Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Looking For a Kiss: Happy New Year!

Happy New 2009 Year folks. It's gotta be better or it could be worse!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES 187: "A Death in the Chapel"

Part One

This was actually the first issue of the Michelinie/Talaoc run I read. I'd picked up most of the run without knowing its quality, simply because I'd always liked the surreal Unknown Soldier "weird war" type character. I was about to get an education, and it didn't take long to figure it.

The Nazi who attacks Aschermann is killed in seconds by the Faceless Commando, and Aschermann proceeds to relocate the bodies to Father Memmoli's church.

Memmoli does indeed discover the bodies, and the ruse of Colonel Weile. Confronting Weile, Father Memmoli vows the villagers will learn of the deception. However, Weile places Memmoli under armed guard...the guard of Father Memmoli's young orphan-turned-soldier, Rico, with orders to kill the priest should he attempt to leave. Memmoli pleads with the young man to understand the wrong the Nazis represent, but Rico wishes to remain a loyal soldier. Father Memmoli will not be deterred from his duty to inform his people, and Rico is unable to shoot the kindly man of God.

Father Memmoli is off to find his people, and Aschermann follows to "insure" Memmoli's passage. However, Memmoli strays too close to the American lines and is accosted by a unit of GIs. Knowing if the Father is detained, the mission will be in jeopardy, Aschermann takes out the GIs barehanded and sends Memmoli on his way. Confused, Memmoli proceeds. Soon, the villagers and their weapons are turned on the Nazis.

Colonel Weile finds Father Memmoli in the church, discovering Memmoli's involvement. Accompanying him is Leutnant Aschermann. Before Aschermann can stop him, Weile kills Father Memmoli. Aschermann executes the Colonel, who manages to tear the Soldier's mask. Father Memmoli's last words are for the Soldier to help young Rico. The Soldier cannot promise to help, and after Memmoli dies, he says "I'm sorry, Father...but I'm afraid that's not part of the job."

Just then, Rico himself arrives, witnessing the Soldier/Aschermann kneeling over Memmoli's body. The young soldier tries to gun him down, and the Soldier blows apart Rico's right arm with his own Luger. Thus, the Soldier has spared Rico, and delivered a wound that will "be a ticket home for the duration."

The Soldier realizes the "kid" will hate him forever, believing him responsible for killing the only family Rico ever had. Rico crawls to Memmoli's body and collapses atop it. The Soldier escapes, accepting (once again) the anguish of the individual lost under the tidal wave of history.

The epilogue shows the Soldier being congratulated by Intelligence, only to learn the Americans are pulling out of the village and abandoning the once-critical mountain pass. The Soldier is enraged and storms out, sickened.

Again, the Soldier's primary drive, to end the War as soon as humanly possible, is betrayed by his own efficiency. His mission succeeds but "when you're playin' a game with thousands of lives, the individuals always tend to get lost in the shuffle..."

The Soldier's "big picture" continues to get smaller as Michelinie shows the "killing machine" having a poignant understanding of tragedy. No matter how "dehumanizing" the Soldier's training, he is still a man and still affected by the details of the War, swept under the bootheels of history.

The last is not seen of the young Rico, as this particular drama, as in life, will have long-reaching effects for the Soldier.

Out of Five for the Two Parter

STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES 186: "Man of God...Man of War"

The first multi-part story from Michelinie/Talaoc begins in an Italian village called Monte Grande in the Apennine mountain range. The village is occupied by the Nazis, though the village itself does not actively support the Axis. At this time, the Nazis are battling Americans in the mountains, with villages like Monte Grande caught in the middle.

After the Nazis have captured an American soldier in the village, the Nazi commander Colonel Weile attempts to convince Father Memmoli, the village priest, to sway the villagers to fight the Americans. Father Memmoli refuses, as "war is not God's way."

Just then, a small unit of American soldiers intiates an escape for their comrade, running down and killing several innocent village children with their jeep. Father Memmoli, grief-stricken, finds himself ready to assist the Nazis. The villagers battle the Americans at a "bottleneck" in the Apennines, keeping the Allies off-balance while the Nazis fortify.

As reported to the Unknown Soldier by Intelligence, this village's efforts undermine the Allies, and thus must be stopped. The Soldier is directed to infiltrate the village as an "escaped" Leutnant named Aschermann, using one of his mask disguises. Once there, the Soldier must eliminate Father Memmoli.

