Thursday, October 16, 2008

Discount Bin Finds -- Our Fighting Forces #147

I will readily admit that up until a few years ago, I was not at all interested in War comics.  Not until I got active in the comic book "blogosphere" did I start to really take notice of the genre.  Sure, I knew about Sgt. Fury and Sgt. Rock, and I think I was vaguely aware of the Haunted Tank (from The Power Company if nothing else), but that was about it.  So I blame my fellow comic book bloggers for getting me interested in what has rapdily become a favored genre of mine.

I picked this particular example up for a dollar at Borderlands one day while back issue shopping, and it's a pretty good example of War comics of the era (that is, the mid 70s, being published in 1974).  As you can tell from that Neal Adams cover, the featured stars are The Losers, one of those no-brainer concepts which holds up really well to this day.  And I'm not even talking about the Vertigo re-imagining from a couple of years back -- I honestly and without any reservations think you could take the Losers concept (a team of outcasts/weirdos/rejects/loners from the different branches of the service thrown together as a sort of strike force) and update it to modern times and tell good stories with it.  It doesn't matter that Captain Storm has a wooden leg or that Johnny Cloud can sometimes approach "Injun country"-esque dialogue: the core idea is solid and timeless, and as a result the stories hold up pretty well.  (Further evidence of the solidity of the concept and this group need look no further than the first chapter of DC: The New Frontier, which will be featured at some point.)

In any event, our feature story finds the Losers in North Africa shortly after the departure of Ona in the previous issue.  While Gunner has a nightmare about the team being swallowed up in a sandstorm, Sarge rouses the younger Marine back to reality.  The team is trying to hook back up with Allied forces when they come across a British unit having breakfast out in the open in a valley, with no lookouts.  Needless to say, a German patrol opens fire on them, leaving all of the British dead save the commander: Major Oliver Cavendish, a movie star known for making potboiler war pictures.  Cavendish talks to his fallen lads like he is in one of his movies, drawing concerns from the Americans.  Assuming command of the group (since, by code of law, he is the highest ranking officer), Cavdenish orders the team to attack a German scout motorcycle, but the Losers advise against it -- it's only a scout, and they are not prepared to handle whatever firepower it is scouting in front of!  

The Major blows them off, and opens fire on the cycle, alerting the other scouts as well as the main German forces.  The Losers are able to hold their own for a little while, but they are soon outnumbered and taken prisoner.  It seems that the German commander has plans to ransom their big-name captive!  Led through the camp (which happens to be showing a Cavendish "epic" entitled The Glory Road), Cavendish makes a foolhearty grab at a heroic escape, getting himself killed in the process, but amazingly enough allowing the Losers to shoot their way out and escape.  Cavendish's dying words end up mirroring that of his character in the film as the camp burns in the night.

We also get a nifty short about a British tailgunner Corporal on his first raid, as he is introduced to the panic, fear, excitement, and ultimately horror of the skies as he tries to keep himself and his crew alive amidst the German flak and fighters.

Our Fighting Forces #147 reminds me of a line which Bobby Reed on Dial B For Blog once said about War comics in general: "The truth is that glorifying war has long been the inclination of Hollywood, and the true face of war has been shown better in comic books, particularly Silver Age DC comic books, than anywhere else (except the novel)!"  Obviously, the feature story plays on that element of glorification very openly, with Cavendish as the bewildered and out of touch actor who thinks that war is an opportunity for grandeur.  The backup strongly supports this statement as well, with our Corporal passing from being eager to gun down his enemy to breaking down at the death of his crewmate.  And it's in this manner that I think the War genre has grown on me.  Certainly there is an element od Adventure in these stories.  But they are not blind to the fact that War really is Hell.   In a recent interview with Joshua Dysart, author of the upcoming Vertigo Unknown Soldier revamp, he states that he (as a pacifist) had to come to grips with updating a series which presented war as an adventure.  And while I understand his point, when I read that response I thought, "But the Soldier already does that."  It might be over-stated and sometimes over-the-top, but it's there, and it's here as well.

The Losers tale is written by Bob Kanigher with John Severin on pencils and inks.  Let's just say that Bob is in his element both with lambasting the gloryhound as well as the Losers' incredulous reactions, which Severin's rough-hewn but still eye-pleasing art does a great job supporting.  The backup is by Steve Mitchell on script and Ken Barr on art, and has a nice look to it.  The backups from the DC War comics of the era -- sometimes tied together under the OSS headliner but also frequently just one-shots like this -- were by their nature quick and dirty, but this one is still worthwhile.

Anyone looking to get into the later era of DC's War output would do well to check out this period of Our Fighting Forces, before Kirby came on.  Because while the Kirby stuff is good, it's also a little bit deviated from what we got here, which is right in the "sweet spot" of what a later-Silver/early-Bronze Age War comic should be.

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