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CSBG Archive

365 Reasons to Love Comics #153

(Updated 6/3/07)

In researching and writing these entries for War Comics Week, I’ve become convinced that DC’s war books were quite probably the greatest things they ever published. Today’s star is no exception. Who is he? Hey man, I don’t know. Nobody knows.

Previous installments of this column can be found in the archive.

6/2/07

153. The Unknown Soldier

Unknown Soldier 5.jpg

“The man no one knows, but is known by everyone!” The Unknown Soldier (named for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) was the first of many “master of disguise” characters at DC, and the only one to operate in World War II. With his face horribly disfigured by the same grenade explosion that killed his brother Harry, a nameless G.I. becomes the “one guy [that] can affect the outcome of a whole war! One guy in the right place, at the right time…” The soldier takes it upon himself to honor his brother and trains to become the intelligence operative known as the Unknown Soldier, using his expert disguise skills to infiltrate the enemy and take ‘em down from the inside. He uses latex masks and make-up to assume the identity of others, and has only one tell… the masks are itchy against his scar tissue, and he finds himself having to scratch.

The Unknown Soldier was created by jolly Joe Kubert, the master artist of war books, in Star Spangled War Stories #151. The character would later dominate the title so much that it would be re-named after him. Other creators who worked on the stories include everyone’s favorite Bobs, Haney and Kanigher, as well as Frank Robbins, Dan Spiegle, Dick Ayers, and more.

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Really, the Unknown Soldier is just a great, great concept. A faceless war hero who could be anybody, fighting a one-man-war against the Nazis? Awesome. Hell, it would work great for some spy-smashing, Commie-fightin’ 50′s stories, too! And his default appearance is beautifully iconic– mysterious figure, face wrapped in bandages. Yeah, the Invisible Man and the Doom Patrol’s Negative Man beat him to it, but the Soldier made it his own. It looks darn fine with a trench coat or army uniform.

I know I said Sgt. Rock was comics’ greatest badass, but Unknown Soldier has to earn some points, too. After all, he did kill Hitler. That’s right– in the final issue of his series, the Unknown Soldier snuck into Hitler’s bunker, capped Der Führer, made it look like suicide (in order to have Adolf perceived as a coward), and got the hell out. Then he was all blown up saving a girl from certain death… or was he? After all, that guy over there seems to have an itch…

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After his original series ended, the Unknown Soldier appeared in a maxi-series by Jim Owsley (a.k.a. Christopher Priest) and Phil Gascoine in the late 80′s. I don’t know much about it, but apparently this version of the Soldier was literally immortal. In the late 90′s, Garth Ennis and Killian Plunkett produced a four-issue Unknown Soldier mini-series for Vertigo, with the title character in the role of a living urban legend, a spooky bogeyman searching for a replacement and being tracked by a CIA agent.

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Me, I wouldn’t mind seeing Joe Kubert return to the character for another story, much like he did for Sgt. Rock with The Prophecy mini.

Quite a few of the original stories can be found in a lovely Showcase Presents volume, found here on Amazon! The Ennis mini was also traded, but it seems to be out of print.

Here’s another link for you: The Unknown Soldier’s entry in the Hembeck Files.

Bonus Edited-In Content Addition!:

I think Unknown Soldier would make a great movie, you know, if you found an actor who only played the lead half the time and didn’t mind not showing his face for the entirety of the film. Any suggestions?

16 Comments

Bonus Edited-In Content Addition!:

I think Unknown Soldier would make a great movie, you know, if you found an actor who only played the lead half the time and didn’t mind not showing his face for the entirety of the film. Any suggestions?

Turn it into an ensemble piece, with a different actor for each mask. It’d be like Ocean’s 11/12/13, but they’d all be playing the same guy.

Tom Fitzpatrick

June 2, 2007 at 8:41 pm

I truly loved Ennis’ version of Unknown Soldier.

The Unknown Soldier Showcase is the anti-TWTTF. Pure awesome.

