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 The Losers Vol. 1

First Published: March 2012

Contents: The Losers stories from G.I. Combat #138 (October 1969), and Our Fighting Forces #123 (January-February 1970) to #150 (August-September 1974)

Key Creator Credits: Robert Kanigher, Joe Kubert, Ross Andru, John Severin, and others

Key First Appearances: Ona Tomsen

Overview: In his play The Tempest, William Shakespeare wrote, “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.” That easily describes the situation for the members of the Losers – a group of soldiers that have lost their original units. These orphans come together in a special unit that gets assigned the missions that no one else in their right mind would ever volunteer for.

The Losers consist of four soldiers, all previously featured in their own stories by writer Robert Kanigher for the various DC war titles.

  • Captain Storm is the former commander of a PT boat, which was destroyed in battle and the crew lost. Storm lost his lower left leg in an earlier battle and uses a wooden leg to get around.
  • Johnny Cloud, a Navajo pilot who is the sole survivor of his squadron and appears to always fly the final flight of any plane.
  • Gunner and Sarge, a two-man team from the trenches who always appear to be the last two standing from any firefight.

The four men, originally brought together by the Haunted Tank, primarily take on missions in Europe. However, getting assigned missions in the Pacific and Africa is not out of the picture. The Losers are given assignments, and each man goes into the battle thinking that this will be their final mission. When they survive the mission, they realize that the Losers find a way to fight again another day.

As the title develops under Kanigher and artists Ross Andru and John Severin, the story starts to become an ongoing narrative from issue to issue. On one mission, it appears that Captain Storm is killed in a bomb explosion. He is soon replaced by Ona Tomsen, a female member of the Norwegian Resistance Unit who views herself as a loser, being the sole survivor of her village. Thankfully Storm returns to the team, after a brief foray as a pirate, thanks to amnesia from the explosion.

 

Why should these stories be Showcased?: The concept of the Losers is perhaps more important than the specific characters themselves. The concept (and the characters) are revisited quite frequently over the years, whether it is continuing their original story or assigning the concept to a new group of characters, as seen in the 2002 Vertigo series. The stories are just long enough to tell a decent tale, without getting caught up in repeating the same story formula issue after issue.

If you like this volume, try: Jack Kirby’s take on the Losers. Kanigher and Severin’s run with the Losers came to an end with Our Fighting Forces #150. Beginning with the next issue, Kirby did a 12-issue run with Captain Storm, Johnny Cloud, Sarge, and Gunner. Like so many other Kirby books in that era, the initial reaction appears to be less than positive, with long-time readers not appreciating Kirby’s approach. Over the years, fans have flocked back to this run as one of Kirby’s last great DC arcs. The entire run was reprinted in 2009 has a hardcover edition.

Showcase Presents Rip Hunter, Time Master

riphuntershowcase

First Published: August 2012

Contents: Showcase #20 (May-June 1959), #21 (July-August 1959), #25 (March-April 1959), and #26 (May-June 1960); and Rip Hunter… Time Master #1 (March-April 1961) to #15 (July-August 1963)

Key Creator Credits: Jack Miller, Ruben Moreira, Mike Sekowsky, Ross Andru, Mike Esposito, Alex Toth, Joe Kubert, Nick Cardy, William Ely

Key First Appearances: Rip Hunter, Jeff Smith, Bonnie Baxter, Corky Baxter

Overview: “Have time sphere, will travel” appears to be the motto for one Rip Hunter. Surrounded by his partner Jeff Smith and their friends Bonnie Baxter and her younger brother Corky, Rip takes his time sphere primarily into the past, whether it’s a 1,000 years or a 1,000,000 years, to answer the unknown questions that puzzle modern researchers.

Each story follows a basic formula — Rip Hunter is given a reason to travel into the past to solve a mystery. Grabbing speech conversion discs that they wear to be able to communicate with anyone they encounter, Rip and his team travel in the time sphere to the time in question. Rip and one of the team – sometimes Jeff, sometimes Corky, occasionally Bonnie – set off to investigate while the other team members try to keep the time sphere hidden. In most cases, Rip and his partner gets into trouble, and have to call on their teammates to rescue them. Along the way, the solve the mystery and return back to the 1950s without ever altering the time line.

