Showcase Presents: The Losers Volume 1 (DC Comics, $19.99)
Stories by Robert Kanigher, covers by Joe Kubert, interior art by various

While reading this run from Our Fighting Forces #123-150 for the second time -- I read the originals when they came out -- I remembered many of the things I absolutely loathed about this series. But I also re-discovered why I bought it in the first place, and I find the latter far outweighs the former.
 
For those unfamiliar with "The Losers," there have been two distinct teams at DC Comics with that name, with one starring in a self-named Vertigo title (and movie) that we are not concerned with here. The other is an unconventional military unit that initially included four DC war heroes who had held and lost headlining series (Capt. Johnny Cloud, Navajo Ace, from All-American Men of War; Gunner & Sarge from Our Fighting Forces; and Capt. Storm from his eponymous series), and later a civilian Norwegian freedom fighter, Ona  Tomsen, who is original to the series.

"The Born Losers" banded together in G.I. Combat #138 (Oct 69), then moved as "The Losers" to Our Fighting Forces for issues #123-181 (Jan/Feb 70-Oct 78), whereupon the title was canceled. As a matter of historical interest, The Losers have had five distinct endings: ICrisis on Infinite Earths, they are all killed by Shadow Demons; in The Losers Special, they all die in 1945 Germany (although Gunner is resurrected as a cyborg in Creature Commandos); in Birds of Prey, Gunner & Sarge are found in a POW camp on Dinosaur Island; in DC Legacies, they all survive and have successful post-war careers; and in DC: The New Frontier, they are all killed (including Pooch, a combat-trained K-9 who was part of the original Gunner & Sarge series) on Dinosaur Island.

The Losers Volume 1 takes us to Our Fighting Forces #150, a natural ending point, as Jack Kirby took over the series for 11 issues beginning with #151. This was not a popular move at the time, and a variety of creative teams took over with issue #162 and carried the book to its final issue, #181. The Kirby issues are available in hardcover, but hopefully there will be a second volume of The Losers including OFF #151-181, with perhaps The Losers Special or other post-series appearances to round it out, if needed.

Anyway, there are a lot of problems with this series, some of which I've complained about before. Some are generic to war comics of the time, some are specific to this title, some are a combination.

For example, we're all accustomed to the regulars in war comics never dying. That's an observation, if not an outright complaint, one could make about the genre in general. But in this title it's particularly pronounced.

For one thing, there are only four characters (and one isn't too mobile, having a wooden leg). In Easy Company, you can see "redshirts" killed off in an ambush while the regulars retaliate. That makes a sort of logic, but it's impossible in The Losers, where there are no redshirts, so all the characters survive a hail of bullets time and again. No matter how many times they're in combat, none of the four are ever killed -- while all of their foes are, no matter how many (and often, that's a LOT). It's particularly egregious when they're ambushed: Even when the enemy has plenty of time to line up their sights, they all somehow miss these four guys, giving our four heroes time to not only react, but to win. It's just not plausible.

In one issue, Captain Storm is ambushed by a machine-gun nest in the North African desert. Picture it: Here are a bunch of Nazis with an MG-42 -- capable of firing 1,200 rounds per minute -- lining up Captain Storm with all the time in the world, while Storm is ambling along by himself. On a wooden leg. On sand. A single, slow-moving target. And yet they miss.

"That was close," Storm says, the first missed shots alerting him to dodge the rest. Yes, dodge the rest. As I said, just not plausible.

This is further aggravated when our heroes are grossly outnumbered; often they're facing what looks like an entire company backed up by tanks, half-tracks and automatic weaponry. Yet none of the four are ever killed, and somehow take out dozens of foot soldiers and various armor -- with hand weapons. rarely are they ever wounded, although Storm gets shot in his wooden leg with irritating frequency, so he can comment on it, and remind us that he has one.

I would laugh out loud when The Losers were attacked, and they'd split up their forces. "You two take the tank," one would say, "and we'll take these soldiers." Yes, YOU TWO TAKE THE TANK. Hahahaha. In real life, tanks are virtually unstoppable to any number of foot soldiers, unless they have some sort of anti-tank weaponry. As for the other team, those two would somehow take out a company of soldiers in hand-to-hand combat. Not to worry, they all had hand grenades.

Which brings us to another complaint that is common to the genre, but particularly aggravated in this title (and, really, all war books written by Robert Kanigher). And that's the Magic Hand Grenade that can take out just about anything. Yes, there's the famous scene where Dum-Dum Dugan took out a Messerschmitt with a hand grenade, so the MHG isn't restricted to Robert Kanigher war books. But in Kanigher stories, it's especially outrageous. Hand grenades take out tanks, ships, subs -- and in "The War That Time Forgot," dinosaurs. Who needs bazookas, or artillery, or bombers? We've got hand grenades! (So does the enemy, but theirs are amazingly, consistently ineffective. There's always time to throw it back. Evidently Germany would have won the war if they'd just have shortened the fuses on their hand grenades.)

