Spooktoberfest Special: Hitler’s Halloween Freakout!

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.

Yeah.

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!

 


 

BONUS FEATURE: The Official Reason

 

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?

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.

28 thoughts on “Spooktoberfest Special: Hitler’s Halloween Freakout!

  1. 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.

    That’s a 6 pack of awesome and a cooler full of bad-ass. :)

  2. In fairness,

    it’s not HITLER WILL FREAK OUT,

    it’s HITLER WOULD

    a missed opportunity, yes. but not quite false advertising.

  3. Y’know I tend to assume that Kanigher’s wackiness was roughly Haney-era or a little later– but this book came out in *1982.* WWT lasted a long time.

    As far as I can tell the Creature Commandos never fought the Primate Patrol, which is especially a shame now that one of the latter is a vampire. But the CC did show up in Young All-Stars, because they were published World War II characters and because Roy Thomas, that’s why.

  4. DC acknowledge the “Because Bob Kanigher, that’s why” rule? While he was still writing? That is awesome.

  5. The Creature Commandos are, well, the best WW2-“era” comic creation.

    At least, the second best, following Sgt. Rock. Maybe even behind…GI ROBOT.

    Come on – if the Creature Commandos and/or GI Robot don’t get your adrenalin going, you…need to see a doctor.

  6. The Creature Commandos teamed up with GI Robot! Can’t remember the issue but even J.A.K.E. 2 thought Shrieve was a dick.

  7. I, too, have a soft spot for the CC. Imagine my elated feelings of euphoria when I heard rumors of a new CC mini a few years back, and my profound disappointment when we got, uh, whatever it was that we got. Generic monsters in space. Come on! Kanigher would have tossed that one in the reject pile.

  8. Why DID Herbert Small’s (silent) canary cry upon the death of the lonely postman? This question will haunt my nights.

    The creepiest thing about the comic is the way all the Nazis are drawn to look like the real guys.

    I take that back. The creepiest thing is Frankenstein dressed like Roger Moore in Octopussy.

  9. The Creature Commandos and G. I. Robot all receive medals at the same ceremony in Weird War Tales 118, though they don’t actually team up in that story.

    They also team up in the final issue of Weird War in a story that out-crazies anything else Kanigher did. The entire story is here.

  10. I keep trying to explain to my friends the joy of Kanigher, and they just look at it and say it doesn’t make any sense. My retort of “BECAUSE BOB KANIGHER. THAT’S WHY,” has fallen on deaf ears. Perhaps the official DC explanation will convince them.

  11. I’m sorry, Grant Morrison, you may be very very awesome and all fourth-wall breakin’ and stuff, but I didn’t see YOU hustling your characters onto a spaceship so DC couldn’t kill them!

    Oh shit, Animal Man and the Creature Commandos.

  12. I have this issue lying around someplace, in glorious reprint-o’-vision. I gots to tell ya, it really creeped the hell out of 8-year-old me, even at an age where I couldn’t fully grasp what a Nazi *was*. All I knew was, if these guys were the only ones who could take them on, they must’ve been *bad.*

  13. But Morrison didn’t write himself onto the rocketship!

    Even by the standards of wacky comics stuff one reads on the internet, that final issue one-page story is kuh-razy, man.

  14. “Why did the uniform of the Flash shed tears the day Barry Allen hung it up?”

    Because the Squarest Man Alive secretly had an LSD habit he never told us about?

    Makes you wonder about all those hours in the lab…

  15. If there’s ever a “Best of Kanigher” tpb, they should call it “The Kanigher Touches”. That could also be the title of a collection of his favorite love making techniques.

  16. I always wondered how they ended the series, thanks Dr. K!

    Dare I ask if R.K. (and his pipe of DOOM) came back in the terrible later miniseries?

  17. “You haven’t even realized the most awesome part! Bob Kanigher might still be out there, somewhere in the multiverse!”

    Or perhaps FIFTY TWO Bob Kanighers! That’s a lot of potential touching.

  18. Also, here are some Kanigher quotes for the back of said shirt:

    “Before I do a script, two things must happen. I must see the characters in the darkened theater of my mind. And I must feel their emotions as if I were inside their skins. Then–I just do it.”

    ” I give artists emotion and characterization. If they’re talented they can draw what I ask.”

    “I don’t write comics. I use the medium”

    “I never missed a deadline in my life”

    “I am moved, shaken, and when it is all over, I look at wonder at what is written or painted.”

  19. @Suedenim: Even better… Brave and the Bold: 52 Bob Kanighers and 52 Ambush Bugs.

    Oh, yes. Never happen though, because *that much awesome* will cause the pages it is printed on to melt, leaving the very ink etched onto your palms.

  20. I am moved almost to tears that DC officially recognized that Bob Kanigher is sufficient explanation for any question.

  21. Bob Kanigher was the Grant Morrison of the Pre-Crisis era?! Holy Rocket Ships. And I wants me that T-Shirt. I really, really do.