Showcase Presents The Unknown Soldier Vol. 2

First Published: January 2015

Contents: Star Spangled War Stories #189 (July 1975) to #204 (March 1977); and The Unknown Soldier #205 (May 1977) to #226 (April 1979)

Key Creator Credits: Joe Kubert, David Michelinie, Gerry Talaoc, Bob Haney, Dick Ayers, Al Milgrom, and others

Key First Appearances: Chat Noir

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents The Unknown Soldier Vol. 1

Overview: In Two In every war, there is a man who no one knows, yet who is known by everyone. He wears a thousand faces — fights countless battles — and proves that one man, in the right place at the right time, can make the difference. This is Showcase Presents The Unknown Soldier Vol. 2.

Once again, the Unknown Soldier takes on the missions that no one else could handle. With the ability to wear any face, the Unknown Soldier can pose as any man — or woman — allowing himself to work his way behind enemy lines and sabotage the Axis efforts to win the war. Sometimes the Unknown Soldier must rescue someone, other times he must destroy a base or weapon to keep it from turning the tide of war. Most of the stories are set in Europe, but we do get some stories set in the Pacific or Northern Africa.

The one change to these stories is the introduction of a supporting character. Chat Noir is a former U.S. soldier who now works with the French Underground. He provides support and someone for the Unknown Soldier to interact with while on the missions.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: I believe I enjoyed this volume slightly more than the first volume.There is a little bit of continuity from issue to issue, via multi-part stories or the addition of a supporting cast in Chat Noir. The art from Gerry Talaoc and Dick Ayers stands out in the black & white format. The stories from David Michelinie and Bob Haney are serviceable, following the standard format of setting up the Unknown Soldier in a dire situation on pages 1 & 2, a flashback on pages 3-5 showing how he got into that situation, and then 5 pages or more to get out of the trap and complete his mission. I think I enjoyed this series more than say Sgt. Rock or even Sgt. Fury, where the large supporting cast sometimes gets in the way of telling the story.

Footnotes: The Unknown Solider ran until #268 (October 1982). The character has had multiple miniseries over the years, either due to a new story to be told or to keep the copyrights on the character.

If you like this volume, try: the Vertigo-published Unknown Soldier series from 2008. The series is written by Joshua Dysart, with art from Alberto Ponticelli. Set in Uganda during the 2002 civil war, Moses Lwanga is a doctor who is doing his best to protect his family and patients amidst the chaos of the war. But he suffers from nightmares, where he sees himself killing others like a soldier would. Donning the bandages to his face, Lwanga becomes the Unknown Soldier, trying to make the situation better by any means necessary. Along the way, the reader discovers a connection between Lwanga and the original Unknown Soldier from World War II. The series ran for 25 issues and has been collected in four trade paperbacks. The early trades appear to be out of print so you may need to go back issue bin diving to locate this incredible story.

Showcase Presents Jonah Hex Vol. 2

First Published: March 2014

Contents: Jonah Hex stories from Weird Western Tales #34 (May-June 1976) to #38 (January-February 1977); and Jonah Hex #1 (March-April 1977) to #22 (March 1979)

Key Creator Credits: Michael Fleisher, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Ernie Chan, Rich Buckler, Vicente Alcazar, and others

Key First Appearances: El Papagayo, Woodson Hex,

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents Jonah Hex Vol. 1

Overview: He was a hero to some, a villain to others… and wherever he rode, people spoke his name in whispers. He had no friends, this Jonah Hex, but he did have two companions: one was Death itself… the other, the acrid smell of gunsmoke…. This is Showcase Presents Jonah Hex Vol. 2.

Once again, we are treated to mostly one-and-done stories in this collection, but there is some continuation from time to time with the stories. We do get to delve into more of the origins of Jonah Hex. We find out that Jonah was sold to an Apache tribe by his own father. He was raised like one of their own and became a man at age 16 according to tribe custom. Unfortunately, the tribe leader’s son Noh-Tante grew jealous of the attention that Jonah was receiving from the young women, specifically White Fawn, of the tribe. Noh-Tante eventually betrayed Jonah, leaving him captured with a tribe of Kiowa Indians.

