Battler Britton – Fighting Ace of Land, Sea and Air

Battler Britton, or Wing Commander Robert Hereward “Battler” Britton DSO, DFC and Bar, Croix de Guerre – to give him his full denomination – is one of the most enduring characters in British comics history. Cambridge educated; his father was a Lieutenant Colonel and his mother the daughter of a baronet in the diplomatic service, he is nonetheless considered classless. “Hereward” is his mother’s maiden name. A proper old school war hero and leader of men, he served as a Lieutenant-Commander while attached to the Peruvian Navy and is a former member of the French Foreign Legion, where he was a Cavalry Commander. He was one of the Royal Air Force’s leading aces during World War II, an accomplished pilot of both Supermarine Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes. He is not just a crack pilot but a true fighting ace of land, sea and air. He even spent some time working with the British Secret Service.

Battler Britton first appeared in Amalgamated Press’ Sun comic #361 (January 7, 1956) with the tagline “Super-Ace of the World War” It was Sun editor Leonard Matthews , himself a veteran having served with the RAF during the Second World War, who devised the name but it was writer Mike Butterworth and artist Geoff Campion who initially brought life to the character.

Mike Butterworth is perhaps best remembered as the chief writer of the popular comic strip The Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire. Geoff Campion was a leading artist for Amalgamated Press/Fleetway for many years. Best known in his early years for his work in the westerns genre on titles such as Buffalo Bill and Billy The Kid, he ultimately worked on a diverse range of strips including Captain Condor, Typhoon Tracy, D-Day Dawson and many more.

Over the years, Battler Britton strips would be drawn and illustrated by numerous artists, including some of the highest profile creators in the industry. Hugo Pratt, Francisco Solano Lopez, Ian Kennedy, Pat Nicolle, Ferdinando Tacconi and Graham Coton and others have all drawn Battler Britton.

In 1960 Hugo Pratt drew two of his adventures, Wagons of Gold and Rockets of Revenge. They were reprinted in graphic novel format and published by Rebellion in 2021 under the title War Picture Library: Battler Britton. Rockets Of Revenge is also one of the stories that featured in the Battler Britton Annual (Vol. 2), published in 1961.

Legendary artist Ian Kennedy drew Battler Britton for Sun in the early stages of his career, including Sun #387, 7 July 1956 and #392, 11 Aug 1956. It is likely that Ian drew more of the Battler Britton strips around that time but we know for certain that he was responsible for these particular strips as they bear his signature. We have checked other editions from around this period but have not found any further Kennedy signatures.

A change in styling saw Battler Britton become the cover feature of Sun comic, commencing with issue number #490, dated 28 June 1958. And in April 1959, in another change of styling, Sun comic was dubbed “Battler Britton’s Own Weekly”. The covers in these final editions featured fabulous artwork, almost certainly crafted by Italian artist Renato Fratini. In addition to his work in comics, Fratini was known for his work on book covers and movie posters, notably From Russia With Love and Waterloo. This cover design remained until the final edition, number 558, dated 17 October 1959 at which point Sun was merged into Lion.

Battler Britton is Sun’s only real legacy. He would survive the comic’s ultimate demise, a feat he would repeat, continuing to endure while various titles he appeared in would come and go. He initially carried on in Lion (and Sun) and would later show up in Knockout, (where he was the cover story during 1960/61), Champion, Valiant and digest titles such as Air Ace Picture LibraryBattle Picture Library, Valiant Picture Library and War Picture Library.

In a somewhat unusual diversion, in 1959, on the pages of Lion, Battler Britton appeared in an illustrated text adventure alongside British Secret Service agent Max Malone. Ousting regular sidekick, Hutch, he featured in a run lasting for more than twenty episodes.

The first appearance of Battler Britton in Picture Library or digest format came with Thriller Comics Library #160 in early 1957, titled Battler Britton – War Ace. This was to be his sole representation in this earlier incarnation, the series title changing to Thriller Picture Library soon after. He rapidly became a series-leading character and would make more than sixty appearances before the title’s culmination in 1963.

During the early 1960s, Battler Britton had been enjoying a purple patch. In addition to Thriller, he had been the regular cover strip for Knockout, had frequent appearances in Lion and had also shown up in Champion and Valiant Picture Library. He even starred in two annuals of his own, published in 1960 and 1961. (He has also featured in other annuals, including Champion, Valiant and Action.)

However, the withdrawal of Thriller would lead to a relatively lean few years for Battler Britton. But this is a chap who never knows when he’s beaten. He would once again come to prominence, establishing himself as a regular feature of Air Ace Picture Library by 1966, with additional appearances in both Battle and War Picture Libraries.

Such was the status, and presumably popularity, of Battler Britton that he was celebrated with his own series of holiday specials. There were eight editions in the original series, published between 1977 and 1984. He would also benefit from the Ron Phillips Fleetway revival, a further five holiday specials being published between 1986 and 1989.

He was also one of the characters acquired from Egmont by DC Comics, and in 2006 they published a 5-part Battler Britton miniseries through their Wildstorm imprint, written by Garth Ennis and drawn by Colin Wilson. A softcover book collecting the five stories was published in 2007.

At the time of writing, the Garth Ennis mini-series is the last original Battler Britton material. Rebellion’s republishing of the Hugo Pratt drawn Battler Britton stories in War Picture Library: Battler Britton is the most recent publication, in 2021. Notably, this book also reprints Battler Britton’s first ever appearance from Sun #361, drawn by Geoff Campion.

Battler Britton may have been grounded for now but this fella’s resilience and determination to survive suggests this won’t be the last time he takes to the skies.

Sources:

Battler Britton, the Man (from Battler Britton Annual, 1960).

Who’s Who in the Fighting Services (from Battler Britton Annual, 1961)

Spygirlsandgals.com – Max Malone

Sun Collectors Guide – Steve Holland, David Ashford, 1992.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

18 − nine =