Who Are the Mercenaries?

Who's This? The three guys in fatigues on page 8 of Who's Who vol.XV.
The facts: Gordon (a one-eyed white American), Philip "Prince" Edwards (a black Englishman) and Horst Brenner (a blonde German) first appeared in G.I. Combat #242 (1982) as Robert Kanigher's way of doing war stories set in the present day. They starred in 25 issues of that series over the course of the next 4 years, briefly bumping the Haunted Tank off the cover for, like, 3 issues towards the end of their run.
How you could have heard of them: They haven't appeared since, but those comics aren't that old.
Example story: G.I. Combat #282-283 (1986) by Robert Kanigher and the great Sam Glanzman (the MVP in these stories)
This being Robert Kanigher, the "present day" is to be taken with a grain of salt. The story I picked, told across 1½ issues in the short period when the Soldiers of Fortune were sole feature in G.I. Combat, is closer to science fiction than war comics. It DOES begin in San Francisco's Chinatown, where the Mercs are coming out of a restaurant with some girls, DRESSED IN THEIR CAMO UNIFORMS,  and getting into a tussle with Tong members. After they've beaten the gangbangers, a limo pulls up. It's a general with a special mission... IN SPACE! They pass because they're not astronauts of fortune, but after so old foes from Beirut show up and start something that can only be ended with a pair of rocket launchers, they thank the general for his help by agreeing to take part in Operation Djinn. Djinn? Where have I heard that word before?
Well. That piece of educational exposition hasn't aged well AT ALL. So the mission will take the Mercs to the planet Mars, but they don't need to fly to ship or anything, they've got Arthur, a HAL-like computer, doing the driving, and ARR-K, a silly robot, to do everything else, including the lullabies mandated by cryo-sleep.
This drives Arthur nuts, but he doesn't quite go coo-coo like in 2001. So the guys sleep for over 8 months, during which their heads are subliminally filled with procedures, maps and numbers. And Kanigher is INTENSE about this sort of crunchy procedural detail.
(See also: Any Haunted Tank story.) Now that they've woken up, they can finally be told what their mission is. Simple. The evil dictator Colonel Q is on Mars and has 6 nuclear missiles there pointed at major Earth cities! Clearly, there's a lot more to the space program than we were aware of. "Star Wars" indeed, President Reagan, sir!
Destroy the missiles before Col.Q turns the world into molten slag. As they reach orbit, the first missile launches, oops! Not sure it's the best strategy given it would leave Col.Q 5 other missiles, but they set a collision course with the missile. They miss.
That's okay, because Arthur launches them in the lander and flies the orbiter at the missile, committing suicide because he's "expendable". Having lost all hope of ever returning home, the Mercs head down and get into a fire fight at the missile site with Col. Q driving a car based on a line of cool toys he's marketing to the Saturday Morning Cartoon demographic.
Col. Q buys the Martian farm, but delays them long enough that they now can't reach the missiles in time. They resign themselves to failure. So it's a good thing ARR-K was ALSO programmed to be suicidal.
So the missiles are destroyed. Mission accomplished. What now? Wait to die on the surface, or go up in orbit with the lander and wait to die in close quarters? They choose the latter. As they go up, Arthur's prerecorded message plays: They should immediately bail out in their spacesuits because the craft is set to self-destruct. So... die in a fireball to prevent, uhm, Martians from getting Earth technology? Or bail out and wait to die a slow death? The choose the latter.
Well guess what. It was the right choice, because they're immediately picked up by a second craft, driven by a second Arthur and manned by a second ARR-K, which takes them back to Earth where they'll be heralded as big heroes and not at all given over to the Foreign Legion and executed for desertion, we swear!

The Mercenaries' adventures were a little more down-to-Earth normally, but had a high incidence of them failing and getting help from an outside agent. The other story in #293, for example, has a volcano interceding on their behalf, basically.

Who else? Before page 8, there are some villains I haven't actually seen in action, but neither Matrix-Prime nor Matter Master inspire me. Quite the opposite. No, we're forging ahead with some good old Golden Age content next time.


Rex Kidd said...

I'm not surprised this took a turn for the sci-fi, being that it was Kanigher's baby and all.

If my time reading Metal Men and Creature Commandos has taught me anything (and I like to think it has), it's mostly that Bob Kanigher doesn't give a crap. I mean that in a good way, at least kind of

Siskoid said...

Yes, this is a positive.

S said...

I've never really read DC's War Comics so I've never even heard of Sam Glanzman but that's really nice artwork and storytelling. And it looks like a fun story despite (because of?) Space Qaddafi.

Siskoid said...

Qaddafi! That's where I've seen him before!

Glanzman has some really nice autobiographical war stuff in the recent Joe Kubert Presents mini-series.

Delta said...

Yeah, having Colonel Q match the name & look of Qaddafi is kind of off-putting in retrospect. I was just writing about D&D module X10 from the same time period, where they made the archvillain Master of the Desert Nomads look exactly like the Ayotollah Khomenei. That kind of political specificity in the metaphor doesn't age great.


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