This post will look at DC and Marvel heroes from their line of war comics. The DC heroes include Blackhawk, Boy Commandos, Captain Storm, Creature Commandos, Enemy Ace, G.I. Robot, Gunner & Sarge, Haunted Tank, Hunter’s Hellcats, Johnny Cloud, the Losers, Mademoiselle Marie, Red, White and Blue and Sgt. Rock of Easy Company. As I did in the DC vs. Marvel Western Heroes post (http://foxhugh.com/2009/02/13/dc-vs-marvel-western-heroes/), I will pit the top three of the DC line against the top three of the Marvel line. The top three in terms of fame are Blackhawk, Enemy Ace and Sgt. Rock of Easy Company.
Blackhawk is the name of the leader of a free lance fighter pilot squadron and the name of their group. They wore an aviator type uniform, they first appeared in Military Comics and their missions were decidedly military in nature. Slowly but surely they became more like superheroes and started to fight more and more enemies with superpowers. The New Blackhawk era lasted from issues #228-241 and each member got his own superhero costume. The transition from military heroes to superheroes was abrupt. Later on the Blackhawk team returned to their military roots.
Enemy Ace is the story of a German flying ace during World War I. Enemy Ace first appeared in Our Army at War in 1965. Enemy Ace is, as the title suggests, the enemy but has a sense of chivalry and a sense of the horror of war that is universal. Enemy Ace is an antihero. I do see similarities between Enemy Ace and Jonah Hex. Both are none superhero genre heroes that succeed in large part due to their atypical, for comic books, antihero status which makes them more interesting. Like Jonah Hex, Enemy Ace was later used by the darker Vertigo imprint.
Sgt. Rock of Easy Company is probably the number one war hero of the DC line. Sgt. Rock first appeared in G.I. Combat (January, 1959). Sgt. Rock appeared in Sgt. Rock: The Lost Battalion in 2008. This is quite a run for a war hero in comic books. Sgt. Rock for most of his run had zero superhero elements. Sgt. Rock generally carries a 45 calibre Thompson submachine gun and a .45 calibre Colt M1911A1 automatic pistol. Sgt. Rock always carries a number of hand grenades that he can throw with great accuracy.
Later Sgt. Rock appeared in Brave and the Bold #84, #96, #108, #117, and #124 in decidedly superhero type adventures with Batman. This comic book tendency to reinvent war heroes and make them into superheroes is unfortunate. Alan Moore, In the Twilight of the Superheroes, (http://foxhugh.com/non-fiction/twilight-of-the-superheroes-by-alan-moore/) points out that the juxtaposition of Sgt. Rock, for example, with the Legion of Superheroes is a bad idea and I agree. Let the war heroes be war heroes! Kanigher, the editor of Sgt. Rock, who created the majority of the Sgt. Rock stories, in a letter column in Sgt. Rock #374 stated that Sgt. Rock did not survive past 1945 effectively making the Brave and Bold Sgt. Rock stories null and void.
Marvel has a shorter list of war heroes that include Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos, Captain Savage and his Leathernecks, the characters in the The ‘Nam series, and the Phantom Eagle. The ‘Nam was an attempt to create a realistic war comic. The comic book happened in real time. A monthly issue more or less described what happened in a month in Vietnam. Nam related lingo was explained at the end of the comic book. The ‘Nam characters are too real and would not stand against a chance against other comic book war heroes that are slightly superhuman. The title became a less realistic comic book towards the end of its run with the introduction of Frank Castle who later becomes the Punisher.
The Punisher can be considered a war hero of sorts in that he was a soldier in Vietnam as detailed in The ‘Nam. The Punisher uses actual military weapons as detailed in The Punisher Armory. The Punisher also does not have super powers. On the other hand, the Punisher wears a costume and that is one of the defining characteristics of a superhero. Most of all the Punisher fights superhero type enemies between conflicts with organized crime. A high point of this sort of battle was the Punisher versus Doctor Doom story in Punisher #28. Doctor Doom is the premiere super villain of the Marvel universe who can take on entire super hero teams such as the Fantastic Four, the Avengers and the X-Men. The Punisher should have no chance against Doctor Doom at all yet he manages to blackmail Doctor Doom into leaving him alone. Only a superhero could do this. No one would argue that Batman is not a superhero despite his lack of superpowers. The Punisher can be seen as a very successful combination of superhero and war hero elements with an emphasis on superhero elements.
The star war hero of Marvel is Sgt. Fury who goes on to become a secret agent of SHIELD and is better known for this role than his war hero role. Sgt. Fury first appeared in his own title in May of 1963 and is very similar to DC’s Sgt. Rock and probably Sgt. Rock was a model for Sgt. Fury to some extent. Jack Kirby, who created DC’s Boy Commandos, mentioned in an interview that the Howling Commandos were adult versions of the Boy Commandos. Sgt. Fury is far more famous than all the other war heroes of both universes put together. Sgt. Fury was also much lighter fare than DC’s Sgt. Rock and Enemy Ace. Sgt. Fury stories generally avoided the horror of war theme of the DC titles.
