Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Losers - Kill Me With Wagner!

Jack Kirby's tenure on Our Fighting Forces which at the time featured The Losers began with a whimper in the one hundred and fifty-first issue. The comic sported a typical Joe Kubert cover which had his usual ironic gag of the heroes assuming that they are out of danger when in fact a silent mob of Nazis are lingering in the shadows. He did this one countless times and this is a pretty good one. But it doesn't really have that much to do with the story directly. There is no indication that the interiors of this comic are any different than a myriad of other DC war books available for fans that same month. But there was something different, the great Jack Kirby playing out his contract with DC was given the book and he would do what he often did with projects of his kind, create something different, something special.

Jack Kirby begins his run with the heroes (Johnny Cloud, Captain Storm, Gunner and Sarge) on a mission behind Nazi lines in which they are to work with the local resistance to rescue a great musician, a woman who has become a master of the classics, especially those by Hitler's favorite composer Wagner. We first meet the team as they are skulking around the local area seeking a secure way to enter the town where the musician lives. They find the way in, even battle the local Nazi commander who himself is conducting a brutal search for the same artist. He is a music lover, but the irony is that his soul is no less black for his purported love of music. The pianist is discovered at last and the team is successful in saving her as well as many other local townsfolk before the Allies launch a deadly bombing attack on the hapless town. 

This story sets up the structure of most of the Kirby stories pretty well. While our four heroes are mostly front and center in most of their stories Kirby will tell, they nonetheless are not necessarily the focus of the story. I was reminded of Will Eisner's approach to The Spirit in which the titular hero was often out of the limelight in his own series.

D. Bruce Berry is the inker for Kirby at this period,a time when Mike Royer who had inked Kirby with great success needed a break from the relentless schedule the "King" maintained. Berry like Royer before him sought to retain as much of the real Kirby as he could, but sadly he was not able to bring the drama that Royer succeeded in supplying and much of Berry's work on Kirby feels more like tracing than true lush inking. The inker in those bygone days was needed to make the work dark enough for reproduction and Berry accomplished that, but added little to the finished product aside from that.

D. Bruce Berry's own stylish artwork. 
It's difficult to imagine a more disparate group than the Losers. An aviation ace, a P.T. boat commander, and a non-com and his young partner are a mash up of the services for certain. Their special missions will find them in both the European and Pacific theaters of war as well as on the home front and in other regions of the world affected by the great conflict. In a mere dozen issues Kirby transports the Losers across the globe and they will encounter a wide range of different distinctive characters who will teach our heroes about how human beings react to the rigors of war.

More to come.

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  1. Cloudy Old Guy Memory Dept: Gunner & Sarge reminded me of a similar Army duo in (I think) Charlton’s Army War Heroes…Sgt. Somebody and Chicken…Thinking it was Sam Glanzman art and the Chicken character was sort of a hippie so this had to be a Viet Nam era series. You know what I mean right?

    1. Shotgun Harker and Chicken Smith was drawn by the Bill Montes and Ernie Bache team with Joe Gill doing the scripting chores in Fightin' Marines. And now that you mention it, they do seem similar.

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