Generally speaking, Weird War Tales #114 is not very good.
As another blazin’ battle blockbuster by none other than Robert Kanigher (a fact that’ll become readily apparent in a few minutes) and Fred Carrillo, this issue hit stands at about the same time I did (August, 1982) with a story starring the Creature Commandos.
I’ll admit right off the bat that I’m not all that familiar with the team. Why? Because the Creature Commandos represent one of the greatest gaps in quality between concept and execution in the history of comics. I mean really, on the one hand, they’re monsters fighting Nazis, but on the other, well, one of them is named “Velcro.” And he’s a vampire.
Velcro the Vampire.
And the rest of the team doesn’t really hold up either: You’ve got Dr. Medusa (who inhaled some vaguely sciencey fumes that turned her hair into snakes), werewolf Warren Griffith, “Lucky” Taylor (described as being a “mute” Frankenstein’s Monster despite the fact that he mumbles to himself off and on throughout the story), and they’re all bossed around by Lt. Shrieve, who is not a monster in the traditional sense, but manages to fit right in by being a total and complete dick.
So yeah, as we’ve all no doubt learned from Dave Campbell, even a character named “Dr. Medusa” can’t save this one from tanking pretty hard in its bid to become the finest of all Monster Versus Nazi Action Epics.
There is, however, one redeeming quality: It has what is quite possibly the greatest cover blurb of all time:
In my time as a comics reader, I’ve seen covers promising to shatter my senses and melt my mind, but before I grabbed this one, I’d never seen one that promised me HITLER WOULD FREAK OUT.
Unfortunately, once you get past that, there’s a pretty sharp drop-off in quality, owing mostly to the fact that Hitler never actually freaks out once in this thing. But I will say this for it: Whether or not it happens in the way that Kanigher & Co. intended, this is actually one of the most genuinely disturbing comics I’ve ever read.
After all, anything that opens with a scene like this…
…probably isn’t going to end very well.
So here’s the deal: Sent on a mission to retrieve Professor LeClair–a nuclear physicist who was working on the atomic bomb before the war–the Creature Commandos and their complete asshole CO find out from his hot teenage daughter that he’s been captured by Nazis who, unaware of his previous work with Einstein, have sent him off to a concentration camp. This, as you might imagine, presents something of a problem, so the Commandos are reassigned to infiltrate Nazi Germany and rescue LeClair.
I’m going to go ahead and assume that everyone reading the ISB has seen the landmark triumph of cinema that is Snakes on a Plane, so bear with me here for a minute: You know that part where one of Ricky Verona’s henchmen voices his thought about how maybe taking out an entire passenger airplane with a bunch of pheromone-crazed snakes might not be the best plan, and Ricky responds by yelling “Don’t you think I’ve tried everything else?!”
That is, without question, my favorite part of the movie, because, well, actually no, I don’t think Ricky Verona tried every possible way of killing off the witness before he finally had to resort to snakes on a plane, because if he had, the movie would’ve been about sixteen hours long.
What does this have to do with Weird War #114? Everything. In order to get LeClair out of the clutches of the Ratzis, the top brass at the OSS decide that the absolute best course of action here would be to dress up the Creature Commandos as a traveling circus (complete with Shrieve whipping and berating them as a ringmaster, representing absolutely no change from his normal behavior) and send them behind enemy lines, where–after a stirring display of headstands–they get the okay from the Furher to tour the concentration camps.
Let’s stop here and think about that for a second, shall we? A Traveling Freakshow That Only Tours Concentration Camps. I’m not sure what exactly Kanigher was going for there, but that concept is absolutely terrifying.
Especially when you consider that it involves scenes like this:
And of course, my personal favorite:
Monsters… with machine guns… dressed as clowns. Enjoy your nightmares, folks!
In the absence of the cover’s promised Hitler freakout, the absolute greatest thing about this comic becomes a missive sent to the letter column by Staten Island’s Mark Amundsen. Unfortunately, my copy’s stained and a scan wouldn’t be all that legible, so you’ll have to take my word on this one, but I assure you, what I’m about to write here actually appears word for word in the issue.
Anyway, after his disappointment in WWT #110 (the Creature Commandos’ first appearance), Amundesen writes (among other things):
Robert Kanigher is DC’s greatest and most versatile writer, yet ye takes so many liberties he is infuriating. I am a stickler for explanations.
For instance: When the Commandos looked into the lake, they saw themselves as they once were. This was a great device. The contrast helps us realize how sad their plight is. But why did the lake reflect their images in this way?
It’s all very well and good to say that Dr. Rhodes has a Medusa hair style. But why? I find it hard to believe that a mixture of chemical fumes could transform her hair into snakes. Humbug!
The actual response from editors E. Nelson Bridwell and Julie Schwartz is as follows, and again, I swear I am not making this up:
Why did the uniform of the Flash shed tears the day Barry Allen hung it up? Why did the Viking Prince scream “Kill Me–Kill Me!” in the heat of battle? Why did Herbert Small’s (silent) canary cry upon the deaht of the lonely postman? Why did the Metal Men die issue after issue after issue? Why did Rock kill Johnny Doe? Why did a GI metamorphose into a dinosaur? Why did Superman substitute for the State and act as prosecutor when Lois Lane was charged with murder? Why did RK gather photos of Wonder Tot, Birdboy, Merman, et al, stuff them in his desk and cause said characters to vanish? Why was Rex, the Wonder Dog, able to think coherent thoughts?
The Kanigher touches.
That’s right, folks, you heard it here first: DC’s official position on the matter as of August, 1982?
BECAUSE BOB KANIGHER. THAT’S WHY.