In order to authenticate who he is, the Soldier as Aschermann uses a GI's .45 to wound his own left arm. Aschermann then stumbles to a villager unit, who take him to Colonel Weile.

Once at the village, Weile directs the only local doctor, Father Memmoli himself, to dress Aschermann's wound. Father Memmoli reveals his inner conflict over having been "forced" to choose between the Allies and Nazis. While Memmoli's back is turned, Aschermann is about to kill him when a young Nazi footsoldier named "Rico," a former orphan raised by Father Memmoli. While the two greet warmly, Aschermann learns why Memmoli has joined the Nazi cause. Aschermann is secretly incredulous however, as no Intelligence record of the rescue exists, as far as the Soldier knows.

Taking his leave, Aschermann finds a Nazi-guarded house, raising his suspicions. After dispatching the guards, Aschermann overhears two Nazi soldiers discussing why they are in hiding. Working for Colonel Weile, these men portrayed the "American soldiers" who raided the village and intentionally killed the village children, to sway Father Memmoli.

Aschermann executes the two and prepares to display their bodies in Father Memmoli's church, surreptitiously unveiling the deception. Preparing to drag the bodies, Aschermann is unaware of another Nazi soldier approaching with a knife, to kill him.

This issue is set up, and a lesser entry in the Unknown Soldier run. However, some nice character bits with the Soldier at the Intelligence HQ, and his jarring self-wounding, along with some Talaoc-rendered karate, keeps the story snappy and visually interesting.

Also of note, the events begun here will influence another conflict later in the run. Michelinie is already preparing to usurp the usual formulae of the "one and done" war story.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Friday Night Fights! Ka-Zar and Your Short Ribs

This is what happens when Ka-Zar decides you need a "talking to." The simple fact of the matter is Ka-Zar delivers his John Buscema-rendered punches just about better than anybody. He also has a pet sabretooth tiger. You can't even begin to feel shame from chastizement delivered by Ka-Zar's thews.
Quote of the day: "...bend before the Will of Ka-Zar!" From ASTONISHING TALES 16 by Mike Frederich on script, Rich Buckler handling half the art chores and some cat named Buscema on the rest. Because back in the day, that issue was coming out, no matter who had to fill in. just stands in your doorway, uttering the immortal question: "Do you wanna f**k? Or fight?"

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Jingle Jangle Jumble

I was never a DC Comics reader growing up in the 1970s. Even remotely. The 1970s was the decade of the Hulk on television, whose impact on seven year old Carter was immeasurable by any scale.

Marvel Comics wasn't necessarily blowing the doors off the creative Coup de Ville, but during the 1970s Marvel knew exactly how to talk to readers of any age. Readers wanted that included feeling, the clubhouse effect, of Marvel. All the Marvel readers were hip, they all knew the continuity, and they were getting exposed to some of the future artistic luminaries of the field just starting out (George Perez, John Byrne) and other legends of their decade (Barry Windsor Smith, Frank Brunner, Michael Golden.)

It hasn't been till recent times I've discovered the DC Comics of the 1970s. There was interesting things going on then. Some of it worked and some didn't. DC was competing with the runaway train of Marvel and trying new stuff, while trying to be the "down-home" comics tradition it had always been. Which didn't work, and ruined their one big coup (welcoming the greatest living artist and disgruntled primary creator of Marvel, Jack Kirby, into DC's ranks in 1970, ostensibly giving him control of his own books and then wresting that control away, alienating Kirby and driving him back to Marvel by 1975.) The sad thing is: DC could have competed. By 1981, according to stats from COMIC READER, DC's top seller, SUPERMAN at 195,000 sold, couldn't crack Marvel's Top Ten books, with AMAZING SPIDER-MAN nearly doubling DC's number one in sales. That's horrific.

Of course DC did finally reclaim a huge portion of that lost ground in the 1980s, but the worm has turned again. DC languishes far behind Marvel.

But what I've discovered in my aged years, the best of DC in the 1970s are some the best comics I've ever read, and speak to me more now than they ever could when I was a kid. Weird, that, considering Marvel's 1970s product supposedly targeted the college age, while DC retained their appeal to pre-teen readers. Yet I get more from the better DC comics of that era than from Marvel (well, barring MAN-THING or TOMB OF DRACULA.)

