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Say it ain’t so, Unknown Soldier! Say it ain’t so! – The Unknown Soldier #233

June 6, 2011

When I was deciding what war-themed comic to feature back on Memorial Day, the decision came down to a Nick Fury book and this one. It was a dead heat, but in the end I succumbed to the overwhelming masculinity of the Howling Commandos at their howlingest. I think you can understand.

But I love me some Unknown Soldier, so why not take a look at this one now? After all, it doesn’t have to be a special day to celebrate our real and fictional servicemembers. And this one has a great hook to get us interested. Could this Joe Kubert cover be telling us the truth? Could the Unknown Soldier have executed the ultimate of pro wrestling heel turns and gone over to *gasp* the Nazis?!

Let’s find out.

Written by Bob Haney, with art from Dick Ayers and Gerry Talaoc, “Destroy Wolf Lair…and Die!” wastes no time in slapping us in the face with this most disturbing of apparent betrayals:

Nein!

Really, when it comes to great turncoats it’s down to Benedict Arnold and this one (if true). Take a back seat, Rosenbergs and Robert Hanssen.

The mysterious, ever-bandaged Unknown Soldier is using his powers of disguise to operate as a German sub commander by the name of von Luckner, and he’s not screwing around, as the crew of a British freighter will readily attest:

How…how could you?

If there are tears welling up in your eyes, take heart. We’re given a flashback to explain this terrible treachery. The Brits have captured a German submarine (U-227 —  I wonder if Jackée was a part of the crew…), and now have a plan to infiltrate the “Wolf Lair,” a base that’s been the bane of vital Allied shipping. Enter the Unknown Soldier:

Breathe a sigh of relief, folks.

So “von Luckner,” whose real identity is even hidden from the sub’s skeleton Brits-as-Germans crew (they think he’s a German turncoat), leads his boys into the Wolf Lair with a secret cargo of explosives to blow that place to hell. After sinking the British ship (more on that in a sec), explaining away their recent radio silence and the loss of so many crewmen (hiding from the Allies and swept away during a hasty submersion, respectively), Soldier/von Luckner is welcomed back into the fold. There are some close calls at being found out, but with the help of his crew he worms his way out of them. Then he learns that there are French prisoners at the base:

Not wanting to cut down innocent Frenchmen in the explosion, the Unknown Soldier concocts a plan to seize on this Gallic dissatisfaction with German wine and bust them out. He reaches into his trusty cache of disguises and becomes “Emile Deparc,” a collaborationist wine-monger. He fills up a bottle with nitroglycerine and talks his way past the guards into where the hostages are being held, and let me tell you, they look about as French as they possibly can:

I can practically hear Inspector Clouseau asking “Does the minkey have a leesance?”

The Unknown Soldier tosses the bottle against a wall, blasts it to kingdom come, and he and the French fight their way out of there (much like Fury and the boys in the comic from last week, now that I think of it). They hook up with the erstwhile sub-crew and make their way to safety and await the detonation of the time-delay explosives. The Germans, now realizing that the sub may carry their doom, make a snap decision:

The Germans try to get the ship out of the base, watched from a distance by the anxious Unknown Soldier and friends, but fail. The Wolf Lair is destroyed. Later, back on British soil, there’s a chance for some levity:

Ah, that patented Unknown Soldier humor.

A couple of observations…

First, I’m left wondering why the Unknown Soldier had to blow up the British freighter at the beginning of the story. Yes, you could say that it was necessary to establish his bona fides so that he could infiltrate the German base, but the attacked vessel wasn’t in on the whole plan. There’s going undercover, and then there’s going undercover, know what I mean? It seems that this is the latter. Couldn’t they have given the freighter a little heads up? There’s no indication that any lives were lost, but it strikes me as a heck of a gamble to risk them like that. And the British crew on the sub had no compunction about firing on their fellow countrymen?

The second thing is the German suicide mission at the end. It’s not really remarked upon in the story itself, but you have to admire the courage of the souls that tried to get that sub safely away from the base. I know that it’s bad form (to say the least) to ever root for Germans in a World War II context, but I have to say a little part of me felt bad for those guys — they were going to die no matter what, and they met their end trying to save their comrades. I’m reminded of that old Winston Churchill quote about Erwin Rommel, delivered on the floor of the House of Commons at the height of that conflict: “We have a very daring and skillful opponent against us, and, may I say across the havoc of war, a great general.” There’s a little bit of that here. You have to respect their guts.

This is a good one, especially for that last bit, which sort of drowns out the weakness of the freighter aspect. I like a story that, even if inadvertently, gives you something to chew on.

Onward, Unknown Soldier.

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