The best part of this title is the variety of artists that worked on this series. Whether it’s the likes of Mike Sekowsky; Ross Andru and Mike Esposito; Nick Cardy, Alex Toth, or Joe Kubert, there is so much talent in this book that really stands out in the black and white format.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: I like the concept of Rip Hunter and his time sphere. I’m hit and miss on the rest of the supporting cast. But I don’t think it works as a regular comic series. These stories quickly fell into a predictable formula, which probably worked well when you were reading the title every other month. I think Rip Hunter is a great character to bring into a story to provide another character with a way to time travel in their story or title. here are numerous reasons why I should not like this book. I am not a huge fan of Carmine Infantino’s art style. I find the formulaic stories from this era too predictable. This is more a science-fiction book than a super-hero book. With all of that said, I really loved this Showcase. Adam Strange felt alive and full of energy. Gardner Fox builds a new universe of characters, and creates an ongoing continuity with the storyline, with past stories and characters coming back in later stories.

Footnotes: Showcase #20 and #21 are also reprinted in Showcase Presents Showcase Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the CW’s DC’s Legends of Tomorrow show. Now airing its second season, Legends of Tomorrow features Time Master Rip Hunter plucking a team of lesser heroes (and villains) to stop the likes of Vandal Savage and Damien Darhk from changing the timeline. The characters were all first introduced on the other CW shows, such as Arrow or The Flash, but probably can’t carry their own show. Arthur Darvill (Doctor Who, Broadchurch) stars as the Time Master captaining the time ship known as the Waverider. This is a fun series that I’ve been able to watch with my family.

Showcase Presents Enemy Ace Vol. 1

showcase_presents_enemy_ace_volume_1First Published: February 2008

Contents: Enemy Ace stories from Our Army at War #151 (February 1965), #153 (April 1965), and #155 (); Showcase #57 (July/August 1965) and #58 (September/October 1965); Enemy Ace stories from Star-Spangled War Stories #138 (April/May 1968) to #145 (June/July 1969), #147 (October/November 1969) to #150 (April/May 1970); #152 (August/September 1970), #158 (August/September 1971), #181 (July/August 1974) to #183 (November/December 1974), and #200 (June/July 1976); Enemy Ace stories from Men of War #1 (August 1977) to #3 (November 1977), #8 (August 1978) to #10 (November 1978), #12 (January 1979) to #14 (March 1979), #19 (August 1979) and #20 (September 1979); Enemy Ace stories from Unknown Soldier #251 (May 1981) to #253 (July 1981), #260 (February 1982), #261 (March 1982), and #265 (July 1982) to #267 (September 1982); and the Enemy Ace story from Detective Comics #404 (October 1970)

Key Creator Credits: Joe Kubert, Robert Kanigher, Frank Thorne, Howard Chaykin, John Severin, Ed Davis, Neal Adams, and others

Key First Appearances: Baron Hans Von Hammer, Black Wolf

Overview: Flying across “no man’s land” during the height of the Great War (later renamed as World War I), Baron Hans Von Hammer leads the German forces in the air. Flying his easily-recognized crimson Fokker triplane, the “Angel of Death” fights a noble battle against his opponents in defense of Germany. This is Showcase Presents Enemy Ace.

Created by Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert, Enemy Ace is a loose adaptation of the Red Baron story, who was an actual German pilot during the Great War. von Hammer comes from a noble family, complete with their own family flag. He has not friends, save for his personal servant that spends most of his time polishing the trophies earned from each of von Hammer’s kills. When he needs a break, von Hammer goes hunting in the Black Forest, where he is joined by his kindred spirit, the Black Wolf. They both hunt alone in life but appreciate each other’s company when reunited in the woods. brothers from a Kansas farm enlist in the Army at the onset of World War

In the air, von Hammer follows a strict guideline when engaging the enemy. He refuses to fire on an opponent that is out of ammo, even turning on the pilots in his own squadron if they break that rule. His ruthless reputation precedes him at all times, with his familiar plane bringing fear to those on the ground and in the air.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: The art from Joe Kubert, followed later by Howard Chaykin and John Severin, definitely make this a volume worth looking at. My problem is the formulaic stories used for the first two-thirds of this collection. These stories were written as a one-and-done, and no thought was ever given to the idea that they would later be collected into a complete collection like this. The stories are repetitive, with the nationality of the opposing pilot being the main difference from issue to issue.

