds a bit gung-ho and Boy’s Own then, to a certain extent it is. But Ennis and Wilson have managed to cut through the worst aspects of such stories and bring out an action-packed tale with more than its fair share of heroics, without descending into glibly nationalistic nonsense. With as much of the story occurring on the ground, building the characters and conflicts between the allies, as there is following grand dog-fights against German Messerschmitts, this is a racy, evocative and impressive piece of war fiction.