Rapid Fire
Terrible Sunrise #2

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Rapid Fire (c) Steve Martin
Rapid Fire #1 Steve Martin

Rapid Fire #1
Steve Martin

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I was a child at a funny time in comics; when I was young I was old enough to have a copy of Battle, Tiger or The Eagle included with the family newspapers and magazines. You might still get a copy of Beano or The Dandy in the paper round now but even they would be a rarity. Along with the "boys' comic" every week my parents used to buy me an issue or two of the Commando booklet comics for the holidays.

Rapid Fire managed to bring back all my memories of these comics in the first few pages as resembles nothing less that the long running strip Charlie's War about a British soldier who fought in the First World War (and then in the Russian Civil War and the Second World War as the strip continued to be more popular than history would allow). The artwork is incredibly similar, though less dense and textured in Rapid Fire. The story is also very similar as it focuses on a group of British Expeditionary Force soldiers (although with no obvious 'leading' character) deployed to France at the start of WWI. Although this is issue 2 a judicious slip of paper bound into the cover summarises the content of the first issue, a wise move that I would encourage others to adopt. It certainly makes reviewing easier although the plot here is not exactly hard to guess. Much of the first section of the issue is given over to the chatter between the soldiers and their interactions with the French they are billeted with. The second part details the first clash between the British and German soldiers.

The similarity with Charlie's War is an important one for I suspect that I would have thought that Rapid Fire was really quite good if I hadn't been familiar with its "ancestors". Drawing comparisons though I noticed how little we discover about the soldiers in this issue, we have no idea who they are, where they have been and what they want to do. Charlie was (if memory serves) a labourer from Liverpool whose view of the war is initially quite idealistic. Presumably most of the men we meet in this issue are regular army soldiers but apart from a nice line about the Marksman Badge being a good investment because it confers extra pay there is very little detail. Issues of class and region that often seem important in the testaments of the real soldiers seem to be absent here. It is all well executed but it doesn't seem to capture the times or the people involved. In fact sometimes the characterisation becomes so weak we see clichés like the scavenger soldier appearing.

The artwork is quite nice and expressively, certainly I had no trouble believing that this story was taking place in France 1914. However when the shooting starts the problems also begin. The art is quite stiff, which didn't matter when people were relaxing, and the figures slowly start to resemble waxworks when they should be getting looser and more dynamic. Then there is the issue of distance; one of the real problems in illustrating battles is conveying the distance between the two sides. The artists who drew Commando created a huge variety of visual shorthand to deal with the issue of having to have very 'deep' compositions in small panels. Chester Brown also brilliantly solved this problem in his recent Louis Riel series. In Rapid Fire though we are left with no visual indication as to how far apart the two sides are: 20 metres or 2000? There is also the problem of making a gun battle interesting, this is always difficult but there is an attempt to answer this problem by emphasising German self-control as they advance in waves to be slaughtered.

The historical synopsis of the battle has the British dug-in in the fashion of the Boers, their fire was so fast and accurate that the Germans thought they were facing a line of machine gun nests. The advance faltered but ultimately numbers counted and the British had to retreat.

I'm not sure you would get that story from this comic but I can see that that is the story it is trying to convey. Rapid Fire comes very close to being an excellent comic. It deals with big themes and big issues that are of real current interest. It sets out a large cast and uses it effectively, something that is actually quite rare in comics. The art is solid and certainly I cannot fault its top-notch portraiture. However at the moment it has a few big flaws that are holding it back. Given maybe three or four issues it can definitely sort them out and start delivering its full potential. It does not exist in a vacuum though and the comic really does not need that many issues to sort things out if it takes a few lessons from its predecessors.

Rapid Fire deserves to go on and complete its story arc and I would like to see it tackle larger sections of the war as well. It is the kind of comic that makes you glad to be a reviewer. For all its problems I would rather read one issue of Rapid Fire that one hundred, "Got out of bed, cashed my dole" style comics. A comic with this much heart and ambition deserves to succeed and should serve to encourage other comic writers to set their sights a little higher.

Robert Rees
Rapid Fire:
36 A4 pages, colour stock cover.
Price: 2.00 (+P+P?).
Steve Martin, Betsey Heavens Comic Strip Company, 40 Glouscester St, New Town, Chester, CH1 3HR
Received at ZUM! HQ:
?
Review Posted:
19xi03
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