But, OK, as noted, these sins are relatively generic. Exaggerated in Kanigher stories, perhaps, but hardly unique in war comics.

Which brings me to the complaints I have that are specific to Kanigher, which I have complained about before. Let's run through a checklist for "The Losers":

  • Melodramatic dialogue? Like where all orders are repeated ("Take cover! TAKE COVER!") and metaphors are belabored to the point of snickers ("HATCH those TNT EGGS on those goose-stepping CHICKENS!")? Check!
  • Repetition? Like when two different stories both explore Capt. Storm's infirmities, and both are titled "Half a Man"? Or when two different stories have Capt. Cloud "going native" and acting crazy? Or two stories where Ona is thought to have gone over to the enemy because she's playing along to save someone else's life? (You'd think they'd give her the benefit of the doubt the second time.) Or like when the various Losers belabor their name by constantly, and lamely, referring to it? Check!
  • Or the use of the word "Check!" to mean "I agree"? Even though almost no humans on earth ever say that? Check! 
  • Four people answering in the affirmative, but using entirely different phrases? Phrases which have nothing to do with characterization (since there is none), and not phrases normal people use? "Check!" "What've we Losers got to lose"? "I'm stayin'!" "I'll play out this hand!" (You know, just one of them saying "yeah" like a normal person would defuse this complaint.) Check!
  • Complete lack of any characterization? Like the fact that we don't know Captain Storm's first name, or the names or places of origin or anything at all about Gunner & Sarge? Or that what amounts to characterization is Johnny Cloud being an expert tracker (like all Injuns, you know), and Capt. Storm using labored nautical references? Check!  
  • Ridiculous plots? Like three consecutive issues where (SPOILER) the Losers don't recognize Capt. Storm close up, because he's wearing an eye patch? (Ona: "I wonder ... who he is?" Well, duh.) Like the story where Gunner deserts under fire, and there are no consequences? Like the story where The Losers are able to wire every structure in a Norwegian town to blow up simultaneously, without the occupying Nazis noticing? Like the story where they get on a Lancaster bomber in London and in the next panel are flying in that Lancaster over the Pacific? (What, this mission was specific to these four guys? There was nobody local with Magic Hand Grenades or a wooden leg? And they flew the same plane from London to the middle of the Pacific? Why? And that's assuming they could find somewhere to re-fuel about a hundred times while flying over occupied territory.) I could go on, because virtually every plot is ludicrous. But, check! 
 
And that sorta kinda brings up my real complaint about The Losers, which I've mentioned before: The fact that this squad couldn't and shouldn't exist.
 
On what planet can four guys from three different branches of service (U.S. Navy, Army Air Corps, Marines) serve together? Commander Benson can explain this better than I, but even with my limited knowledge of things military, I can't wrap my head around that. These guys have separate chains of command that don't coincide until you hit the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or maybe the president. Worse, it doesn't seem that The Losers are a formal unit -- it looks, from the origin story, that they decided to hook up on their own.
 
Never is this impression dismissed by seeing the team officially formed, nor is there any clear chain of command. (The guys whom we occasionally see sending them on missions vary from story to story, and hail from different branches of the service, too. How, exactly, does that work? It begs simple questions like: What chain of command do these guys belong to? Where do they sleep? Who equips them? Whom do they salute? Where do they eat?) Plus, nobody seems to be in charge, even though Captain Storm outranks the rest considerably.
 
And then there's Ona. On what planet can a civilian tag along with a military unit in an officially sanctioned way? On Planet Kanigher, and nowhere else. And, just to make it laugh-out-loud ridiculous, the civilian in question is a WOMAN. With all due deference to women, who make perfectly good soldiers, that was not prevailing opinion in World War II. Rosie the Riveter aside, I doubt you could find an officer in any branch of the U.S. military from 1941 to 1945 who would consider for a second allowing a woman into combat. And a CIVILIAN woman? Everyone involved would be court-martialed. Period. Not no how, not no way.
 
So these guys operated from all appearances, as a separate, other-worldly freelance unit that answered to no one but were given the full support of our military. I'm sure that wasn't Kanigher's intent, but that's how it evolved.
 
For example, they frequently breach military and civilian laws and regulations, without any consequence whatsoever. As mentioned above, Gunner deserts under fire, but despite allowing other personnel to be endangered and killed as a result, nothing happens because Sarge eventually talks him out of it.
 
