Featuring seven brand new stories written by Garth Ennis – the mind behind The Boys, Preacher, and war comics such as The Stringbags and Sara – the 96-page hardcover anthology captures the spirit and action of the merger of the groundbreaking Battle and Action comics in the 1970s.
Behind the cover by Andy Clarke (Batman and Robin) and Dylan Teague (Madi), Ennis is joined by artists Mike Dorey (Ro-Busters), John Higgins (Watchmen), Keith Burns (Ladybird Expert series), PJ Holden (The Stringbags), Patrick Goddard (Judge Dredd), Chris Burnham (Batman) and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen artist Kevin O’Neill.
As we approach D-Day, we shall introduce you to the legendary Battle Action characters who are back in action for this landmark book - so it’s time to meet NINA PETROVA AND THE ANGELS OF DEATH!
Written by Garth Ennis with art by Patrick Goddard, colours by Jason Wordie, and letters by Rob Steen, this story brings to centre stage characters that have long deserved their own strip!
Night after night Captain Nina Petrova and her fellow pilots and gunners take to the air, raining death and destruction on the German invaders. In the freezing Russian skies they fight for their Motherland, risking fiery doom in their flimsy PO-2 biplanes. Their enemy has a nickname for them: The Angels of Death.
Before Judges Anderson and Hershey, before Purity Brown and Venus Bluegenes, there was Nina Petrova, one of the very first action heroines in modern British comics. The medium was pretty strictly segregated at the time; Misty, Bunty and Jinty were intended for girls: Battle, Action and 2000 AD for boys. When they did show up in male comics, female characters tended to scream a lot and get rescued, then disappear offshot while the men got on with the important business of killing. When Nina first appeared (in the Johnny Red strip published in the 22 July 1978 issue of Battle Action), she made it clear that she had no need of rescue by Squadron-Leader Redburn. In fact, she decked him.
Russia’s women aviators were one more aspect of the Great Patriotic War that writer Tom Tully chose to highlight in Johnny Red. Soviet women served in many combat roles throughout the conflict, with air crew flying both fighters and conventional bombers for their nation’s air force, but Nina and her Angels represented a very specific unit: the 588th Night Bomber Regiment. Tully fictionalized them as the 7th Women’s Air Reconnaissance Regiment, who soon became a regular fixture in the strip, flying multiple missions alongside their comrades in Falcon Squadron.
Johnny and Nina got on a lot better, too, once they got over their little misunderstanding. The Germans referred to the real life 588th as Nacht Hexen - “Night Witches”, for the tactic they developed of cutting their PO-2s’ engines and gliding out of the darkness to make surprise attacks. Yet the obsolete little biplanes were no war-winners; artists Joe Colquhoun and John Cooper gave them better armament than their real life equivalents, and even equipped them with radios, something the actual Night Witches would have been very grateful for.
All the same, Tom Tully did readers a great service when he introduced the Angels of Death. In 1978, no one was in any rush to tell British kids about the Soviets’ overwhelming contribution to the Nazis’ downfall, still less about the heroism of the nation’s women. Such was the brilliance of Johnny Red, and the many and varied details of Russia’s war that it revealed. Nina herself was last seen in the 15th August 1981 issue of Battle (not long after Action was dropped, in fact), having decided to stay in the benighted city of Leningrad and help its people in their struggle against the invader. Perhaps one day we’ll find out what happened next.
For now, Nina Petrova and the Angels of Death at last presents the characters in their own strip, with its own title; after forty years, Nina and her squadron are no longer supporting characters. They are the stars of the show, and not before time.
The Battle Action Special, out on 8 June from all good comic book stores and the 2000 AD and Treasury of British Comics webshops, and from September from all good book stores and major online retailers.