11) War Comics plus Speculative Fiction


Many war comics have speculative fiction elements. Sometimes speculative fiction comics have war comic elements. Both these types of comic books are examined in this article. Speculative fiction includes the genres of science fiction, fantasy, horror, alternative history, magic realism, and superhero fiction.

In the 195o’s saw the publication of four atomic age science fiction war comics including Atom Age Combat (St. John), Atomic Attack (Youthful Magazines), Atomic War! (Ace) and Commander Battle and the Atomic Sub (American Comics Group).

Then there is the very long story of the war hero Blackhawk (DC) and his back and forth from being a war hero to being a superhero and back again. Blackhawk started out as a squadron of air aces (Blackhawk V1 #9) complete with racist stereotypes.

 

However, in Blackhawk V1 #228-230 the Blackhawks were turned into superheroes more or less due to pressure from the Justice League of America.

By Blackhawk V1 #239, the Blackhawks were back to being war heroes rather than superheroes but this back and forth did not save volume one of the series.

In 1988, Howard Chaykin made a desperate attempt to make the Blackhawks relevant and somehow the ultra-patriotic Blackhawks are reframed as anti-establishment figures with some very fancy footwork.

The third version of Blackhawk brings the Blackhawks back to their WW II roots.

The New 52 version of the Blackhawks has them warped into some sort of super soldiers. The leader goes from having black hair to white hair. Why? The New 52 is more or less a crime against comic books and one should pretend this misguided comic book event never happened.

Enemy Ace (DC) was a WW I flyer as opposed to Blackhawk that shares the DC universe with Blackhawk but amazingly they have never crossed paths despite the fact that DC has established that Enemy Ace was active in WW II (see 05) War Comics set in WW I). Enemy Ace was spared the awful speculative fiction twisting that was done to Blackhawk but Alan Moore could not resist placing Enemy Ace in the middle of a story of horror in Swamp Thing V2 #83.

A Steam Punk version of Theodore Roosevelt shows up for the Battle of San Juan Hill in Rough Riders (Aftershock).

Many aspects of military life suck but one of the big ones is that you have to wear a uniform. This uniform more or less obliterates your individuality and for some reason people like being individuals. I think the uniform is one of the top three reasons I never did and never would join the armed forces. That and the fact you can get maimed or killed in battle.

Young people might like a military that allows them to join something bigger than them but at the same time keep their individuality. Superheroes get to display exaggerated individuality through the use of their unique costumes. On the other hand, superheroes don’t exist while war heroes do exist in the real world. How about a world in which you get the costume of a superhero plus the plausibility of a war hero?

Liberty Scouts Comics (Centaur) is an obscure comic book printed in 1941 that is probably the first comic book to unite military experts from different branches of the military and with different uniforms in order to form a single squad.

This idea of an army made up of specialists with different uniforms was explored again in the sixties classic, M.A.R.S. Patrol Total War (Gold Key). I remember reading the first issue as a youngster but never read the whole series until years later as an adult. There was something about this series that I like but I couldn’t figure it out. I think even as a youngster I realized that the M.A.R.S. Patrol combined the plausibility of a war hero with the hyper-individualism of a superhero in a tidy conceptual framework. The comic book included a little factual information about real life weapons.

The idea of military in which each member is a specialist and therefore allowed to retain some sort of individuality was taken to an extreme with G.I. Joe as can be seen in the wrap around cover of G.I. Joe – Order Of Battle V1 #1 (Marvel).

G.I. Joe is more science fiction than war comic and this point is reinforced in the Transformers vs G.I. Joe (IDW) series.

The art of the Transformers vs G.I. Joe series combines Jack Kirby style art work with sixties psychedelic coloring that is a retro synthesis meant to disturb baby boomers like myself and worked in my case. There is also both direct and indirect fourth wall action in an entertaining manner in Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #13.

The Vietnam War is the setting for three speculative fiction-war comics including ’68 (Image), Light and Darkness War (Epic Comics) and Super Green Beret (Lightning Comics).

’68 is zombie apocalypse meets the Vietnam War! Horror comic plus war comic.

The Light and Darkness War shows us a Valhalla for Vietnam Vets. Fantasy comic plus war comic.

