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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

War Comics Key Issues Part 1

This series was requested, and the genre of war or military comics has been quite popular since the 1950s. It should be noted that this series deals with comics solely devoted to military or what we call "war comics".

While the infancy of the comic industry during the early Golden Age years saw superheroes take up the fight against the Axis powers in many of their stories, those kinds of comics are still deemed superhero comics and not actual military war comics. The Golden Age superhero stuff that dealt with World War II will not be covered in the beginning of this series.

I'm debating whether or not to cover them at all in this series. We will have to see. Here's some war comics key issues and this will take several parts. I may have to pluck at it here and there.

1st cameo appearance of Blackhawk Squadron
1st appearance of Blackhawk

Believe it or not, but during the very early years of the Golden Age of comics, there were not many titles that were dedicated fully to military or war. It's hard to explain, but I'll try my best.

During the early Golden Age, superheroes were dominant in the comic market. Sure, characters like Captain America, Namor, the Human Torch, and members of the Justice Society of America dealt with war themes or fought Nazis and the Japanese, but they still fell into the category of the superhero genre.

Most titles were anthology comics and had a wide array of different stories contained in them. One story in a particular issue could've been a detective story, an adventure story, a superhero story, or some science fiction, horror, or whatever story.

It was basically a mish-mash of stuff for many titles. When we traditionally think of military or war comics nowadays, these titles are solely devoted to a somewhat realistic depiction of military or war life. So, yeah, no superheroes.

None of these hugely fictional agencies like S.H.I.E.L.D. or Hasbro's G.I. Joe with high tech weaponry that didn't exist at the time or anytime, but actual real outfits in the American or British armed forces like the Navy Seals, the Rangers, Marines, Army, Air Force, etc.

Also, there wasn't a science-fiction element of some futuristic advanced technology or weaponry, but stuff that the real military actually used during the time of the comics' publications or during wars that happened before. Like I mentioned, many comics during the early Golden Age was a mish-mash of stuff and one particular title or issue usually wasn't dedicated to solely war or military stories.

Even this comic here despite the title of Military Comics isn't really considered a war comic in our standards today. Sure, it was military themed, but as far as I know in a realistic sense, there weren't soldiers or secret agents dressing up in superhero-like costumes that went out and fought the Nazis or Japanese even if they didn't have super powers.

The Blackhawk Squadron was definitely a military-type group of characters, and they wore stuff that could somewhat pass or at least loosely resemble what fighter pilots of the era wore. What I mean is that they did not wear outlandish costumes like William "Wild Bill" Dunn did, and he and his sidekick Boomerang Jones had a feature in the pages of Military Comics.

Also, Miss America (not to be confused with the Timely version) was also a character in this title and wore a superhero-type costume as well. So, Military Comics isn't a traditional "war comic".

It does hold the 1st cameo appearance of the Blackhawk Squadron (in shadow) and the 1st appearance of Blackhawk, the ace pilot who led the squadron in various missions against the Nazis. Much of the Blackhawk Squadron cast of supporting characters were fully introduced in Military Comics #2.

This comic title started with Quality Comics but was acquired by DC Comics, and once under DC Comics, the adventures started branching out more into science fiction until the mythos was finally tied into the superhero genre later.

This is not or shouldn't be considered a war comic. It does have military roots, but fantastical is the word that should be brought up. Unless, you think it's normal or realistic that military personal actually wore tights and capes.

I put this comic on here to help explain the differences. The true war comics would not come out until the Korean War. The Blackhawks, however, were as close as it came during the Golden Age of comics but they were still a highly fantastical version of the military and would become even more fantastical over time.

For instance, recurring villains like King Condor, Killer Shark, and a variety of femme fatales were thrown into the mix making the mythos unlike real war comics that would come out during the 50s. Military Comics #1 has the cover date of August, 1941.

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1st issue to comic series
1st issue with new Don Winslow stories?

This here is an interesting early Golden Age comic. Much like Captain America was consciously a political creation admitted by Joe Simon to protest what the Nazi's were doing before World War II broke out for the U.S.A., Don Winslow of the Navy was a comic character created to help in the recruitment of young men into the Navy.

Lieutenant Commander Frank V. Martinek served in the Navy Intelligence during World War I and created the character when Admiral Wat T. Cluverius told him that it was hard to get new recruits in the Midwest. To find a solution to this problem, Lt. Frank V. Martinek came up with the idea that a comic strip that centered on Naval tradition, honor, and courage would fascinate America’s youth into possibly enlisting.

The character of Don Winslow also had a radio show and two film serials, and with the success of Don Winslow of the Navy, stories from the comic strip began to get reprinted in comic book form as well. Dell was an early publisher that reprinted these stories in their comic books.

Fawcett released this comic series with all new original stories. I think they were the first to publish the character with new original stories.

To further appeal to the youth culture, Captain Marvel was featured on the cover along side Don Winslow. Don Winslow of the Navy was quite popular during the era.

Definitely a more centered military comic in the beginning, but later issues would see some more fantastical adventure-type adversaries like Singapore Sal, a sexy female pirate that looks like a pirate of olden days. Her 1st appearance was in issue #51 I think.

Also ghosts, Amazon Island, monster fish, and giant scorpions started to be added into the mix in later issues as well, clearly giving way to the adventure comics of the era. So this comic book character did start to get more into the fantastical adventure stuff, and I wouldn't consider it an all-out war comic.

It's worth noting in here, however, since it's historical beginnings was used as a propaganda tool for recruitment. Don Winslow of the Navy #1 has the cover date of February, 1943.

