DC Comics History: Gunner and Sarge (1960 - 1964: the Silver Age)
By Deejay Dayton
Jun 14, 2017 - 16:29
Gunner and Sarge, along with their war dog Pooch, held the cover spot in Our Fighting Forces through the period 1960 – 1964: the Silver Age. Battling in the Pacific, they would gain a major enemy, Colonel Hakawa, who would wind up appearing in most of their stories.
Before the arrival of Colonel Hakawa in the series, there were two attempts to include female supporting cast members. The first of these was Miss Julie, a combat nurse who doesn't seem to do much nursing. She gets introduced in Our Fighting Forces 53. Gunner and Sarge are assigned to escort the nurse out of combat territory, but immediately begin a rivalry over her. She is impressed with Sarge's bravery, and Sarge lies to her, telling her Gunner is non-combatant, in order to prevent her getting interested in the younger man. Gunner almost gets a kiss from her before Sarge moves to break them up.
Gunner winds up manipulating the situation as well, tricking Sarge into leaving him alone with Miss Julie. Gunner gets to show off his skills by shooting down an enemy plane. So at the end of the story, Gunner is finally rewarded with a kiss. It's really an appalling use of the female character. Despite being called a nurse, she never acts like one. She is simply there to be rescued and protected, and to bestow her kisses on brave men.
Miss Julie, the kissing nurse, in back in Our Fighting Forces 57. We get to see other members of the troop in this story, complaining about the fact that Sarge only ever assigns Gunner to any duties. You'd think they would be happier about it. It seems they get to spend much of the war just sitting around playing cards. Gunner and Sarge find some action right away, coming to the aid of a transport plane being chased by the Japanese. It turns out Miss Julie is on the plane, heading to Hawaii for some time off from the nursing stuff that we haven't ever yet seen her actually do.
Sarge assigns Gunner to keep watch while he goes swimming with Julie. Despite having kissed Gunner in her first story, she seems more than happy to be romping with Sarge in this one. Sarge and Julie are so into each other that they don't spot an enemy ship approaching them, but Gunner does, and takes it out. He gets wounded in the process, and Julie actually gets to do some nursing for once, taking care of him. Sarge goes out on patrol alone, and is clearly not very good at it, as he gets captured and tied to an enemy tank. Gunner manages to take out the tank treads, and frees the Sarge while the rest of the brigade get some action, taking out the tank itself.
Julie is impressed by how brave Sarge was while tied to the tank. Clearly both of the guys have captured her interest. The final panel has a curious line, referring to how Gunner and Sarge "fight and frolic" in this comic.
Miss Julie makes her final appearance in Our Fighting Forces 61. Gunner and Sarge are each given a 48 hour pass. And who do they run into on their transport plane but Miss Julie, the nurse who flirts with both of them, who also happens to be on leave. Their plane gets attacked by Japanese flyers, and though Gunner and Sarge do manage to shoot the enemy plane down, theirs winds up crashing as well. Miss Julie winds up on one piece of wreckage, while Gunner and Sarge are on another. They drift away from each other on the currents. Gunner and Sarge fight off sharks, a Japanese sub, and even an airplane before they finally get rescued.
The last couple panels have Gunner waking up in an army hospital, being tended to by Miss Julie. But I have severe doubts about the veracity of this scene. For one thing, Miss Julie never appears again. Julie would have gone through as much danger and hardship as the two soldiers, and likely would have been hospitalized herself, not all fine as she appears in these panels. In the first of the three panels, Julie appears in an almost hallucinatory fashion, and in the next one her face is obscured by shadow. I think this is all a drugged up hallucination by Gunner, who envisions his nurse as Miss Julie, while the actual woman probably became shark food.
A new recurring female character gets introduced in the Gunner and Sarge series in Our Fighting Forces 64. Unlike Miss Julie, Miss Vicky even gets to meet Pooch, as well as the two soldiers. Also unlike Julie, we see Vicky at her job as a combat photographer throughout her debut tale. Gunner, Sarge and Pooch are assigned to accompany, and surprised to find out the photographer is a woman. They do their best to keep her far from the front lines, until Vicky figures out that they are travelling in circles.
