Friday, August 1, 2014

The Fightin' 5 Reports #1

It's finally time to do a close reading of "America's Super Squad" the Fightin' 5. I pretty much promised to do this over a year ago. So let's begin.

Charlton comics was looking for new avenues and genres to conquer in 1964 (the previous month had seen the debut of a new Blue Beetle comic) and the spy genre was red hot with the success of the James Bond movies and The Avengers TV show among many other things.

So in classic Charlton fashion, the title Space War had its title changed to Fighin' 5 (Charlton had a squadron of books in the war genre featuring the word "Fightin'") and the number continued. So the debut issue of Fightin' Five is Volume 2 #28 dated July, 1964. In the debut story edited by Pat Masulli and  written by Joe Gill, and drawn by Bill Montes and Ernie Bache with a cover by Dick Giordano,  we meet the members of the new squad which are to wage a clandestine war against America's enemies across the globe.

The "5" are Frenchy the Fox (Last name never revealed), Irv "The Nerve" Haganah, Granite Gallero, Hank Hennessy, and Tom-Tom (Real name never revealed). Designated "FF1", "FF2", "FF3", "FF4", and "FF5" according to the first letter of their name, they formed "America's Super Squad" and the word "F.I.G.H.T.", hence Fightin' 5. It was a bit tortured but in tune with an era which gave us S.P.E.C.T.R.E., U.N.C.L.E., S.H.I.E.L.D., and T.H.U.N.D.E.R.

The debut story titled "Introducting The Fightin' 5 - America's Super Squad" begins with a one page intro to all five members, then with Chapter I "Frenchy is Found!" introduces Frenchy the Fox who is skin diving on the Riviera where his mission is to reclaim a stolen necklace. The CIA show up to offer him a job. Chapter II "The Private Eye" shows Irv the Nerve David (not yet "Haganah - more below) who is in an unnamed city rounding up some art thieves. He too is contacted by the CIA. Chapter III "Granite Gallero Joins" takes us to a U.S. weapons proving ground where Gallero is showcasing some new potent weapons for the military when the CIA shows up. Chapter IV "Hank Hennessy...Special Forces U.S.Army" introduces Hank who is a devoted soldier in Vietnam and a rich playboy who handles a masher than quickly answers the call when the CIA asks. Finally in Chapter V "The Retiring Wrestler" we meet Tom-Tom who is in a bout as the bad guy and makes contact with the mat and the CIA simultaneously.

Chapter VI "The Assignment" shows the team in uniform and firing on a castles. We quickly then learn the back story which involves the abduction of former German scientist Ernst Von Essen by the Eastern Block. The Fightin' 5 are briefed and swiftly fly to Europe to get him back. The attack is swift and well coordinated and each team member is required to show his special skills, especially the ultra-strong Tom-Tom who bends the bars of Von Essen's cell with is bare hands. Using specially designed rocket-packs the team safely get the scientist to safety aboard a helicopter which gets him out of harms way. The team return to the U.S. aboard a B-58 and the story closes at their hidden base discussing their next mission since they've decided to stay together as a team.

"The Looter" is a text story which tells of a former Nazi named Eric Wanderman who sneaked out of the fallen Reich with a hoard of stolen loot. An agent is sent with the help of a woman who can identify Wanderman. After some intrigue and betrayal the Nazi is killed.

"Jungle Death" is a two-page war story drawn by Bill Molno which tells of the heroic sacrifice of a soldier named Simms who clears out a Japanese machine-gun nest with a grenade and the cost of his own life.

"The Story of the Medal" is a three-page story with art by Molno again and relates how medals have been traditionally the province of the nobility but have in more recent years been made available to all soldiers to recognize their dedication and sacrifice.

This story has been reprinted twice. The first time in Fightin' 5 Volume 3 #42 dated October, 1982 which picked up the original numbering of the series after many years.

The story is also reprinted in 1998's The Power of 5 from ACG Comics in glorious black and white.

This is a rock solid debut installment for the series. The story takes pains to carefully introduce our five heroes and points out the special talents of each. The story by Joe Gill is typically well crafted and the artwork by the hard-working team of Montes and Bache has their virtues and their weaknesses. They had a flair with finishes which was very handsome, but the storytelling is alas suspect in several places. Without captions the action would be hard to follow at times.

One oddity is the naming of Irv "The Nerve" Haganah, who in the first story is actually presented as having the last name of "David" and is listed as having served with the "Haganah" (Hebrew for " Defense"), part of the Israeli military. At some point in the story "Haganah" becomes his last name and serves as such for the rest of the run. Joe Gill wrote them fast, and I guess he lost track.

The  Fightin' 5 also have the international flavor most famously demonstrated by the Blackhawks. But based on their personalities, I'd say the 5 owe more to the Howling Commandos than the Blackhawks. Tom-Tom in particular evokes the sound of Dum-Dum as in Dugan, the strongman of the team.

The Fightin' 5 is a series which has a good grounding in the real world with several topical references, but also had some shout outs to the science fiction crowd with the rocket belts. A super-spy saga with a real Charlton flavor.

More to come.

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