In another story -- one of the two titled "Half a Man!" -- Storm defies a direct order to not go on a mission (because they are finally sending the one-legged, one-eyed guy home on a medical discharge) by swiping a bomber (which the other Losers stow away on without permission), goes on this unsanctioned mission solo (while the other Losers shadow him, without any official sanction, backup, communications or special equipment) and, presumably because he succeeds in the mission, not only is all forgiven, but Storm isn't sent home. Right, because defying direct orders, going AWOL, stealing military equipment, and running around in a war zone doing as you please proves beyond a doubt that you're a valuable member of the unit!
 
And that's not the only time Kanigher -- despite making a career writing primarily war stories -- doesn't seem to understand the military at all. I mean, not only is there no chain of command for The Losers, many ranks make no sense. For example, the "captain" in"Captain Storm" is an actual rank, despite the fact that the highest he rose in the Navy was P.T. Boat commander (a job usually handled by a lieutenant, called "captain" as a courtesy when on ship). A captain in the Army isn't a very high rank, but in the Navy it's a big effin' deal, just short of rear admiral. But in the Losers, Kanigher seems to regard Captain Cloud (of the Army) and Captain Storm (of the Navy) as equals. (For the record, a captain in the Army, Air Force or Marines is the equivalent of a lieutenant in the Navy. Our own Commander Benson outranks Captain Cloud.)
 
[NOTE: Captain Storm was actually a lieutenant, as established by Commander Benson in the comments thread -- see below. That obviates some of my complaints here.]
 
In one story, The Losers run across an English major in the desert who has lost his command -- and his mind. Yet, when he asserts that he is in command, The Losers cheerfully assent. "... the major does outrank us," says Captain Storm. "Technically we are under his command."
 
Um, no. No, no, no. In the first place, Major Cavendish serves in a foreign military. Our men are under no obligation to follow orders from a foreigner, no matter his rank, unless ordered to do so by someone in OUR military.
 
In the second place, it's weird that CAPTAIN Storm should say they're outranked, since he should know better than anyone that they're not. If the English ranks are anything like ours, Storm handily outranks Major Cavendish. As I said above, a captain in the Navy is a big effin' deal, the equivalent of a full-bird COLONEL in the Army. He's at least two ranks above MAJOR Cavendish.
 
And finally, the guy was certifiable. Again, Commander Benson can speak to this better than I, but I'm guessing the military has a rule that you don't have to follow the commands of crazy people. Now,  if he WAS in command and they didn't follow his orders, I'm sure that there'd be a court martial or some other consequence afterwards, because -- The Losers notwithstanding -- the military is generally quite humorless when it comes to soldiers disobeying orders. So, had the major actually been in command (which he was not), and The Losers refused to carry out his orders, I'm sure they'd have to prove in court that the major was, in fact, whakka-ding-hoy, or spend the rest of the war in Leavenworth. But since The Losers never have to answer for their actions anyway, and don't have a chain of command anyway, and never follow orders anyway, why did they decide in this case that ranks suddenly mattered so much they'd jeopardize their own lives? Oh, yeah, the plot called for it.
 
But that's The Losers for you, a title and a team that make absolutely no sense. Even the name is silly: If they really are losers, why is the military assigning all these important missions to them? Secondly, their track record doesn't support it. Sure, Gunner & Sarge lost a squad of replacements on a given mission. So what? They succeeded at dozens more, as we saw in their earlier series. And Cloud lost some newbies once, too. Oh, boo hoo. Fellas, people die in wars. Well, not YOU, obviously, but a lot of normal Army and Navy people died in WWII, and replacements had a particularly high mortality rate. And let me say this to Captain Storm who lost his ship: Lt. John F. Kennedy had a P.T. Boat shot out from under him, too, but he didn't start calling himself a Loser -- he went on to achieve some success in another field.
 
Honestly, they should call this book "The Whiners."
 
Also, The Losers succeed in every mission in this book. Now, as Randy Johnson correctly notes in his own review, some of these successes are Pyrrhic victories -- they achieve the letter of their mission but fail to succeed in spirit, like preventing the Nazis from taking a bridge (that was their specific order) by accidentally destroying it (and thereby denying it to our own troops, and saving the bridge for our use was the point). That's actually an approach I would have liked to see explored, because war is nothing if not randomly destructive. If Kanigher had fully embraced that concept, The Losers could have been a ground-breaking book that flew in the face of the established war books of the time -- especially if the team was a bunch of un-famous Rangers who got killed with regularity, as is the norm for combat units, but was not the norm for combat comic books of the '70s. But, alas, that was not the case -- The Losers often complained about failing at their missions when they had actually succeeded, or what caused the mission to fail in spirit was actually a good thing, or something entirely out of their control. Really, their grim jests at being Losers just sounded like whining.
 
