Last week on my unofficial “dead and back again” column for Tuesdays, I wrote about the return of Bucky Barnes and the more troubling aspects of the character. He was, at first blush, a kid taken into a war zone. Writer Ed Brubaker really worked on that to make the character more acceptable (he was 16, but on the older side, and very well-trained, so not an ideal situation but also not a small child).
That doesn’t even scratch the surface of what was wrong with the Kid Guerrillas of Unit 3.
Young sidekicks are nothing new. Since Batman picked up Robin, the idea of a superhero sharing his adventures and exploits with what was probably intended to be an audience surrogate happened all the time.
The main problem with the Kid Guerrillas is who they were sidekicks to. They were sidekicks to Sgt. Rock of Easy Company. And Rock wasn’t fighting crime in Gotham City. He was fighting Nazis in World War II. While Batman in the Silver Age may have rarely encountered death, when even the Joker tended to limit his crimes to robbery, Rock dealt with death on a regular basis. Not only did he and Easy dispense death as needed on the battlefield, but Rock often buried various American soldiers who died in the line of duty. War was hell, and Rock’s adventures, as simplistic as the times they were made in demanded they be, reflected that. Rock could routinely shoot down fighter planes with his hand-held rifle, and he and Easy often got into what must have been lethal fistfights with Nazi patrols, but death was always a possibility for Easy, even if it was more likely to occur to their Nazi opponents than themselves.
So, knowing how dangerous war was, why in the name of all that’s holy would Rock take on the Kid Guerrillas?
These are probably fairly obscure characters for a reason. I only know about them because I read a lot of old reprints in DC’s Showcase Presents series, and Rock’s fourth volume has a couple Kid Guerrilla adventures. At some point, someone must have realized they were a bad idea. Wikipedia has no mention of them, and there was really only one picture of them on Google Images that was any good.
Their basic concept was their parents were French Resistance who were all killed, so they took over to fight for a free France. Rock would run into them from time to time and they would help him on his current mission. Their names were Henri (the beret-wearing leader and most likely to speak), Jacques (a dark-skinned gypsy), Jon (he wore a hat), Charlemagne (seriously), Pierrot (he wore glasses), and Danton (token fat kid). Despite occasional assurances from Henri that they were “teenagers,” it looks like no one gave artist Joe Kubert that information because he drew them to look as if they were at most 12. They also tended to speak in Pepe LePew style French accents, because they were, you know, French.
Inevitably, Rock and Easy Co. would run into Nazis and the shooting would start. And the Kid Guerrillas would likewise shoot back and kill Nazis. And apparently, no one at DC editorial had a problem with that.
Maybe my issue has more to do with modern sensibilities than anything else. We know today that third world countries have warlords that routinely use child soldiers to do their dirty work. This is a real world thing that happens, and it is horrifying. Having a bunch of jolly kids fighting in his war barely registers with Rock as a bad thing. I doubt anyone today would do such a thing.
I have no idea when the last Kid Guerrillas story was, but I know what the last one I read was and why they might have finally wised up. Rock, Easy Co., and the Kid Guerrillas were assisting the allied forces at the evacuation of Dunkirk, which is a really neat trick since America hadn’t entered the war yet. Fighting off various German forces to allow the other Allies to evacuate safely, Rock is confronted with two more kids, Yves and Edith Duchamps, who ask to help. Rock barely takes time to argue, saying he knows when he’s licked, and brings them along, telling them they’ll be safer with him and to stay back when the shooting starts. Then he doesn’t even attempt to stop them when they have to make a last stand to protect the last of the escape boats.
For the love of God, WHY!?
Ives, for what it is worth, is armed with a scythe. Edith has a pitchfork. Ives dies. Because swinging a scythe in the frontlines at machine-gun toting Nazis should end that way. He gets a hero’s burial and Edith joins the Kid Guerrillas. Let’s try not to think about what Edith had to do with her pitchfork to survive that battle.
If the Kid Guerrillas ever appeared again, I have no idea. DC’s war comics had tons of crazy ideas, ranging from robot soldiers, monster soldiers, Unknown Soldiers, and soldiers shooting dinosaurs. The Kid Guerrillas weren’t even DC’s only kid soldiers since there was a bunch called the Boy Commandos. But if there was one thing that DC needs to never revisit, it would have to be the idea of how exciting it is to be a kid fighting in a war.