A review of The Losers Special
Written by Robert Kanigher
Published in 1985, this special featured the last hurrah of the Losers - Johnny Cloud, Captain Storm, Gunner, Sarge, and Pooch. Mediocre characters by themselves, the four hard-luck soldiers (five, counting Pooch) found new life and greater popularity when teamed together. Granted, the Losers were never the most popular of the DC war characters (Enemy Ace, Sgt. Rock, and the Haunted Tank hold those honors), but their adventures headlined Our Fighting Forces from #123 until the title's cancellation in 1978 with issue #181.
(Continuity buffs should note that the Losers story originally scheduled to appear in OFF #182 saw print in Unknown Soldier #265. A Kanigher script for the Losers tale in OFF #183 is also rumored to exist.)
The Losers - as a team, the individual characters existed prior to the team - were specifically created to give Our Fighting Forces a needed shot in the arm. I suppose that Robert Kanigher, creator of most of DC's war characters and architect of the Losers team, thought that teaming up representatives of each of the military's branches would appeal to a broader audience. A pilot, a captain, two soldiers, and a dog could theoretically have adventures on land, sea, and air. And, theoretically, members of the Army, Navy, and Army Air Force could find something to enjoy, or at least relate to, in each tale.
As many readers may know, the Losers were killed during Crisis on Infinite Earths #3 by shadow demons while investigating one of the Monitor's towers in World War II era Markovia. So why is the Special the Losers' last adventure? Weren't they killed off a few months before this saw print?
Well, yes and no.
Yes, the Losers died in Crisis, and yes, they stayed dead. What the Special does is give them a more realistic death, one that's more fitting for four ordinary soldiers.
If a war character dies in a story made for superheroes, does that cheapen the more realistic nature of the character? If you, like me, think so, then ignore the Losers' death in Crisis and consider the Special as de facto continuity. (I'm also of the conviction that Sgt. Rock was killed by the last bullet fired on the last day of the war, but that's a whole other article.)
If you think that the Losers' demise in Crisis doesn't cheapen the characters, then feel free to ignore the events of the Special. It gives readers the ultimate "choose your own adventure" type death. Don't like one? Then pick the other.
Even the title of the special, "Losers Die Twice," makes an oblique reference to this duality of death. The title, in combination with the cover, also spoils the outcome of the issue. Oh well.
Alright, on to the Special itself.
Robert Kanigher writes the story, which is fitting being that he created the Losers concept. Let the man who brought the team into existence be the one to do away with them.
Structured so that readers unfamiliar with the characters can enjoy it, the story does its best to recap the origins of and capture the best of all five Losers. The three individual chapters (one for Johnny Cloud, one for Captain Storm, and one for Gunner, Sarge, and Pooch) also explain why the characters are considered "losers" and why the military top brass decided to team them together.
Just for the record: Captain Storm is a "loser" because two of his PT boats were sunk by the enemy. Johnny Cloud is a "loser" because he couldn't prevent the death of a fellow pilot. Gunner and Sarge are "losers" because the rest of their platoon (filled with new recruits) was entirely wiped out. The reasons are somewhat tenuous, Johnny Cloud's especially.
While the origins are being recapped, the framing sequence - which eventually becomes the main story in the second half of the Special - tells the tale of the Losers' last mission. Pinned down by Nazi artillery located upon a hilltop, Easy Company radios for backup. As Sgt. Rock soon finds out, the only backup has either been killed (a minefield devastated Baker Company) or otherwise occupied (the Haunted Tank is in the area, but Lt. Stuart has his hands full).
Thus, it falls upon the Losers, already exhausted after completing a previous mission, to destroy the Nazi artillery and, in the process, save Easy Company. Confronting the Nazi battalion and artillerymen, the Losers prevail against overwhelming odds. They destroy the artillery, but doing so costs them their lives. Sarge dies of a bayonet wound, Captain Storm is killed by a grenade, Gunner and Pooch are killed by gunfire, and most ironically, Johnny Cloud is killed by the machine gunfire of a Nazi aircraft.
The ending is extremely realistic, showing just how fast death can come in war. One minute, Gunner is happy to see Pooch come racing out of the fog to help them, and the next minute, both boy and dog lie dead.
Kanigher's script has some rough places, but compared to war books of the same era, the rough spots aren't too bad. I consider Kanigher the Silver and Bronze Age equivalent of Chuck Dixon - He's prolific, and while some of his stories shine brightly, most are just commonplace.
The Special's art is a bit more problematic.
Sam Glanzman, who occasionally drew the Losers in Our Fighting Forces, does a decent job, especially with the solo Johnny Cloud chapter. The art looks a bit muted in comparison to Glanzman's other works - such as the USS Stevens strip, Jonah Hex: Two Gun Mojo, and Red Range - and I can't figure out why. The divvied up art chores aren't credited on a page by page basis or a penciller/inker basis, but my guess is that Michael Esposito's inks just don't mesh with Glanzman's pencils. I can tell pencillers apart, but when it comes to inkers, I'm lost.
Judith Hunt's art, quite honestly, isn't suited for a war book. I've seen her work here, in Evangeline, and a couple issues of John Sable Freelance, and it's just too cartoony for the war genre. In the Gunner, Sarge, and Pooch solo story, Gunner and Pooch look like they came right out of a kid's story book. Her art brings out the humor in that solo story, but it doesn't work well in the other places.
So what's the verdict on The Losers Special? With a slightly above average story, and art that's a mixed bag, I give it 6 out of 10 stars. If I were to factor in giving the Losers a proper sendoff, the rating might increase another half star or so.
If you're interested in reading more about the Losers, as individuals or as a team, take a look at the following comics: (Note: This is an incomplete checklist. Whenever all (or most) of the WWII DC war heroes make an appearance, as in GI Combat #246, the Losers are usually there.)
For Johnny Cloud: All-American Men of War #82-115
For Captain Storm: PT Boat Skipper Captain Storm #1-18
For Gunner & Sarge: All-American Men of War #67, Our Fighting Forces #45-94
As the Losers: Our Fighting Forces #123-181, Unknown Soldier #265.
(Quite a few of the OFF issues after #150 are hard to find because they feature Jack Kirby art).
David R. Black is Fanzing.com's magazine editor and chief archivist. A big fan of "The Warlord," he has a cat named Shakira and is looking for a girlfriend named Tara....
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