Which ends my own whining, because I've gotten all that out of my system. Now I can tell you what makes this book worth buying, and it's two words:
 
John. Severin.
 
Russ Heath -- who is always a joy -- drew the first story, from G.I. Combat (which I really appreciated being included in this volume, so kudos to DC). Things take a nose-dive from there -- for me, anyway -- with the inevitable Ross Andru/Mike Esposito team taking over. I am not a fan of their work, as I've mentioned elsewhere, which is only aggravated by the fact that they are so ubiquitous. (I read three reprint volumes this week -- Journey into Mystery Volume 4 from the '50s; Showcase Presents: The Spectre, largely from the 1960s; and The Losers from the 1970s, and all three included Andru/Esposito art.)
 
But you don't have to wade through Andru/Esposito very long, because Severin took over the art with OFF #131 and carried the book to the end of this volume. And, frankly, I am a HUGE John Severin fan.
 
His work is meticulous, but never stodgy. He is excellent at facial expressions, body posture, and giving distinct looks to specific characters. And he is particularly gifted at gritty settings like war and Westerns, as his unique rendering gives a real-world flavor to even the most fantastic of scenes.
And finally, he gets everything right. Tanks, pistols, machine guns, you name it -- everything is thoroughly researched and amazingly authentic, from the winter gloves characters wear in snow scenes to the creases in dress uniforms. Amazingly perfect. Amazingly detailed. Amazingly amazing.
 
I was always a little disappointed in Sgt. Fury when Severin would ink over Dick Ayers. Ayers was fine, but he was no Severin -- putting a superstar like Severin on inking duty is like having Babe Ruth bat ninth. But he tended to overwhelm Ayers anyway, and I was happy to get SOME Severin over none (and, frankly, I thought any issue of Sgt. Fury looked like crap without him). But here, in this dopey little title, John Severin is allowed to shine.
 
And shine he does. Seriously, take a look at all my complaints above. Look how long that list is, how many words I use. But offsetting that, and overwhelming that, is just two little words.
 
And the words "John Severin" are enough for me to say this book is well worthy buying, and well worth savoring. Just don't read it too closely, or be sure to take breathers between the stories so the repetition doesn't make you grind your teeth. Just look at those purty pictures.
 
The late, great John Severin can do anything, including making Kanigher war stories worth reading. From my perspective, that's saying a lot.

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Though I always wanted to do so, I never did a Deck Log Entry on "The Losers" because the time of the series falls outside of my parameters for the Silver Age.  Now, I'm glad that I never did so---because there's no way I could have done a better job at describing the series than you did above, Cap.  Despite the fact that "The Losers" was my favourite DC WWII-based series, I agree completely with your criticisms of it.

 

A day or two ago, I posted a response to Randy Jackson's review of Showcase Presents: the Losers; in it, I echoed some of your comments and provided commentary on some of the specific issues you raised---the ad hoc nature of the the Losers, the improbability of an elite squad formed from four men of three different branches who washed out of their respective original assignments, the lack of a specific chain-of-command, and the inclusion of Ona Tomsen, a Norweigan civilian.

 

You raised some other military matters in your review which I might be able to put more into perspective.  It won't necessarily make more sense out of the Losers, but it might make the series a bit more palatable.

 

First, let's start with who is the field commander of the Losers.  Obviously, the team reported to a HQ commanding officer, whom---as you pointed out---changed, in terms of branch, nationality, and individual identity with every issue.  But the leader of the group in the field was obviously the highest-ranking member.

 

Usually, the individual members of the Losers weren't shown to adhere very closely to military courtesies and protocols.  This, actually, isn't too far afield of how genuine elite military squads---SEALs, Rangers, and so forth---act in the field.  Don't get me wrong; the command structure remains in place and orders are orders, but the personal interaction between the men usually is more informal.  So "The Losers" was fairly realistic in the way Gunner and Sarge and Cloud and Storm interacted with each other casually.  But because of that, it was very difficult to determine which of the four was actually the man in command in the field.

 

Because it will simplify things---especially later, when I discuss Storm's captaincy---let me break down the individual ranks of the Losers by paygrade.  Military paygrades are uniform, regardless of the name of the rank a given service attaches to that paygrade.  Enlisted men are designated by paygrades beginning with "E"; officers, by "O".

 

Gunner, a Marine private, was an E-1.

 

Sarge, a Marine sergeant, was an E-3.

 

Cloud, a captain in the Army-Air Forces, was an O-3.

 

Storm, a lieutenant in the Navy, was an O-3.