Super Green Beret is the story of Captain Marvel (DC) but the boy turns into a Super Green Beret instead. This comic book is more a superhero comic book than a war comic book.

Alternate history is one of the subgenres of speculative fiction. Alternate history stories are set in a world in which one important historical event has changed. I was genuinely surprised how many alternate history war comics are out there.  What if the Confederacy had won its independence from the United States? Well you would have Captain Confederacy (Epic Comics)!

What if the War of the Worlds, Martians, more or less, had shown up right in the middle of some WW I trench warfare? This is the premise of War of the World War One (Delcourt).

 

Just as there are more war comics about WW II than any other American War, there are more alternate history World War II comics than any other war. Hindenburg (Grandangle) is a universe in which mutants exist during WW II and are used by the Nazis. The comic book is long and tedious and well worth avoiding.

The Royals-Masters of War (Vertigo) assumes the royals of various countries have superpowers but also have some sort of pact that prevents mutual assured destruction which is broken by one British royal during WW II. The series has excellent artwork and good characterization and the writer makes the premise work.

What if an alien formula to create enhanced humans in limited numbers had been created by the Nazis on the eve of the invasion of Berlin? That is the premise of Über (Avatar). Über is a great read and by far the best of all the alternate history comic books listed in this article!

The premise of the formula is explained in Über #3.

There are different classes of enhanced humans and the lower classes can gang up on a higher class as is shown in Über #5.

Über Invasion is the follow up series. Great Britain has been conquered. The Germans have landed and are moving from the East Coast to the West Coast. The Lincoln Memorial has seen better days in Über Invasion #2.

What if the US had not entered WW II but instead US volunteers had entered the war? That is the premise of World War II: 1946 (Antarctic).

What if the Germans had developed jet planes before the allies? That is the premise of Wunderwaffen (Delcourt). The artwork is the highly detailed artwork one comes to expect from Franco-Belgium comic books and this style makes the airplanes seem real. I think war buffs interested in WW II military planes will find this series interesting for the art work alone.

What if Hitler had been killed in 1939? Turns out a dead Hitler would have been a good thing for the German military as has been suggested by any number of war historians. The premature death of Hitler is the premise of WW 2.2 (Dargaud).

The first volume of Weird War Tales (DC) was an anthology in which every type of speculative fiction was mixed with different war settings but the anthology mostly focused on horror. The first volume even had a horror host!

The second volume of Weird War Tales is not so much horror as just plain weird as demonstrated in the first issue of volume 2 of the series.

What if WW II soldiers stumbled into an island filled with dinosaurs? The dinosaurs exist on Dinosaur Island somewhere in the South Pacific. That is the premise of “The War that Time Forgot” that never got its own series but ran in various issues of Star Spangled War Stories in the Silver Age.  I was not aware that dinosaurs had such serpentine tails until I read this series.

The idea of dinosaurs versus soldiers was resurrected 2012 in G.I. Combat #1 (DC).

What if monsters, especially classic Universal Monsters, were used as GI’s? That is the premise of DC’s Creature Commandos! The first line up appeared in Weird War Tales V1 #93.

The second line up appeared in Creature Commandos #1.

In Weird War Tales V1 #111, the Creature Commandos meet G.I. Robot (DC) on Dinosaur Island! How could any red blooded boy not buy that issue!

G.I. Robot had appeared earlier in Weird War Tales V1 #101.

Marvel has their own version of the Creature Commandos originally called Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos!

There was a second line up as part of the Secret Wars story arc and was named Mrs. Deadpool and the Howling Commandos #1.

The third version of this concept first appeared in Howling Commandos of S.H.I.E.L.D #1.

DC has ghosts helping the allies during WW II.  The Ghost Patrol is a trio of ghosts that help the allies.

The far more popular Haunted Tank has the ghost of J.E.B. Stuart helping US troops in WW II and the Iraq War.

The first ghostly soldier appeared in 1942 in Devil Dog Comics #1 (Street & Smith). The ghost was the spirit of the US Marines and never appeared again.

War Heroes (Image) written by Mark Millar and is similar to Über but the super powered soldiers are American GIs and the enemy is Al-Qaeda.

What if Santa Claus fought the Nazis? That is the premise of the very silly Santa Claus vs. The Nazis (Markosia).

Next 12) War Comic Anthologies

War Comics