Friday, January 23, 2015

Tomahawk's 'Original' Suicide Squad?! Tomahawk #105 (Aug. 1966)

I've always had a 'thing' for DC's Revolutionary War hero, Tomahawk.  Like most of DC's characters that either didn't have a comic on the stands at the time, or weren't on Super Friends, I probably met Tomahawk in the pages of Crisis on Infinite Earths - the maxi-series DC published in 1985-86 as a part 50th anniversary celebration/part house cleaning.  Just about every character the company had published up to that point made an appearance in the series, whether it was a starring role, or a one or two panel cameo, like those by Steve Savage, The Balloon Buster, or Tomahawk.

Tomahawk's moment came in Crisis #5 , where he's shown being anachronistically interviewed by Lois Lane (at a point in the story when time was going crazy and 18th century war heroes could rub elbows with 1980s news reporters) and looking generally confused by his surroundings.  I've always empathized with this, as that's how I feel most of the time.

Chatting it up with Lois Lane - from Crisis on Infinite Earths #5; words by Marv Wolfman, art by George Perez & Jerry Ordway
Tomahawk has had a long publishing history with DC, as the character has been around since the late 40s, appearing in long runs of Star Spangled Comics, World's Finest, and his own title beginning in 1950.  I've picked up issues of his title here and there and have enjoyed the adventures of Tomahawk and his group of Rangers, as they fight for American independence against British Red Coats and their Native American allies.  There was a time in the mid-60s, however, when in an effort to 'keep up with the times,' DC editorial did some pretty crazy things with its war titles like Tomahawk, Star-Spangled War Stories, and Blackhawk among others.  Seems they thought the public wanted (and I guess they did, as the books continued to sell) their war heroes to face the threat of monsters or dinosaurs or gorillas in every issue.  I'm not sure why, but it was always easier to buy some American GI's from WWII taking on King Kong shooting a bow & arrow, but it always seemed like such a silly fit for a book like Tomahawk.  I vowed to stay away from this era of the book.


I recently picked up a mixed lot of Tomahawk for a very reasonable price - included were a couple of these Rangers v. Monsters issues.  And you know what?  They're not that bad.  Well, they're kind of bad, but they're also kind of fun.  In one issue, #105 (from Aug. 1966), I was shocked to discover a concept not unfamiliar to the modern DC reader.  On the cover by Bob Brown we're asked whether or not Tomahawk can stand the 'Crushing Attack of the Gator God?,' but in the issue, our hero is asked, in the absence of his traditional companions, to lead an assembly of crooks, pirates and ruffians who'll be granted pardons on completion of this especially dangerous mission.

This is Tomahawk's Suicide Squad!

The name Suicide Squad had been in use for a number of years for a group of adventurers who'd assume dangerous missions against dinosaurs and monsters and things, but it wasn't until this ball was picked up in the late 80s by John Ostrander that the concept become that we know today as the Suicide Squad - a team of super-baddies enlisted by the government to handle super-dangerous espionage missions as an alternative to hard time.  It was kind of a neat surprise to see this concept used 20 years earlier in a depiction of a time 200 years earlier than that!

Leonardo's greatest invention, The War Wheel
This story, written by Batman co-creator, Bill Finger, and drawn by Fred Ray & Bob Brown, begins with a couple of British officers reviewing the plans for a weapon they'll use to 'crush the Yankee Rebels!'  This weapon, designed by none other than Leonardo da Vinci, is called The Smasher, but basically, it's a freakin' War Wheel, a device that had been encountered by the DC's para-military group, The Blackhawks in the 1950s (or, they would eventually encounter it, depending on how you look at this).  In a race to destroy the machine before it can be put to deadly use, Tomahawk is ordered to take in a small group of convicts to infiltrate its construction site and sabotage The Smasher.  Tomahawk and his lieutenant, Cannonball, are then introduced to Redbeard, the nasty pirate, a cue ball named Weasel, Dark Cloud, a native outcast, Wee Willie, a simple brute, and The Hermit, whose . . . who cares, he's not going to make it to the end of the issue.  We're not exactly talking about Deadshot and the Bronze Tiger, here.

Redbeard says 'Convict Corps,' I say Suicide Squad
Making their way through tough terrain and seedy swamps, the rag-tag band runs a gauntlet of adversity: there's the inevitable in-fighting and attempts at mutiny, and the inevitable attack of a cult whose members wear alligator-head masks and who worship a giant cave-dwelling monster - part alligator, part man!

The inevitable attack by an alligator cult
After being captured by the cult and trussed up for alligator-man food, Tomahawk selflessly demands to be taken first, hoping to wound the creature, giving his men an opportunity to escape.  This act makes an impression on the rogues in the group, especially Dark Cloud, who frees himself and manages to wound the creature, sacrificing himself in the process.  This spurs the others into action, and they manage to secure the alligator-god and escape the cult.

Dark Cloud & Wee Willie aren't coming home
One man down, the group presses on to The Smasher's secret factory site, a more cohesive unit.  After finally arriving at their destination, they make quick work of the guards, and blow up the building and War Whe--, I mean Smasher.  It is quickly discovered, however, that their target was just a decoy, a painted wooden fake - just as the true Smasher rolls up, flattening trees in its path.  It's Wee Willie's turn to take one for the team, taking on the Smasher solo, buying the others time for their escape.  On the run, Tomahawk concocts a plan.  The Hermit, acting as bait, leads the Smasher to a set of tracks, which, after gunning the expendable down, it begins to follow.

That sinking feeling
The crew of the Smasher quickly realizes they've been tricked, however, as the iron behemoth begins to sink into quicksand.  Turns out, Tomahawk's plan was for he and Weasel to leave just the impression of footprints over the surface of the quicksand, as they suspended themselves from a tree trunk carried by Redbeard and Cannonball.  The Smasher's crew is rounded up, and the two remaining squad members pledge to reform and officially join the cause of liberty.

So ends the 1st and last mission of the 'original' original Suicide Squad
Silly, off-the-wall stuff, but not as bad as I had feared.  I'd definitely be willing to try a few more of these Rangers v. Monsters issues, so look for more recaps, right here!

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