 

Clearly, as officers, the man in charge of the Losers was either Cloud or Storm.  They're both O-3's, but in real life, seniority between members of the same paygrade is determined by date-of-rank; the one who attained the rank first is deemed senior.   A few years back, I did a painstaking study of both Storm and Cloud's individual series, to see if there was something which would definitively establish which one of the two attained O-3 first.  Nothing conclusive resulted from this, although the fact that at the start of Cloud's series, he was a first lieutenant (O-2) and wasn't promoted to captain (O-3) until the story "Suicide Mission", from The Brave and the Bold # 52 (Feb.-Mar., 1964), hinted that he might have made O-3 after Storm.  But that was in no way certain.

 

As it turned out, all my research was for nothing, because in a review of the "Losers" tales in Our Fighting Forces, I discovered the matter had been determined.

 

In "Diamonds Are For Never", from O.F.F. # 143 (Jun.-Jul., 1973), the usual "one of us has to stay behind to hold off the Germans while the rest of us go on to accomplish the mission" situation arises.  The five Losers (for this is when Ona was part of the team) argue over which one of them will stay behind. 

 

Finally, Storm barks, "I'm staying . . . I outrank you all!"

 

So, at last, the question of who was the highest ranking Loser was settled, and that leads us into the matter of Storm's rank.

 

The difference between the Army/Marine/Air Force rank of "captain" and the Navy/Coast Guard rank of "captain", combined with the Navy/Coast Guard's title of "captain" has always been a matter of confusion for people with no association with the military (and, not infrequently, for those actually in the military).  The confusion also extends to the rank of "lieutenant".  This is where my use of paygrades above will help to make things clearer.

 

In the Army/Marines/AF, the lowest commissioned-officer rank, O-1, is called "second lieutenant".

In the Navy/CG, an O-1 is an "ensign".

 

In the Army'Marines/AF, an O-2 is a "first lieutenant".

In the Navy/CG, an O-2 is a "lieutenant junior grade".

 

In the Army/Marines/AF, an O-3 is a "captain".

In the Navy/CG, an O-3 is a "lieutenant".

 

These are all junior officers.  Now, we'll skip a few paygrades, up to the senior-officer ranks . . . .

 

In the Army/Marines/AF, an O-6 is a "colonel".

In the Navy/CG, an O-6 is a "captain",

 

So, as Cap pointed out, in terms of rank, there is a world of difference between an Army captain and a Navy captain.

 

But, of course, with the military, nothing is so confusing that it can't make it more so.  You see, the Navy (and the Coast Guard) also has the title of "captain".  Per Navy regs, any officer who is the commanding officer of a ship is addressed by his crew as "captain", regardless of the officer's actual rank.  That means that "Commander Nelson" or "Lieutenant Nelson" or even "Ensign Nelson", if he is the C.O. of his ship, is addressed as "Captain Nelson".

 

Now, the title of "captain" is imposed only on the crew of the officer's particular ship.  By regs, Commander  Nelson, who commands a ship, is properly addressed as "Commander Nelson" by everyone else.  However, as a matter of courtesy, most Naval personnel would address Commander Nelson as "Captain Nelson", anyway.

 

That was one thing that Bob Kanigher got right, with regards to Captain Storm. 

 

In his debut, in Captain Storm # 1 (May-Jun., 1964), he was established as being Lieutenant William Storm, USN, and only got referred to as "Captain Storm" when the story showed him getting command of his first PT-Boat.

 

Moreover, in all of his appearances (except for the Jack Kirby period on "The Losers"; the less said about, the better), no matter what magazine, Storm was consistently depicted wearing the proper insignia of rank---that of a Navy lieutenant---whether in a working uniform or his dress uniform.  (Unlike the case of Marvel's Captain Savage---who held the actual rank of a Navy captain---in which the artists often depicted him wearing the wrong captain's insignia.)

 

As I said, Bob Kanigher was aware of the distinctions between the rank and the title of captain; on a couple of occasions---such as in the letter column of O.F.F. # 138 (Jul.-Aug., 1972)---he correctly put the matter straight for fans who wrote in, confused by the same thing.  To that, he added that the other Losers continued to call him "Captain" Storm out of military courtesy.

 

And all of that blather leads us to your commentary, Cap, on "The Glory Road", from O.F.F. # 147 (Feb.-Mar., 1974), and the character of the crazy British Army Major Cavandish.

 

As I've now established, Major Cavandish did, indeed, outrank both Storm and Cloud.  Per the paygrade ratings in effect at the time (and is still true), a British Army major was an O-4, while Storm and Cloud were both O-3's.  (Cap was right in pointing out that, then or now, I--as an O-5--would outrank Major Cavandish; unfortunately, I wasn't along on that mission.  Heh.)