I've added some great Christmas-themed covers from the 1970s and slightly beyond, which bespeak of DC's bizarre approach to the Holidays. No garish Treasury Edition Holiday Specials for DC: the subtle implications of Christmas, in most cases, was supposed to clue you in. It's too bad we don't get these neat little zingers much anymore!

Nick Cardy
Jim Aparo
Jose Garcia Lopez
Joe Kubert
and Gil Kane round out the luminaries involved in these covers.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday Night Fights: Don't Bring a Hammer to a Hulk Fight!

It won't end well: Courtesy of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee from the Hulk's aborted first series (six issues)...the best part of this is the hammer flying off to the left of the redirected cannonball guy. I keep wondering where this guy ended up, and how many bones were broken before and after he lands. And god help anyone hit by that flying hammer. brings the cucumber to the facial!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A New Discovery, a Pulp Hero: Night Raven!

Not too long ago, I ran into a reference for this character in connection with PROJECT SUPERPOWERS spearheaded by Alex Ross, a project dealing with characters in the Public Domain, which means the characters' copyrights had lapsed over time (many from the 1940s) and allowed any creator to pick them up and use them as they see fit, based on the original incarnations.

Night Raven is included as a cameo, probably just as a homage. Still, I was intrigued.

Recently I ran into the above trade paperback of a Night Raven adventure, published in the mid-1990s. Apparently Night Raven had been around for a while, created for the "Marvel UK" line at the end of the 1970s.

Artist David Lloyd, most well-known in this here country for V FOR VENDETTA alongside Alan Moore, and John Bolton drew many of the back-up type stories of Night Raven, and Alan Moore apparently wrote some text pieces using the character.

Basically, Night Raven is a pure Pulp archetype, sprung from the Shadow and the Spider, with twin revolvers and a full dehumanizing face mask. In his spare time, he enjoys marking his kills with a raven brand as a warning to other criminals and evil-doers.

So essentially Night Raven was created just for me. When I stumbled across a Night Raven "graphic novel" I snatched it up.

Written by Jamie Delano (one of those Brit cats who seemed to take over where "Bigger Names" left off; he's worked on a bunch of stuff I hadn't read, but his name "seemed familiar" as the case is with writers of that time period not named Alan Moore or Warren Ellis or Grant Morrison, ect,) "House of Cards" shows a mysterious, shadowed janitor obsessed with a local moll/torch-singer. The janitor is the Night Raven, and he's busy trying to break the local mob. He's also a little bit off. His interior monologues come from the Travis Bickle school of crusader, the one who is going to hurt you to save you, whether you like it or not.

NIGHT RAVEN: HOUSE OF CARDS oozes a nasty Pulp/Noir ambiance. Night Raven is an unrepentant executioner who believes he can alter the doomed course of the gutter trash struggling all around him. He performs many of the usual obsessed hero functions, including annihilating anyone who gets in his way and marking them with his raven brand.

The surprising aspect of this book is how Delano and Lloyd manage to take a shadowed, creepy avatar of justice speaking in first person and still create concern for him. Night Raven is compelling, he must be followed. More than that, you feel sorry for him when the eventual whirlpool of hell destroys his innermost desires and leaves only the stench of blood and ruined lives over which he continues to seek meaning. In a way, it's almost like Night Raven is trying to find a face to wear, and among the denizens of the dark streets he might find it. But in the end, he's left still without an identity, only a purpose.

I loved this work, and I hope to find more soon as I can. HOUSE OF CARDS is not to be missed for a nice literary interpretation of the more vicious justice-committers in retro Pulp.
Images taken from some of the basic online reference pages, including this work to the left which is by the great Alan Davis.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

INCOGNITO by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

One of the new mini-series I'm most looking forward to in the upcoming months is CRIMINAL and SLEEPER creators Brubaker and Phillips' INCOGNITO.

As described here Brubaker points out INCOGNITO is the flipside to the very good SLEEPER from a few years back.

SLEEPER displayed a world where superhuman individuals took the inevitable steps in their moral and ethical paths toward compromising their humanity. Like anyone working for a massive intelligence/organization, there's the distinct probability of betrayal and espionage, which SLEEPER delved into heavily. The only problem I had with SLEEPER was incorporating "WildStorm" characters (which is a DC imprint blah blah I don't care) into the story, seemingly out of nowhere and to no real purpose, even if indeed the story takes place in that universe. I just didn't care about the context. But the initial half of the series concerning just the hardass protagonist Holden Carver and his criminal cohorts like Miss Misery, Genocide Jones (loved him) and Peter Grimm is the meat I most enjoyed. I guess this portion was referred to as "Season One", for some reason. Which is fine, because the series was great. Both "Seasons" of it.

