Darkie's Mob: The Secret War of Joe Darkie
Written by John Wagner
Art by Mike Western
There’s no point burying the lead because this comic sure doesn’t. By the second page, Darkie has already make a soldier dig his own grave, smacked another with his knife, shoved the same knife through an enemy soldier’s trunk, and placed a gun barrel deep into another enemy’s mouth before sending him off to further spread the myth of Darkie. This is 2 pages in, dear lord.
Darkie is a hard ass who takes over a near defeated group of soldiers and leads them into infamy and history. He’s a brick headed bull who only knows how to bathe in blood and isn’t backwards in coming forwards. He wears a belt of a thousand stitches, which the Japanese believe hold importance, yet Darkie stole it from the Japanese soldier he killed. The belt has a design on it that looks like a dragon, and also looks like the brand of Shou-Lou the Undying which is just awesome. This guy is pure testosterone and as such makes for a very different hero. You can’t agree with everything he does, or the way he does it, but he damn well gets results. He’s an antagonist of the highest order.
The crew Darkie takes up are a soft and whinging mob just ready to go home, if they can find their way. Darkie’s first act as their new leader is to tell them he’s taking them home and then actually lead them further into battle. When they discover this, a few dissent and head away which Darkie allows because he then uses them as bait in a trap. How Darkie isn’t fragged and left for dead in a dozen pages is baffling…though not for trying.
The men are quickly sick of Darkie’s disingenuous shenanigans and they vote to kill him. A strangely civilised way to handle such a terrible thing to do and yet that’s how it goes down. Just as they get to the vital vote two things happen; the radio broadcasts that there is no Captain Darkie registered in the armed forces and they don’t know who his guy is, and the Japanese attack again and Darkie uses this moment to take out the radio while fighting back. Only one soldier actually hears the message but he keeps mum about it. It’s nice that the narrator can know this vital piece of information.
It is the next small chapter I’ll talk about finally because it says so much about the tone and mettle of this book. Darkie leads the section into a Japanese camp and the men all look haggard and defeated – or so they want to appear. Darkie takes the brunt of the enmity from the enemy and gets himself crucified on a hot tin roof for his efforts. He’s shirtless, no hat, spikes through his hands, and still slinging back taunts. This is so over the top that you can only enjoy it. Darkie is drawn so well as to make you believe he can take this sort of punishment with ease.
Darkie takes it on the chin, so to speak, while the rest of the section waver between debating whether to leave him up on the roof to die or to get their affairs in order so as to effect the escape he’s planned. Once the bullets start flying, Darkie steps up to the challenge by tearing his hands free of the roof and using one of the spikes, previously through his hand, to kill one of the enemies. It’s a brutal action moment but so perfectly realised that you will be in awe watching it An excellent idea matched with dynamic art makes for one hell of a hero.
It’s no shock that Darkie was a Christ-like figure on the roof and that the people on the ground were in varied states of faith to him. A few act in good faith and the rest follow and are saved by their crucified deity. Darkie doesn’t disappoint and you hope from this moment on he’s proved his stripes and his use to the section of men under his so-called command. He’s certainly much more animalistic and violent coming down off the cross than JC was and so the parallels end quickly but the idea is still there – he’s a man to be followed, a man you hitch your little red wagon to, and a man who will deliver you from evil.
The rest of the book doesn’t shy away from fanatical images of war and death. Darkie, and his mob, drop fatal wounds on soldiers like they’re brushing their hair. This is the daily grind of war on the battlefront and they might be used to it but each successive page of bloodshed doesn’t inure you to the horror of war. The worst part is that most of it is up close and personal. This isn’t sniper fire or even crossfire on the battlefield, this is hands on faces and plunging blades into heaving chests as each person shares the same air for final breaths. It’s like that scene in Saving Private Ryan where the German slowly kills the soldier with the blade while whispering him off to death. It’s just like that; creepy, sad, inevitable. You won’t forget a lot of what you see here.
The art in this is continually spot on, especially when it comes to conveying an oppressive location. The rain drops down over a panel or the Burmese jungle surrounds the men and you feel swamped in. It feels like there’s nowhere to go. This is definitely helped by the cram packed storytelling to fit into 3-4 page chunks. This book looks good as an old war comic but if you get past the fact it’s B&W and old then you’ll see some great comic style to be studied and learnt from.
This book stands alone well as a gripping war yarn that doesn’t really ever take a break to let go of you. If it isn’t tugging at your gag reflex then it’s got you by the heart strings. The final sequence is fantastic and the send off panel is pure beauty.
The back cover carries a warning of offensive language and they aren’t far off. The racial epithets slung across the battlefield are accurate but that doesn’t make them any more pleasant. You have to be prepared for that.
Verdict – Buy It. You could do so much worse than invest in this comic. Titan have been doing a great job at loading up new readers with these HC reprints of old war comic material and it’s getting reprinted for a reason, it’s good. This has character and bravado mixed up together like the best war movies always manage. It’s not a sob story and it puts the action first – it’s definitely more about the verbs than the adjectives. Give Darkie’s Mob your money if you want a slice of what the real men used to be like before manscaping and quipping became the norm. This is a tale about heart, and how often they stop beating.
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