Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Battlefield - Volume 1 Hardcover – Mar 30 2011
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This book pretty much delivered. The story quality varied from outstanding to the occasionally absurd. The art was outstanding throughout. The reproduction is superb. The volume reprints the entire run (11 issues) of Battlefield. All the issues are pre-code issues. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th issues are 52 page issues so this volume is a very generous 300 pages.
Curiously there is a fairly abrupt change of tone after the first 4 issues. The first 4 issues focus on the terror and horror of war and the endings were usually tragic. These stories compare well with EC war comics of the same period. Afterward there is a shift to stories with happy endings which are largely propagandistic in tone. At the same time unrealistic and absurd elements begin to crop up. Some non Korean War stories begin to appear although Korea continues to dominate. Overall the quality remains high. There are a number of indications that a fair amount of research went into the stories.
There is also the usual outstanding introduction by Dr. Michael J. Vassallo. Vassallo counts that Atlas published over 500 war comics so that there is plenty more where this one came from. The folks at Atlas might have had trouble "getting" the horror genre but they were on their game with the war genre. Highly recommended.
As a pattern, the first stories, from 1952, exclusively chronicle the Korean War, the forgotten war. Moving into 1953, the stories become more varied, touching on both World War II and the Cold War.
As with the other Atlas-era introductions he did, Dr. Michael Vassallo's extensive research adds depth and background for the period.
Note that this volume collects Battlefield in its entirety, running for 11 issues and 323 pages. Issues 2-4 were 52 pages. There's quite a mix of different time periods covered, but the bulk of the stories are Korean Conflict era stories.
After reading this series, I'm left wishing that Marvel would do more of their war series (especially Battle, which had Kirby stories to end its run, 64-70).
EC's Frontline Combat had more consistently better writing in it, but spoke with a singular voice ("war is grim"). Battlefield had a more varied voice, though it does tend to be more upbeat.
One of my favorite artists, Bill Everett, has a great piece on Il Duce in this volume.
Russ Heath kicks off the volume with terrific story in "5 Hours till Dawn". Issue 7 has another excellent Heath story, "12 Hours till Death", with more moody art. The splash page was reprinted in "Flesh and Steel" and definitely foreshadows the excellent tank art he would later do for GI Combat. The foot soldiers trudging through mud with sunken shoulders while cast in shadows, coupled with an icy blue wash to the scene really cast the reader into the setting. "Flare" has excellent art from Norman Steinberg, an artist I wasn't previously familiar with. Robert Q. Sale and Gene Colan have great art in "Road to Changdo" and "No Way Out" respectively.
Hopefully more people read and enjoy this war tome and convince Marvel to produce additional volumes from their other war lines. This was probably the most consistent title (and fit into a one-and-done), but it's really only the tip of iceberg on the 500+ issues of war comics (by Doc V's count).
First, this is a Masterworks volume, so you naturally expect quality physicals, and it delivers mostly. I'm not in love with the paper quality here, but it's better than that found in the last volumes of, say, the DC Archives (though inferior to previous volumes). My biggest gripe is that it feels kind of flimsy. The cover and dust jacket are top quality, however.
As for the content within, while I agree with reviews that there is a distinct change in the tone of the stories about midway through the volume, it's not as though the early stories read like those found in EC archives such as Two-Fisted Tales. EC was very much into the "fog of war" storyline, and the general moral ambiguity found in most wars. Atlas has no such ambiguity - they are pro-USA in the Korean conflict from the beginning. The potential reader should be aware of this; if you are looking for an edgy tale, this might not be the right place.
That being said, there is a definite change in tone (and quality) during this work. Early stories focused more on what happens when people don't support the war, or when cowards are allowed to move up the ranks, etc. etc. The endings are almost always tragic. However, in a well-placed letter page, the question is raised by a reader as to why the endings aren't happier? And sure enough - they become happier. This is obviously meant to satisfy readership. The happy ending stories aren't terrible, but the one-against-many storylines start to tire by the end of the volume.
Also, one of my favorite things about this volume is the following: it is made very clear at the title page of each issue that the stories are fiction, and that characters are not meant to portray anyone real. This blurb in particular precedes a biographical tale of Benito Mussolini. Good one.
All in all, I heartily recommend this volume, particularly for the prices here. It's a great read on the "forgotten war" (seriously - the Korean War seems only to be remembered in comic form these days).