As mentioned in the above article, INCOGNITO concerns what happens when a supervillain type has to live like a schlub, just like everybody else. He has to, or he's a dead man, because he ratted out this guy, The Black Death...yeh, I'd hide too

Sean Phillips is one of my favorite artists these days. He's got that gritty Dave Mazzuchelli thing going and his action scenes are crisp and clear. He and Brubaker also get on together quite well. They're a cute couple. We should all be so lucky to have talent on talent like these gents. Brubaker, for his part, is still knocking out fantastic espionage-heavy CAPTAIN AMERICA comics with the hero of the book still dead, two years after the fact. If, like me, when you read a lot of modern superhero comics you feel like you've been drinking out of the toilet, try out CAP. I haven't even begun to read his DAREDEVIL stuff but I've heard it's wang chung.

INCOGNITO will be skull crushing you and me just after the new year. Can't wait!


Juan "Johnny" Ortiz is a design genius.

This is one of the best undersea adventurer looks you're ever likely to see.

These fantastic new 1960s-esque swank posters are freaking me out with their goodness.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Johnny Ortiz says, "I am the God of Hellfire, and I Bring you..."

All you lucky folks in LA will get some full-blooded Silver Comics type action heading your way, come 2 double-aught 9.
Cloud-Buster, The End, Seabolt...I must have them all. Alllll.

Pulp Hero: Simon Garth, the Zombie!

3D Man sez: "This here's my kind of gentleman...I have to tell you the time me and the Zombie took on the flaming apes of Mora Tau. We had a blast. The best part was smoking cigars in Panama Fattie's and Simon kept eating his, fire and all. The locals loved the guy."

Introduced in a one-off story in 1953 by the esteemed Bill Everett (creator of Marvel Comics' headliner Namor the Sub-Mariner in the 1940s, and then co-creator of Marvel's headliner of today, Daredevil, bridging a gap for Everett that will reach into the far future,) Simon Garth was a coffee magnate in New Orleans already "soulless" in his dealings, brutal to his employees and dismissive of his daughter Donna who is all the family he has since his wife divorced him.

Garth takes out his failed marriage on subordinates, and smacks around a groundskeeper named Gyps at one point. Gyps is heavy into the voodoo however, and later kidnaps Garth to be sacrificed by a local Mambo priestess, Layla, who happens to be Garth's secretery at the coffee plant and is in love with him.

Freed by Layla, Garth almost escapes before being killed by Gyps. Gyps then forces Layla to reanimate Garth as a zombie, eventually to be under Gyps' personal enslavement. This is managed by the Amulet of Damballah around the Zombie's neck, which enables the holder of another Amulet to mentally control the dead man. As a Zombie, Garth cannot feel physical pain or sensation at all, and is unstoppable due to having "zombie strength" wherein neither pain nor fatigue are a factor, and any wounds he receives "heal" after a time. This is due to the curse of being a zombie, that he will never rot away. His soulless body is magically "protected" from the ravages of time and physical damage, except for the basic zombiefication of the tissues at hand. Garth also has no thought processes of his own. At least, that's the way it appears.

Hot for Garth's daughter, but knowing she'd never give him the time of day, Gyps sends the Zombie to attack Donna, which Garth refuses to do. The cloud of mindlessness dissipates, and Garth returns to Gyps and slays him.

After this, the Amulet of Damballah worn by Gyps ends up in the possession of Donna Garth, as she senses a connection through it to her father. Donna influences the Zombie to follow her, without her knowledge, all the way to Port-au-Prince in Haiti where she is seeking information about her father's disappearance (not realizing he is dead, natch.) The Zombie instinctually finds one of his oldest friends in life, Anton Cartier, who vows to help Garth return to human life. It's here that Garth exhibits enough intellect to actually communicate with Cartier, convincing Cartier the soulless Zombie is not so soulless after all.

This leads to a series of adventures for the Zombie, who encounters mad scientists and giant spiders and rampaging voodoo priestesses. At some point, Donna Garth loses the Amulet of Damballah, which is found by a ruined, bitter homeless man named Philip Bliss.