She calls them on this, and the guys (and dog) have to take her towards the Japanese, who promptly attack. Gunner winds up in some one on one combat, and then, with Pooch's help, they take out a tank. At the end, Miss Vicky discovers that her film all got ruined. But she is eager to accompany them on another patrol.
Miss Vicky returns in Our Fighting Forces 65. Gunner spends the entire story trying to impress Vicky, the combat photographer the team met in the previous issue. At the start of the tale, Sarge and Pooch go out on patrol, and Sarge gets captured. Gunner is sure that by finding him, he will impress Vicky. But even though Gunner takes some major risks, including allowing himself to be run over by a tank, Vicky is really more impressed by Pooch. It's even Pooch who frees Sarge, once they find him, gnawing through his bonds.
By that point, Gunner has been wounded, and Sarge has to carry the guy back. It's only right at the end, when Gunner, despite his injuries, manages to take out a Japanese gun boat, that Vicky is actually impressed by the guy. But he merits only a photograph, not a kiss. Perhaps that's why we never see Miss Vicky again. Not worth the effort.
Colonel Hakawa debuts in Our Fighting Forces 67. The splash page largely consists of the cover image, but with Hakawa's image looming over Gunner and Pooch. Hakawa is introduced as the "Imperial Practical Joker." And, indeed, Hakawa likes preceding his attacks on US forces by playing pranks and tricks on them, laughing all the while like an evil Asian stereotype. Oh wait, I guess this makes him an evil Asian stereotype, doesn't it?
At any rate, Gunner, Sarge and even Pooch have a very difficult time in this story. Sarge comes down with jungle fever, leaving Gunner and Pooch to deal with Hakawa on their own. The pair get captured, although Hakawa pretends to allow them to go free, but knows that he has troops waiting to intercept them. Gunner's hands get burned, which leads to the events shown on the cover. Pooch manages to pull the grenade pin with his teeth, but the dog gets wounded in the blast, and winds up being awarded a purple heart medal. Colonel Hakawa is so omnipresent after this, literally every single story I will be discussing for the rest of the piece includes him, and I am skipping over some of his lesser outings.
Colonel Hakawa gets a much better story in Our Fighting Forces 68. In fact, this tale is probably the best Gunner and Sarge story I have read so far. Hakawa is using dummies in his practical jokes, making the American forces think that the Japanese are landing, and getting them off their guard when they find out it's just stuffed figures. He has a double plan with this. Firstly, the figures are booby trapped, and do explode. Second, it makes things difficult for the Allied forces, who are not sure when they are seeing real soldiers, or dummies.
Hakawa also sends an invitation to his birthday party to Sarge and his men, so Gunner and Sarge lead the troops towards what they know will be some sort of trap, with plenty of menaces along the way. But no way are they going to allow Hakawa to just mock them this way. At the climax of the story they use Hakawa's own tricks against him, sending down dummies that the Japanese believe are American soldiers, using these as a decoy while the read troops advance. But there is one final dummy in the story, of Hakawa, which diverts Gunner and Sarge, allowing their enemy to get away.
Colonel Hakawa continues his reign of terror in Our Fighting Forces 69. This time around, Gunner, Sarge and Pooch are assigned to capture and hold a small island, called Hotbox, while Hakawa does all he can to drive them from it. There aren't a lot of pranks and such in this tale, although Hakawa does use a number of faked attacks before launching real ones, in between yelling Banzai frequently.
There is a great climax to the tale, as Gunner gets his leg snared by the Japanese, dragged through the water and up into the air by a plane. He manages to hold onto the pontoon until the plane lands, and then steals a Japanese boat to get back to the island.
Colonel Hakawa has appeared in so many Gunner and Sarge stories recently that he has even worked his way into Gunner's dreams, as seen in Our Fighting Forces 70. In his first appearance, I mentioned how Hakawa was pretty much a racist stereotype in conception. The last couple of stories haven't been so terrible, but this one reaches new heights, or depths. Part of the problem is the lettering that is used for the Japanese. I do kind of like that style of lettering, visually, but when combined with the other elements, it's waaay too much. Hakawa is attacking Gunner and Sarge and the other, even less named, soldiers, by day and night.
