Friday, December 27, 2013

"The End" Week: Unknown Soldier #268!


We checked out the end of the more recent Vertigo version some years back; now let's look at the classic: from 1982, Unknown Soldier #268, "A Farewell to War." Written by Bob Haney, pencils by Dick Ayers, inks by Gerry Talaoc.

The Unknown Soldier was part of DC's stable of war comics heroes, like Sgt. Rock. His adventures were a little more bombastic, though: an ordinary soldier, horribly burned, but still believing one man in the right place at the right time can make a difference. The Soldier was a master of disguise (wearing Mission: Impossible-style latex masks over the bandaged remains of his face) and fought dozens of missions behind enemy lines and all over the war, culminating in his final battle, parachuting into Berlin April 28, 1945.

Disguised as a doctor, the Soldier joins with Inge, the young assistant of his contact, Sparrow. Sparrow had vital information of a dangerous secret, but is shot by a firing squad before they can reach him. Offering to make sure the "traitor" was dead, the Soldier gets close enough to get Sparrow's dying word: "Nos...fer...atu!"

The SS commandant, Kessler, sees the doctor go off with Inge, a known friend of Sparrow; and suspects. I do believe Kessler had crossed paths with the Unknown Soldier more than once, which I imagine would make a guy super-paranoid. Inge and the Soldier try to run down another lead at the Berlin Zoo, but their source is killed in a riot for food, as the zoo animals are eaten! Then, Inge throws herself on an unexploded bomb, in an attempt to throw suspicion off of the Soldier when Kessler finds them. Her sacrifice is for naught, though, when Kessler tricks the "doctor" with a question about trepanning.

Facing a firing squad, the Soldier manages to open "a gas pipe left exposed by the bombing." The ensuing explosion saves him but destroys his mask, and Kessler realizes it's "the verdammt Unknown Soldier!" On fire, the Soldier escapes into the sewers, where he faces sewer-dwelling thugs and is chased by SS Hellhound troops! Barely escaping to a subway station-turned-makeshift shelter, he is then only saved by the sacrifice of another of his supporting cast, Chat Noir. (Being black, he was in disguise as a clown!) Furious, the Soldier fights Kessler hand-to-hand, killing him by knocking him into the electrified third rail of the subway; then the Soldier disguises himself as der Fuhrer's "favorite S.S. hero!" But then he has to outrace the flooding subway, as the Nazis try to stop the Russians from attacking through it; and this is only the second part of three in this issue, and more has happened than in most comic books' entire year.

Escaping the subway, the Soldier is nearly shot by the Russians, since he almost forgot he was dressed as a Nazi. Still, he makes his way to Hitler's bunker, where he gets a face-to-face with Hitler and his new bride, and a briefing on "Nosferatu." An accidental success in biological warfare using "vampire-bat blood and certain sea octopi" may be the last-ditch secret weapon that could turn the tide for the Nazis, Hitler has a TV camera set up to give the order to drop them on the invading Allies, and the Unknown Soldier has heard plenty. Pulling his gun, he inadvertently surprises Eva Braun into biting into her cyanide capsule, then has to wrestle Hitler, finally forcing Hitler to shoot himself with his own gun.

The TV set-up is important, since the Soldier is then able to disguise himself as Hitler, and give the order to destroy the Nosferatu as unnecessary. Leaving their bodies as suicides, he leaves the bunker, but sacrifices himself to save a child from bombing. Or does he...? As a passing soldier scratches his neck, as the Unknown Soldier occasionally did at his masks, Haney leaves it a little open.

Even if you weren't a fan of the Unknown Soldier, war comics, or fun...there is so much in this issue! Well worth flipping through.



1 comment:

Dale Bagwell said...

Damn, no kidding there's a lot of shit going on. Back in the day it wasn't uncommon for this much action and story to be covered. How the hell did decompression become a seemingly permanent fad?

Anyhoo, this issue alone makes me wish the Unknow Soldier had his own DCUC figure. How hard would it have been to re-use Negative Man's head? Lazy bastards. But damn is the Soldier's badassary on display here.