Blazing Combat #3 (April 1966).
Cover art by Frank Frazetta
|Publication date||October 1965 to July 1966|
|Number of issues||4|
|Artist(s)||Reed Crandall, Gene Colan
Frank Frazetta, Russ Heath
Joe Orlando, John Severin
Angelo Torres, Alex Toth
Al Williamson, Wally Wood
Blazing Combat was an American war-comics magazine published by Warren Publishing from 1965 to 1966. Written and edited by Archie Goodwin, with artwork by such industry notables as Gene Colan, Frank Frazetta, John Severin, Alex Toth, and Wally Wood, it featured war stories in both contemporary and period settings, unified by a humanistic theme of the personal costs of war, rather than by traditional men's adventure motifs.
Following the success of Warren Publishing's black-and-white horror-comics magazine Creepy in 1964, publisher James Warren expanded into war fiction the following year with the short-lived Blazing Combat. The black-and-white, 64-page Blazing Combat ran four quarterly issues, cover-dated October 1965 to July 1966, and, like Creepy, carried a 35-cent cover price.
|“||I thought what Harvey had done for [EC publisher] Bill Gaines should have separated in some way from the EC horror comics. Harvey's early work was the inspiration for Blazing Combat. I told Harvey Blazing Combat editorial was not going to be pro-war or blood and guts. It was going to be anti-war...."||”|
Goodwin wrote all but one of the series' 29 stories, co-writing two with each story's respective artist. The generally six- to eight-page tales were illustrated by such EC war-story veterans as John Severin, Wally Wood — two of the primary Frontline Combat contributors — George Evans, Russ Heath, and Alex Toth, as well as by EC horror/sci-fi artists Reed Crandall and Joe Orlando. Other illustrators included Gene Colan, Al Williamson, Gray Morrow, and Angelo Torres. All four covers were paintings by Frank Frazetta.
While most stories took place during World War II, the ranged settings from the 18th century to the present-day. Some dealt with historical figures, such as Revolutionary War general Benedict Arnold and his pre-traitorous victory at the Battle of Saratoga (issue #2, Jan. 1966), while "Foragers" (issue #3, April 1966) focused on a fictitious soldier in General William T. Sherman's devastating March to the Sea during the American Civil War. "Holding Action" (issue #2), set on the last day of the Korean War, ended with a gung-ho young soldier, unwilling to quit, being escorted over his protests into a medical vehicle. The final panel leaves ambiguous whether the trauma will be temporary or lasting.
What were alleged to be the most controversial stories were set during the contemporary Vietnam War, particularly "Landscape" (issue #2), which follows the thoughts of a Vietnamese peasant rice-farmer devoid of ideology, who nonetheless pays the ultimate price simply for living where he does. While writer Goodwin evenhandedly portrays the North Vietnamese Army brutal summary executions of village officials, and a well-meaning U.S. Army fatally bludgeoning its way through the village in a counterattack, Warren has alleged the story caused key distributors to stop selling the title.
The premiere issue of Blazing Combat reached newsstands in mid-1965, during a troop-escalation period years before American public sentiment would turn against the Vietnam War. Publisher James Warren has alleged that, from the beginning, wholesale magazine distributors cautioned him that the magazine's anti-war stance presented a sales obstacle. Warren said in a 1999 interview, "[H]ere is my distributor, saying, 'Uh oh! Wait until our wholesalers — many of them belonging to the American Legion — see this!' They found out very fast that it was anti-war".
The second issue's Vietnam-set story "Landscape", by writer Goodwin and artist Orlando, allegedly solidified wholesalers' stance against the magazine. As comics historian Richard Arndt describes,
|“||The story concerns an old Vietnamese farmer who finally understands the true economics of war. ... According to Warren, the American Legion began a quiet campaign among distributors, many of whom belonged to the organization, to let the magazine sit on distributor shelves rather than be sent to the buying public. There were also problems from the the armed forces (at the time a major purchaser of B&W comic magazines) ... began to refuse to sell Blazing Combat on their bases or PXs, due to its perceived 'anti-war' stance".||”|
Warren said in 1999 that
|“||...the Army PXs' refusal to carry Blazing Combat didn't kill it. That wasn't the death knell, but it told me the magazine would never make it on the newsstands. I was prepared to carry Blazing Combat and lose $2,000 an issue on it. ... Then the loss hit $4,000 for one issue. One of the reasons it dipped so low was because the PXs wouldn't take #4 (Army PXs were a big chunk of our business) and wholesalers were returning bundles unopened, along with nasty letters to me. This was beginning to reflect on the other books. In effect, they said, 'If Warren Publishing is turning out this unpatriotic crap, we don't want any of their other books!' ... The official documentation was their monthly order form from [the PXs], which listed 'zero copies ordered' for next month's Blazing Combat.||”|
However, there is considerable reason to believe that Warren has no basis for making such allegations. In a 1991 interview with Michael Catron featured in a 2009 book collection of Blazing Combat, he effectively admitted he is speculating about why sales dropped with the second issue. He also stated that he was never confronted with criticism or complaints about the magazine's content:
|“||[W]hen a first issue came out from a small publisher...[the wholesalers] really didn't pay too much attention. They didn't know what the hell [Blazing Combat] was. They couldn't care less what it was... [N]o one would tell me the truth [about why sales dropped with the second issue]. Our national distributor didn't care enough to delve into it. The people who were responsible for it didn't have the courage to write me a letter, or telephone me, or tell me to my face at the conventions I attended--the distributing conventions or whatever...||”|
The Comics Journal reviewer Robert Martin has speculated that Frank Frazetta's unusually gruesome cover painting for the second issue may have been why vendors refused to stock the title. The image showed a soldier impaling an enemy on a rifle bayonet while, in the foreground, another soldier bleeds out from a gunshot wound to the head. Martin wrote, "A magazine with this cover would have problems with vendors [in 2010]."
Critic Jason Sacks, in his review of the book The Warren Companion, refers to Blazing Combat as "the finest war comics since the EC days",, while comic-book historian Richard Arndt assesses Blazing Combat as, "Probably the best war comic ever published". Writer and critic Steve Stiles, in an overview of writer-editor Archie Goodwin's career, said, "The stories were both gritty and realistic ... showing the true horror of war".