In honor of Veterans Day, we thought we’d showcase some of the most popular, significant and strangest heroes to populate the pages of “War Comics,” the nearly dead genre that entertained kids for years, especially those that weren’t interested in guys in tights.
10. The Creature Commandos
These characters were originally World War II army soldiers, Warren Griffith, Vincent Velcro and Elliot Taylor, that were scientifically modified to look like and possess powers similar to a werewolf, a vampire and Frankenstein’s Monster. They were led by a human, Matthew Shrieve and operated out of London, in the thick of the action. They were later joined by a female member, Medusa. Their adventures reflected the true horrors (no pun intended) of war. In one tale, they were forced to murder an Ally scientist that had been captured by Nazis so that her knowledge would not fall into enemy hands. In another, they were forced to kill a small army of children, that had been made superhuman by the enemy. They were often joined on missions by J.A.K.E./J.A.K.E. II, a.k.a. G.I. Robot who also headlined his own stories.
These days, a different, modern line-up works as agents of S.H.A.D.E., backing up Frankenstein.
9. Private First Class Ed Marks (The ‘Nam)
‘The ‘Nam’ was a series that Marvel began publishing in 1986, that was designed to actually run in “real time” and reflect the real duration of the Vietnam War and illustrated the famous conflict from the vantage point of a regular foot soldier, Army Private First Class Ed Marks. While the book was approved by the Comics Code Authority, it still managed to capture at least a portion of the grittiness of the real war. Creative shifts resulted in fluctuating quality, but the book was a unique title during the super hero-dominated 80s.
8. G.I. Joe
One of the biggest phenomenons of the 80s was ‘G.I. Joe,’ a cross-promotion between Marvel Comics and Hasbro toys, which resulted in a synergistic brand, a comic book, action figure line and animated series that was a blazing hit in all three formats. The ‘G.I. Joe’ comic was darker and grittier than the vibrant toy line or the more juvenile and fanciful cartoon. Written by Vietnam vet Larry Hama, the series developed its own sprawling epic mythology that still resonates with fans. Hama currently writes a series that pretty much picks up where the Marvel series ended in the 90s! And a second live action movie is due in theaters next year!
7. The Losers
Laying the groundwork for ‘G.I. Joe,’ DC Comics’ ‘The Losers’ were a special ops team assembled from all branches of the armed forces. The team was led by Navy Captain William Storm, who wore an eyepatch and sported a wooden leg and included Navajo pilot Lt. Johnny Cloud, Marines Gunner and Sarge, always accompanied by their dog Pooch, and on occasion Ona Tornsena Norwegian resistence fighter. The male heroes all headlined their own strips making this something like the Justice League of war comics. The team criss-crossed the globe on their adventures and often teamed up with #4 on this list. Their adventures were marred by bad luck thus their name. The male members of the team were killed in ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths,’ but after that series changed history, their “secret” ending was revealed, showing them dying to save… #1 on this list. Since then, further “retcons” have further altered their fates.
6. Enemy Ace
Hans Von Hammer, was one of the “bad guys” (thus his moniker), a German pilot in World War I. The character was notable for his extreme sense of honor and respect which he often expressed for his enemies… as he was blasting them out of the air. Later, he was drafted into the Nazi army although he secretly opposed their views. He defiantly torched his and his units planes before surrendering to the Allies. Fun fact: one of his descendants is the Swamp Thing! Illustrated by the legendary Joe Kubert, ‘Enemy Ace’ remains a fondly remembered fan favorite to this day… even though he was one of the bad guys.
5. Sgt. Fury
Sgt. Nick Fury is the character on this list that remains the most prominent now, but before he was Marvel’s super spy supreme, he led a rag tag, racially diverse team of soldiers during World War II. Actually, cleverly, Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos ran concurrently with Nick’s modern-day adventures, initially revealed to be a CIS agent before helming S.H.I.E.L.D., an international peace keeping spy agency. He was the comics’ answer to James Bond and the Man From U.N.C.L.E., both of which were huge hits during the 60s. Fury was a gruff, tough, cigar-chomping tough guy and his group was an eclectic group of odd characters, the boisterous, bowler-wearing “Dum Dum” Dugan, “Izzy” Cohen, the first Jewish comic book hero, African American Gabe Jones (anachronistic, as units were actually segregated during WWII) and “Junior” Juniper, one of the first comic book heroes ever killed. The ‘Howling Commandos’ period is overshadowed now by S.H.I.E.L.D., but the series ran from 1963 until the 80s! Pretty impressive.
