Friday, August 15, 2014

The Fightin' 5 Reports #15 - Finale!

Fightin Five came to an end, at least as a self-titled comic. The back feature Peacemaker was awarded its own title and the Fightin' 5 became a back up in that book for all of its five issue run from 1967. All the issues list Pat Masulli as the Executive Editor and Dick Giordano as the Managing Editor.

In The Peacemaker Volume 1 #1 dated March, 1967 The Fightin' 5 are back in a story titled "Ruler of Darkness" presumably written by Joe Gill and featuring artwork by Bill Montes and Ernie Bache. The action begins right in the middle as a Balkan dictator named Leontid Jrozva has his agent Sonya hold Hank Hennessey (FF4), the leader of the Fightin' 5 at bay while he describes his attempts to pressure the major powers to go to war as they ought. Sonya shoots Hennessey, but it proves to be a ruse as she radios Irv "The Nerve" Haganah (FF2) that he should meet her at a graveyard where they uncover Hennessey's casket to find him rather fit. Hank radios Frenchy the Fox (FF1) who is flying above and who lands to pick them up. An enemy jet appears and Hank fires a pistol but one loaded with special anti-aircraft ammunition that destroys the enemy. The team then heads back to base where they debrief Sonya who indicates that the dictator has missiles and that they should both inform their respective governments. The Fightin' 5 plus Sonya then parachute back into the region and Hank and Irv destroy the dictator's capability to fire missiles by destroying the master communications array. But the electricity involved is deadly and kills Irv and seriously injures Hank, destroying his arm and one eye. Sonya then uses a destruct switch to destroy the dictator's base. The Fightin' 5 carry their dead and wounded home as the story ends.

The death of Irv "The Nerve" and the injury to Hank allow the creators to revamp the series pretty significantly. There will be a new member added to the team to take Irv's place and Hank's role will change drastically.

In The Peacemaker Volume 1 #2 dated May, 1967, The Fightin' 5 are back in a story with no title but doubtless written by Joe Gill and drawn by the team of Bill Montes and Ernie Bache, that picks up some time after the events of the previous adventure which resulted in the disabling of Hank Hennessey and the death of Irv "The Nerve". The remaining member (Tom Tom, French the Fox, and Granite) discuss events with leader Hennessey who now has one arm and wears an eye patch, and has become a desk jockey. They use a computer to select the replacement for Irv and surprisingly the choice is Sonya the Soviet agent who helped in the last adventure. They are suspicious, but can only follow orders as the team heads into the north to investigate a Communist installation which seems to pose a threat. They investigate using air packs but soon are captured. It appears that Sonya betrayed them and they feel vindicated if annoyed at that turn of events. But Sonya is merely pretending and helps the team to escape and destroy the base before flying back to home base. Nonetheless the others plan to watch her closely.

The addition of Sonya adds some real spice to the team. She's obviously not someone they cotton to immediately, adding some mild tension. And also the hint of romance as Granite seems smitten, or at least very interested. Characterization seems more important even the stories are developed with much shorter page counts.

In The Peacemaker Volume 1 #3 dated July, 1967, The Fightin' 5 return in a story titled "Special Prisoner" written by Joe Gill and drawn by Bill Montes and Ernie Bache. The story begins with a U.S. official named Lowell Sims being abducted by U.S. forces for safekeeping. It turns out that Granite Gallero, a member of the FF is a double for Sims and the plan developed by the leader Hank Hennessey is for him to become Sims and get kidnapped by enemy agents who have already kidnapped an important nuclear scientist named Dr.Roy Farney. This is arranged and Granite is quickly taken prisoner and flown to Farney's location. Meanwhile Frenchy, Tom-Tom and Sonya follow and parachute into the location to rescue them both. After some exchanges the do indeed rescue the pair and escape the enemy base. A sidebar to this action has been Sonya and her attempts to win the respect and trust of her colleagues. Granite especially is tough on her though we find it's because he's romantically interested too.