 

Under the Allied Forces agreement in place at the time, operationally, paygrade seniority prevailed, regardless of the actual nationality of service.  In other words, a serviceman in the military of any Allied nation was subject to the orders of a higher-ranking member in the military of any Allied nation.  Succinctly, an O-3 is an O-3 is an O-3, regardless of the nationality.

 

So, yes, under the SOP of military protocol, the Losers had to take orders from Major Cavandish.  (There are certain exceptions---e.g., if the Losers were under orders from higher authority---but I'm talking about basic situations here.)

 

Now, as to the matter that Major Cavandish was guano-crazy, you were dead on the nose about that, Cap.  Yeah, the Losers were free to disregard the orders of a senior totally off his nut---but they had better be prepared to justify it in the court-martial that followed.  And they better be able to prove fourteen ways from Sunday that Cavandish was 100% whacky, because the military has a strong inclination toward maintaining the integrity of chain-of-command.  In a case involving disobedience of orders or outright mutiny, the military authorities in review are going to lean heavily in favour of the senior officer---unless it can proved conclusively---and I mean "absolutely, positively, no possible doubt"---that the senior's faculties were impaired.

 

That said, there is one other thing to consider---Cavandish's actions and the Losers' reactions would have occurred in the heat of battle.  What that means is, what exactly took place is blurred by the urgency of the encompassing events.  It's what Clausewitz termed "the fog of war".

 

To use a simple illustration, you're a sergeant in the middle of repelling a massive German assault, and while you're fighting for your life, you see Private Hogbristle running away from the enemy.  You only have a few seconds to see it because the German soldier who's about to stick his bayonet in you has the higher priority.

 

Later, after it's all over, you report Private Hogbristle to your company C.O., charging Hogbristle with cowardice under fire.  Private Johnson also saw Hogbristle running away and supports your charge.  But Corporal Smith says that some German troops had flanked us and were coming up from behind.  Corporal Johnson says that he saw Private Hogbristle firing at those German flankers.  Nobody else saw the German flankers, but when Hogbristle was found at the rear, there were some dead German soldiers not too far away from him.

 

Now, it's not so clear that Private Hogbristle was abandoning the fight.  Did Hogbristle see the German flankers and take it upon himself to run back and fight them, which would actually be an action of bravery?

 

It's not so clear that Private Hogbristle wasn't running away out of fear, either.  Maybe he was abandoning his post by running away and happened to run into the flanking German soldiers and killed them to save his own life.

 

This is what is meant by the fog of war; the urgent and inchoate nature of battle throws a gauze over events, making them difficult to perceive clearly.  And as to how this applies to the situation of the Losers and crazy Major Cavendish is, nothing any of them did under the circumstances would be clear---and that tosses a spanner wrench into the reduction gear.  Depending on a great many things, what official action would be taken against the Losers is difficult to determine.

 

And that also applies to Gunner's desertion, which occurred in "The Real Losers", from O.F.F. # 134 (Nov.-Dec., 1973).  Yes, indeed, Gunner's walking out on his outfit was a court-martial offence.  Sarge, who followed Gunner to try to talk him out of it, even pointed it out when they encountered a G.I. patrol headed toward the front:

 

"It's a good thing they ain't M.P.'s---or they'd take you in for walkin' . . . in the wrong direction."

 

I can give this one a pass, though.  In order for charges to have brought against Gunner for desertion, they would have to filed by his field C.O.---that would be Captain Storm---to headquarters (whomever that was, in the Losers' non-specified chain-of-command).  If Storm didn't run Gunner up on charges, there'd be no official action taken.

 

I can easily see Storm as viewing Gunner's actions as being the result of a bout of combat weariness---men in combat can take only so much before they need to escape, at least, temporarily.  That's why, instead of ordering Sarge to take Gunner into custody the instant Gunner walked off, he let Sarge go along to talk Gunner out of it.

 

It's a command decision thing, and one with which I would have agreed.  If Sarge could help Gunner steady himself and remind him of his duty, then Gunner---a valuable member of the team---would return.  Most likely, if Gunner had refused to return and actually had departed on the transport at the embarkation point, the Storm, indeed, would have filed charges against Gunner.

 

Rather than permanently lose a vital member of the squad, Storm gave Gunner some "breathing space".

 

 

And, lord, yes, Cap, everything you said about John Severin's art on "The Losers" is spot-on.  His art made up for so many scriptual flaws.  Not only was his art a pure treat for the eyes, it was 100% accurate---the uniforms, the weaponry, the equipment.  Everything looked exactly like it did in real life.  (That's always been one of my pet peeves about comic-book artists---whenever they draw someone in a military uniform, most of them wing it and draw a uniform that never existed in any U.S. service anywhere, at any time.)