Bliss inadvertantly called the Zombie back to New Orleans, and once discovering his control over the dead man, uses him to savagely attack the "lawyers" responsible for destroying his life, leading to a mass slaughter in a Bayou courthouse.

Subsequently, agents of a strange wealthy man named "Mr. Six" find Bliss and steal the Amulet, which leads the Zombie to his new master, a cultist named Papa Shorty. Bliss and a couple of friends attempt to save the Zombie from his fate, and in the resulting carnage, Garth is freed from Papa Shorty's sway and gets revenge for Bliss' ultimate sacrifice.

Soonafter, Garth ends up back with Layla, who had tragically initiated his zombiefication to begin with. Determined to help Garth find final peace, she takes him to Papa Doc Kabel, her voodoo grandfather. Along the way, Layla and Garth are continuously stymied, as the Amulet of Damballah is found by other bystanders, luring the Zombie away to eventually do their bidding (and usually resulting in their violent deaths by Garth's hands.)

In a real twist, Garth is responsible (under the control of an evil man) of mortally wounding Layla. Papa Doc uses Layla's fading life force to grant Garth twenty-four hour reprieve from his zombie curse. Again himself, Simon Garth wraps up his affairs as quickly as he can, gaining whatever vengeance he needs to (on Mr. Six) and redemption (with his ex-wife and daughter, insuring her financial security by selling his business out from under his corrupt underlings.) After that, Garth becomes the Zombie once more, and his story ends in an odd, "real-world" way. Editors at Marvel claim the art of Pablo Marcos for what turned out to be the last issue of TALES OF THE ZOMBIE was lost in the mail, somewhere in Haiti. One imagines today a gris-gris seller's family home still containing a penciled Marcos Zombie story among the practitioner's aging files and books.

The bulk of Simon Garth's extraordinary "life" is chronicled by Steve Gerber, one of Marvel's better writers of the 1970s (MAN-THING, THE DEFENDERS) and the kind of writer who could pull off stories about a zombie.

Using the formula from MAN-THING, about a mindless shambling monster who cannot communicate or show emotion except by his actions, Gerber does the same thing with Simon Garth. Primarily, Garth is a judgement of sorts called down to bring home the point of the stories. The characters drive the story elements while the Zombie acts out his mission, and eventually collides with the holder(s) of the Amulet of Damballah. Most of Garth's clashes are driven by forces outside of himself, but the final penance comes from Fate, as always Garth brings about the definitive end to evil people seeking to manipulate him. They never last long, that's for sure.

For the final two entries of the Zombie's story, fellow Hall of Famer Tony Isabella scripted. All in all, the nine black and white mags containing Simon Garth's trials are consistently well-written, and because of the magazine's more "adult" orientation, Gerber and Isabella could touch on violence and moral degradation and horror much more explicitly. Of course tame by today's standards, the violence in the stories still holds up today.

The real star of the show is Pablo Marcos, one of a horde of Fillipino artists working for the major comics companies in the 1970s. Presumably from a shack in a tree in some jungle environment with only a small rattling fan to cleave the oppressive heat, Marcos' art on this title is nothing short of brilliant.

Luckily for me, and for all of us, this stuff has found its way to modern readers via the ESSENTIALS format. Because it was meant to be in black and white, the reproduction is solid, and Marcos' gorgeous art leaps off the page so you can almost smell the rot of Haiti, the sexuality of the priestesses, the desperation and the blood leaking onto the hungry earth.

Also, it cannot be ignored the impact of the covers of these magazines, by no less than fantasy/sword and sex painter Boris Vellajo for the first five, and the brilliant Earl Norem for the last five. The covers are frame-worthy before you even get into the Marco's swoon-inducing work inside, and the Steve Gerber story insanity to follow (though certainly not as insane as some of Gerber's work, for sure.)

This is a must-read for anyone and everyone who loves good horror stories told through a tragic Pulp Monster like the Zombie. Everything you'd ever want or need is right here in this volume. Truly a masterpiece of the 1970s and one of the reasons the decade's better moments are exquisite counterbalances to its, and subsequent unfortunate decades', excesses.

Find the Zombie, before he finds you.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Queen of the Lost World

It isn't what Page represented to the "red blooded." Her image is a standard of an American imagination that is long gone, the ideal woman deadlier than the leopards she'd pretend to be. What we see in Bettie Page is a lost world, the skillful belief in the presence of a pretty girl who could be the queen of another planet. Page had the allure and mystery of the unknown, while being completely recognizable, the girl riding in the Chevy who smiles at you as the car rolls by. You'll never know her, but you'll never forget her either.