Footnotes: “Ghost of the Killer Skies” from Detective Comics #404 was reprinted in Showcase Presents Batman Vol. 5.

While he is referred to as the “Angel of Death” or the “Hammer from Hell”, von Hammer is never referenced as the “Enemy Ace”. That is just the name of the feature and not his call-sign.

If you like this volume, try: Jacques Tardi’s book, It Was the War of the Trenches. Quite honestly, there are not a lot of comics based in World War I. With many of the great comic artists and writers coming of age during the World War II era, so many of the war comics are focused during the second war. But the first war is just as brutal, as epically captured in this book by Tardi. The book focuses on the struggles of the French and German forces, moving back and forth across “no man’s land” bunkered in trenches filled with sewage and rotting corpses. This is not an easy book to read, certainly not for the faint of heart. Tardi is no fan of war and points out that the only ones who want war are the military leaders and the munitions manufacturers. The soldiers in the trenches, regardless of their uniforms, do not want to be there, and will do anything (literally risking life and limb) to get out of there and return home. Enemy Ace paints a sanitized view of the war, with a certain nobility and rules to be followed when dueling in the sky. It Was the War of the Trenches shows the real view (and costs) of the war.

Showcase Presents Sgt. Rock Vol. 1

showcase_presents_sgt_rock_volume_1First Published: November 2007

Contents: Sgt. Rock story from G.I. Combat #68 (January 1959); Sgt. Rock stories from Our Army At War #81 (April 1959) to #117 (April 1962)

Key Creator Credits: Joe Kubert, Robert Kanigher, Bob Haney, Irv Novick, and others

Key First Appearances: Sgt. Frank Rock, Ice Cream Soldier, Zach Nollan, Bulldozer, Jackie Johnson, Wildman

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents Sgt. Rock Vol. 2

Overview: During World War II, there is an Army squadron that is sent on various missions across Europe and Northern Africa. These missions are critical to the success of the war effort, but they ask a lot of the soldiers to complete the task. While the squad may be led by the Skipper, the true commander of these soldiers is Sgt. Frank Rock, the strongest man in the U.S. Army. This is Showcase Presents Sgt. Rock Vol. 1.

Sgt. Rock is a fairly simple man. He goes where ordered, he leads the soldiers of Easy Company, and he completes the missions. He doesn’t want to be in the war, but he does it because this is his role in life at this point. He would gladly give up his stripes to a better candidate, but he knows that for right now, he is the man for the job.

Many of the stories deal with Sgt. Rock having to care for a rookie private recently assigned to Easy. This young soldier is afraid of the war or doesn’t understand how or why Rock does what he does. So Rock shares stories about previous soldiers assigned to Easy who faced similar situations, and how they came through it. Often, these young soldiers come through when faced with combat, inspired by the actions and the words of their sergeant.

By the end of this volume, we have been introduced to most of the cast of characters for Easy Company, such as Bulldozer, Ice Cream Soldier, Jackie Johnson and Wildman. There are still a few to be added in later volumes, but the core group is in place here.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: I really appreciated this volume the more I read of it. First and foremost, the artwork by Joe Kubert is just spectacular. You should get this book just for his artwork. The stories can get repetitive but the artwork carries me through. I just really like to see the progression of the creative team (Robert Kanigher and Kubert) across this collection. We start out with Rock leading a nameless, nondescript Easy Company, with all of the stories focusing just on his story. But as the story progresses, the other characters are introduced and then brought back over and over, and the title becomes more of a group book. It opens up the story-telling opportunities once we have familiar characters that can be re-used from issue to issue.

Footnotes:  While this volume collects the earliest adventures of Sgt. Rock and Easy Company, it does not collect the first appearance, which was in G.I. Combat #56 (January 1958). His second appearance in G.I. Combat #68 is included in this collection.

If you like this volume, try: the 1998 movie, Saving Private Ryan, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks and Matt Damon. Beyond the dramatic opening scene of the U.S. troops landing at Omaha Beach, it shows a squad sent on a mission to retrieve a soldier. The squad must walk across parts of France, facing German forces along the way. While there is no direct link between Sgt. Rock and Saving Private Ryan, there were many times when reading these stories that I thought back to the movie. This is a powerful movie, and I try to rewatch it each year in that period between Memorial Day (last Monday of May) and the D-Day anniversary (June 6).

