Saturday, March 28, 2009

STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES 194: "The Survival Syndrome"

Continuing our look at the 1970s 20-issue run of Unknown Soldier stories by David Michelinie and Gerry Talaoc...

This story begins in occupied France, at night, as a Nazi courier on a motorcycle spots a trap on a lonely road. A line of wire has been drawn taught across the roadway, at just the height to decapitate the soldier. Having easily spotted the wire, Conrad Vorst goes to cut the wire and is electrocuted. From the shadows, the Unknown Soldier steps out, his trap successful. The Soldier opens his make-up kit and assembles a mask from dead Vorst's face.

The Soldier reflects on his orders, provided him by a superior, in which he is to find a vital Nazi communications center in the French town of Beaulieux. This communications center is providing information about Allied troop movements, and the Soldier must destroy it. While putting on the dead courier's uniform and face, the Soldier wonders why Conrad Vorst had no identification papers. With no time to ponder, Vorst makes his way to the French town and is meeting with the Mayor, to find out the communications location. Nazi soldiers burst in and knock Vorst unconscious. When awakened, Vorst discovers he is a deserter, and is placed under arrest.

Meanwhile, the Mayor is chastized by his daughter for being spineless in the face of the Nazis. The Mayor follows the Law, and the Nazis are the Law in their world now. He asks his daughter to accept their predicament, for her own sake.

Vorst is put into a cell, to await execution the next day. The Major's daughter Yvette visits Vorst with his last meal, the next morning, and reveals to Vorst that she is a rebel. She distracts the guard, enabling Vorst an upper hand. The two make their escape, and Vorst retrieves his equipment from the motorcycle. The Mayor's daughter, head of the Underground, knows the exact location of the communications center, in the basement of a building heavily guarded by Nazis. Needing to wait for night, Yvette takes Vorst to her home, the Mayor's house. The Nazis would not, she reasons, seek rebels in the home of a collaborator. However, she has been seen by the Mayor, who promptly alerts the Nazis.

When the soldiers arrive, Vorst is showing Yvette the "K-6 Disruptor," a device which "has the same effect on radio equipment as a hand grenade in a bowl of pudding." However, this espionage device is a back-up to the vast amount of explosives on hand. The K-6 Disruptor can only work at extremely close range, unlike the explosives. But before any action can be taken, Vorst and Yvette are caught by the Nazis, with her father leading them. The Mayor is a "good citizen" and, though condemning his own daughter, he must follow his principals. Vorst and Yvette are led away to be killed. Vorst quickly overpowers two captors and escapes, leaving behind Yvette to fulfill his mission. He intends to return for her once the communications center is put out of commission.

However, after killing a guard and obtaining two German grenades, Vorst stumbles upon Yvette before a firing squad. She is executed a moment later.

Enraged, Vorst leaves behind the grenades, and the next scene cuts to the following day. The Mayor has been invited to the Nazi General's quarters, and the General rewards the Mayor with a box of cigars and special privileges. The General even leads the Mayor to the communications center in the house basement, a room full of sophisticated equipment. The moment the Mayor enters the room, the equipment explodes in a shower of sparks. The General has disappeared, but a moment later charges into the communications room, demanding to know why the Mayor is there. After a quick search, the Nazis discover the K-6 Disruptor inside the Mayor's cigar box. The Mayor pleads that the General himself had given him the box, but the General knows the truth: while the Mayor set up others for espionage, he himself was the master spy. While the Mayor screams that he only obeyed the Law, the General shows him the Law, ending in a gunshot.

While escaping the village, the Soldier removes his "General" mask, "...mission accomplished...and debt paid."

A swift, sharp little tale, in which one man's desire for conformity has twisted him into a fearful coward. I really like the more calculating decision on the Soldier's part, to gain revenge on the Mayor for Yvette's death in the most ironic way possible. Generally, the Soldier is slightly damaged on his missions, as the War gains its attrition of innocents killed. However, in this case, it is the Soldier who coldly determines the fates of the story's characters. Again we are privvy to the Soldier's rage, but it is the War which gives personal satisfaction to the dead in Its boot heels.

Four and a Half out of Five 3D Men

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