RIP, beautiful.

Bwa-Brokkk!! Friday Night Fights!

Hercules puts the punch in sucker punch, courtesy MIGHTY THOR 417, by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz.
This was part of a criminally underrated run by those guys. Throw in Joe Sinnott for the full Kirby Krush, and I can't recommend the Frenz issues high enough. whispers in your ear that you're his, and you best be nice.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Merry F**kin' Christmas to You!

This may be the greatest unknown Christmas cover ever. Not only for its pedigree (the infinity man Neal Adams and the great Dick Giordano,) before you even get to the image itself: a 1970s blond secret agent/private dick trying to help a broken-legged Rita Farr lookalike while a crazed evil Santa in a hopped-up sleigh/dragster is about to turn them into potted meat.

Actually, this could qualify for All-Time Great Cover status the more I look at it. I even dig that the lighting effect on the two targets from the Dragsleigh's headlights creates a "mask" for the agent/dick, so he comes off a little like the Question, one of my favorite characters ever:

All in all, what you want in your covers is a scene that demands, utterly, for you to read its interiors. This does that for me, "Hot Wheels" tie-in or not. I was more of a Matchbox man myself.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


This story begins on a train traveling in Switzerland, wherein a wheelchair-bound Dr. Zeitman and his nurse enter their compartment to find a man in trenchcoat and hat waiting for them. The man turns to reveal himself as the Unknown Soldier, with a .45 automatic in his hand.

The Soldier has been sent to intercept Zeitman, who is on his way to a Nazi prison to assist a British Lord, Buford Rodney, a medical researcher studying in Germany who has not been allowed to leave. Dr. Zeitman requested to assist Rodney in his continuing experimental research. The Soldier disguises himself as Zeitman in order to reach Rodney and break him out of the prison; the British believe liberating Lord Rodney will boost national morale, to "bring England a hero." German Nationals will attack the Nazi prison as cover for the Soldier to extricate Lord Rodney. The Soldier is also sent with a "partner" on this mission, as Zeitman's nurse is replaced with young, inexperienced agent Lisa Forbes. Though dismissive of her, the Soldier begins his impersonation in earnest.

Once at Durstagg, Zeitman and his nurse are directed to Lord Rodney's extensive lab within the prison. Rodney is immediately attacked by one of his "assistants," a one-armed prisoner who is quickly shot by the Nazi Commandant. Later, Zeitman and his nurse are witness as Lord Rodney performs a new amputation technique on a prisoner strapped to a table. The prisoner is a guinea pig, testing the combat amputation process, completely devoid of anesthetic; the prisoner dies from the shock as Lord Rodney reveals "the knowledge gained is reward enough for me." Lord Rodney's assistants in his lab, in fact, are all former experimental amputees of one stripe or another. Under Nazi guns, the deformed prisoners perform menial tasks in Lord Rodney's lab. Rodney goes on to introduce Zeitman to the other ongoing prison experiments: skeletal prisoners under the conditions of starvation in "Project 37," while "Project 14" details various forms of gangrene rotting the bodies of the "specimens." Lord Rodney has no concern whatsoever about the "lives" he is destroying--results fully occupy him.

Zeitman's fake nurse flees the lab in horror. Zeitman chastizes her for nearly compromising the mission. The nurse is sent to secretly inform Lord Rodney of the extraction, and almost immediately Zeitman hears a shot and discovers his nurse, dead, with Lord Rodney and the Commandant standing over her. "Your pretty nurse here was a spy!" Zeitman is informed by the Nazi. "Unfortunately, she was shot while trying to escape--before we had a chance to question her!" The smug Nazi agrees Zeitman knew nothing of the deception, but Zeitman is placed under guard.

In the night, the German Nationals assault the prison. Zeitman goes into action, killing his guard and climbing down to Lord Rodney's lab window. Rodney himself continues to work under armed guard. The Soldier kills the guards and informs Rodney of the escapeway: "C'mon, Rodney. You may be a crud in my book, but a brave little lady died to bust you outa here..."

Rodney refuses, however, and pulls a Luger on the Soldier: "I don't want to leave! The Nazis have provided me with opportunities I couldn't possibly give up! Which is why I had to kill the girl!"