 

I could go on about Severin's work, but you said it all, Cap.

 

 

Hope something I said here helps.

 

It does, and I'm firmly with you on Captain Storm -- I had always assumed him a lieutenant, or maybe you pointed it out to me somewhere, so when some story in this collection established, to my surprise, that Storm was an actual captain. With that, fireworks went off in my brain and I had to lie down in a dark room until I could breathe normally again. I'd look it up to see what it was, but as you say above and have said before, everything about Storm is consistent with him being a lieutenant who was called a captain out of courtesy, including his rank insignia. (I had forgotten about that and, yes, upon checking, he is indeed wearing lieutenant's bars.) So I'm going to assume that A) I misinterpreted what I read, or B) it was a one-off error by Kanigher.

Storm as a lieutenant obviates some of my complaints, so that's good. And your other remarks -- about familiarity in the field, giving Gunner "breathing room," and so forth -- do help to mitigate some of the groaners, and I want them to not be awful. 

Because I will return to this volume again and again for Severin's art. Have you ever seen anyone else draw a military web belt that actually looked line one? I just can't use the word "amazing" enough.

John Severin is what makes "The Losers" work, despite having more "oh, come on!" moments than Sgt. Fury.  The accuracy of Severin's art, both in the renditions of the people and in his attention-to-detail in uniforms, equipment, etc., lends the reality to the stories that the actual format lacks.

 

This is the contribution of artists that many folks miss.  Such as how the beautifully pristine art of Curt Swan and George Klein made an otherwise absurd Jimmy Olsen story seem palatable.  If you want to see for yourself the difference an artist can make, take a look at the goofball Olsen tales drawn by anyone else other than Swan and Klein.  Immediately, the inanity of the plots jumps out.  Swan and Klein, on the other hand, leant enough legitimacy to the stories that it was easier to let the nonsense go by.

 

Severin is a talent that doesn't get bandied about as often as some of the other Silver-Age greats, and that's a pity.  He delivered absolutely top-notch work every time.

Severin is also an EC veteran. Something in the water there, I guess.

But, yes, the reason we are all comic-book fans and not novel fans is that we appreciate something that is not words. We like the comfort of reading -- moreso than movies or TV, which we also mostly like -- but there is something about the pictures and the words together that resonates with us. So, obviously, the artist is important -- often, paramount. I don't know why that needs to be said, but yes, yes, yes. The artist is important, often more important than the writer.

And what you said about Curt Swan makes this ring so true to me, Commander. I loved Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen when Curt Swan was drawing it. When Pete Constanza took over, and the art was cartoon-like, I realized how cartoon-like Jimmy Olsen was. The stories stopped being cool and fun, and became juvenile and embarrasing. It was still Leo Dorfman and Otto Binder writing the stories; that hadn't changed. But without Swan's soft and persuasive pencils, I wasn't sold on the front end. And without that, Jimmy Olsen looked stupid. I guess it always had been, but Curt Swan and George Klein had sold it to me. Pete Costanza and Shelly Moldoff couldn't. And I stopped reading Jimmy Olsen.

Curt Swan wasn't just an artist; he was a salesman, a front man, a recognizable commodity. He sold the Super-world that Mort Weisinger was building, and he couldn't have done it without Swan. The same is true of Archie; that line didn't become a recognizable, salable commodity until Dan DeCarlo sold it to us. And who among us doubts that Marvel would have worked in the early '60s would have worked without Jack Kirby?

John Severin was a true draftsman and his art was wonderful. It's why I bought those Rawhide Kid minis and Dark Horse's Witchfinder. His Sgt. Fury work was amazing. Did he ever do any super-hero titles? I can't think of any that would suit his talents unless it's a "mystery man" type. Though I keep thinking about the Sub-Mariner....

Totally agree with the Good Captain and the Good Commander about Curt Swan. He made every Superman, Superboy, Legion, World's Finest, Jimmy and Lois story so much better. Usually when DC Silver Age Artist Greats are mentioned, he's left out which is a shame. 

It's makes me wonder if  Ol' Zha-Vam would have been a contender had Swan drew him, not Wayne Boring. His Annihilator was another also-ran unlike Swan's Parasite. 

Commander, I was reading your comments on the Losers regarding pay grades.

In WWII the Army, Marine, and Army Air Force enlisted pay grades were E-1 thru E-7, with E-1 being the HIGHEST.
Currently the Army, Marine, and Air Force enlisted pay grades are E-1 thru E-9, with E-1 being the LOWEST.
Apparently this "flipped" in 1951. I'm not sure if this also applied in the Officer/Warrant Officer ranks, but I suspect it did.   