Years later, Jonah returned to his Apache tribe to find that Noh-Tante and White Fawn were man and wife. Jonah told the chief of Noh-Tante’s actions and had the chance to face him in combat. Noh-Tante sabotaged Jonah’s tomahawk, and he was forced to use a knife to defend himself by killing Noh-Tante. The tribe chief had Jonah’s face branded with the mark of the demon and banished him from the tribe with the threat of death if he was ever to return.

Of course, Jonah would return at some point, but it would be White Fawn who is ultimately punished by the chief for helping Jonah escape. Jonah kills the chief and most of the tribe as he leaves for the last time.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: I definitely appreciated this volume more than Volume 1. My complaint with the last collection is that most of those stories could be told with any of DC’s western characters. They were western stories that happened to feature Jonah Hex. With this collection, we get Jonah Hex stories, and the world needs more Jonah Hex!

If you like this volume, try: watching some of Jonah’s appearances in the DC Animated Universe. Jonah Hex has been featured in Batman: The Animated Series (Showdown), Justice League Unlimited (The Once and Future Thing Part 1), and Batman: The Brave and the Bold (Return of the Fearsome Fangs, Duel of the Double Crossers, The Siege of Starro! Part 1). Earlier this year, Jonah Hex was even featured on an episode of Justice League Action (All Aboard the Space Train). In that feature, Jonah must team up with Space Cabbie to stop Kanjar Ro from robbing a space train. Typing this out makes no sense, I know, but that’s part of the charm of Jonah Hex. I would watch animated Jonah Hex over and over for the rest of my life before ever watching the live-action film from 2010 again.

Essential Wolverine Vol. 6

First Published: December 2012

Contents: Wolverine #111 (March 1997) to #128 (September 1998); Wolverine #-1 (July 1997); and Wolverine Annual ’97 (1997)

Key Creator Credits: Larry Hama, Warren Ellis, Chris Claremont, Anthony Winn, Leinil Francis Yu, Denys Cowan, and others

Story Continues From: Essential Wolverine Vol. 5

Story Continues In: Essential Wolverine Vol. 7

Overview: Despite being the best there is at what he does, Wolverine still seems to encounter opponents intent on proving that statement wrong. That works out for us, giving us Essential Wolverine Vol. 6.

This collection starts out with Wolverine striking out on his own — AGAIN! This time, he goes 35 miles south into the East Village neighborhood of New York City. He finds an apartment, lands a construction job, and lives happily ever after, right? Not so much. Sometimes trouble finds him, sometimes he finds trouble all on his own. In this situation, Logan encounters a killer mime. I can’t make this stuff up, but Larry Hama did!

Next Wolverine and the X-Men get caught up in the Operation Zero Tolerance story arc (see below). Following that, Warren Ellis and Leinil Francis Yu step in for a four-issue arc with Wolverine encountering a professional assassin, McLeish, who he thought had been dead for the last ten years. Surviving that, Wolverine encounters two former foes, Roughouse and Bloodscream, who he first met back in Essential Wolverine Vol. 1.

This final story in this collection is a fun read as Wolverine finds that he must marry Viper to fulfill a debt of honor. A long the way, most of the other women in Wolverine’s life (Kitty, Jubilee, Black Widow, Jessica Drew, and others) are trying to stop Wolverine from doing so. Of course, any comic book wedding has to be crashed by someone. In this instance, it’s Sabretooth and he wants to kill the groom.

What makes this Essential?: OK, I have come around on the Wolverine line of Essentials. With the last two volumes, the printing process did not work well with the new look of the comics. With this volume, the reprinting is nearly perfect. I still had a hard time reading the footnotes, but everything else looked great printed in black and white. The biggest challenge with this line is finding stories that feature Wolverine in a solo adventure. We had multiple crossovers with the X-Men, some more warranted than others. I realize that Marvel sold a lot of comics in the 1990s thanks to Wolverine and the X-Men, but sometimes you want the solo book to be a solo book and not just an extension of the team book.

