Sunday, January 25, 2009

STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES 191: "Decision at Volstadt"

The story opens with Gudren Schopfer, the child the Solder saved last ish, captured by "Brownshirts," Austrian children being trained as Nazi soldiers. The Soldier had left Gudren alone in the forest while he went into a local village for clothing to replace his Nazi uniform. By the time he had returned, Gudren had been found by Hitler's Youth. Worst than that, the Brownshirts have obtained the Soldier's "mask-making gear" in a leather briefcase. This is cause for serious concern, as the "secrets and innovations" it contains cannot be allowed to fall into the hands of Nazi Intelligence. The Soldier must get it back, but doesn't want to risk Gudren being killed in the melee. He follows instead.

With a Luger trained on the child, the Brownshirts prod Gudren back into the village. The Soldier, face bandaged, is stopped by a Nazi officer, curious why his face is hidden. The Soldier attempts to bluff his way out, but the Nazis aren't convinced, forcing him to attack them and flee. Turning down a blind alley, the Soldier is hidden by the Volstadt Resistance. The woman to whom the Soldier communicates his needs is named Joanna. She informs him that his briefcase, and Gudren, have been taken to Nazi General Von Bittschwann, head of the Occupation Forces in Volstadt, and also the man who has lured the children of the village into the Hitler Youth.

In an office nearby, General Bittschwann is meeting with Lt. Rico Strada, who pierces the General's sense of national pride by being "a mere Italian...(risen) to Officer's rank and have orders directly from the Fuhrer...orders that supercede your own authority!" Strada's righteous mission is to find the owner of the make-up kit, the man who Strada believes "cost me my arm--as well as the only family I ever had (Father Memmoli, the slain village priest from ish 187's "A Death in the Chapel.)"

The Volstadt Resistance helps the Soldier infiltrate the Nazi HQ, and find Gudren. The Soldier senses a trap too late, as Lt. Strada's soldiers cut off the Resistance. The Soldier quickly acts however, providing an escape route. With Gudren in hand, the fighters make it outside. A lone Brownshirt with a Luger draws down on them, and Joanna has the closest shot to kill the boy. However, she cannot bring herself to do it. The next moment, the boy shoots her in the back.

Back in the catacombs of the Resistance HQ, Joanna dies while pleading that "it was dark...and (Erik) couldn't...see...couldn't..."

The Soldier is informed that the boy who shot Joanna was named Erik, her own son. The Soldier takes up a rifle to return to Von Bittschwann, to get the make-up kit and with "a debt to pay."

The Soldier again sneaks into the Nazi HQ, but before he can kill Bittschwann and reclaim his briefcase, young Nazi Erik appears with his Luger, holding the Soldier at bay. Bittschwann orders Erik to execute the Soldier. The Soldier reveals to Erik that the woman he shot in the alley was his mother. Further, the boy may "have held the gun...but sure as hell it was Von Bittschwann who pulled the trigger!" When the Soldier illustrates who really deserves to die, the boy agrees and shoots the Soldier.

Von Bittschwann is relieved, and proud, but Erik quickly informs the General that he'd done his duty, but "this is for--my mother!" He empties his pistol into Bittschwann. A moment later, the boy is shot by alerted Nazi guards.

The wounded Soldier awakens to find himself a prisoner of war, with Lt. Strada proclaiming, "It is over. You gambled once too often--and you've lost."

Great little hard-hitting story here, as Michelinie continues to orchestrate the subplots expertly with his wartime mini-dramas. Again, it isn't the power of the Nazis which instills the greatest fear, but the corruption of the soul. While the Soldier fights on a superior moral authority, still his primary responsibility is to obtain his make-up gear, his "identity" as the unstoppable secret weapon of the Allies. And again, amid the espionage, the small crushing loss of love and family, a mother and her son sent to early graves, wounds the Soldier just as truthfully as the bullet he received.

Out of Five 3D Men

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