With Further Ado #78: The Uphill Battle of Harken’s Raiders

As a kid, I wasn’t into war comics, but I sure did love the “war comic for people who hate comics”: Marvel’s Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos.  That was the tagline that Marvel  developed for this offbeat war comic.  (I assume Stan Lee, as both writer and in-house ad agency, wrote that line.)

This series quickly became the print version of a WWII buddy movie.  The Howling Commandos were a special task force, more like Army Rangers than the British commandos, who were dispatched on fantastic, all-odds-against-them missions. The Howling Commandos joked and kidded their way through every adventure.  It all seemed like great fun, and in contrast to real war, downright happy and hilarious.

As we all got older, it was harder to choke down Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos.  We learned about the horrors and atrocities of war, and the meandering silliness of  this comic seemed to trivialize an admittedly awful subject. We could draw the line at glamorizing war, especially when used for macho adventure, but before long, treating it too lightheartedly was verboten.  In fact, in the waning days of the Sgt. Fury series, Marvel began swinging the pendulum in the other direction, most notably with titles like War Is Hell.

Still, there was so much to love about that series. Especially when it really hit its stride with Gary Friedrich scripts, Dick Ayers pencils, and John Severin inks.  Those were gripping, dense and clever comics.  One of my all-time favorite covers depicted on character on his way to a court-martial. Not the standard stuff of war comics.

That was then, and this is now. And I have some good news!  Ron Marz and Darryl Banks have reunited (You will remember them from their groundbreaking Green Lantern series.) to collaborate on a new “war comic”: Harken’s Raiders.

Also on board for this effort from Ominous Press are Allen Cordey, an army veteran, Sean Izaakse and several other talented folks.

Harken’s Raiders is a classic WWII adventure that seems to have grown up.  Bullets really shoot people and actually make a mess. The precise plans of this secret squad often – almost always – go awry, forcing the protagonists to improvise on the spot. They must cajole and convince even their own compatriots in order to achieve their big objectives.

Writer Ron Marz is such a pro, and you can see his experience and creativity shining through every page and every scene. He knows how to balance the notion of giving readers what they want, and still finding ways to keep it fresh and innovative along the way.

This comic’s format is unique. It won’t be released initially as a traditional comic. Ominous Press has some smart go-to-market ideas for today’s marketplace.

“What we’ve done with a number of the Ominous projects is create them as oversize hardcover graphic novels, with a lot of extras, a lot of bells and whistles,” revealed Marz. “So we’re doing the deluxe package first, for the dedicated audience that supports Kickstarters. That’s what we did with Harken’s Raiders, Beasts of the Black Hand, quite a few other books. At some point down the road, we might choose to repackage the material as single-issue comics, and partner with another publisher to release them. I think that sort of planning is really a necessity in the industry at this point. You want to make something once,  but be able to release it in as many different formats as possible. Hardcover collection, softcover collection, single issues, digital, you need all those slices to make up a profitable pie.”

He’s right, this one has a few surprises to keep the reader on her toes. Even if she’s seen a hundred WWII movies over the years. I must also note that Darryl Banks’ artwork in the lead story is solid and strong throughout.

There’s a lot of goodies along the way too. This volume has a back-up story and pin-ups by a variety of artists.

I really enjoyed Ominous Press’ Beasts of the Black Hand and this new one, Harken’s Raiders, and look forward to more of their publications in this, and any, format.