Sunday, March 1, 2009

STAR-SPANGLED WAR STORIES 193: "Save the Children!"

David Michelinie gets an issue off here, as Gerry Conway fills in with Gerry Talaoc keeping on with the art duties. Conway had been writing for DC for several years by this point, and in several years would be at Marvel Comics creating a future money-machine (far-future admittedly) character called The Punisher.

This story begins with the Unknown Soldier parachuting into the German countryside, five miles from the Swiss border. He immediately kills a patrolling Nazi soldier and jogs to the nearest town, called Berghoff. He arrives at the train station, where he finds a Nazi officer to kill and impersonate.

While preparing his mask, the Soldier recalls his orders from a blustering General, who berates the Soldier and refuses to share information about the Soldier's objective. Which, as it turns out, is to destroy a German transport train carrying a Nazi Field Marshall named Helmholt. The Soldier is instructed to kill anyone and everyone in pursuit of the train's destruction.

Stealing the face and uniform of the dead officer, the Soldier carries a packet of plastic explosive in his tunic. He boards the train and is immediately confronted by his family, a wife and two children. As Ernest Heidak, the Soldier bluffs his family while discovering that the train is rolling into Berlin, and that Ernest's family will be aboard the entire way. Thus, when he destroys the train and the Nazis officers, he kills the innocent families as well.

Unable to bring himself to perform such as act, Colonel Heidak determines he will accompany the officers to their quarters in Berlin, wait until they seperate from their families, and kill them there.

Colonel Heidak is taken into a private meeting of the officers on the train, where he learns the men there are taking over the stradegems for the war on the Russian Front. This clears up part of the Soldier's question about his mission. Once in Berlin, Colonel Heidak is shown to his own chauffeured car, as all ten of the officers and their families are being driven by different routes. The Gestapo suspects a mass assassination and has acted to avoid it. Colonel Heidak can only follow along, until entering Berlin, and nightfall.

The Soldier emerges to find out where the secret staff meeting is taking place. He breaks into the German High Command executive offices, sure to find the information he seeks. While probing, the Soldier comes across a discussion between two officers. One of them, "Frederick," is incredulous that Field Marshall Helmholt is about to take command of the Russian Campaign. Helmholt sneers at Frederick's desire to have destroyed his career in the "Balkan assignment." From childhood, these two men have despised one another. Now, Helmholt is in a position of power, with the means to win the War. Helmholt also reveals the location of the meeting: Hitler's bunker.

The Soldier is nearly discovered, and shoots his way out of the offices. The next day, Colonel Heidak is driven to the bunker, and he and the other offices convene. Ernest sets a timer on his satchel, containing his plastic explosive. He is stopped by Field Marshall Helmholt, who wishes to gloat over their coming achievement. Ernest knocks him aside and flees the bunker as his bomb explodes. However, he is recognized as Colonel Heidak while escaping, and upon reaching the hotel where "his" family has been staying, discovers the Gestapo there. Heidak's family is removed, to be placed in the concentration camps, and the Soldier realizes his action to save Heidak's family, the children in particular, has failed. He bitterly swallows the ugly truth of their impending deaths. And he leaves them to their fate.

A more-than-solid work which thematically falls in line with Joe Orlando's editing on this series so far. Gerry Talaoc's art is fabulous here, perhaps the apex of the series in quality. The script really doesn't miss a beat in the formula established by Michelinie, and the twist of the Soldier's complications to save innocent lives which nevertheless ends up resulting in their deaths is well-done. A solid issue which doesn't flag in the face of Micheline's absence.

Out of Five 3D Men.

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