Rodney understands that Britain would never allow him the alacrity under the Nazi regime, and thus he decides to kill the Soldier as well. However, Rodney is struck by one of his amputee assistants, losing his gun. As the deformed prisoners close in on Rodney, the Soldier snatches up the gun to hold them at bay. The prisoners articulate the horrors of Lord Rodney's callousness to the Soldier, while Rodney begs for his life. In the end, flanked by grotesque reminders of rotting, dying prisoners, the Soldier leaves Lord Rodney in the hands of those he'd tortured and maimed: "So long, hero."

Lord Rodney's screams follow the Solder, who returns to England. The Brits are celebrating Lord Rodney with placards and signs, as the Soldier's military liason laments the "official" story of Rodney's death: "It's a shame (he) had to give up his life trying to save Miss Forbes..." The Soldier's response? "...some heroes are better off as martyrs."

This issue, Michelinie's script smashes in with his most prominent theme during his run: moral choices made under the most extreme of circumstances. In the first two stories, the Soldier's mission takes precedence, but here, confronted with Lord Rodney's atrocities, he acts with a clear moralistic decision. Lord Rodney deserves to die, at the hands of his tormented, and the Soldier allows it.

The understated part of this decision is how the Soldier has already "created" the cover story of Lord Rodney's death, minus any implication in the horrors of the prison. In fact, the Soldier's story is his own, not a government "cover-up." His choice, clearly, is to allow the Brits to believe the heroic sacrifice of Lord Rodney; the larger decision is to buoy England's morale. Lisa Forbes remains a lost patriot instead of a murder victim, and it seems the Soldier has, again, sacrificed some part of his greater morality to help end the War.

This is a great story by Michelinie, deft and hard-hitting, with Gerry Talaoc's aggressive pencils expertly detailing the atrocities. The story brings into light the Nazi human experimentation, a subgenre in itself of empowerment through torture. This is a bold story as well, considering this is the mid-1970s at DC Comics, a company dedicated to the tried and true story-telling formulae for general audiences. Even considering the "Speedy on heroin" storyline from O'Neil/Adams' GREEN LANTERN/GREEN ARROW comic and other topical subjects a few years earlier, a tale about Nazi science-torture could only appear in a war comic under Joe Orlando's editorship. I imagine a few blind eyes were turned, as "The Hero" comes close to defying a couple of staunch Comics Code Authority guidelines.

However it happened, it's worth noting, and Micheline/Talaoc have hit their stride. The best is yet to come.

Out of Five 3D Men.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

38 Pulse-Pounding Years

I had me a birthday on Friday, turning 38 years of age.

I'm getting gray at the temples just like Earth-2 Superman. I'm paunchy but still in relative shape. Gravity has caught up. When I was a teen, the old hard men used to say, "Your balls ain't dropped yet." Meaning until they did, I wasn't a man. Well, I'm definitely a man now. I'm trying to illustrate that excessive hair growth from nose and ears is not the only result of aging at this point.

I've also got crow's feet around the eyes and I'm still considered handsome, and even so the womenfolk my age judge a man by other factors they wouldn't have when I was younger. This means I'm more likely to get into a flirty pantie-pulling now than at any other time in my life. I guess I'm glad to have health, though that knee is giving me trouble. Maybe the arthritis.

So, random search of issue 38s in the comics world popped up a couple of interesting bits:

Apparently ish 38 was the intro to the world of Robin, resulting in questions ranging from Batman's sexual preference to time issues like "how can Robin still be a kid after four decades?" Robin opened up all kinds of cans and worms, not to mention spear-heading Fred Werthem's witch-hunt against comics in the 1950s. Plus, Batman shows off his white Bat-suit here, presumably for Antartic action.

Here you get the mighty Steve Ditko's last ish drawing the character he helped establish as the second most recognizable superhero icon, after Superman, in the whole wide world. Ditko still refuses to have anything to do with the character or Marvel, all these decades later. A man of principal, the kind that doesn't exist in comics or much anywhere else in our current society.

In this 38th ish of Lee/Kirby FF, "Paste Pot Pete" of the villainous Frightful Four renames himself "The Trapster." I never did cotton up to a villain with a glue gun one way or another. How that character still appears in comics at all is astounding.

I'm adding this 38th issue because it's a Ross Andru Suicide Squad cover, with the "Task Force X" characters fighting a pterdactyl on top of the Statue of Liberty. Nothing, I mean nothing, beats Silver Age DC at its best.