If you like this volume, try: the complete X-Men – Operation Zero Tolerance story. In this volume, we get the Wolverine issues of the story, but it ran across a lot of other mutant books (X-Men, Cable, Generation X, and X-Force). Following the events of Age of Apocalypse, Henry Peter Gyrich and Bastion leverage their positions in the U.S. Government to go after the mutants. Bastion creates a new line of Prime Sentinels which he sends out to capture the mutants. The government takes control of the Xavier School, getting access to files and technology. Iceman steps up and leads a small group to help stop Bastion. Finally, S.H.I.E.L.D. finally intervenes and revokes the Operation Zero Tolerance orders. This has been collected as a hardcover and a trade paperback, so it should be easy to track down.

Showcase Presents Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld Vol. 1

First Published: September 2012

Contents: Amethyst story from Legion of Super-Heroes #298 (April 1983); Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld #1 (May 1983) to #12 (April 1984); Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld Annual #1 (1984); DC Comics Presents #63 (November 1983); and Amethyst #1 (January 1985) to #11 (November 1985)

Key Creator Credits: Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn, Ernie Colón, Ric Estrada, and others

Key First Appearances: Amy Winston/Amethyst, Dark Opal, Carnelian, Sardonyx, Citrina, Herb Winston, Marion Winston, Emerald, Fire Jade, Topaz, Turquoise, Garnet, Moonstone, Diamond

Overview: Meet Amy Winston, your typical 13-year-old girl in America. For her birthday, she receives a mysterious gift containing an amethyst pendant. Amy discovers that the pendant opens a passage way to Gemworld, a magical land divided into 12 realms. When Amy travels to Gemworld, she is transformed into a 20-year-old woman known as Princess Amethyst, the heir to the throne of her realm.

Unfortunately, Gemworld is not a peaceful place. Dark Opal has plans to take over Gemworld and will stop at nothing to do so. But Amethyst and her loyal friends and subjects unite to stop Dark Opal. This would be easier to do if Amethyst could be a full-time resident of Gemworld. But she must constantly travel back to Earth to resume her life as Amy, and to keep her parents from going crazy with her sudden disappearances.

While the initial mini-series was ongoing, Amethyst got to make the obligatory appearance over in DC Comics Presents where she teams up with Superman for an issue. Unfortunately, this is the one brief appearance that really ties her into the DC Universe, other than the Wonder Woman poster hanging up in Amy’s bedroom.

Amethyst did return with a new ongoing series, letting us see more of Gemworld and new threats to the realms. Amethyst tries her best to balance her time between Gemworld and Earth, but the demands of the throne keep making it harder and harder to be a teenage girl.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: I checked out this series some when it was first released in 1983. I wasn’t overly sold on it, but I think that was also a time when I liked a lot of other books on the shelves more and my allowance was limited. So I probably never gave a fair chance back then.

Reading this now, I am intrigued and disappointed at the same time. There is a lot that works really well for this series. I want to know more about the various houses and see more of the back-and-forth between the realms of Gemworld. But this series suffers being reprinted in black & white. Much like Green Lantern, so much of the story is dependent on the book being printed in color. You need the colors of the page to help distinguish some of the characters. I’m also upset that the character has been relatively unused since the two series finished in the mid-1980s.

Footnotes:  The 1985 Amethyst series ran for 16 issues, plus a Special. The final five issues and the Special have not been reprinted.

If you like this volume, try: reading Promethea from Alan Moore and J.H. Williams III. This was part of the ABC Comics from Moore that DC put out in the early 2000s. Promethea tells the story of a young woman, Sophie Bangs, who is researching the ancient myth of Promethea for a college paper. Soon after, she encounters an ancient enemy of Promethea and then finds herself transforming into Promethea. Now Sophie must quickly learn her new powers and abilities before she is destroyed. This story mixes so many elements from different comics (Wonder Woman, Shazam, even Amethyst) and is gorgeously illustrated by Williams. This series is available in multiple formats, so it should not be difficult to track down.

