Best of British Battle Comics – Darkie’s Mob: The Secret War of Joe Darkie

Darkie’s Mob, the second in our series focusing on the Best of British Battle comics, is a very different book from Johnny Red (which I reviewed HERE) although it shares some elements. This story is set in Burma, starting in 1942. Captain Joe Darkie takes command of a flagging troop of soldiers and reinvigorates them, turning them into an elite jungle force fighting the invading Japanese.

Whilst the idea of a new arrival turning around the fortunes of a down-trodden squad might be shared with Johnny Red, the titular character has very little in common. Joe Darkie is a double well-‘ard bastard, with emphasis on the bastard. He brooks absolutely no insubordination and I’d say he’s as brutal with his own men as he is with the Japanese…but I’ve seen how he treats the Japanese.¬†Darkie is on the very edge of madness from minute one. He doesn’t want to escape the jungle, he measures success solely in the number of Japanese troops he kills and not by the number of his men who survive. He’s also incredibly enigmatic, no-one is sure why he knows the jungle so well, why he’s so well known to the Burmese locals and why he bears and unthinkable hatred of the Japanese.

Our everyman is Shorty, a relatively young squaddie whose journal is found in 1946 and recounts the tales that we read in episodic format. He soon becomes embroiled in the mystery of Darkie, carrying a secret with him throughout most of the series. He and the rest of the squad don’t really get fleshed out that much, they’re more caricatures than characters, the plucky pilot, the hook-handed officer etc.

Another thing which sets the book apart is the way in which the enemy are treated, both physically and verbally. There was an air of nobility in the combat of Johnny Red but Darkie’s Mob is absolutely brutal. Darkie doesn’t think twice about sneaking up and slashing a guard’s throat, killing unarmed men or torturing prisoners. Armed with a kukri he slashes, stabs, shoots, explodes, strangles and pummels his way through dozens of Japanese troops all the while using language which 35 years on from publication is practically unthinkable. I don’t doubt that soldiers in WWII used all sorts of unpleasant terms for the enemy but reading it now in 2011 the language more than the violence stands out dramatically.

The jungle itself is almost a character in the series, lending a slight noire tone. Every moment spent in the jungle is hot, sweaty, unbearable…the fact that an entire storyline revolves around dissentery underlines this starkly. You can understand why the men so desperately want to leave it and yet are drawn further into it by Darkie’s drive for revenge.

Reading the book I felt almost assaulted by its contents. It’s visceral and violent, the black and white art, whilst not explicitly gruesome in detail, paints a disgusting picture. I didn’t find myself warming to Darkie at all, his lack of regard for his men as anything but tools for killing Japanese troops makes him a hard character to like. The not-so-gradual thinning of his ranks as he leads one man after another to his death shows the price being paid.

In fact it’s this thinning of the ranks which is the primary way in which the story progresses. It’s very episodic, seemingly¬†without an overarching story although it is set in a single timeline, the dwindling troop numbers being just about the only indication of a continuity. I don’t recall there being returning “villains”, the Japanese troops don’t get to return.

I don’t know much about this part of the war so I can’t really comment on the factual nature of the story, if it’s reality then it’s a very heightened one given the damage shrugged off by Darkie. There’s the occasional caption giving editorial comment on statements made in-story, which seems to be trying to suggest realism was the aim.

Rating: 4.5/5

Dry Slaps: 2 for the gratuitous racial slurs, authentic they may be, comfortable reading they are not.

GS Reviewer: Dave W

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