In 1983, incumbent Battle editor Terry Magee oversaw a project that would be something of a make or break gamble for the weekly. With sales in sharp decline, IPC had abandoned the ‘all-war’ format of Battle’s golden era and taken on an ‘adventure’ strand. The tide was turning against Battle as early as 1981, when Johnny Red and the pilots of Falcon Squadron had urged the readers to join them in the battle against poor circulation by encouraging friends into placing a regular order with their newsagent. Luckily, a solution was found in the recently re-launched Action Man range. Palitoy were keen to exploit the marketing potential of the new line of figures, and Battle needed both the money and the readers an alliance would bring. In early June, a two-part story was published. The reception proved favourable, and by October, Action Man had moved in for the long haul. The comic was re-named Battle Action Force, with free variant copies of the first issue given away to enhance the profile of the venture with non-comic buyers.
Unfortunately, the price for Battle’s own identity was a high one, giving over half of each issue to the Action Force stories. This meant cutting original strip down to around ten pages, just enough room for Johnny Red, Charley’s War and The Hunters or its replacement The Nightmare. The rest of the comic was made up of feature pages and ‘Best of Battle’ reprints. Action Force was presented as a ‘comic-within-a-comic’ for a while, but was soon dominating from cover to cover. John Cooper was taken off of Johnny Red to draw the Action Force stories, seemingly because he was too popular to be working outside the franchise. Most of the other Battle stalwarts at the time took on one of the Action Force strips, with the exception of Carlos Pino, who took over Johnny Red.
Things went well for around three years, but then Palitoy were sold off and the parent company pulled the plug, choosing to publish Action Force comics with Marvel UK, unencumbered by Battle’s ongoing series. Battle floundered around for a few weeks, then launched the ill-conceived Storm Force series at the beginning of 1987 as an attempt to recreate the success of the Action Force stories. Unfortunately this failed to excite the readers, and a year later Battle was merged with the new version of Eagle, where reprints of Johnny Red and Charley’s War held the torch alongside the Storm Force characters for far longer than the Battle name managed to stay on the cover.
Jim Marshall has dedicated a site to the Action Force franchise, and has placed all the Battle era strips alongside the Marvel version at www.bloodforthebaron.com.