Essential Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos Vol. 1

First Published: October 2011

Contents: Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #1 (May 1963) to #23 (October 1965); and Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos Annual #1 (1965)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, George Roussos, and others

Key First Appearances: Nicholas “Nick” Fury, Timothy “Dum Dum” Dugan, Isadore “Izzy” Cohen, Gabriel “Gabe” Jones, Jonathan “Junior” Juniper, Dino Manelli, Robert “Reb” Ralston, Samuel “Happy Sam” Sawyer, Pamela Hawley, Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, Bull McGiveney, Percival “Pinky” Pinkerton, Captain Savage

Overview: Following the United States entry into World War II, the First Attack Squadron runs the missions that no one else wants to take. Whether it’s dropping into the Nazi territory, tracking down a Resistance spy, or conducting a daring rescue, Sgt Fury and his Howling Commandos are the go-to squad for Captain Sam Sawyer. Wahoo!!

Nick Fury leads a rag-tag group of men into battle each issue, whether they are fighting in Europe, Northern Africa, or even the Pacific Islands. While Fury’s crew does not go after Adolf Hitler every month, they do attract a Nazi rival in Baron Strucker and his Blitzkrieg Squad, a team specifically assembled to stop the Commandos.

The Commandos are not on call 24/7, so they do get some leave time to go to London to relax and unwind. Fury even finds time to find the first love of his life, Pamela Hawley. She makes Fury more human and provides a reminder to Nick for what they are fighting for in Europe.

What makes this Essential?: This is an interesting book to look at and consider its merits. At the time this book started, the Marvel Age was growing by leaps and bounds. Already the Fantastic Four, Thor, Hulk, Ant-Man and Iron Man have been introduced with hints that they are all part of the same universe. Later in 1963, we would get Spider-Man, the Avengers, and the X-Men, So for Stan Lee & Jack Kirby to introduce a war book, at a time when Marvel was limited to publishing just eight titles per month, this seems like a strange move to make. Maybe Marvel wanted to keep a war comic on the racks just to stay competitive with the Distinguished Competition.

In terms of Sgt. Fury, this group of characters works well together. As with any of the ongoing war comics, you need to be less critical of the time line, knowing that the U.S. troops had a small window to be fighting in Europe. While Kirby’s art is stellar, I really believe the true hero of this book is Dick Ayers, whose art really shines in this book. The characters become more unique and distinct when lined up together. The stories are a mixed bag – Lee drops in too many anachronisms – but this is worth the read just for the art.

Meet the Commandos: In addition to Sgt Fury, the other members of the First Attack Squadron include:

  • Corporal Dum Dum Dugan serves as Fury’s right-hand man in the trenches and on furlough. Dugan lives for battle, preferring war to spending time at home with his wife and mother-in-law.
  • Private Izzy Cohen is the mechanic and explosives expert for the squadron.
  • Private Gabe Jones is an African-American serving in an integrated unit. In reality, the U.S. armed forces were not integrated until President Truman signed the orders in 1948.
  • Private Dino Manelli is a movie actor modeled after Dean Martin. Being fluent in both Italian and German, Dino is often sent on missions to impersonate Axis soldiers.
  • Private Reb Ralston is an ex-jockey from Kentucky and an avid poker player.
  • Private Junior Juniper was killed in action in just issue #4. It added a sense of realism to the book, that any of them were expendable. (However, given how many of the Commandos were also appearing in Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., readers would know which ones were safe going forward.)
  • Private Pinky Pinkerton is a British soldier attached to the squadron to replace Juniper. Much like Dino was a stand-in for Dean Martin, Pinky is a stand-in for David Niven.

Footnotes: Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos ran for 167 issues. Beginning with issue #80, the even-numbered issues featured a reprinted story, while the odd-numbered issues featured a new story. With issue #120, the series only reprinted stories and did not create any new stories. The title ended with issue #167 (December 1981).

If you like this volume, try: the Secret Warriors series from 2009 to 2011. Spinning out of the Dark Reign events, Nick Fury has created new teams within S.H.I.E.L.D. to respond to threats. These are various individuals with some kind of powers, such as Daisy Johnson a.k.a. Quake. The Secret Warriors team takes on those covert missions that S.H.I.E.L.D. cannot publicly handle. Many of the concepts here have been incorporated into Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. tv series. One of the story-arcs in the Secret Warriors series was The Last Ride of the Howling Commandos, which can be found in issues #17-#19, and involved many of the surviving Commandos reuniting for a dinner. This was such a well-done series from Brian Michael Bendis and Jonathan Hickman.