March 30, 2023

Gabbing Geek

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Heroes Case File #131: The Losers

A quartet of war comics heroes, plus a dog, teamed up for a group with pitiful levels of self-esteem.

There was a time when comics publishers would put out war comics.  DC Comics in particular had a number, many of which would feature exciting wartime action but end with the seemingly paradoxical statement of “Make War No More,” which seems to be at odds with showing how exciting the preceding story actually was.

But one of the weirder groups DC had fighting the second World War was probably the Losers.

Who were the Losers?  Well, the original line-up consisted of four men and a dog.  All of the characters, including the dog, had been featured in various side stories, but putting them together was a little odd since they all came from different branches of the United States military.  Two, known as Gunner and Sarge, were Marines.  The team leader, Captain Storm, was a PT boat commander for the Navy.  And then there was Captain Johnny Cloud, from the Army Airs Corps, also known as the Navajo Ace.  Just trying to figure out the command structure must have been a logistical nightmare, so they just assigned it to the guy who lost an eye and a leg at some point, essentially putting the guy who looked like a pirate in charge.

There was also a dog named Pooch.  I think Pooch came with Gunner and Sarge.  At one point, they added a female member named Ona Tomsen, a Norwegian resistance fighter, but her membership (such as it was) was temporary.

The Losers all came together in a single mission with the crew of the Haunted Tank, and I will say I really should do a Haunted Tank entry for this feature at some point.  The Tank’s crew, plus the others, had individually been unable to stop some Nazis separately, but together they succeeded.  The Tank crew had their own thing going, but the others joined forces as the Losers.

Here’s where it gets a little weird:  even though they routinely succeeded on their missions to stop the Nazis, the guys still thought of themselves as Losers.  Not in some sort of ironic way, but like they really seemed down on themselves and their lot in life.  Maybe they didn’t get everything they were after, but they got through their missions and got everybody home in one piece, or at least the piece they were in when they left on their missions considering what Captain Storm looked like.  Then again, writer Robert Kanigher routinely showed Tin of the Metal Men saying how extremely weak and useless he was compared to the others and calling the “humility,” so maybe we should consider the source.  As it is, the Losers were fairly popular until Jack Kirby took over the art work and changed the team’s philosophy in some way that Wikipedia does not specify.

I like how in this pic Kirby drew Johnny Cloud seemingly casually tossing a grenade at some Germans like it’s no big deal.


What happened to the Losers?  Well, they seem to die a lot.  The Crisis on Infinite Earths showed the Losers, except for Pooch, dying at the hands of the Anti-Monitor’s Shadow Demons.  The Elseworlds tale DC: The New Frontier depicting the DCU evolving in real time with the 1950s had the Losers on a mission to Dinosaur Island to rescue Rick Flag.  Flag was saved, but the Losers all died during the mission, including Pooch.  Johnny Cloud got, perhaps, the coolest send-off as he popped the pins from a pair of grenades and dropped into the open mouth of the T-Rex that had killed the other men (Pooch was killed by one of Flag’s own booby-traps).  That scene was so cool, the animated version that skipped the Losers used it for a completely different character taking out a T-Rex in the final battle, and considering Johnny Cloud was a Native American and the other character was caucasian, I am trying to figure out if that makes the change racist.

Killing the dog was definitely revolutionary. Who kills dogs in fiction when they can help it?

More recently, Vertigo had a Losers series that had little if anything to do with the original team save the name, and there was a movie version of them featuring future MCU actors Zoe Saldana and Chris Evans.

Modern day Losers.

But that doesn’t always have to end poorly.  In 1976, DC did a special war story where many of their old World War II heroes had a reunion in that same year.  The Losers were, for the most part, there.  Pooch had long since died of old age, but Gunner had become a veterinarian because of him.  Sarge owned a few gas stations.  Captain Storm worked with disabled vets.  Johnny Cloud was a Congressman.  Other stories involving time travel may show the Losers popping up here and there, including at one point when Gunner was revived as a cyborg and joined the Creature Commandos.  But really, the war comic went away.  Even when DC tried to revive them with the New 52, they still set the comics in their superhero universe, so the new Sergeant Rock was fighting metahumans instead of, you know, regular humans.  Maybe the war comic for all ages has just gone away and died somehow.

These guys were not losers. They were Losers.
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