Showcase Presents The War That Time Forgot Vol. 1

showcase_presents_war_that_time_forgot_volume_1First Published: May 2007

Contents: Star Spangled War Stories #90 (April-May 1960), #92 (August-September 1960), #94 (December 1960-January 1961) to #125 (February-March 1966), #127 (June-July 1966), and #128 (September 1966)

Key Creator Credits: Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru, Mike Esposito, Joe Kubert, Russ Heath, Gene Colan, and others

Key First Appearances: Dinosaur Island, G.I. Robot

Overview: It’s the early 1940s. The United States is fully involved in World War II. In the Pacific, the U.S. Armed Forces are fighting the enemy at sea, in the air, or on the ground of uncharted islands. But their foes do not appear to flying the flag of the Rising Sun. Instead, their enemy is a throwback to the prehistoric age, as Tyrannosaurus Rexes, Pterodactyls, and other dinosaurs are fighting our troops. This is Showcase Presents The War That Time Forgot Vol. 1.

We are introduced to a mysterious island always cloaked by a fog. As our featured characters travel through the mist, they find themselves under attack by the dinosaurs. Depending on the story, the soldiers find some way to escape the non-stop threats to escape the island and be rescued to fight again another day. Over time, this location became known as Dinosaur Island, but that comes much later beyond this title.

Now, in times of war, it is quite common for the military to invent all kinds of new weapons that they hope will speed up the end of the war, or save soldiers lives. One such invention is the very first G.I. Robot, a robot programmed to respond to thousands of combat situations. Sent to the island to test G.I. Robot, a human soldier goes along (reluctantly) to verify that the soldier responds correctly when the bullets start flying.

Another creation of the military is the introduction of the Suicide Squad. Living up to it’s name, two men are sent out on a mission that they are not expected to survive. Of course, in the military’s infinite wisdom, they often pair two soldiers who hate each other, usually because one of the soldiers killed a family member of the other soldier. Not that it should come as a surprise, but both soldiers survive without killing each other, or becoming dinner for a hungry dinosaur.

The vast majority of these issues are written by Robert Kanigher, with art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. Towards the end of this collection, we see some other familiar names appear that are recognized for their DC war comics work, such as Joe Kubert and Russ Heath. These are generally one-and-done stories. Some characters may re-appear from issue to issue, but the stories do not carry over.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: This is an interesting situation that I see here. I personally don’t know that these stories should be featured based on their content. The stories are formulaic and safe. The art is good for its era, but it’s simplistic in detail. What makes these stories important is that these ideas and concepts introduced here were used by the next generation of comic creators, and the ones after them. G.I. Robot has been re-used many times. Dinosaur Island has become a go-to locale in the DC Universe for any number of stories. And you would have to be living under a rock not to know where the Suicide Squad concept has gone to over the last 40 years. For those reasons, I can understand and support featuring these comics in this collection.

Footnotes: In many of the latter stories in this collection, they feature members of the Suicide Squad – soldiers taking on assignments which they are unlikely to survive. However, this is not the first reference to the Suicide Squad by Kanigher, Andru, and Esposito. They introduced that concept in The Brave and the Bold #25 (September 1959), where a group of adventurers faced off against monsters, giants, and yes, even dinosaurs.

If you like this volume, try: Jurassic Park from Michael Crichton. Yes, the novel, not the movies or video games or anything else that spun out of this concept. It won’t hurt anyone, myself included, to put down the four-color funny books for awhile and read an actual book or two. Crichton released this novel in 1990, after working on it for numerous years. You know the story, how scientists cracked the code to bring dinosaurs back to life, and that led to a billionaire funding a dinosaur theme park, and things went down hill from there. As you can imagine, once you get past the first 50 pages with a lot of the science details, it becomes a  page turner as the dinosaurs run amuck in the park.

However, if you want to go old school, dig up a copy of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Land That Time Forgot. Originally published as serials in a magazine, this was collected as a novel in 1924. Set during World War I, soldiers stranded in the Antartica come across a hidden land where dinosaurs still roam the Earth. In many ways, it was this novel that inspired (or influenced) Kanigher, Andru, and Esposito with The War That Time Forgot.

