The Unknown Soldier came to be when he was wounded while fighting alongside his brother in World War II. While he escaped the death his brother did not, his face was blown to smithereens. However, he refuses to take it as his ticket out of the war; rather, he becomes a specially trained superspy and all-around master of disguise for the United States. His first 38 adventures, culled from the pages of DC Comics’ STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES, are collected in SHOWCASE PRESENTS THE UNKNOWN SOLIDER: VOLUME 1.
With his face in bandages and eyes hiding behind sunglasses, our “man no one knows yet is known by everyone” resembles pretty much every cinematic incarnation of The Invisible Man. But whenever the American war machine has a top-secret assignment for him, he unwraps the Ace, slaps on a mask and goes to work, often paratrooping behind enemy lines in the dead of night. If you’re German or Japanese, he hates your ass.
The tone of these tales can take you by surprise, as grim and pessimistic as some of them are. With women being tortured and Jews thrown in concentration camps, they’re not the usual superficial, let’s-get-’em-boys rah-rah you’re used to from other war comics (like SGT. ROCK, whose company fights alongside The Unknown Soldier in one issue). Then again, when these were originally published by DC in the early ’70s, our country still was licking its considerable wounds from a losing effort in Vietnam. But what could not be won in real life could be won in 20-cent monthlies, and The Unknown Soldier always succeeds.
Like THE HAUNTED TANK, a little SOLDIER can go a long way. But try any of the upfront stories, written and drawn by the masterful Joe Kubert, because they are the most well-done of the entire collection. Illustrated with flair and told with economy, they fly by. This is not the case when Frank Robbins and Archie Goodwin took over the character; not only are their scripts overly wordy, they just don’t make a hell of a lot of sense. But the title gets a late reboot with David Michelinie and Gerry Talaoc, who practically revamp the character. Not only do they dare show the Unknown Soldier unmasked (he looks like the Red Skull after two minutes in the microwave), but they heap on the gore and fisticuffs as they plant our hero into campy situations worthy of some of the Roger Moore 007 films or Bruce Lee’s ENTER THE DRAGON. After the stagnant middle, this over-the-top approach is the jolt it needed. –Rod Lott
OTHER BOOKGASM REVIEWS OF THIS SERIES:
• SHOWCASE PRESENTS BATMAN: VOLUME 1
• SHOWCASE PRESENTS CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN: VOLUME 1
• SHOWCASE PRESENTS THE ELONGATED MAN: VOLUME 1
• SHOWCASE PRESENTS THE HAUNTED TANK: VOLUME 1
• SHOWCASE PRESENTS THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY: VOLUME 1
• SHOWCASE PRESENTS JONAH HEX: VOLUME 1
• SHOWCASE PRESENTS METAMORPHO: VOLUME 1
• SHOWCASE PRESENTS THE PHANTOM STRANGER: VOLUME 1
• SHOWCASE PRESENTS SUPERMAN FAMILY: VOLUME 1