4. The Haunted Tank/Jeb Stewart
During World War II, Sgt. Jeb Stewart commanded a tank unit, whose tank happened to be haunted by the Confederate general of the same name! The twist is that only Jeb can see and communicate with the ghost, resulting in his crew thinking he is unbalanced. Like Fury, the Haunted Tank crew varied as characters died. It also included an African American member, Gus Gray, who the team finds after he escaped a POW camp. The wacky concept obviously struck a chord. In 2008, Vertigo published a mature revamp of ‘The Haunted Tank,’ with an African American Jeb Stewart… obviously not a great match for a Confederate General! And the Haunted Tank even appeared on tv series ‘Batman: The Brave and the Bold!’
3. The Unknown Soldier
‘The Unknown Soldier’ is a severely disfigured operative of the US government who keeps his scarred visage under mummy-like wraps, but Nazi leaders would often remove them to recoil in horror. Luckily, he was a master of disguise who could assume almost any identity using latex masks and makeup. Unfortunately, the disguises were physically uncomfortable for him so he constantly struggled not to give himself away. ‘The Unknown Soldier’s’ comic, in a unique move (that would never work today), is not linear, jumping backward and forward in time to various stages of World war II. But the character gets the ultimate honor… in the last issue of his comic, he killed Hitler! He then set it up to look like a suicide and escaped!
2. The Blackhawks
‘The Blackhawks’ were a team of ace pilots from various nations who acted as an independent strike force against the Nazis in World War II. Their leader simply goes by Blackhawk, but it is eventually revealed that his name is Bartholomew Hawk. He is a Polish-American and his siblings were killed by Nazis, forcing him to swear revenge. The rest of his team consisted of Andre Blanc-Dumont (France), Olaf Bjornson (Sweden or Norway, it varies), Chuck Wilson (The Netherlands), Stanislaus (Poland) and Chop Chop (China). The team was sometimes joined by Lady Blackhawk, American Zinda Blake. In their original stories from the 1940s, they were a big batch of stereotypes! Andre had a thin mustache and was a womanizer, Chop Chop was yellow and had buck teeth, they all spoke in stilted accents and so forth. At one point, DC had the not-so-bright idea to turn them into super heroes. I won’t dwell on that. ‘The Blackhawks’ are one of the longest running entries on this list, outlasting World War II and continuing on into the 80s, and have continually been reinvented ever since. The New 52 featured a title that was Blackhawk in name only.
1. Sgt. Rock
‘Sgt. Rock’ is certainly, in my opinion, the quintessential war comic hero. His long running series never shieded away from the brutality of being on the front lines, in his case– in Europe during World War II– to the point that it almost reads as an anti-war comic. Rock was the leader of Easy Company, another rag tag squad of soldiers. His second-in-command was Bulldozer, but the roster included other notable characters like Four-Eyes, Farmer Boy, Wild Man, Little Sure Shot, Short Round, Long Round and another anachronistic African American, Jackie Johnson. (No nickname?!) Rock broke out as DC’s biggest war comic star and often appeared on promotional material alongside Superman and the other super heroes. He received a short-lived action figure line in the 80s and a movie has been in perpetual development for decades.
Rock’s ultimate fate is controversial. His creator, Robert Kanigher, insisted that none of Easy Company survived World War II, going so far as to state that Rock was killed by the last bullet fired during the war. However, other creators continued to depict Rock and other Easy Company members in more modern settings, often interacting with Batman and other super heroes. (This infuriated Kanigher.) Most recently, General Rock and a wheelchair-bound Bulldozer served under Lex Luthor’s Presidential administration heading Task Force X (The Suicide Squad), but at the climax of that story, this Rock peeled off a face mask and stalked off. Then, Bulldozer stood up from his wheelchair and followed after, leaving Amanda Waller to state, “Frank Rock died in 1945.” Look, if that’s what his creator wanted, I say that’s how it should be!
So, today, on this Veteran’s day, let’s make sure to pay tribute to our verterans Veterans Day! Do you agree or disagree with this list? Comment below and let us know if your favorite comic war hero made the list!