Jackboot & Ironheel (Trade Paperback)
Released by: IDW Publishing
Released on: February 22nd, 2017.
Written and Illustrated by Max Millgate
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As a kid, Eddie Neale dreamt of playing football (soccer) for West Ham United. In 1939, he did just that, albeit briefly. He even scored a winning goal and earned himself a chant – “Eddie Neale with The Iron Heel.” When Britain entered the Second World War, Eddie Neale went from sports hero to a ‘tail-end Charlie’ as he served his time as a tail-gunner in the air force.
When the Lancaster Bomber HB-33 he was in went down after a Messchersmitt opened fire, he was the only survivor. He was, however, captured by a German patrol and taken prisoner – maybe he wasn’t as lucky as his father had always told him he was. His captors take him to Lungotz Luftzig, a castle prison far up in the mountains. Kommandant Von-Kleist tells the crew that brings him in that they should have just shot him and left him to die. It seems that this prison is being decommissioned, they’ve recently executed fifty prisoners, why do they need a new one? As he’s shuffled off to a cell, a nun named Sister Evangeline watches through her window – before he’s brought inside, they make eye contact.
Eddie is locked away. He asks the young guard, Gunter, for a bandage as he is bleeding. He’s told that Sister Evangeline will tend to his wounds in the morning. When Eddie goes to sleep that night he is briefly visited by ‘Muggenthaler’ – who may or may not be a zombie. Around the same time, two guards complain about how the bell tower went off, even though there hammer inside the bell to make it ring.
The next morning when Evangeline shows up to wrap Eddie’s wounds, now infected, he gets some back story – it seems this place was a convent until the Nazi’s took it over but that the Mother Superior refused to leave. Later, Gunther shows up and Eddie asks him about the other guard, the one called Muggenthaler. Gunther runs away, leaving his post in a panic, to notify the Kommandant – and then we learn what really happened to Muggenthaler…. he drowned in the lake three months ago.
Muggenthaler has, it seems, returned from the grave. When this issue begins, the Kammandant is grilling a solider named Heinrich about exactly what happened and how a solider long dead could possibly have decapitated a guard. Meanwhile, Eddie talks to a sympathetic German soldier named Gunter about football, and maybe…. just maybe… they’re starting to form a friendship of sorts. The next day when Gunter and another soldier are cleaning out an old store room, he finds a dirty old soccer ball and takes it with him when he leaves. He brings it to Eddie’s cell just as Sister Evangeline arrives with his rations. The three of them play around a bit in the cell until the Mother Superior shows up and puts a stop to it.
Meanwhile, two soldiers, Wilhelm and Muller, are out looking for the Kommandant’s lost dog. They get separated and Wilhelm gets his leg caught in a bear trap just as the dog, rabid and seemingly hungry, appears, its eyes glowing an eerie shade of green! It doesn’t end well for Wilhelm but Muller wins the day and does away with the beast by tossing it into a pond where it’s pulled under by some massive tentacles. The Kommandant is not happy about this, not at all. But Mother Superior? Well, she has a talk with Eddie, it seems she might be able to help him escape, but of course, there’s still the matter of Muggenthaler to deal with. Nothing can be easy.
Hans and the other men on the boat march Eddie back to the Kommandant Von-Kleist but he’s none too pleased when he finds out that Joachim didn’t make it, that he was in fact killed by the rotting corpse of Muggenthaler! Meanwhile, the Kommandant plans Eddie’s punishment, he tells his driver, Kurt, that he might execute him at first light. When the soldiers deliver Eddie to him, the Kommandant orders Fritz to put him in solitary confinement until he decides exactly what he’s going to do to him and when. The nuns see this happening and Mother Superior tells Sister Evangeline that this all went exactly as planned!
In the Kommandant’s chambers, Kurt talks to him about the Muggenthaler issue, wondering aloud if the rumors of his having come back from the dead to haunt the castle as a shambling corpse might actually be true. Kurt explains how he grew up in the area and how there’s a legend popular with the locals that tells how the man who built it contracted a man named Wulf to build the perfect bell for his bell tower. Wulf, try as he may, was unable to produce a bell without a crack in it until he partook in an evil pact. This is why there is no hammer in the bell, so that it can never be rung lest it bring that evil back – and yet recently the bell has been heard by some in the castle.
Of course, the Kommandant dismisses all of this as nonsense, until he too gets a visit from Muggenthaler himself, accompanied by a very large Lovecraftian beast!
It all comes down to this!
Gunter is not happy that Evangeline is now a casualty of war. As he and other soldier carry her corpse out of Neale’s cell, our hero manages to pilfer a Luger. The soldiers leave and Eddie takes out his frustrations on the ball they’ve left for him. He kicks it about the cell and then it hits a brick, opening up a secret passageway! He follows it down with only a lantern to guide his way, and eventually the passageway leads to a water way that takes him deep into an underground cavern.
In the cavern he finds a massive monolith made of ice – he sees something inside and smashes it out, discovering a hammer axe hanging on a wall with some writing carved into it that seems to tie things back to the bell. It isn’t easy but he brings the hammer back to the castle grounds above. He makes his way to the bell tower, climbs the stairs and is promptly shot at by a tank and then attacked by a zombie – until he realizes he’s not the tanks target, the massive Lovecraftian beast emerging from the lake is!
Has Eddie once again found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time or will he find a way out of this?
Max Millgate’s darkly comic blend of WWII action and oddball monster mayhem comes to a more than satisfying conclusion with this fourth and final issue. It doesn’t finish the way you expect it to but it definitely brings the story to a satisfying finish, particularly if you consider the arc that the character of Eddie Neale has travelled over the course of these four issues. Humor and horror are handed out in fairly equal doses but the story never loses sight of the point. This is lean, efficient storytelling done with some clever style. Millgate’s artwork is also pretty great. Lots of detail is paid to not just the human characters but the inhuman characters as well. The monster designs are impressive and those creatures look great set against the World War II European backdrop.
Here’s hoping we’ll see more from Millgate sooner rather than later. He’s got a lot of talent and if this series is anything to go off of, knows how to make some seriously entertaining and fun comic books.