AND THE DEADLY DOZEN #1
Welcome to the second edition of "Wayback Wednesday", where I take a look at some of the older comics in my collection that might be a little more valuable than my regular Longbox Junk, but would still be considered filler in the boxes of any SERIOUS comic collector.
This week, we're going to crack the plastic on the first issue of a short-lived Marvel series (9 issues) from the early 70's that seems to have been created based on the theory of "If this one thing is awesome, and so is this thing. . .then another thing combining the two will be TWICE as awesome!"
In Combat Kelly's case, the two awesome things they tried to combine were the long-running Marvel war comic "Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos" and the popular 1967 movie "The Dirty Dozen". Unfortunately, it seems that the combination didn't work out so well, and Combat Kelly and The Dirty. . .er. . .DEADLY Dozen lasted only just over a year (it was a bi-monthly book).
So while Sgt. Fury and company went down in comic history as some of Marvel's most famous characters, Combat Kelly (which was actually spun off from an issue of Sgt. Fury and included a couple of characters from the title, and was even drawn by longtime Sgt. Fury artist Dick Ayers) is, from what information I can find on the internet, practically forgotten.
Let's take a look at the first issue, shall we?
COMBAT KELLY AND THE DEADLY DOZEN #1 (Marvel)
After their first successful mission (led by Corporal "Dum-Dum" Dugan, of Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos in Issue #98 of that title) an outfit made up of a diverse mix of convicted military criminals is introduced to their new commander. . .Mike "Combat" Kelly, a boxer convicted of manslaughter after killing a man during a fight.
Their first mission under their new commander is to go behind enemy lines to destroy an advanced Nazi fighter and capture the scientist behind its creation. The mission goes badly, with the scientist being killed and the team barely escaping with their lives after destroying the jet. . .
This first issue was a little hit and miss for me. It's pretty straightforward in nature. . .the first half of the book is taken up with introductions to the team and their leader, and the second half with their first mission. It's pretty briskly-written and is a quick read. The characters are a mixed bag of multi-racial/cultural sketches with one characteristic each to define them. Examples: An Asian who does not use contractions when speaking. A down home country guy who loves country music. A Native American with a mohawk that shoots a bow and arrow. . .so on and so forth.
The problem for me was that it was glaringly obvious that, even though this was a WWII book, it screamed "THIS IS FROM THE 1970's!" on every page. From the jive-talking black guy with a 4 inch afro, to the long sideburns and shaggy haircuts of some of the other characters, to the female commando with her tied up shirt/ bared midriff look and constant cracks about the "chauvinist" behavior of the men. The 70's feel of this book in both art and dialogue pulls it from the 1940's setting just as badly as Donald Sutherland's character and the God-Awful soundtrack of "Kelly's Heroes" does.
The art on this book is good, but not great. It tells the story, but there really aren't any moments of brilliance to be found. It's all very workmanlike. The coloring is a bit sloppy as well. If I had to pick a single word to describe the art on this issue, it would be "Average". The cover by John Severin, on the other hand, is spectacular! If only he could have done the interiors.
Overall, despite this definitely being an artifact of its decade and having average artwork, I liked it. There were some good ideas in it. The concept of an expendable commando team of convicts. . .a sort of WWII proto-Suicide Squad. . .may be derivative in hindsight, but it COULD have been great with the right artist and writer. If this title were handled as its sort of own thing instead of being a cash-in spinoff attempt on the success of Sgt. Fury, it MIGHT have been more than a distant memory today. Unfortunately, it looks like Combat Kelly never really caught on with readers, so the series never got the editorial attention it needed to improve past its second hand beginnings it might have gotten over a longer run.