Kanigher and Abel remained the creative team behind Gunner and Sarge, but the World War 2 duo, and their sidekick Pooch, saw their series in Our Fighting Forces come to an end during the period 1964 – 1967: the New Look. As usual, Gunner and Sarge were battling in the Pacific theatre of war, and had a few team up stories before the end of their run, joining forces with Captain Storm, as well as the TNT Trio.
Colonel Hakawa remained the primary opponent for Gunner and Sarge, but many of his outings were less than impressive. Our Fighting Forces 90 gave Hakawa a plot worthy of the way the character was originally conceived. Gunner and Sarge are stunned to see the Japanese forces with signs indicating that the war has ended, and aren't sure what to make of it. At first, they give the notion no credence. But when the Japanese soldiers begin tossing bouquets of flowers at them, they begin to think that perhaps this is actually true. They try to check with their base, but radio communications from the island they are on do not function well. They can receive, but not send. They do hear that the war has ended, but again are not certain that these reports are really coming from their own people. And, indeed, it is all a really elaborate trick. Hakawa sends his men marching up to the Americans, pretending to be surrendering because the Japanese lost. But all of this was just a ploy to be able to approach the Americans and catch them off guard. But as Gunner, Sarge, and even Pooch never fully trusted them, their guard was never really let down, and they are able to rally and fend off the Japanese attack. This just helps remind one that Hakawa was a trickster, with some really devious schemes, in his early appearances.
Pooch continued to appear frequently in the series, but the helpful canine betrays Gunner and Sarge in Our Fighting Forces 88. The story opens as Gunner and Sarge see Pooch leading Colonel Hakawa and his Japanese forces towards their camp. Gunner and Sarge are both dismayed that Pooch has betrayed them, and prepare to kill the dog they loved and fought beside. Then the story heads into an extended flashback, to show how this situation came about. It begins quite innocently, as Pooch gets a friend to play with, a cat, named Kit.
The two form a close bond, but as Pooch acts to protect the little cat from a Japanese soldier, he winds up getting captured. Colonel Hakawa recognizes the dog. And well he should, after all the times he has had his plans ruined by the canine and his human companions. Hakawa has his men brainwash the dog into believing that the Japanese care for him, and the Americans are the evil ones. So the story comes full circle, as Pooch willingly leads Hakawa to his former masters. But at the last second, Kit shows up. Hakawa forgot to brainwash the dog against the cat, and his very presence is enough to restore Pooch's mind. He turns on the Japanese, and the Americans are able to get the jump on their enemies. But I don't think Kit fared too well in the battle, as we never see the cat again.
Pooch also gets an important role in Our Fighting Forces 91. Towards the beginning, the dog gets injured while dragging Gunner away from a mine field, and is left behind to recuperate. Without their dog, Gunner and Sarge are not quite as competent, and indeed fall into a pit set up for them by Hakawa. Hakawa has the two men tied to a tree, and left dangling as bait to lure other Americans into the trap. But Pooch has recovered from his injuries and seeks out his masters. He finds them, takes out their Japanese guards, and frees the pair of soldiers.
Captain Storm a newly introduced war hero with his own book, made an appearance alongside Gunner and Sarge in Our Fighting Forces 87. Captain Storm picks up Gunner and Sarge, as well as Pooch, for their five day pass. It doesn't go very well, right from the start. Storm's PT boat comes under attack from a Japanese gunship, and Gunner, Sarge and Pooch have to abandon ship. Their raft also comes under attack, and the men and dog are captured by the Japanese. They manage to take over the enemy raft, but get attacked again and again, by sea and air. Finally, Captain Storm returns to rescue them. But he also brings bad news. There has been such an increase in Japanese attacks that the leave has been cancelled, and he has to bring them back to base.
The five day pass mentioned in the Captain Storm tale had been the focus of the previous issue, Our Fighting Forces 86, which brought back the TNT Trio - Big Al, Little Al and Cigar Charlie. The TNT Trio had not appeared since the end of their brief run in G.I.Combat, four years earlier. In this tale, they are in the same brigade as Gunner and Sarge, and competing against them to win the five day pass. Whichever soldiers take out the most enemy targets will win. Gunner and Sarge, as well as Pooch, remain the focus of the tale. Their attempts to win the pass keep getting frustrated by lack of witnesses. Gunner shoots down an enemy plane, which Sarge does not see, and Sarge takes out a tank while Gunner is busy swimming with Pooch. With Pooch taking the lead, Gunner and Sarge take on an entire Japanese submarine. They succeed, but the blast knocks both men out, and leaves them so stunned they do not recall what they did. Pooch does, but no one understands his barks. Fortunately for the heroes, the TNT Trio had returned to the beach in time to see the action, and Gunner and Sarge wind up winning the pass.
The TNT Trio return and Colonel Hakawa makes his final appearance in Our Fighting Forces 92. This story is told with a strange opening, as we see the TNT Trio - Big Al, Little Al and Charlie Cigar - standing motionless while the Japanese fire bullets very close to them. Gunner and Sarge are observing this as well, and puzzled by the lack of reaction. Then the story goes into an extended flashback. The TNT Trio get captured by Colonel Hakawa while out on patrol, and are subjected to a nerve gas that paralyzes its victims and wipes their memory for the 24 hour period they are under its spell. Hakawa is testing this new nerve gas bomb on the TNT Trio, and that is what Gunner and Sarge observed. The two pretend to fall under its effects as well, but are really just luring the Japanese closer, so they can attack.
Colonel Hakawa makes his final appearance ordering his men to retreat. The gas does work exactly as planned, the TNT Trio have no memory of their time as captives, so Gunner and Sarge are glad to have destroyed it. While it would be easy and tempting to say that Hakawa was killed during the retreat, which is why he never appeared again, I think its more fun to say that he was exposed to his own nerve gas, and maybe trampled to death by his own retreating troops.
Kanigher and Abel shake things up in Our Fighting Forces 93. The TNT Trio cameo at the top of the story, as Gunner and Sarge head off for frogman training, and leave Pooch behind with the others. This is actually Pooch's last appearance in this strip, though he gets re-united with Gunner and Sarge the following year in the pages of Captain Storm. This is also the final appearance (I think) of this incarnation of the TNT Trio. The name would be re-used by a group of villains that Superman would face in the 80s. Mention is made of Hakawa's "Banzai Boys," the troops under his command. But we do not actually see Hakawa, so there is no certainty that he is actually still alive in this story. No mention is made of the brief frogman training that Gunner and Sarge underwent early in their run, or of Sarge's frogman brother. We follow the pair during their very intense training exercises, and they graduate at the top of their class. Then we follow their first mission, clearing mines to allow submarines safe passage. They have to fight off Japanese frogmen, get captured, escape, and take out a Japanese ship.
Gunner and Sarge see their run in Our Fighting Forces come to an end with issue 94. The story in this issue picks up from the previous tale, as Gunner and Sarge rejoin their unit after their frogman training is over. The Japanese forces have gone sort of crazy, and are now strapping bombs onto their bodies and just running into American soldiers and tanks. To me this backs up the notion that Hakawa has died. Something major must have happened to prompt this extreme behaviour. They defeat the suicide driven soldiers, and then get back into their frogman gear to go plant mines on a Japanese sub, fighting off some Japanese frogmen to do so. It really reads like two separate tales. Although the series comes to an end at this point, the final narration insists that Gunner and Sarge will keep appearing.
Gunner and Sarge return in the next period, 1967 – 1970: It’s a Happening!
Gunner and Sarge: Our Fighting Forces 85 – 94 (July 1964 – Aug 1965)