Captain America even shows up in Sgt. Fury #13! The cover of this issue is at the begining of this post. Captain America is created by the U.S. government and is described as a super soldier but is more super than soldier and does not even use military armament but instead throws an archaic shield. Later Nuke emerges from the same super soldier program and does use military hardware and is a Vietnam vet. Wolverine also comes from the same program providing some continuity to the Marvel universe but these super soldiers are clearly super heroes and not war heroes.
Fury is not some outlier of the Marvel universe but a character that is central to the Marvel universe. Marvel recently had an event labeled Civil War and Fury as the ex-head of SHIELD plays a pivotal role in this event that involved just about every title in the Marvel universe in 2008. Sgt. Fury logically fights his DC doppelganger Sgt. Rock. The other Marvel war heroes are obscure characters but will be drafted in this contest due to a lack of options.
The Phantom Eagle is a World War I ace that fights for the allies and logically is an opponent of the Enemy Ace. The Phantom Eagle had more super hero elements than the Enemy Ace including a mask that concealed his secret identity. The Phantom Eagle had worked in a flying circus prior to fighting in World War I and was a expert stunt flyer. The Phantom Eagle is also a very obscure character in the Marvel universe and someone who can describe this character really knows their Marvel universe history.
There is no equivalent to the Blackhawks in the Marvel universe. There is a perfect equivalent to Marvel’s Captain Savage and his Leathernecks in the form of DC’s Captain Storm. Captain Storm was a PT Boat Captain. Captain Storm lost his leg in combat and had the leg replaced with a wooden leg but stayed in active duty which would not happen in the actual military. Captain Storm actually had his own title in his very first adventure rather than having his adventures in one of the war anthologies before getting his own title later as was the custom at DC. Captain Storm appeared as late as 2003 in the Losers Special. The Losers were a collection of DC’s war heroes including Johnny Cloud and Gunner & Sarge.
Marvel’s Captain Savage originally was introduced in Sgt. Fury’s Howling Commandos and the main mission of the Leathernecks was to ferry Sgt. Fury and his commandos around but eventually Captain Savage got his own title. Pitting a fighter squadron against an infantry squad hardly seems fair but pitting two Captains that are both involved in amphibious operations does make sense.
The first battle is between the two Sergeants. Sgt. Rock has a penchant for hand grenades that he throws with unerring accuracy. Sgt. Rock believes Sgt. Fury is a Nazi imposter and throws a grenade at Sgt. Rock and blows him to pieces. Sgt. Fury has a tendency to lose his shirt and run directly at heavily fortified positions with his submachine gun blazing rather than taking advantage of other weaponry such as grenades. Sgt. Fury seems to think he is invulnerable like a superhero! Sgt. Fury does not seem to know what cover is unlike Sgt. Rock.
In World War I, the Phantom Eagle and the Enemy Ace face off and the Phantom Eagle does all sorts of stunts that do not impress the Enemy Ace. The Phantom Eagle is shot down by the Enemy Ace while doing a loop. The Enemy Ace wonders why this fool of a pilot was wearing a mask and concludes the aviator was probably deranged due to the horrors of war.
Captain Storm and Captain Savage get into a bar fight as to whether the Navy or the Marines are better and Captain Savage punches Captain Storm. Captain Storm goes down because the wooden leg buckles. Captain Savage sees his opponent on the ground and notices the wooden leg. Captain Savage feels absolutely terrible. Captain Savage pulls up Captain Storm rather than finishing him off and apologizes to Captain Storm. Captain Savage buys Captain Storm a drink and the fight is a draw.
DC has two war titles that are very interesting from a genre point of view. The Haunted Tank is a tank that is haunted by Lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart. The ghost is a good ghost and helps the leader of the tank crew out with omniscient but cryptic advice. I think this is the only comic book title that combines the supernatural and war genres. The Vertigo line resurrected the Haunted Tank years later.
The Creature Commandos appeared in Weird War Tales #93. Weird War Tales generally combined the war comic genre with another genre. The sister publication Weird Western Tales combined the Western genre with other genres. The idea was to have creatures that generally appear in horror and put them in war situations as commandos.
The original team consisted of J.A.K.E. and J.A.K.E. 2 that were the first and second GI Robot. Warren Griffith suffered from clinical lycanthropy i.e. he was a werewolf. Dr. Myrra Rhodes was effectively a gorgon. Lt. Matthew Shrieve is the team leader and totally human. Pvt. Elliot “Lucky” Taylor stepped on a land mine and put back together and looked like Frankenstein. Sgt. Vincent Velcro was the vampire of the team.
The modern team included Alten, a mummy like creature. The Bogman was an amphibian that resembled the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Gunner was a cyborg. Hunter is 75 and formerly of Hunter’s Hellcats. Medusa is Myrra Rhodes who has mutated even more. Pvt. Elliot “Lucky” Taylor returns and now called Patchwork. Sgt. Vincent Velcro has become even more vampire like. Warren Griffith, the werewolf, has become more feral and out of control in the modern team. This cross mixing of non-superhero genres is a hallmark of DC that Marvel never explored to the same extent.
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