Maybe I am a masochist? I’m currently working my way through The Steel Commando: Full Metal Warfare, which you might also see advertised as The Best of The Steel Commando. Published by Rebellion under their Treasury of British Comics banner, it’s an assorted collection of four-page adventures originally released nearly half a century ago rounded out with some bits from holiday specials and annuals. Thing is, I really detested The Steel Commando when it first appeared in the IPC weekly comic Thunder.
That might be unfair. Dipping into it now is quite enjoyable. Small doses only. It isn’t the kind of collection for binge reading. Written by Frank Pepper and drawn by assorted artists such as Alex Henderson and Vince Wertham, it’s set in the dark days of World War II. A bunch of boffins develop an experimental robot, near indestructible with an elementary consciousness, but prone to go wild. Except their creation, “Ironsides”, imprints on layabout Ernie “Excused Boots” Bates who would be happy to spend his time in the Army peeling spuds.
Ernie is promoted to Lance-Corporal (unpaid) and gets sent on a variety of unlikely Nazi-smashing missions as minder to the unruly robot. Sometimes Ernie rises to the occasion, other times he’s a selfish little git.
No continued stories, no deep sub-plots, just simple tales with a beginning, middle and end. However, it’s a knock-off! I knew it as a kid and decided that was a duff offering. Give me the real deal or nothing (except the only other comic in the shop today is Tammy, so my resolution wavers).
Robot notwithstanding, The Steel Commando has echoes of Captain Hurricane who had been bashing Nazi heads for almost a decade in the pages of Valiant. The Captain is a Royal Marine, irritated and frustrated by his batman and former ship’s cook “Maggot” Malone. These frustrations would inevitably trigger a raging fury, a Hulk-style rampage that would flatten any advancing Germans.
My own irritation peaked when Captain Hurricane and The Steel Commando became a combined strip. That really bugged me. Again, perhaps unfairly. There are a few examples in the Rebellion Steel Commando collection that are entertaining, though Ernie seems to lose any redeeming characteristics. Either way, the show was over for both of them by the time Valiant merged with Battle Picture Weekly in 1976.
The first two-pages of each Steel Commando installment always had a splash of spot-red when published in Thunder. They haven’t followed that through for this collection although the annual stories get a full colour outing.