“The Presidential Peril”
|Script: Jack C. Harris
Pencils: Dick Ayers
Inks: Romeo Tanghal
|Colors: Jerry Serpe
Letters: Ben Oda
Synopsis: Gravedigger’s latest assignment is guarding Franklin Roosevelt while the president is visiting Great Britain. This doesn’t please the head of FDR’s Secret Service detail, and we soon learn why: he’s part of a Nazi underground cell with eeee-vil plans for the president and Winston Churchill. As the two leaders meet, that plan is revealed: the Nazis kidnap the real Secret Service agents en route to the meeting and take their place. Though Gravedigger rescues the kidnapped agents, his efforts leave the leaders at the mercy of murderous Nazis closing in. Dun dun dun!
“The Ambassador’s Son Affair”
|Script: Paul Kupperberg
Pencils: Jerry Grandenetti
Inks: Jerry Grandenetti
|Colors: Jerry Serpe
Letters: Albert DeGuzman
Synopsis: While comforting a child he’s rescuing from certain death, the master spy known as Rosa starts telling him the story of his life. Born on a ship in 1835 to parents who had renounced their citizenship to their former homeland, Rosa became an orphan at a young age during one of Europe’s many peasant uprisings during the 19th century. As we watch him grow to adulthood learning “the ways of the streets,” we find out he was once approached by soldiers in a bar looking to press-gang a few (good or otherwise) men for a little skirmish called the Crimean War. The story ends with Rosa unconscious on the floor and a note promising the story “to be continued” next issue.
Prime Cut Panels: This page from the Gravedigger strip gives you some idea of the kind of pulse-pounding action you can expect from picking up this story. The layouts and emphasis on sound effects (KLUNK! SKREEE! UNNNHH!) make sense when you remember that Dick Ayers (1924-2014) was best known for his inking work with Jack Kirby during Marvel’s Silver Age, and also for his 10-year run on Marvel’s Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos. So it’s no surprise to see a lot of the elements of Marvel’s house style (constant action, sound effects, swooping lines indicating fast movement) on this page.
Random Thoughts: Launched in 1977, Men of War was a late entry in DC’s war-comics stable; its relative newness didn’t make it any less vulnerable to shifting market forces and it gave its last salute two issues after this one.
It’s a shame, really, because the book featured the kind of war hero who hadn’t really been seen in war comics up to that point. “Code Name: Gravedigger” starred Captain Ulysses Hazard, a black man who found himself in a segregated unit performing menial duties when he signed up to fight in World War II. After proving himself to top Army brass, he’s made into a special one-man unit code named “Gravedigger” after his former military assignment.
Not much is said in this story about the racism he would have encountered at that point in history, but I imagine it came up in other issues I haven’t read. It’s a great concept, and one I wouldn’t mind seeing brought to Legends of Tomorrow or some other DC property. (I’d nominate Yahya Abdul-Mateen II for the role, but between his roles in Aquaman and that Watchmen series he’s probably okay with letting someone else have a chance.)
As for Rosa, I’m not sure what I can say: it’s nice to see a war comic story that focuses on historical eras besides the Second World War, but the “man without a country” angle has been done before, and I’m not the biggest fan of Grandenetti’s art style, all broad strokes and exaggerated expressions. Between the two stories here, it’s hard for me to see the book as full of “blazing battle thrills” as much as it is representative of a genre that — like the saying about old soldiers — was just starting to fade away.
The challenge: Can I review a month’s worth of DC books from January 1980 in under a month?