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1st EC entry into War Comics

Post World War II, superhero comics hugely fell out of favor. As noted before, many comic publishers followed the trends of other genres like horror, romance, science fiction and others.

Comics solely devoted to war and combat that depicted U.S military forces in World War II, Korea and later Vietnam began to surface in the comic market. Many of the titles were anthologies, but depicted stories of soldiers in different war theaters.

These type of comics that came out during the early conflicts of the Korean war are what we consider war comics today. Two-Fisted Tales is one of the titles published by EC Comics.

Issue #18 is the first issue that bears the title and took up the numbering from the  The Haunt of Fear title. Two-Fisted Tales was a companion title to Frontline Combat and both titles sought to depict the horrors of war realistically and with detail.

Two-Fisted Tales #18 has the cover date of November, 1950.

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1st Atlas (Marvel) War Comic
1st issue to comic series

Mere weeks into the Korean War, Martin Goodman envisioned a new possible genre in the comic industry. The industry legend directed Stan Lee and his editorial team to start developing war stories based on newspaper and newsreel reports of the conflict.

Those events would lead into the publishing of this very comic and the war comics genre was off and running. War Comics #1 was on the newsstands by September even though it has a cover date of December, and it is the very 1st Atlas (Marvel) war comic.

If you're into military and war comics, this is definitely one to get for sure. War Comics #1 has the cover date of December, 1950.

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G.I. JOE #10
1st issue to comic series

Yes, before G.I Joe became a 12 inch "doll" but named "Action Figure" so boys in the 60s wouldn't feel or be considered "sissies", the G.I. Joe was actually a comic book character during the Golden Age. This comic was set in the Korean War.

It's not clear if this comic inspired the Hasbro Toy, but Hasbro does own the trademark on the G.I. Joe action figures that we associate the name with. There's no evidence of either or, but this character in this comic title was created by David Breger.

Needless to say, the G.I. Joe golden age comic published by Ziff-Davis was successful. There are two #10s in this series. For some reason Ziff-Davis started the 1st issue with #10 and then later went to a correct numbering system. February, 1951 is the cover date of this 1st issue war comic.

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1st issue to comic series

Furthering their expansion on war comics, Atlas pumps out this title not long after their War Comics title was launched. This monster of a Golden Age war comic title was Atlas's longest running war title.

Unlike Combat Kelly, this war comic was an anthology and mostly a non-character specific title throughout most of its 70 issue run. Of course, there were some exceptions as we shall soon see. Battle #1 has the cover date of March, 1951.

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1st issue to comic series

This is the companion title to Two-Fisted Tales, and Harvey Kurtzman had a huge contribution to both titles since he was the main writer and editor for them. Like many of the war comics that came out during the era, this title was also an anthology and a main central character of the title was usually absent.

The various adventures often told the tales of different characters that often changed from issue to issue and story to story.

Many of these Golden Age war comics are over-looked in the current market. Frontline Combat #1 has the cover date July/August, 1951.

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1st appearance of Buck Pvt. O'Toole
Origin of Buck Pvt. O'Toole

One of the few recurring specific characters in Atlas's war comics was Buck Pvt. O'Toole or Timothy O'Toole. As the cover states, this is the character's 1st appearance and origin story and the action takes place during the Korean War.

Buck Pvt. O'Toole would be a recurring character for a few issues of Battle before eventually fading away.

Artist Joe Maneely drew the cover and two stories in this comic, so if you're a fan, might be one to think about. Battle #4 has the cover date of September, 1951.

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1st appearance Hank Kelly
1st appearance Cookie Novak
1st issue to comic series 

Once again, the predecessor of Marvel Comics - Atlas - further expands their war comics line with Combat Kelly. This is one of the few war comics that came out during the era that headlined a specific character who recurred throughout a title's run.

Hank Kelly is the main character of this comic, and much like every main character, he did have supporting characters. Cookie Novak is very much Combat Kelly's sidekick, meaning he is a major supporting character for the title and probably the only one worth mentioning in this titled series.

Both Cookie and Combat Kelly served in World War II and in Korea. The Combat Kelly volume 1 series would last 44 issues. Combat Kelly #1 has the cover date of November, 1951.

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Out of the very, very early Golden Age, the only comic titles that somewhat resembles actual war comics was the early Blackhawks and Don Winslow of the Navy titles. The early first series concentrated much of the adventures on World War II, which the Blackhawk Squadron fought against Japanese and German fighter pilots and soldiers.

They also flew real planes - the Grumman XF5F Skyrocket just to name one. However, there are quite a bit of keys involving the Blackhawks, and that would better be served with their very own key issues list which I will get around to at a later time. Also, even their own self-titled series is not really considered a war comic and they moved quite far from it in later years.

Don Winslow of the Navy would also head into more fantastical tales as well later on. Many of the early and later Golden Age war comics are not easy finds out there in the market. As stated before, this series will be focused more on actual war comics, and there's surely more of those to come.

Click the PART 2 link to continue.


  1. Not really into war comics. What stuck in my mind was a story about a haunted tank somewhere. I never could find out why this one was such a hot book. Anyone can tell me why?


    1. The 1st few appearances of Haunted Tank are quite valuable. It was a popular storyline in the GI Combat DC war title. A few of those books also have classic DC grey/wash tone covers as well. But not as popular as Sgt. Rock is though.

  2. Thanks for the feedback! If I find one of those books I' ll give 'em a try. Still, I didn' t grew up with old war comics. I did play with G.I. Joe action figures though. You know, G.I. Joe: the real American Hero! ;-) Maybe that' s why I' m interested in the G.I. Joe silent Snake Eyes comic, which is quite sought after among collectors.

    General Ace