Sending grenades with caricatures of his face on them, which is dubious to say the least. Then the war ends, and Gunner and Sarge go home, getting jobs at a gas station, until the are hired to play soldiers in a Hollywood movie. It's not hard to figure out, long before it's revealed, that this is all a dream sequence. They are sent back to the same island that they are on at the start of the tale, and find Hakawa still alive, attacking them, and acting like a parody of a Japanese soldier. Then Gunner wakes up.
Our Fighting Forces 71 contains one of the better Colonel Hakawa tales. Hakawa decides to split up Gunner, Sarge and Pooch, figuring that the three would be easier to take down separately than as a unit. Pooch is the first to be detached from the group, as the dog runs across a booby-trapped bridge. The two men then get separated from each other, as Sarge gets noosed and pulled up into a tree, while Gunner is lured into a pit.
Hakawa believes that the men require a leader in order to know what to do, but the story shows how wrong he is. Gunner battles against the Japanese troops and escapes from his pit, re-uniting with Sarge, who had escaped from the tree. But by far the best part of the tale is as the two men watch Pooch take control of a gunship, and fire a machine gun with his paws. Gotta admit, that is very impressive. Pooch defeats his captors, and joins Gunner and Sarge as the tale ends.
Pooch narrates, and stars in, the Gunner and Sarge story in Our Fighting Forces 72. Gunner and Sarge are involved in the tale, but it's Pooch who is the target of evil Colonel Hakawa in this story. Hakawa has a Japanese dog trained as a spy, and sends her out to seduce Pooch. This tale takes the racism of the Hakawa stories into new territory, as the Japanese dog is actually drawn with slanted eyes, and speaks in some weird Japanese looking script. She succeeds in seducing Pooch away from Gunner and Sarge, and fulfils her mission to lead him into a Japanese trap. Pooch figures out what is going on when he spots the Japanses tanks, and gets away, aiding Gunner and Sarge as they wipe out the enemy troops.
Even the Japanese dog joins their side, having fallen in love with Pooch for real. It's all so over the top you really can do nothing but laugh, even though the spy dog winds up sealed in a P.O.W. dog house at the end of the story. Although we never do see the spy dog again, Hakawa will return, but gets a few issues off. I’m jumping over his next few appearances, in issue 76, 78 and 79. Although I do need to mention that in that last one Gunner and Sarge wonder if Pooch has decided to switch sides and join the Japanese. No, he didn’t. I can’t believe they even thought that.
Gunner and Sarge, and even Pooch, get captured by Japanese forces in Our Fighting Forces 80. Weapons are at the core of the tale, though. Weapons that get taken away from the soldiers when they fall into Japanese hands. At the P.O.W. camp, Colonel Hakawa is proud to show off the collection of American weapons that he has gathered from the troops he has imprisoned.
And though Hakawa acts all arrogant, he pays very little attention to what the prisoners under his control are actually doing, allowing Gunner and Sarge to paint a big signal on the roof of the building they are being kept in. The Americans use the painted signal to lead a bombing raid, which Gunner and Sarge take advantage of, escaping their captivity and retrieving the weapons that were taken away from them, attacking the Japanese who are busy focussed on the aerial attack. The men make it to safety, and even get re-united with Pooch along the way. Hakawa is back in issue 82, and also 84, but geez there are too many of these that are mediocre.
So I’m going to include only one more, in which Gunner suffers a crisis of self-esteem, in Our Fighting Forces 83. Gunner comes to feel that Sarge, and even Pooch, are both better soldiers than he is. Sarge tells Gunner a couple of times that there is nothing that he or the dog do that is anything more than any marine could do. But Gunner refuses to believe this, and sinks into a depression.
He then literally winds up in a depression, when Gunner falls into a pit trap. But this proves to be a lucky thing, as Sarge and Pooch get captured by Colonel Hakawa. Seriously, this guy must have a major hate on for the trio. He spends all his time chasing and trying to kill them. Gunner finds a tunnel in the pit, which very conveniently happens to lead to the Japanese base. He frees his friends, and regains his self-esteem, though Sarge once again tells him that his actions are nothing more than any marine could do.
Gunner and Sarge continue in the next period, 1964 – 1967: the New Look.
Gunner and Sarge: Our Fighting Forces 53 – 84 (Jan/Feb 60 – April 64)
Next up – Sgt. Rock!
DC Comics History: Gunner and Sarge (1960 - 1964: the Silver Age)
DC Comics History: Gunner and Sarge