Charley’s War was a series that originally appeared in 1979 in the UK comic book Battle Action. It ran for several years before ending in 1986 and featured the fictionalized war experience of Englishman Charley Bourne. I first came across this great series when I flipped through some of the hard backed collected volumes for sale in Barnes and Noble a couple of years ago. Alas, the comic was unfamiliar to me and the price was a bit steep and I apparently failed to look closely at all of the books so I passed them up as “nice to have, but not today”. I should have looked closer. I might have noticed that Volume 4: Blues Story featured the recollections of a Foreign Legionnaire and his experience in the trenches and the Battle of Verdun. I recently “rediscovered” Charley’s War: Blues Story when I was browsing some scanned copies of original Battle Picture Weekly comics found on the usenet groups. Once I started reading the weekly episodes I just had to get the whole story so I ordered a used copy of Volume 4. Needless to say that I’ve added the other volumes to my Birthday and Christmas lists–Charley’s War is AWESOME.
Blue’s Story features the recollections of a British Legionnaire known as Blue. Charley is back home from the front, recovering from his time in the trenches and discovers Blue hiding in his his basement. Blue recently deserted from a French penal battalion and has just made his way across the channel. He is being pursued by the Drag Man who is in charge of rounding up deserters and malingerers in London. Blue landed in Charley’s house because Charley’s brother-in-law was using it as a safe house for his lucrative underground network that hides those seeking to escape military service. This situation is simply a backdrop to Blue’s account of his harrowing front line experiences with the Foreign Legion. Blue joined the Legion “to get a sun tan” and is one of the original Africains shipped to France from Algeria and soon found himself on the Western Front. He recounts several trench assaults against the Germans, internal conflicts between fellow Legionnaires and an amazing account of fighting during the Battle of Verdun as the Legion defends Fort Vaux. There is a strong emphasis placed on the fighting qualities of the Legionnaires as well as that of the Senegalese who were callously thrown up against German Machine guns in an “experiment”. Blue’s Story contains some tragic scenes of battlefield atrocities when the Germans machine gun captured Legionnaires because they consider them paid mercenaries and a fanatical Legion officer known as “monkey face” summarily executing an American legionnaire for killing German prisoners. I loved the bearded tough legionnaires and found most all of the characters to be very well developed and contribute to the overall story. There is plenty of “over-the-top” action (flame throwers, gas, machine guns) tons of mud and lots of blood–Blue’s Story is a fantastic graphic novel as well as a well-researched story which delights readers with small little details of historical accuracy on just about every page.
The complete Charley’s War series is assembled in ten hard backed volumes. Blue’s Story is Volume 4 and runs 120 pages and is a large format (8.7 x 11.6 inches). My only disappointment was that the color pages from the original comics were not rendered in color–the book is all black and white. On the plus side though there are several pages that cover some background about creating Charley’s War as well as historical background about the Battle of Verdun. Also, there is a really great website that delves into all aspects of Charley’s War: link.
Charley’s War (Vol. 1): 2 June – 1 August 1916
Charley’s War (Vol. 2): 1 August – 17 October 1916
Charley’s War (Vol. 3): 17th October 1916 – 21st February 1917
Charley’s War (Vol. 4): Blue’s Story
Charley’s War (Vol. 5): Return to the Front
Charley’s War (Vol. 6): Underground and Over the Top
Charley’s War (Vol. 7): The Great Mutiny
Charley’s War (Vol. 8): Hitler’s Youth
Charley’s War (Vol. 9): Death from Above
Charley’s War (Vol. 10) The End