5 Days to Battle Action: meet Crazy Keller!

3rd June 2022

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! Written by Garth Ennis, with art by Chris Burnham, colours by Len O’Grady and letters by Rob Steen, it’s time to meet Captain “Crazy” Keller!

Created by Alan Hebden and Eric Bradbury, Keller has a finger in every black market pie in the European Theatre of Operations. His urge to make a dishonest buck takes him to the very heart of the action, running rings around Germans and Americans alike- with the aid of his long-suffering assistant Corporal “Aerial” Arkin, and their extremely distinctive and heavily armed jeep, Scoot 4 (a replacement for the late, lamented Scoot 3). Yet never let it be said that Keller doesn’t do his bit for the war effort, as the German army often finds out to its cost.

Crazy Keller was Alan Hebden’s second go at an archetype he first tackled with the better-remembered Major Eazy, the slightly unbalanced but effective roguish loner, who fights the war his own way at his own pace. But where Eazy was an anachronism, a very obviously American character inspired by the ‘60s & ‘70s films of Clint Eastwood and James Coburn, but shoehorned into the British army anyway, Keller was a Yank from the get-go (his cinematic roots most likely being Donald Sutherland’s performances in MASH and Kelly’s Heroes). He is therefore arguably more successful, at least in narrative - not commercial terms.

The strip got by on a nice combination of charm, humour and extreme violence, as with style and verve Keller brought his considerable resources to bear on his opponents (including not just the small arsenal carried aboard Scoot, but the massive firepower of US Army artillery and airstrikes, never more than a radio request away). Along the way Hebden provided a nice portrayal of the US Army’s wartime progress, from Italy to the “friendly invasion” of wartime Britain, from the Normandy beachhead to the fighting in southern France, and the eventual assault on Germany itself- with the far-from-beaten foe emerging from the Ardennes forests in suitably sinister style, just in time for the Battle of the Bulge.

There was a good running joke about Keller’s jeep, too, with our hero’s sense of humour failing him as soon as anyone asked what happened to Scoots 1 & 2- this was never actually explained, but the question always provoked the Captain’s ire. Another Hebden predilection, the simmering conflict between the regular German army and their fanatical SS counterparts, gets an airing here (see also Death Squad and The General Dies At Dawn).

Really, there is a great deal to enjoy in this often overlooked classic, particularly with Eric Bradbury’s wonderfully detailed artwork gracing every episode. Crazy Keller lasted from the summer of 1978 to autumn of the following year- longer than most, and all the better for it.

Join Crazy Keller in the pages of 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.