Showcase Presents Hawkman Vol. 2

Showcase Presents Hawkman Vol. 2

First Published: August 2008

Contents: Hawkman #12 (February-March 1966) to #27 (August-September 1968); The Brave and the Bold #70 (February-March 1967); The Atom #31 (June-July 1967); and The Atom and Hawkman #39 (October-November 1968) to #45 (October-November 1969)

Key Creator Credits: Gardner Fox, Murphy Anderson, Dick Dillin, Bob Haney, Joe Kubert, Robert Kanigher, and others

Key First Appearances: Lion-Mane

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents Hawkman Vol. 1 and Showcase Presents The Atom Vol. 2

Overview: Welcome back to the ongoing adventures of Hawkman and Hawkgirl. Police officers Katar and Shayera Hol have travelled from Thanagar to make Earth their adoptive home. Posing as Carter and Shiera Hall, archeologists and curators at the Midway City Museum, our feathered heroes work to catch criminals and solve mysteries using a mix of extraterrestrial science and ancient Earth weapons.

Hawkman remains an interesting nexus point within the DC universe. As a Thanagarian, he is the ideal character to interact with Adam Strange, a man of two worlds (Earth and Rann). As a character written by Gardner Fox, it was natural for Hawkman to team up with the Atom, another Fox creation. As a member of the Justice League, there was no question that Hawkman would be crossing paths with Batman in the pages of The Brave and the Bold.

The foes of Hawkman remain somewhat weak in this collection. Seriously, how many people have even heard of Lion-Mane before? A highlight of this collection is Hawkman coming face-to-face with the Gentleman Ghost, a one-time foe of the Earth-2 Hawkman. Robert Kanigher, with Joe Kubert, created the Gentlemen Ghost for the Hawkman story in Flash Comics #88 (October 1947). Twenty-two years later, Kanigher once again found himself writing a Hawkman story and brought back the Ghost.

In 1968, the Hawkman title came to an end with issue #27, but his stories were not done yet. Hawkman took his adventures to the Atom’s book the following issue, as The Atom was renamed The Atom and Hawkman with issue #39. This combined title ran for seven issues (on a bi-monthly publishing schedule). Three of the issues featured the two characters teaming up together in one story, while four of the issues featured each character in his own solo story.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: Well, on the plus side, I believe this is a better read than Volume 1. With that said, I still found this volume disappointing. The highlights of this collection are the issues where he teams up with other heroes, such as Batman, Atom, and Adam Strange. The problem is this is still a book featuring a solo character (no disrespect meant to Hawkgirl). If the solo stories are not entertaining, it’s hard to get through some of these issues. A lot of these tales feel very repetitive, such as an alien on the run from law enforcement and hiding on Earth, or an archeological dig uncovering a dormant creature. I want this to be so much better than it is! Read this is you are a Hawkman fan, or if you like Murphy Anderson’s art.

Footnotes: The Brave and the Bold #70 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents The Brave and the Bold Batman Team-Ups Vol. 1.

The Atom #31 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents The Atom Vol. 2.

If you like this volume, try: the Geoff Johns Hawkman omnibus, which collects the writer’s two-year run with the character from 2002-2004. In 2001, Johns brought back Hawkman from character limbo in the pages of JSA, doing his best to untangle the complicated history of the character over the last 20 years. That immediately prompted DC to green-light a new ongoing book. In this new series, Hawkman and Hawkgirl are reincarnated spirits dating back to ancient Egypt. The new Hawkman returns, and immediately proclaims his undying love for Hawkgirl. However, this Hawkgirl is Kendra Saunders, a great niece to Sheira Hall, the original Hawkgirl. Kendra has the memories from Sheira, but she does not have the feelings for Carter Hall. Hawkman and Hawkgirl develop a working partnership, which presents a different dynamic than what we have seen previously between these characters. The omnibus contains all of the Geoff Johns’ stories, which ran through issue #25. This volume of the Hawkman series ran for 49 issues, then changed direction and was renamed Hawkgirl with issue #50. The Hawkgirl title ran for another year, before ending with issue #66.