I saw this character in some entertainment news and I had to pause for a second. Didn’t I write up a Misplaced Hero column for him already? I used to read all those old DC Showcase Presents reprints. Those gave me a lot of ideas for this column, and I did see this guy and thought I would use him. But a quick check revealed that, no, I haven’t written a column up for Gravedigger.
I did have a couple other ideas bouncing around, but Gravedigger is kinda awesome, so here we are.
Ulysses Hazard was an African American who wanted to serve his country. First appearing in Men of War #1 in August of 1977 from creators Dave Michelinie and Ed Davis, he had a big obstacle or two preventing him from serving. See, it was the 30s, so Hazard’s first obstacle was polio. Because the disease had left him partially paralyzed–as polio does–he opted to exercise and work out. Pushing his body to peak human condition, he no longer had that paralysis problem.
You know, I don’t think polio works that way.
Now, the second obstacle was his race. Being black, and since the military was segregated, Hazard was assigned to menial labor. Apparently, in the world of this story, black soldiers only did manual labor. Ulysses’s job? He was a gravedigger.
OK, I know the segregated military thing is true, but I am pretty sure there were all-black combat units during World War II.
At any rate, Ulysses was out doing his job one day when a German fighter strafed his base. Ulysses managed to get to safety, but his best friend died.
Enraged since he was still in danger without having the option to fight back, Ulysses did the most reasonable thing possible. He went AWOL, broke into the Pentagon, and got into the face of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
Construction on the Pentagon ended in 1943, so that one might check out.
Oddly enough, this plan worked. Demonstrating his skills convinced the top brass to make Ulysses a one-man special unit. Now a Captain, they gave him the code name “Gravedigger” in honor of his old profession.
Ulysses’s adventures were like a lot of DC war comics heroes. Traveling around on various missions and fighting Nazis, he would also meet some other war comics heroes, becoming the only character besides Sergeant Rock to lead Easy Company into battle. He even gained a cross-shaped scar on his face.
Now, Pre-Crisis, Gravedigger stayed in the Army and made the rank of Colonel as seen in a reunion special issue from 1976.
But hey, DC loves its legacies. Did Gravedigger have any? There was a second one in a Checkmate series, unrelated to the original aside from the code name. The New 52 gave us a new one that we’re probably better off forgetting since DC probably did. And his grandson, who did not use the Gravedigger code name was part of Squad K, a military unit put together in case Superman ever went rogue.
So, what news did I hear to remind me about Gravedigger? Well, he’s going to appear on the CW’s Black Lightning series. Considering that show has used recognizable African American actors like Bill Duke and Robert Townsend at times, what tough guy actor did the show cast as Gravedigger?
Well, we’ll see how that turns out.