The opening fourteen-page story is actually the first Losers story I’ve sat down to read, as far as I can remember. If I was familiar at all with the characters, it’s possible it would have been somewhat more compelling. Written by Bob Kanigher, it features one of The Losers, Gunner, getting so fed up with always losing, that he tries to walk straight out of the war and catch a boat back home to America. Sarge follows his walk back towards the exit, and tries to talk him out of quitting. The simple twist at the end, when the sight of wounded soldiers willing to die while fighting off a German attack from the rear causes Gunner to change his mind and start fighting again, is truly unsatisfying. The art on this story, by John Severin, who I know can do great stuff, seemed fairly rushed, sloppy and basic. Some blame here could possibly fall on the unknown inker? This is the only story in the book featuring The Losers, and it didn’t make a great first impression.
Strangely, next there is a couple of text heavy pages about dogs… from the use of different breeds in the K-9 corps during the war, to president’s dogs, and even some stuff about dogs used in making movies in Hollywood. I guess you got to fill up 48 pages somehow?
A super simple four-page story follows. I have no idea who drew it… the art is serviceable. A small group of sailors sneak off their ship to visit a newly liberated Chinese town and have some fun, only to be shot down dead by a straggling Japanese soldier. I guess the message here is, if the boss tells you to remain on ship until mop up operations are completed on shore, you better listen to him.
Finally, we get to the reason I picked up this issue, the eight-page story, Soldier’s Grave, with art by Alex Toth. It’s also the one story in the comic that doesn’t take place during World War II. Somewhat discordantly, it’s set in the era of the Pharaohs, during a war between Egyptians and Persians. Toth’s excellent art really stands out against the other stories in the book as well, with the use of lots of heavy blacks and shadows, more interesting panel layouts, more expressive faces and bodies, and much more kinetic action. Even the coloring seems better (I have no idea who colored any of these stories). And even the writing, again by Bob Kanigher, although still a bit overripe, seems a little deeper, a little more philosophical, centering on the way lack of money to survive can lead to some fairly desperate and awful choices.
The final story, again with kind of sloppy, rushed looking art, this time by Joe Kubert, is apparently a reprint from issue 90, which came out six years before, in 1965. Kind of weird. It’s only nine pages long, but probably the most annoying, repetitive and propagandistic story in the book. It features a US soldier, desperate to be first in everything he does, from being the first guy drafted into World War II, to being the first guy to land on the beach on D-day. Possibly it was supposed to be funny?
Other than the story drawn by Alex Toth, these comics left me with a mysterious and uneasy feeling, wondering who in the world of 1971 was wanting to read a collection of simplistic, running on fumes stories, set in the middle of World War II, that were seemingly written to boost American soldier’s morale, as if they were still engaged in fighting a war that ended a quarter of a century earlier? Also, that this series ran all the way until 1978, somehow reaching issue 181.