Published: Commando #2583
Artist: Janek Matysiak
I have come into another Commando drawn by Janek Matysiak, the son of popular DCT artist David Matysiak. It comes with both a gorgeous Matysiak Jnr cover and interior Matysiak Jnr artwork, which seems to be rare thing for Matysiak Jnr in Commando, who most often drew just Commando covers. So we get the best of both worlds here. Strangely, the issue is another omission from the wiki entry that is supposed to list all Commandos with Janek Matysiak as creator.
By World War II, most British cavalry regiments have gone over from horse power to machine power, but not everyone is happy with such newfangled developments. Among them is Major “Galloping Jack” Faraday, who would have a horse over a tank any day and still wears spurs with his uniform. Faraday’s constant companion is Trooper Tom Tuttle, although he does not share Faraday’s enthusiasm for horses. He’s a mechanics man, and his idea of riding is motorbikes. They are an odd couple for sure.
The Depot Commander doesn’t like Faraday and is always coming up with ways to get rid of him. Anything with a horse in it is guaranteed to do the trick, but right now the only thing available is an assignment to deliver old A-Nine tanks to Russia. Faraday accepts it all the same, as he can speak some Russian. He takes Tom along because his mechanics expertise will help with the tanks.
In Russia, the A-9s are loaded onto a train at Murmansk for delivery. But in transit, they have to be offloaded prematurely because the Russians require them for immediate action at a newly opened front. While Faraday and Tom are waiting for their return train, a freight train pulls up with a Cossack regiment aboard, who are bound for the front. Five of their horses have fallen ill and the Cossacks are all set to euthanise them, but horse-loving Faraday intervenes. He diagnoses their condition as colic, which is treatable. He waives the return train in order to take care of the sick horses, using the waiting room at the train station as their stall, and using all manner of bribery and bullying to get everything needed to treat them. The Cossacks head to the front on their remaining horses.
Once the horses have recovered, Tom and Faraday start their journey to return them to the front. It’s Tom’s first time in the saddle, and he struggles with it at first, but he begins to learn the basics of old-fashioned cavalry riding from Faraday. Their old A-9s and then horse carts give them tracks to follow to the front, but it’s a hard journey, and there is the problem of how to get back home once they deliver the horses. Faraday discovers the horses are “gun shy” i.e. they take fright at the sound of gunfire, something they must get used to in combat. He starts giving them training to cure them of that.
They are spotted by a Russian unit, led by Sergeant Afonka, who are hauling machine guns on horse carts to Major Taras Grischuk’s squadron at the front. Afonka, who is unfamiliar with British uniforms (and apparently, German ones too), mistakes them for Germans and opens fire. This spooks the horses as they are still gun-shy. Fortunately, the misunderstanding is quickly cleared up.
Afonka has lost one of his cart horses, so Faraday lends him one of their horses for the job, and the two parties combine forces. But when they meet up with Grischuk, he suspects the British soldiers are German spies. Then they are all attacked by German planes. Tom saves the day with his mechanics expertise, which enables him to wield one of the machine guns at the planes. After that they are welcome in Grischuk’s Cossack unit, and Grischuk insists Faraday call him by his friendly title of Taras Ivanovich.
The Cossacks move on next day and come across an enemy advance of foot soldiers. They charge, with Faraday far more experienced than Tom in horse cavalry charges. Tom is still not the best of cavalry horsemen and falls off his horse, but carries on in the fight with his gun. Meanwhile, Taras is impressed at Faraday’s prowess in the saddle. Their attack is a success and they capture a lot of arms and equipment that will prove useful later on.
Taras has been wounded and stubbornly carrying on without seeking medical assistance. Worse, another enemy advance is coming, and this time it is more than a match for the Cossacks because it is a tank unit. Taras sacrifices himself to buy time for his troops to get away by setting himself up as a decoy for the tank units.
The Cossacks are all for a revenge charge, but Faraday has a better idea. Using his mechanics expertise, Tom uses the mines they took from the first enemy column and then deploy their machine guns to attract the Germans’ attention and lure them into a trap – a minefield all set for them. After the trap is sprung and proves another success, they clean things up, including the unexploded mines.
Afterwards they go back for Taras’ body. Surprisingly, Taras is still alive – just – and with his dying breath he adopts Faraday into his family. For this reason the Cossacks choose Faraday as Taras’ successor to lead them and give him Taras’ sabre. Faraday is stunned at such an honour, which must make him a “King’s Cossack”.
Faraday sets his squadron to work in harassing enemy supply lines, with the captured explosives and Tom’s expertise, which are followed by Cossack horse charges. They carry out many such attacks and capture a lot of vital supplies, including feed for the horses. Fortunately for them, Blitzkrieg was not mechanised at the rear end, which still deployed horses and infantry, making it the most vulnerable point in Blitzkrieg for counterattack. The Germans turn the tide a little with occasional Luftwaffe strikes and, when winter comes, German ski patrols. The machine guns bring down those patrols.