This site shows the enlisted rank insignia and pay grades for the Army in WWII, including the Technician ranks and insignia.

http://www.sproe.com/r/rank-enlisted.html

This site shows the Marine Corps equivalent:


http://www.ww2gyrene.org/rank_structure.htm

This site shows the pay grades and insignia in use in the Army in "my time" (1968-69), including the Specialist ranks.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Specialist_%28rank%29

There were Specialist ranks (similar to the old Technician ranks) from E-4 to E-9. I never saw one above SP6. I was an SP4 in an SP5 job (company clerk). Today only the E-4 Specialist rank exists, and the pay-equivalent Corporal rank is unusual. In my time the Corporal rank and the Specialist 4 rank were both used in the Infantry, Artillery, and Armor Military Occupational Specialties (MOS's). The Corporal rank was not used in the support MOS's.

We were an Army unit on a Marine Forward Operating Base. I remember the confusion when a Navy psychiatrist evaluated someone in our unit. My fellow personnel specialists were confused that he was "wearing Captain's bars but he's only a Lieutenant". I explained to them that he was an O-3 and that only the terminology was different.   

Richard Willis

Mr. Willis,

 

Thank you for your input to the discussion.  You are correct, of course.  I was aware, generally, of the "flip-flopping" of the pay grades around this time, but didn't address it specifically because (1) I didn't want to take the time to research the details; and more important, (2) it would have required further unraveling of an already confused issue.  Just to keep things simple, I adhered to the more familiar E-1/O-1 structure.

 

However, I got intrigued by your post---it's a novel pleasure to have a discussion with someone else on this board who understands the arcane systems of the U.S. military---so I did the research I blew off before.

 

Until 1902, the enlisted ranks of both the Army and the Navy (as you know, there was no separate Air Force at this time, and the Marine Corps fell under the DON) were listed from lowest to highest as "1st pay grade", "2d pay grade", and so forth, up to "7th pay grade".  (The enlisted pay grades of E-8 and E-9 weren't created until 1958.)

 

In 1902, for whatever obtuse administrative reason, the hierarchy of the "pay grade" nomenclature was reversed.  Now, the lowest enlisted rank was the "7th pay grade", all the way up to the highest enlisted rank being the "1st pay grade".  This is the condition that existed during World War II, as you accurately pointed out, and it applied to both the Army and the Navy.

 

Then, in 1948---no doubt some other pencil-pusher decided he needed to justify his job---the pay-grade order flipped back to the way it had been before '02.  Once again, the lowest enlisted rank was "1st pay grade", all the way up to the highest enlisted rank, now "7th pay grade", again.

 

I had to pour through some musty old Bureau of the Navy documents to see if this pay-grade flipping applied to commissioned officers, also.  I discovered that, during the period I've discussed, officers were not sorted by any sort of "pay grade" distinction.

 

That did not occur until three years later, in 1951.  In 1951, all ranks of the U.S. Armed Forces were categorised according to pay-grade designations.  Part of the reason for this was the confusion caused by the Navy (of course), in the fact that, except for a handful of commodores (a WWII-created rank), the Navy did not have a one-star rank.  In the Navy, at that time, an officer progressed from "captain", wearing eagles, to "rear admiral", wearing two stars.  However, to keep parity with the other services---in which a colonel wearing eagles advanced to brigadier general, wearing one star---it was necessary to place two pay grades within the Naval rank of rear admiral.

 

In other words, to keep the pay equal across the services, when a Navy captain was promoted to rear admiral, he initially received the pay of a brigadier general.  After sufficient time---at about the time his other-service brethren would be promoted to major general (two stars)---the rear admiral's pay would be boosted to the equivalent of a major general.

 

Over in the G.A.O., to prevent the civilian bean-counters' heads from exploding over all of this, it was decided to specify pay-grade nomenclature for the officer community, as well.  This lead to the now-familiar prefixes of "E" and "O" in front of the pay grades.  The lowest enlisted rank, for any branch, was categorised as "E-1", and the highest enlisted rank was "E-7".  For all of the services, the lowest commissioned-officer rank was categorised as "O-1" and went all the way up to "O-10".  ("O-11" was reserved for the nine men who had achieved five-star rank; there would be no more promoted to five stars after them.)

 

As I said, this occurred in 1951.  In 1958, two more enlisted pay grades were created---"E-8" and E-9".

 

In 1981, for a number of reasons, but one of which was pressure from the other branches, the Navy finally adopted a permanent one-star rank, which resolved one of the problems which led to the creation of  the "O" pay grades.  But, by then, the "E"/"O" pay grade system was so entrenched that it didn't drop the officer pay grade listings.

 

And I suppose, Mr. Willis, that all of that has been interesting to only you and me.  Heh.

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