Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Our Fighting Forces #86

Our Fighting Forces #86, August 1964, National Periodical Publications (DC Comics)

On New Year’s Day, when the world was united in celebrated the addition of a digit on our collective calendar, newspapers across the United States grieved the three-thousandth military casualty in Iraq. With Saddam Hussein’s execution now on-line for public consumption, and President Bush’s recent decision to “sit down and discuss” his plans with bipartisan strategists, the “War on Terror” is on everyone’s lips, or at least their minds. So, how do I deal with these consuming thoughts, with our national grief? Why, I read a comic book, of course! Fortunately, Our Fighting Forces #86 was among the hand-me-down stack my cousin gave me for Christmas and with its tattered, hanging-on-for-dear-life Joe Kubert cover is one of the oldest issues I’ve reviewed in this forum. Ironically, it’s also one of the most relevant.

First of all, the cover blurb poses a question that, forty-three years later, could be on the cover of next week’s Time magazine: “Is there more than one way of seeing the same battle?” The inquiry is darn near rhetorical nowadays. Yet, in the context of this issue’s feature story, the perspectives aren’t arguing the validity of the conflict, but rather its semantic from within. See, ongoing characters Gunner, Sarge, and Pooch (yes, a dog) often find themselves unwittingly among the enemy, and their languishing peers are jealous. With five days of leave at stake, the trio is assigned a seemingly uneventful beachfront, but from each of their perspectives we witness the soldiers encounter an enemy plane, tank, and submarine. Unfortunately, since each of the soldiers (Pooch included) defeat these onslaughts individually, without the confirmation of their partners, the battle doesn’t count toward the leave contest. Actually, Pooch doesn’t defeat the submarine single-handedly (pawedly?), but Sarge and Gunner are struck with a bout of amnesia after their successful counterattack, thereafter Pooch laments his inability to speak on their behalf. Fortunately, a rival group of their peers behold the fight, and the trio are duly rewarded. Thus, although this battle is perceived from three different perspectives, Sarge, Gunner, and Pooch’s misfortune is consistently hilariously and conversely antithetical to the war our boys are waging overseas today.

The second story in this issue, about a diver that also finds himself among the enemy as he volleys from various battlefields before the deadline for his mission strikes, is just as chuckle-worthy in its light-hearted take on war. These heroes are depicted as resourceful and cool-headed, which are traits we’d admire in any soldier if they weren’t so often too optimistic. Surely, not every young man or woman in the military becomes one part McGuyver, one part Bruce Willis from Die Hard! Yet, these tales wouldn’t be entertaining if they depicted the challenges and tragedies of war – we get enough of that on the evening news, which brings us back to the solemn circumstances surrounding my mentality picking up this issue in the first place. If a publisher produced “War on Terror” comics with the frivolity (and, you can’t deny, fun) of these old issues, critics would immediately express their outrage, using words like “glorification” or “insensitivity” to convey their opinion. Of course, both sides of the argument would exhibit some validity in their own context – so yes, comic book from 1964, not only is there more than one way of seeing a battle, but there’s more than one way of seeing every battle. War begets war, in all shapes and sizes.

I should mention that Our Fighting Forces is a well-packaged comic book, with the before-mentioned Kubert cover, and although the contributors aren’t credited, the legendary Gene Colan snuck a deserving signature in the second story. One can only assume that the issue as a whole was in such capable hands. Further, with the gravity of the media’s take on the war effort lately, with death literally at our fingertips, I appreciated Our Fighting Forces’ levity. Hey, war may be hell, but it makes a great comic book. What a way to kick off the new year, eh?

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