In The Peacemaker Volume 1 #4 dated September, 1967, The Fightin' 5 return for one more story titled "Card Carrier" and is part one of a two-part tale by Joe Gill with Bill Montes and Ernie Bache on art. It begins in an alley with a grenade assault on a publishing company. A policeman shows up and pursues the vandals, shooting and wounding one of them, but not being able to capture them. The scene shifts to Hank Hennessey, leader of the FF who is briefing Granite Gallero about a membership card belonging to one Rober Heddon found at the scene of the crime and how it points to the problem of spies who might be using a liberal political group to do espionage work. Despite there persistent doubts about her it is agreed that Sonya is best suited to infiltrate the group. Meanwhile Tom Tom and Frenchy the Fox stake out the publisher's office thinking another attack might be imminent. Two men do show up to finish the job but are intercepted and followed by Tom-Tom, who hands the pursuit off to Frenchy. Thinking they have escaped, the two thugs goe their hideout in the sewer system and Frenchy follows. Granite reports in from the police station that the card carrier Roger Heddon has been found in the river dead from the gunshot wound received during the crime. Frenchy though is discovered following the thugs as the installment ends.

In The Peacemaker Volume 1 #5 dated November, 1967, The Fightin' 5 return for a final time in the conclusion of "The Card Carrier" by Joe Gill and drawn by Bill Montes and Ernie Bache. The action begins immediately as Tom-Tom reports Hank Hennessey that Frenchy the Fox has followed the vandals to their hideout. He doesn't know that Frenchy is at that moment captured by the thugs but he is able to escape and make contact momentarily before being knocked out. Alerted Hank and Tom-Tom get reports from Granite and Sonya. Granite Gallero reports that the man they thought was shot by the policeman was in fact dead before the attack and so the whole thing appears to be a frame with the card being a red herring. Sonya supports this report from inside the movement and the Fightin' 5 reassemble. Tom-Tom has gone to assist Frenchy and comes under gunfire, and the rest appear to assist. They take down the attackers, save Frenchy and realize the whole communist plot angle was a ruse by the publisher of the right-wing paper to kindle resentment against the Soviets. The story ends as the assembled FF fly over a safe Washington D.C.

The Fightin' 5 are among Charlton's transitional heroes. They precede the true "Action Hero" line which had mainstays like Blue Beetle (revamped) and Captain Atom joined by Thunderbolt, Peacemaker, and Thunderbolt, but also run concurrently with many of them. But when the Action Heroes were purchased by DC long ago, these guys didn't go along for the ride and so remained hidden in the vast unplumbed depths of the Charlton sea.

They are as much a part of the spy surge prompted by the success of the James Bond movies as are The Man from UNCLE, Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD, Our Man Flint, and many many others. But they are alas a largely forgotten part of it save by true-blue Charlton fans. The stories by Joe Gill span the gamut from solid hard-nosed espionage to sprawling sci-fi and points between. The death of Irv "The Nerve" Hagannah was a pretty big deal when characters like that didn't die mostly. It added some depth to the series, gave it a punch in the gut which made the later stories a bit more edgy.

The artwork by the longtime team of Montes and Bache is I suspect something of an acquired taste. The produce some at times lovely artwork but I do find their storytelling suspect at other times. The work seems more about delicate finishes than clarity, but it's difficult to fault the final result which is memorable and sometimes downright lovely. Like most Charlton talents, the team on this book were reliable, and the writer Joe Gill defines the role.

These guys need a collection, a solid collection to get their adventures out in front of a larger audience. But sadly I suspect it will never happen.

Until then we must as they did, continue to fight. 

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  1. Yes, I would support a collection of these stories as well (preferably in color - with the related features, text pages and house ads…If you’re gonna dream, might as well dream big as they say.) Superb job Rip – thanks again for taking the time with these summaries… So, who does hold the rights to these characters these days – since DC passed on them?

    1. It's a little murky. A guy in Canada named Roger Broughton bought the actual artwork from Charlton when they were giving up the ghost and he's the one who has published what few reprints there have been since Charlton disappeared. As to the actual rights to the characters, that's a question for legal minds more acute than mine.

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