Thursday, March 6, 2008

Discount Bin Finds -- Unknown Soldier #266

Picked up this one at the Borderlands "Big Annual Sale" last month, and let me tell you, it's not too frequent that I spot a War book in them discount bins, so I snatched it up.

Like any good comic featuring tough as nails fightin' men, this is an anthology. The first story is our cover feature, and finds the Unknown Soldier in the deserts of North Africa, with an American tank batallion opposing Rommel's offensive. After a member of the unit was murdered, the Soldier has handcuffed himself to the Commander -- who is the prime suspect. There's a rat in the company, and it's up to the Soldier to sort out who it is before the Desert Fox bulldozes them all with a couple hundred tons of rolling steel! Haney's script is your usual Unknown Soldier fare, filled with testosterone and bravado, but not too over-the-top. The main weakness of the story is Dick Ayer's art -- there's a crucial plot point which is based around a betrayl, but his soldiers are hard to tell apart, which makes it confusing. It's not impossible, but it took a second reading to get it straight. I am a sucker for the Soldier and his adventures, so I enjoyed this one quite a bit. I always hear Lee Marvin's voice when he talks.

The second tale is everyone's favorite Hammer of Hell, Enemy Ace. German WW1 ace Hans von Hammer has been tangling with a wild American pilot, who seems more cowboy than flyboy (Balloon Buster!). While his Fokker is being repaired from their previous encounter, von Hammer has time to mull over the nature of war, and of this unusual man he finds himself set against. Setting out to engage his rival one-on-one, the Ace may have bitten off more than he can chew this time out! Enemy Ace was always one of the stronger War features at DC, and this little story is a good example of that. John Severin's moody pencils evoke Joe Kubert without aping him, and set the tone very nicely for this aerial tale. And despite a Bob Kanigher script, things remain relatively low-key in this outing, again, as is typical for the Enemy Ace.

That whole notion of "low-key" gets tossed aside in the final story, starring none other than the Viking Commando! Viking Commando? For those not in the know, our star is Valoric, a Viking who was killed before his time, and sent by Odin back to the land of the living -- in World War 2. Oh wait, it gets better. Because, you see, since he's a viking, he fights the "Huns" with an axe. Not a gun, not an axe-gun, but just a normal axe. Oh, and did I mention that he has a spectral Valkyrie who follows him around, jealously commenting about his living love interest? Not all of them were Sgt. Rock, folks. Unsurpsingly, the story involves the Viking Commando being declared legally insane and unfit to serve! Written and drawn by his creators, Bob Kanigher and George Evans, this is a silly tale, almost comic relief. I think that Kanigher had big plans for the Commando (he was the star of All-Out War, which was canned after 6 issues in 1979... in fact, I think this story is a leftover from that period), but time has not been so kind to poor Valoric.

Overall, this comic was a lot of fun to read. You have everything from the sublime to the ridiculous all in 22 pages. All three features are enjoyable in their own way -- Unknown Soldier for the in-your-face, Dirty Dozen style war story, Enemy Ace for the more pensive approach, and good ole Valoric for the inane. Save for the slight confusion in the first story, the art is nice throughout, with each artist having a distinct and unique style. But most interesting to me is that this comic was published in 1982, and yet the kind of stories being told in it could have just as easily been the 70s, or 60s. For most readers, World War 2 (and heck, World War I for the Ace) has such a timeless feel to it that the stories about it (fictional or otherwise) never seem to grow stale or old. It's the strength of the setting and one of the strengths of the genre. The end was in site for this title (it would last but two more issues), but it does make me happy to see that DC was still publishing above-average quality genre comics during my lifetime. Not long into my lifetime, but during it nonetheless.

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