Friday, March 17, 2017

Captains Savage!

Captain Savage and His Leatherneck Raiders is one of those late 60's series I'd love to see Marvel collect. Trying to recapture the success of Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, this comic is a direct spin-off of the former.

Captain Simon Savage was introduced in the tenth issue of Sgt.Fury by Stan Lee and Dick Ayers. On a mission to Okinawa, the Howlers are transported there aboard a submarine commanded by a gruff no-nonsense commander known as "The Skipper". The Skipper shows up several more times during the run and helps to transport the Howlers to many destinations, not the least of which was on D-Day.

His appearance in Sgt.Fury and the Howling Commandos #49 sets up his new series as he drops the Howlers off for a rare mission in the Pacific Theater, the zone that Savage himself will specialize in.

The diverse but still rough and tough members of the "Leatherneck Raiders" are Lee Baker,, Roy "Blarnery" Stone, Jaques LaRocque Sam "Yakkety" Yates, and Jay Little Bear.

In their first big adventure written by Gary Friedrich and drawn magnificently by the potent team of Dick Ayers and Syd Shores, the Raiders take on Baron Stucker no less and his Samurai Squadron on Hydra Island.

In a story which is surprisingly important given the relative B-status of Captain Savage's comic, we learn for the first time the "secret origin" of Hydra no less.

Arnold Drake steps in as writer for the the fifth issue joining the regular Ayer and Shores art team. The story concerns part-time  Raider Rolfe Harrison, an Aussie.

In the sixth issue written by the returning Gary Friedrich the Raiders take the mission to save one of their comrades, in particular Izzy Cohen, a member of Fury's Howling Commandos.

The seventh issue is a humdinger and like many of the earlier stories does its most to tie the Savage stories into the larger Marvel Universe. (This cover makes me think of the movie Apocalypse Now.)

This time that is accomplished by having Savage and his Raiders go out and save a downed flyer by the name of Ben Grimm. This is not at all unlike when the Howlers were assisted by Reed Richards on a mission. This story was written by Archie Goodwin.

In the eighth issue, written by Friedrich and the last for a time by Ayers and Shores, the Raiders go on a mission which is not at all what it appears to be hence the title. This was in fact the first issue I bought off the stands myself.

Friedrich and Ayers return for the ninth issue and are joined by inker John Severin. This issue is significant if only for the fact that the bearded Savage must lose his signature whiskers. It's a shame really as now he looks like most other soldiers and loses a bit of that cool factor. Also getting a revamp is the title of the book in which the "Leatherneck Raiders" become the somewhat more generic "Battlefield Raiders". I personally always liked the former better, it had more distinctiveness.

The tenth issue is by the same team and sports an action-filled John Severin cover.

The eleventh issue sees the return of inker Syd Shores just in time to present the tragic  death of Raider.

The twelth issue is a real change of pace as Don Heck steps in. He and Dick Ayers switched assignments with Ayers taking on the sci-fi superheroic adventures of Kree Captain Marvel and Heck taking on the war-torn missions of the U.S. Captain Savage.

The next issue has Arnold Drake step in as the regular writer for a time, re-joining his old partner Heck from Captain Marvel, along with inker Shores.

That team continues for the next issue which purports to tell of Captain Savage's very first mission.

John Severin offers up a really atmospheric cover for the fifteenth issue though inside the creative team remains the same.

Severin does another great cover and begins as inker over Heck with Drake still on scripts for the sixteenth issue.

Drake and Heck are gone in the seventeenth issue but staying on as inker is Severin. The veteran team of Gary Friedrich and Dick Ayers return to the series they started.

Severin keeps delivering the covers as the same team of Friedrich, Ayers and Severin is on tap for eighteen.

With the nineteenth issue the series reaches its end and so does the premise as Captain Savage regrows his signature beard and once again takes charge of a submarine. There was a proposal by Gary Friedrich apparently to continue the series as a war comic focused on submarine adventures but it was not to be, and so Simon Savage and most of his comrades faded into comic book oblivion for the most part.

There was one exception though.

A few months later a new combat book titled Combat Kelly and the Deadly Dozen  (picking up a vintage Atlas title and blending it with a hit movie) hits the stands and it's of significance to Savage fans since old Raider Jay Little Bear is a member of this ill-fated team.

I say ill-fated because he dies in the ninth and final issue of that run along with almost everyone else. A potent ending for one particular Raider.

Captain Savage and his Leatherneck Raiders lasted nearly twenty issues, not insignificant but most of that time it was casting about to find an audience sufficient to make it last. That was an uphill struggle likely because even Sgt.Fury was hitting the skids at this time and was soon to revert to reprints before ending a few years later. War was not in fashion, at least not at the comic stands from Mighty Marvel. To my knowledge only the debut issue has ever been reprinted and that was in Marvel First: The 1960's. We need more.

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  1. A degenerate of my acquaintance called it "Captain Leather and his Naked Savages" (sounds like a William Burroughs book, doesn't it?). DC had no trouble with selling several war titles; I think it was just bad judgement and a lack of imagination to try and clone a declining title. I'm guessing Goodman wanted to take advantage of his new distribution deal and ordered up new books. I bet Marvel could've gone in a lot of different directions: how about a WWI comic with the Phantom Eagle or the wartime adventures of the original Destroyer? There are a lot of ideas for war books that haven't been tried yet.

    1. The Phantom Eagle is a fave of mine for sure. My sketch of the character by the late Herb Trimpe is a treasured item indeed. The original Fury comic was a bit of a dare that the Marvel method would work on any genre and for a long time that proved largely true. By the time we get to Savage the magic (as well as Stan's and Jack's connection to it) has to no small degree worn off.

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