48 pages, Rebellion 2000ad
Review by Hereward L. M. Proops
Classic British comic “2000AD” has thrown up more than its fair share of strange and quirky tales. From rampaging, carnivorous dinosaurs, to interdimensional barbarian lords and time -travelling delinquent aliens, it's safe to say that the comic has never shied away from the weird and the wonderful. The weekly comic has been running for an impressive thirty four years and as a result has a vast back catalogue that can be looted by current owners Rebellion. And we should be very thankful for this fact as Rebellion have put out a number of excellent reprints in the past few years.
Originally serialised from February to April 1980, “Fiends of the Eastern Front” certainly is one of the stranger series that ever graced the pages of the illustrious publication. Set during the Second World War, it tells the story of Hans Schmitt, a young German soldier who comes across a platoon of evil Rumanian vampires who lurk on the Eastern front.
You've probably guessed that this is not a conventional war story.
Cross-genre stories, comics and movies are all the rage now but thirty years ago Gerry Finley-Day's story was considered daringly original. Mixing the real-world horrors of World War Two with the sinister bloodsucking beasts of fiction was a bold move but it paid off. By 1980 the Cold War had reached that uncomfortable stalemate and the anti-communist sentiment seeped into just about every artistic medium. In line with this cultural zeitgeist, there is a definite conflict between East and West in the comic but it never gets in the way of the story. Choosing a German soldier as the main protagonist was equally brave and this is just one of the quirks of this comic that continues to throw many unwitting readers out of their comfort zone.
The comic manages to be convey a sense of doom and sinister chills yet remain as entertaining and action packed as any “Commando” or “Battle” comic. This is helped, no doubt, by Carlos Ezquerra's brilliant artwork. The black and white drawings hark back to those older war comics and Ezquerra makes great use of shadows and darkness in which to hide his undead antagonists. Indeed, of the whole platoon of vampires, we only ever get a good look at the leader, Captain Constanta. The rest of the fiends remain concealed in the gloom, sketchy silhouettes who lurk at the edges of the pages. The monochromatic art seems suitable for the bleak emptiness of the Eastern front and Ezquerra's own unique style manages to capture the terror in the creases and lines of the characters' faces.
Unlike other strips in 2000AD, “Fiends of the Eastern Front” was conceived as a serial and so followed a much tighter narrative than the ongoing series that regular readers would have been familiar with. The story has a clear beginning, middle and end and as such it works much better as a book in its own right than many of Rebellion's reprints. Whilst the threat of the red menace is no longer with us, the comic is as enjoyable as ever and this attractive hardback edition will hopefully bring it to the attention of a new audience.
Hereward L. M. Proops