But Faraday is still clad in British uniform, which looks a bit odd in a Cossack unit and makes him conspicuous. There are going to be questions when the Brigadier pays a visit to the unit. The Cossacks hastily disguise Faraday as a Cossack, but he insists on retaining his monocle (Cossacks don’t wear them, surely?) and still has a British accent. The Brigadier is told that Faraday is Taras’ brother and his accent is due to a broken jaw from childhood, but they’re left feeling the Brigadier is suspicious. Besides, the Brigadier said he received reports about the successes of the Cossack unit, but surely the reports also mentioned that the leader was in British uniform?
The Brigadier informs them that the Germans are rushing headlong to reach the railway, and they are detailed to support a tank regiment in bringing down those Germans. Along the way they come across the last of the old A-9s and bring it along for its last fight. Faraday suggests a strategy his unit knows very well: set up a trap of explosives, in this case a frozen lake, and use themselves as bait to lure the Germans into it and send them to a freezing death beneath the ice. The plan works, though Faraday has taken a bullet in the arm from it.
The Brigadier presents Faraday with the Order of the Red Banner and has a message for the “English Major”. Yes, he saw through it, and Faraday has lost his fake Cossack moustache anyway. Also, the British are asking about their two missing men. So Faraday and Tom are under marching orders – or rather, flying orders – to go home, and their plane is waiting. They leave with great respect from the Brigadier and cheers for “Galloping Jack” from the Cossacks.
But Faraday and Tom are not home for long, as the Depot Commander is always eager to get rid of Faraday. When Faraday recovers from his bullet wound, he assigns him to a horse-and-mule transport unit in Burma. Faraday volunteers Tom as one of his team. “Here we go again…” thinks Tom. Those assignments never give poor Tom the chance for well-deserved disembarkation.
This Commando came out the year after another Matysiak Jnr Commando, “Traitor’s War”, and one can see how his artwork has advanced between the two issues. The linework is cleaner, sharper and neater, and there is more attention to fine details, while in “Traitor’s War” some details look like they could have been handled with more care.
Horse stories are always popular with girls comics readers, so the story should give girls comics readers some appeal as well as boys. It gives the reader a taste of the world of the war horse, which makes a change from stories about ponies and show-jumping. And the glimpse we see informs us that the world of the war horse can be a tough one.
For one thing, there are the conditions the war horses face, which in warfare can be hellish, such as trekking across harsh terrain, being at the mercy of the weather, and there is the worry of running out of horse fodder, which may not always be easy to resupply in wartime. Not to mention the horrors and terrors of battle itself. By instinct they rear and bolt at the sound of gunfire, yet have to “stand like a rock” when a gun goes off right at their ears. “I’m blooming sure I wouldn’t!” thinks Tom, who must have felt great pangs of sympathy for the horses he has to help cure of gun-shyness. They are also at the mercy of their masters, and not all masters would be like “Galloping Jack”. This is illustrated in the scene where the Cossacks, out of ignorance and probably haste to get to the front, decide to shoot the sick horses, and they would have been if Faraday had not been there. Thank goodness there were no scenes of outright cruelty to the horses, which must have been an occupational hazard of the war horse as well.
The story makes a change from the more usual Commando formula of hero vs villain, which climaxes in a final confrontation where the villain gets killed off (blown up, shot, nasty accident or whatever) or captured. Instead, it’s more of a character development story, plus it features the journey story (always popular in girls comics) and action and adventure for the boys. Using the odd couple scenario also adds humour to the story. Tom and Faraday are an odd couple over machines and old-fashioned horses, but events prove that together they make quite a team, with their opposing intererests complementing each other and both proving invaluable to the cossack unit.
Faraday is somewhat pompous and obtuse – for example, he seems totally oblivious to the fact that his depot commander, “an old enemy”, dislikes him. And he refuses to remove his monocle when he dons Cossack disguise although wearing it could mar his disguise: “Certainly not. A chap has to keep up certain standards.” And his love of horses goes a bit overboard sometimes. But for the same reasons he’s also a funny character and gets many of the best lines that make the reader laugh.
Tom is more the sympathetic character of the odd couple. Although he’s Faraday’s constant companion, he seems to be a long-suffering one and never gets the chance for disembarkation because he always gets roped into those damn assignments with Faraday. He suffers even more in learning to ride a horse and the ins and outs of cavalry, and by the time it’s time for the cavalry charge, he hasn’t fully mastered it. He finds operating something mechanical, such as the machine guns or setting mines, a welcome relief from riding a horse. It’s not clear just how experienced he has become as a horseman or whether horses have grown on him by the time he leaves the Cossacks, but he must have emerged appreciating horses a lot more.
Both their interests prove invaluable in making the traditionalist and somewhat backward Cossack unit a more formidable fighting force than it would have been otherwise, what with Tom’s expertise in mechanics, explosives and modern warfare technology and Faraday’s experience with German forces as well as horses. The Cossacks start off not knowing a thing about German uniforms and call tanks “iron carts”, and emerge much more strategic and clued-up about how modern warfare works. Let us hope that they can now get along fine without Faraday and Tom. It must have been quite a wrench for them to leave the Cossacks. They were well settled in by the time they were discovered, and readers must have been hoping and wondering if they would stay. Sadly, their orders were to go home, and orders were orders.