Friday, November 9, 2007

Reprint This! 16. Rat Pack

UPDATE: Titan has released a hardcover collection of the first 25 episodes.

Reprint This! is a periodic feature where I talk about some out-of-print comic book gems that are not available in collected form for readers to enjoy. This is hoping to let rights owners know that, yes, readers are out here, and we'd like to buy the things we can't get at this time!

Despite such an enormous variety of books available these days, and genuine efforts to present the material in reasonably-priced, archival volumes, there are still countless fabulous series from the US, Britain and Japan which are overdue for new editions. I've selected two dozen titles which should be on bookshelves, but at this time are not.

Sadly still missing in action are the adventures of RAT PACK, the most bloodthirsty and dangerous men to ever tangle behind Nazi lines in the pages of a comic book. The series was devised by Pat Mills and John Wagner, and it was written and illustrated by dozens of the top talents of the 1970s over its six year run.

Like Johnny Red and Major Eazy, two of the earlier Reprint This! features, Rat Pack first appeared in the pages of Battle Picture Weekly. This was one of the original seven strips from the 1975 debut issue, and very much the centerpiece. Prior to IPC's Battle, most weekly comics had two-page episodes for their features. Battle had a standard of three pages per strip, with Rat Pack given a comparatively expansive six pages a week.

Very little in Rat Pack changed over the course of its run. Inspired by The Dirty Dozen, it was the tale of four soldiers who'd broken regulations and were serving time in a military prison when they were given a second chance by Major Taggart, who needed four expendable, yet talented, men for impossible missions behind enemy lines. They are: a big tough guy, a knife-thrower, a superb athlete and a safecracker. It's broadly reminiscent of DC's mid-70s war titles like Sgt. Rock or The Unknown Soldier, with inspiring, larger-than-life heroes having improbably successful suicide missions, except the Rat Pack is made up of such a bunch of dirty, back-stabbing thugs, you just hope nobody you care about gets inspired by them! It's very addictive stuff for young readers.

Creatively, Rat Pack had a very high turnover, as no artist could commit to the demanding schedule for more than a month or two at a time. Carlos Ezquerra handled the art for the first two-part story before it passed down through a who's who of British comic greats, including Eric Bradbury, John Cooper, Cam Kennedy, Colin Page and Mike White. The late Italian artist Massimo Belardinelli did some of his first British work for Rat Pack. The strip's writers included Mills, Wagner, Gerry Finley-Day, Eric Hebden and his son Alan, and Terry Magee.

Rat Pack's turnover may be a strike against any publisher considering a reprint line, since you can't promote it on the backs of any particular names. Then you have the usual issues with old Fleetway stuff, like a loss of the original art. But the fabulously entertaining stories are really worth seeing again, and Titan's done such a good job with Charley's War that I can't believe they wouldn't do Rat Pack proud as well. They'd look great on shelves in annual hardback collections... so how about it, Titan?

(As always, the stalwart lads over at Captain Hurricane's Best of Battle were very helpful in providing background and scans for this article. Give 'em a visit!)

(Originally posted November 09, 2007, 09:19 at hipsterdad's livejournal.)

Edited to add: (3/1/08) Titan has announced that they have acquired reprint rights to more of the Battle material, specifically noting Johnny Red, Major Eazy and Rat Pack as among the strips which will be reappearing soon. The major new reprint series will begin with the long-running soccer strip Roy of the Rovers as the spearhead, and also incorporate material from the comics Action, Buster, Tammy and, possibly most excitingly, Misty! Here's the announcement, from Down the Tubes. More details as they become available!

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