Steel Commando: 1970s WWII Robo Action From The Treasury Of British Comics

by Richard Bruton

Another release from The Treasury Of British Comics, this time with a smaller digest format and a wartime tale of the robotic soldier and his lazy, good for nothing pal. Steel Commando is a strange thing, a snapshot of the time, a 70s look back at WWII, played for laughs… a nostalgia fest from a very different time…

You last saw Steel Commando, updated for now, in 2018’s The Vigilant Special. Here, we’re going back to the very early 70s for the original tales of the Mark One Indestructible Robot, better known as Steel Commando.
Here’s the PR about it all from Rebellion and The Treasury of British Comics:

With superhuman strength, bulletproof casing and an unstoppable resolve, the Steel Commando is the Allies’ ultimate weapon in the war against the Axis powers. There’s just one bug in his circuits – he’ll only take orders from Ernie Bates, the laziest soldier in the British Army!
Watch ‘Ironsides’ and ‘Excused Boots’ Bates carry out thrill-filled missions in dangerous enemy territories! This fun-packed army adventure also includes an early comic strip crossover as the Steel Commando joins forces with the mighty Captain Hurricane!

Frankly, the cover gives you everything you need to know about this one, with its tongue-in-cheek Germans fleeing the military metal-man. It’s a comic that’s very much of its time, more Carry On Commando than Charley’s War definitely, and with the same sort of unfortunate stereotyping of race, gender and class; where the Germans are very German, in a classic, Gott in Himmel! over the top fashion, where the Brit commanding officers are all Stephen Fry Lord Melchett, where women almost don’t exist, and where the Japanese soldiers are done in the worst racist stereotyped imagery.
It’s not a wonder that there’s a proviso that reads, “This edition faithfully reproduces the original publication. It therefore may deal with race, class or gender in ways uncomfortable to contemporary readers. We apologise in advance for any offence given.

So, that just adds a little hmmm into the mix of this one. The racist imagery, the gender and class stereotypes, it’s just another impression that this comes from a particularly crass and ignorant period of British history through the 70s where we still looked back to the war with a ridiculously nostalgic sentiment, and where the country seemed insular, divided, racist, dark, and far from the values that the Allies actually fought WWII for.
Sadly, it’s a Britain that we seem to be heading back towards, in these weird days in the midst of the whole Brexit debacle.

Anyway, Steel Commando makes for, at times, somewhat weird and uncomfortable reading. It’s nostalgic and interesting rather than funny, a historical artefact of the time of making rather than truly great comics.
And there’s part of me thinking it’s a surprise to see this reprinted when there’s a vast library of material available in Rebellion’s Treasury of British Comics that, to me, seems far more worthy, far better, far more interesting in the whole history of British comics.

(Steel Commando – art by Vince Wernham? Maybe?)

Having said all that, it’s not to say there’s not some rather nice art, although I’m not entirely sure how the breakdown of the art duties worked, but it does seem to me there’s a distinct style change in the later episodes, implying to me that Alex Henderson drew the first part and Vince Wernham the second. Personally, I’m going towards Wernham, whose art has a thicker line, more interesting pages, and a generally higher quality to the comic, although there’s much to admire in the way Henderson delivers his own Steel Commando pages.
Looking for a little clarification, I spoke to Lew Stringer, who is both an excellent Brit comic artist and a highly knowledgable source on all things Brit comics, and he had this to say about the artwork… “Alex Henderson did most of the book but there’s a lot of Jack Pamby uncredited too, and Charles Roylance drew the Captain Hurricane episodes“. So there’s still an issue over crediting the art here.
But, overall, Steel Commando is one of those mementoes of a time gone by, and not too good a memento at that.
However, talking to various comic fans who were around for Steel Commando in Lion and Thunder, it’s a character they remember so fondly, so I’m sure there’s going to be plenty of fans out there who vehemently disagree with me on this. But, for me, this feels like something I really could have done without.
Underneath the details, the first couple of Steel Commando episodes for you to peruse…
Steel Commando, script by Frank Pepper, art by Alex Henderson, Vince Wernham. Originally serialised in Thunder (1970, 1971), Lion & Thunder (1971-1972), Valiant & Lion (1974), and Thunder Annuals 1972-1974. Published by Rebellion/ The Treasury of British Comics, 22 August 2019.

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