Seeming rather incongruous in the pages of Battle in the mid-1980s, Invasion 1984! was a perhaps a somewhat unlikely science fiction offering from the long-running weekly war comic anthology. It will perhaps come as little surprise then that it was written by 2000 AD stalwarts John Wagner and Alan Grant under one of their many pseudonyms and, indeed, in many ways it reads like a serial from the very early days of the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic rather than one that naturally fitted within the pages of Battle.
Set in the then contemporary year of 1984, Invasion 1984! tells of an Earth devastated by a horrifying alien force of skeletal warriors. With major cities in ruins and mankind on the brink of extinction, humanity’s fate lies in the unlikely hands of a small military group of oddballs and outsiders known as Storm Squad, alongside Professor Ed Lomax, an academic who may be the only person left who can translate the invaders’ language and communicate with them…
In its uncompromising depiction of the effects of war and its adoption of a Battle standard in the rag-tag army unit of Storm Squad, Invasion 1984! just about managed to justify its place in the genre weekly. It’s perhaps not Wagner and Grant at their anarchic best, and at times it feels like a misplaced 2000 AD story that wasn’t sophisticated enough for the sci-fi anthology at this point. But once it finds a storytelling rhythm it becomes a pointedly tense drama; a searing commentary on the ruthless pragmatism of war and its brutal sacrifices. Its spotlight on a group of superficially ignoble characters making a noble stand – in the shape of the often self-sacrificing soldiers of Storm Squad – further underlining the dark, near nihilism of the strip.
It’s Eric Bradbury on the art front who really gives the comic its atmospheric edge though. His depiction of a savage and implacable foe is chilling in the extreme and his gritty layouts, full of scowling, moody characters, are as memorable as ever from this oft unsung talent of British comics. As is often the case with these collections those unfamiliar with their method of weekly serial delivery may find its pacing a little choppy in places. But while it starts slowly this tale of extraterrestrial terror slowly evolves into a solemn sermon on the devastating consequences of war. Once again it’s pleasing indeed to see the Treasury of British Comics continuing to make some unexpected choices in their collections of classic comics.
Alan Grant and John Wagner (W), Eric Bradbury (A) • Rebellion/Treasury of British Comics, £14.99
Review by Andy Oliver