Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Objective: Ben Grimm

When the Marvel Universe first got rolling in 1961, World War II was still a fairly recent event. It was perfectly believable for various characters to be WWII vets. In fact, among the Fantastic Four, Reed was an O.S.S. commando and Ben was an ace fighter pilot.

Now let's jump to Marvel's war-themed comics. Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos was the first and most successful, giving us a main character who transitioned into comics with a modern day setting as a master spy. But, unlike DC, Marvel never managed the same success in building up a diverse stable of WWII characters.

They did try.a couple of times, with Captain Savage and his Leatherneck Raiders in 1967 and Combat Kelly and the Deadly Dozen in 1972. Like Sgt. Fury, both books recounted the adventure of a commando team. Both were written mostly by Gary Friedrich and drawn by Dick Ayers,  This was the same team heading up Sgt. Fury at the time, resulting in a very close continuity between the books. But Captain Savage was only around for 19 issues, while Combat Kelly lasted only 9.

Perhaps in a future post, I'll compare the DC and Marvel war books and share my ideas about why DC was able to successfully market more WWII  titles. But for now, we'll simply look at an issue of Captain Savage and see how Marvel tied their war tales into their larger universe.

That title's 7th issue (October 1968) begins with Ben Grimm--the future Thing--flying a P-51 and getting ambushed by a large number of Japanese Zeros.

Ben, being Ben Grimm, puts up one heck of a fight, but eventually takes damage and is forced to crash-land on a Japanese-held island. Once on the ground, he's attacked by Japanese soldiers. Of course, being Ben Grimm, he puts up a nasty fight, but he's eventually overwhelmed and knocked out. The Japanese take him prisoner and quickly realize that capturing on of America's top aces can be a huge propaganda coup. They threaten Ben with torture unless he agrees to confess to committing war crimes.

So Ben needs to be rescued. Captain Savage and his men are assigned to the task

The ensuing action sequence takes up most of the issue and is extremely well-done. That's not to say the action is remotely realistic. It's not. For instance, Savage and his men opt to surf ashore when they reach the island. From a real-life point-of-view, that's a silly plan.

But in a comic book world, it makes sense. The idea is to get ashore more quickly than they could in a rubber raft, allowing them to surprise and silence guards on the beach. There is a logic to the plan that works within the confines of the Marvel Universe.

The action continues to be over-the-top, but with just enough logic behind the flow of the battle to
make us believe in it. The commandos hijack an ammunition truck. While two of them split off to capture a bomber (they plan to have Ben fly them out after they rescue him), the others crash the truck into the Japanese base. The truck explodes when it rams a building, causing enough confusion to allow the commandos to get the upper hand. While several of them knock out the radio room, Savage searches for Ben. It's really not a bad plan at all.

This was typical of both Marvel and DC war books. The battle scenes and real life were pretty much complete strangers to one another. But the action was choreographed in such a way that left us with an illusion of realism. This in turn created the requisite excitement and tension to be dramatically effective.

Savage finds Ben held at gun point by the Japanese commander. Ben helps Savage get the upper hand, but his hand are burned in doing so.

So, when the commandos fall back to the captured bomber and need to make a quick getaway, Ben can't fly the plane. Captain Savage has to take the stick while Ben provides off-the-cuff instructions.

It's a good, solid action-oriented story, with a nice character moment involving Ben. After his hands are burned, he doesn't mention the injury until he has to explain that he can't fly. Savage mentally notes that Ben must be in tremendous pain, but simply took it rather than make himself a burden. As the Thing, Ben would rival Peter Parker as the heart of the Marvel Universe, so this moment captures his innate heroism perfectly.

Marvel tied its WWII heroes into their modern universe much more intimately that did DC, with "Objective: Ben Grimm: issue being a strong example of this. That's one more reason I need to do a post comparing war book of the two companies.

Next week, the Phantom teams up with an American naval hero.

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