Rohan Williams

June 3, 2007 at 6:43 am

That’s an awesome idea, Ian! It’d definitely be a lot cooler than the actual Ocean’s 11/12/13.

Ennis’ miniseries was great, yeah.

“I think Unknown Soldier would make a great movie, you know, if you found an actor who only played the lead half the time and didn’t mind not showing his face for the entirety of the film. Any suggestions?”

Hugo Weaving’s already done that (V), so he’s out.

I would use Gary Oldman, as the guy’s incredibly diverse, could pull off many of the masks himself, and has great voice talent overall.

In researching and writing these entries for War Comics Week, I’ve become convinced that DC’s war books were quite probably the greatest things they ever published.

In terms of a display of sheer comics craftsmanship I would absolutely agree. And the Unknown Soldier was a solid B-list favorite of mine. Always reliably good. I got so revved up writing the “grindhouse” column that I rushed out and got the Showcase — I don’t know about you, but writing this stuff always seems to result in me spending money on more of it — and you know, those were actually a hell of a lot BETTER than I remembered.

What I really want is SHOWCASE FEATURING ARCHIE GOODWIN. He could do no wrong at DC, especially writing the war stuff. His Haunted Tank stories with Sam Glanzman were a heaping helping of awesome.

“That’s right– in the final issue of his series, the Unknown Soldier snuck into Hitler’s bunker, capped Der Führer, made it look like suicide (in order to have Adolf perceived as a coward), and got the hell out.”

Wait, I thought that the Human Torch killed Hitler. History textbooks completely fail to deal with discrepancies like this. This is why American students are falling behind the Japanese.

Unknown Soldier didn’t really hit its stride until David Michelinie took over as writer, along with Gerry Talaoc on art, sometime around Star Spangled #183. Michelinie write his exploits with a nice sense of irony and some clever plot twists, and Talaoc is, in my opinion anyway, one of the most underrated of DC’s artists, Filipino or not, of the 70′s. I think the first half dozen or so Michelinie/Talaoc stories are in the Showcase Presents: Unknown Soldier tome that came out last year.

“In researching and writing these entries for War Comics Week, I’ve become convinced that DC’s war books were quite probably the greatest things they ever published.”

Hear, hear!

I mean, there’s been other patches of brilliance, like Sheldon Mayer’s Humor Books and Sandman, but in terms of consistent quality across a whole imprint? (I’m not sure of the word.) DC’s War books are unmatched by the rest of the company’s output.

But then again Joe Kubert is possibly my single favorite artist in comics ever. So biased. :)

Wait, I thought that the Human Torch killed Hitler. History textbooks completely fail to deal with discrepancies like this. This is why American students are falling behind the Japanese.

Bwah-ha-ha-ha!!! Too funny. Thank you for making my day. I feel much better now :)

Seek out Priest’s Unknown Soldier

It’s essentially his take on a real world Captain America.

Mark_Lucas_TBP

June 4, 2007 at 9:42 am

U.S. was hardcore. In one issue, after he had defected to the Nazi’s he took out Sgt. Rock & Easy Company, the Haunted Tank, and the Losers all by himself, when they came to kill him before he could spill secrets to Hitler. Gravedigger and Mademoiselle Marie may have been there too.

He the set them all free later as he revealed that he was really a triple agent still working for the USA. Then, one of WWII’s best ever team ups kicked some major Nazi butt.

Mr. Alan W Graham

July 1, 2008 at 7:40 am

I procured two copies of “The Unknown Soldier” No.218 Aug & No. 238 plus “World at War ” &
“Fightin Army.” DC has excellent comics!
Todays youth could gain a better understand of our past by reading theses mags.
Exposing the younger school kids to theses exceptional comics will enhance their reading skills and foster
the outstanding American values of God, family and country.

i think that a movie would be a great idea. as for the actor, what about that guy that played 2 face in batman dark knight?

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