Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Just Another Mission

I think the short back-up features that appeared in DC's war comics during the 1970s easily rival 1950s EC in using comics to tell short but gripping stories.

G.I. Combat #167 (December 1973) gives us a fine example of this. The back-up story is "Just Another Mission," written by Steve Mitchell and drawn by Ken Barr.

It's about a British Long Range Desert Group team, given the job of travelling behind enemy lines just before a big push and capturing an airfield that will be needed for flying in supplies. Lt. Steed, the unit's commander, is assured that resistance will be light and that there is no enemy armor present.

The story immediately earns points by featuring British soldiers, though actually DC's war books were very good overall about acknowledging the accomplishments of our Allies as well American soldiers. It earns more points when we find out the airfield is held by Italians. In World War 2 fiction, Rommel's Afrika Korps get so much attention, we forgot that Mussolini's soldiers were there first.

Mitchell's concise script moves the story along quickly and Barr's art really shines when the attack on the base commences. We're able to follow the action, but Barr also infuses it with a sense of chaos and real danger. When the Italians turn out to have a tank--despite what Steed had been told--the British end up taking quite a few casualties before they take the airfield.

The next day, Steed learns that it had all been for nothing. The British attack had been called off. Steed is told he might get a medal and that his lost men and equipment will be replaced, but that doesn't really help all those dead men, does it?

The entire story runs just seven pages--and one page is given over to a magnificent splash panel that immediately establishes the pure terror and randomness of combat. But the story is not rushed at all. It has a coherent plot-line and a terse but effective character arc for Lt. Steed, including a few hints along the way that he's probably already been in combat far too long. And this is only one of many excellent short stories found in the back pages of G.I. Combat, Our Army at War and Our Fighting Forces. There really needs to be a trade paperback reprint featuring the best of these tales.

Next week, a giant alien hand reaches through a dimensional rift and wrecks havoc in Gotham city. Some days, it doesn't pay to leave the Bat Cave.

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