David Michelinie and Gerry Talaoc's first issue begins with the revelation of the face of a soldier, horribly disfigured by a grenade blast. Informed by the doctor that "plastic surgery is a young science," the man with the skull face breaks down.
Michelinie's introductory caption then succinctly brings the reader up to date: "And so it began. The war had stripped away my humanity, left me with nothing but bitterness. And so I dedicated myself to the destruction of that war. Through intense training I became a human killing machine, a special agent taking missions only a man with nothing to lose would attempt. In short, I became...THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER."
Next, Michelinie establishes the formula for his "man on a mission" stories, beginning with the Unknown Soldier's briefing by a usually unnamed military intelligence officer. In this case, the Soldier is told that an SS Kommando named Shreik was captured and died, revealing that Hitler in 1943 has already established Death Camps in occupied Denmark, and Jews are being slaughtered. The Danes are attempting to transport eight thousand Jews to Sweden, and the Gestapo's man in Copenhagen, Von Kleeg, intends to intercept them in some manner.
The Soldier creates a life-like mask of the SS man, Shreik, and parachutes into Copenhagen to arrive, under faux-fire from the Danes, back to the Nazis. Once back at Von Kleeg's HQ, "Shreik" is immediately attacked by three Nazi soldiers. Swiftly killing them all commando-style, the Soldier learns he has just been tested by Von Kleeg, to verify he is really the highly-trained Shreik. Still, Von Kleeg remains skeptical of Shreik's sudden reappearance. Shreik is introduced to a lovely Jewish woman named Inger. In order to escape the camps, Inger has informed on her own people. While being shown about the Gestapo grounds by one of Von Kleeg's trusted aides, Shreik and Inger are brought under fire by a Jewish man seeking revenge with a lone pistol. Shreik saves Inger while the Nazis gun down the man. Shreik's integrity is immediately brought into question, while Inger reveals the man killed was her own brother.
Von Kleeg, though suspicious of Shreik, puts "Operation Eliminate" under Shreik's command. With details of the raid in hand, Shreik relays the information to a Resistence agent. Back at the Gestapo HQ, Von Kleeg learns of Shreik's meeting, and determines a final test of Shreik's loyalty: execute Inger on the spot. Balancing in his own mind the scales, the Soldier coldly shoots the terrified Inger.
Meanwhile, the Resistence attacks the Nazi raid while the eight thousand Jews escape via boat. Once more at the Gestapo HQ, Shreik has given way to the Unknown Soldier, who kills his way to Colonel Von Kleeg and delivers a final rough justice.
The story ends with the Soldier on a ship ruminating on history's view of his actions, how no one will care how the Jews were saved, or who died and suffered to save them. The last panel shows a ghostly apparition of Inger looking over him, sadly, a tragic incidence of the War.
Talaoc's pencils are especially "cartoony" in this first installment, and later he would tighten them up considerably. Not bad by any means, but interesting to note how Talaoc subtlely changes over the course of his time on the Soldier, including long after Michelinie has departed.
This is a fine story by Michelinie, simple and assured, even if nowhere near the peak of the run. Still, it's a nice piece of story-telling that doesn't try to do more than it sets out to do.
The Unknown Soldier is shown to have the ability to regret his decisions, but by no means does he question what he has to do. I find it interesting that Michelinie doesn't fall into a Romantics trap and have the Soldier hesitate at all. To hesitate is to fail the mission, and die, and the Soldier is far and away the best commando the U.S. has. The mission is bookended by the flashback of the Soldier seeing his shattered face for the first time, and Inger's ghostly resonance. Both people have been damaged by the War, and the link between them is the probability that history will not record them. For Inger, erased from the memory of her people as a betrayer, and the Soldier who is no longer a man but a codename, Michelinie has begun his epic STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES run with the psychological remnants of a world at war, inescapable and hellish.