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Home ¦ Reviews ¦ Fiends of the Eastern Front

2000 AD - Fiends of the Eastern Front
Fiends of the Eastern Front
by Gerry Finlay-Day and Carlos Ezquerra

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What to Expect: Vampires in World War 2. That's all you need to know...

Review by Adam Crabtree
25th October 06

This little classic is enjoying something of a renaissance in Tharg’s stables at the moment. David Bishop’s prose novels and Meg tale have captured the imaginations of those who followed Constanta’s original exploits once more with their moody, contemporary take on the “vampires in World War II” scenario.

So does Gerry Finlay Day’s instigating strip still retain its bite (bite! they’re vampires! Y’know?)?

Yes!

Well, I guess that’s my review. Unless you want to hear why, of course. The luxuriously appointed hardcover edition features a highly atmospheric new cover. The colouring of red and blue on the war torn visuals is a very effective lure. The moody black innards of the book present a new introduction from Sinister Dexter’s Dan Abnett, who relates the story of Fiends’ appearance in the magazine from the point of view of his young Squaxx self. It’s a sweetly endearing little anecdote of this unusual strip’s genesis as told from the outside, and it helps you contextualise Fiends as a comic unusual for its place in the predominantly science-fiction ruled pages of 2000AD. It’s short, taking up about half the page it’s own, but it’s certainly better to have it than not to.

2000 AD - Fiends of the Eastern Front

The “extras”, such as they are, are rounded off by the sole Fiends cover from the era, the iconic image of the hero under threat and pleading to be allowed to read this week’s prog.

From the beginning of the collection, there is a certain sense of palpable unease that is not present in earlier editions of Rogue Trooper or Dredd. The very fact that we are placed in the thick of German soldiers fighting for Nazi Germany, taking in American films like Frankenstein (a sly nod to Hitler’s love of cinema?)… it presents it in such a way as to tell the reader that terrible things can and will happen.

We have the might of Carlos Ezquerra as well as Finley Day to thank for the solid darkness that descends on the proceedings; his inimitable style is present and correct, and there’s an element of fascination in seeing him tackle some marginally more mundane subject matter. Seeing the man who made the creatures and concepts of Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog come to life tackle the snow covered Eastern Front is bracing to say the least, and puts me in mind of Bloody Mary, another work in which Ezquerra’s talents were utilized in a far more grim fashion.

There is a bit of a safety rope in that the narrative is tied to a “present day” plot thread in post-post-war Germany, where a German official summons an English colonel to the resting place of our “hero”. The opening images of Hans’ corpse sitting skeletal in a chair with numbered silhouettes behind him is an image that is genuinely creepy, but the young audience of the day would have been at least able to cling to the fact that whatever horrors arose within the story, we were safely removed from it by a fair few decades.

So they think…

2000 AD - Fiends of the Eastern Front
And this brings us onto the scares. Fiends can indeed be fiendish when it comes to the macabre imagery of giant wolves and bats swarming over terrified soldiers. Seeing these symbols of masculinity and ruggedness (as popularised by Ezquerra himself as well as others in magazines like Action and Battle!) being brought low by these popular tropes of horror was disconcerting even to my contemporary eyes.

The relish and old fashioned excesses of Gerry Finlay Day’s scripting actually really suits the work. The shrieking of “Nein!” and “Nyet!” And “Kill the dead that walk the earth!” elevates the proceedings to a certain hysterical poetry. You can tell that the creators had a ball with this one, and why not?

The Fiends here are proper vampires; larger than life, with more evil in them than Pol Pot’s journal, these creatures bear all the classic hallmarks. The weaknesses to the cross, the sun and the need to sleep in coffins… most modern writers tend to mix and match according to what they think is popular or just what they want to do, but here they are presented whole and without guilt. The transformations into wolves and various other “children of the night” are made to live by Ezquerra, and Finley Day’s story.

2000 AD - Fiends of the Eastern Front

The sense of almost Tolkienesque world-building is also appealing, with the WWII conflict being turned into a rich world of Red ski soldiers, convoys and war ravaged towns. It’s a theme that it has in common with near contemporaries such as Charley’s War, and even the modern day Fiends indulges in it a little bit. Of course WWII was not an “exciting” place to be in any traditional sense, but presented here in serialised comic fiction, you’ve got to make a few allowances.

While there is as sense of predictability that comes with knowing that 2000AD always shoots for the final twist, Fiends generally manages to surprise occasionally, even when it threatens to descend into a conveyor belt of action occurrences, that are exciting to begin with but threaten to wear as time goes on (one of the things that only becomes apparent when reading the work as a whole instead of in weekly installments I should think).

2000AD’s back catalogue has a very good record of lasting the ravages of time, moreso than its American counterparts in the medium. This has been due to these early stories’ ability to go that little bit deeper and that little bit darker. Fiends of the Eastern Front does not betray that tradition, and you could do a lot worse than to pick it up.

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Original content (c) 2002 Gavin Hanly (contact 2000AD Review).