A rarity, Joe Kubert doesn't provide the cover for this issue...Ernie Chan, one of the second-generation artists post-Silver Age, renders a basic mirror image of the Soldier and a Nazi antagonist effectively enough.
"Encounter" is almost like "Part Three" of the two-part Monte Grande story previous, with the Unknown Soldier in his "non-mission" trenchcoat and stingy hat and facial bandages, on a hospital ship full of wounded soldiers heading to Corsica. The "last mission left a bad taste," and the Soldier is eager to move on from it. So eager that the near-zero visibility of dense fog slowing the ship is a welcome opportunity for the Soldier to be "alone."
While brooding on deck, the Soldier is surprised by Nazi soldiers invading the ship. The Soldier swiftly reacts, escaping into the hold. Stalking one of the Nazi hunters, the Soldier kills him, but is concussed during the fight and blacks out. A flashback occurs of several hours before, with the Soldier's arrival on the hospital ship. While visiting the head nurse onboard, a woman named Lt. Molly Barnes, the Soldier walks in on Nurse Molly and her wheelchair-bound fiancee, Sgt. Cross, having a tender moment. Sgt. Cross is immediately agitated, and seems to recognize the Soldier. This arouses the Soldier's curiosity, since he is, well, "unknown." When asked about her involvement with Cross, and his odd antagonism toward the Soldier, she relates Cross' paralysis and bitterness over his wounding. The Soldier is privvy to Molly's new-found romance with Cross, how a woman who is "not very...attractive" is treated so well by a man like Cross.
Unconcious only a few seconds, the Soldier uses his make-up kit to assemble a mask of the slain Nazi. Appropriating the SS uniform, and dressing the corpse in his own clothing, the Soldier tosses the body over the side and opens fire on it. The other soldiers arrive with "Stefan" claiming to have killed the escapee. Stefan joins the rest of the Nazi boarding party who have taken the , crew, doctors and nurses prisoner. One of the Nazis relates the mission objective to the prisoners, pointing out their destination of Port Boursin contains the largest of the Allied Naval Support Group in the Mediterrean, and the entrance to the harbor is narrow enough to be blocked, crippling the American Fleet. The hospital ship itself is to be scuttled, creating an impassible barricade. When the Nazis reach for the explosives they will plant for this task, Stefan draw his weapon on them. The next instant, Stefan is knocked out from behind by Sgt. John Cross, out of his wheelchair with Luger in hand, revealing himself to be Hauptmann Johann Kraus, a Nazi spy. Molly Barnes is confused, and Kraus explains to her that he recognized the Soldier by his face bandages and determined to neutralize him. Kraus sets the task of throwing the Soldier overboard to two soldiers and takes Molly into the Captain's Quarters.
While apologizing for betraying Molly's confidence, Kraus admits he has fallen in love with her. When expecting her loathing, Kraus finds Molly truly loves him as well. She cuts off the light, promising herself to Cross/Kraus, unable to let true love slip from her hands.
Meanwhile, Stefan/the Soldier is being dragged topside when he awakens and kills the soldiers. Taking a weapon, he makes his way to the explosives the Nazis have activated, discovering them welded to the hull with no chance to be defused in time.
Molly and Kraus discuss their issues in the face of the War, how their love is forbidden. Molly is willing to live as best they can, as long as they can.
In the hold, the Soldier determines the only thing to do about the bomb is to set it off prematurely, before the ship reaches the Port. He fires his weapon at the explosive, which tears a massive hole in the hull. The Soldier then begins evacuating the wounded Allied troops onto lifeboats, just as Kraus and Molly arrive to stop him. Kraus gets the drop on the Soldier, pointing out he cannot have the soldiers leave. They are the enemy, and even though his prime mission has failed, it is best the soldiers die on the vessel than in battle. Molly is incredulous the man she loved would murder innocents, and Kraus reminds her "There's no such thing as murder in war, Molly--and very little innocence either!"
Pleading to Molly to understand his actions, Kraus is distracted long enough for the Soldier to tackle and disarm him. With water fast rising, the two struggling men are stopped by Molly, who holds the Luger now. While the Soldier and Kraus continue to battle, Kraus asks Molly to shoot the Soldier, preserve their love. Molly fires the weapon. Leutnant Kraus falls, dead.
Eventually the hospital ship is fully evacuated, and the Soldier rides in one lifeboat with Molly. He tells her she made the right choice, to save all those lives and help the War effort. Molly, weepingly, points out what a sheltered life she'd led, how she'd learned little of men, or weaponry. She then tells the confused Soldier: "...You see (sniff) I was really aiming that pistol--at you!"
One of the best of the Michelinie/Talaoc stories, "Encounter" is a remarkable achievment in story economy and characterization. With little to support the doomed love between Nazi spy and lonely Allied nurse, the writing effortlessly details the conflict. Again, the individual tragedy has been lost amidst the struggle of Wartime, with only the Soldier aware of the details. The story ends on the lifting of the fog and the dawn's light, but the realization is apparent: Molly cares nothing for flag and country in the face of agonizing mortality, and if not for the whims of Fate, she could have altered the course of World War 2. The individual choices do affect the tides of history, but those choices have meaning only to those who make them. History does not acknowledge the "faceless" dead.
The best issue of the run so far.