Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Fiends of the Eastern Front – review

Writers: Gerry-Finley Day, David Bishop & Dan Abnett

Artists: Carlos Ezquerra & Colin MacNeil

First published: 2010 (collection)

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: War Sucks!

West Berlin, 1980. A group of workmen uncover a shocking secret from the past. Buried deep underground are the remains of the Wehrmacht soldier, Hans Schmitt, and his diary, which journals his eerie encounter with the Romanian Captain Constanta and his platoon of blood-sucking freaks!

Back in 1943, with the Russians willing to fight until their last man in order to defend Stalingrad, Panzergrenadier Richter discovers Constanta’s secret and learns that sometimes your allies can be just as dangerous as the enemy!

The review: I had reviewed the novelisations of Fiends of the Eastern Front many moons ago and, to be honest, they failed to strike a chord with me, despite being based on a 2000 AD strip. The comic strip itself had passed me by as I was no longer reading 2000 AD when it first appeared in 1980.

More recently Anthony Hogg asked about the comic strip and, coincidentally I received the trade paperback as a Christmas present (thank you Sarah). The TP collects the original strip but, as this only ran for ten issues, this is rather short for a trade paperback and so additional strips are added; Stalingrad from 2006 and Red Menace, which was published in Judge Dredd Magazine in 2002.

The original comic is great fun. Following the diary of Hans Schmitt it details his first volunteering on the Eastern Front, which was nearly his last until a group of Romanian soldiers rescued him. During the next day he sees the state of the Russian soldiers who were killed by them and, as time passes, he discovers the secret of the ten Romanians who never seem to be around during the day.

The leader, Captain Constanta, knows Schmitt knows the truth and ensures he is kept near the vampire platoon – having him transferred with them when they take up an Arctic position. The comic essentially follows Schmitt watching the vampires decimate their enemies until Romania switches sides in the war and suddenly Schmitt is in a fight for survival, which takes him back to Berlin as the war draws to a close.

The artwork is the starker pen and ink style of its age, but suits the story, which itself is perhaps simpler than the later novel and works well for it. The artwork in Stalingrad was a smoother, more modern style that worked less well, I think, compared to the earlier strip but we get an interesting confession from a blinded Panzergrenadier who was forced to serve under Constanta. This is notable for some of the content – including a golem constructed by a Rabbi to attack Constanta, the vampire impacted by holy symbols generally (and the Star of David specifically), the ability to summon zombie like dead and wear the skin of another to walk in daylight.

The final strip was short, almost throwaway and marred by the addition of a female Russian vampire sent against the Romanians – not in concept but design as the artwork rendered her more like a superhero and that just didn’t fit within the concept, for me.

Be that as it may, the volume is worthwhile as a whole. It carried its story forward dynamically and worked better than the novels. Definitely worth seeking out. 7 out of 10.

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