Who Are the O.S.S.?

Who's This? Pulled from the pages of history, or if you like, page 18 of Who's Who vol. XVII.
The facts: This WWII strip made its first appearance in G.I. Combat #192 (1976) by Robert Kanigher and Ric Estrada, and that book that was its home base for most of its stories (more than 60 between this issue and #272 (1984). A rare exception was Showcase #104 (), an all-O.S.S. issue that featured three stories.
How you could have heard of it: The Office of Strategic Services is the real-life precursor to the C.I.A., so you might have come across it a number of ways. But in DC Comics specifically, it became the branch of Task Force X known as Argent in later years, and was mentioned here and there in the post-Crisis universe, most notably in Secret Origins #14 and Suicide Squad Annual #1.
Example story: G.I. Combat #233 (1981) by Robert Kanigher and Eufronio Reyes Cruz
Perhaps because the O.S.S. was a real spy organization, its strips (at least the ones I've seen) seem to have inspired a certain verisimilitude, almost like they were based on real-life declassified missions. If that were true (and it isn't), it might explain why each strip features completely different agents instead of a regular cast of characters. Control is the only steady element, and Kana the Shadow Warrior, the only agent with any kind of staying power, actually had his own strip only loosely connected to O.S.S. So the agents depicted in the Who's Who entry, and who get "first appearances" actually only appear the once. Still, to tie into the entry more closely, I've picked one of those issues: Fleur's single appearance.

As you can see from the splash page, Fleur is really Mata Hari's secret daughter. The famous German spy/femme fatale is shot before our eyes in what looks like a historical comics story. Mata Hari's last words are however different from those recorded by history:
But because we're dealing with a character from history, and because it's such a violent image (a woman on a firing line? cripes!), it all seems true, especially in the pre-Internet age. Little Fleur becomes a ward of the German state and when war comes again, she follows in her mother's footsteps and starts spying for the Third Reich. In London, Control gives an agent called Neil a mission to capture Fleur:
Meanwhile, Fleur is on a tour of German-controlled areas, betraying U.S. service men with her feminine wiles and getting a good look at the Reich's genocidal activity.
So again, this is some pretty harsh, realistic stuff for G.I. Combat, whose main feature, let's be frank, is about a tank haunted by the ghost of a Civil War general. But it does set Fleur on the road to defection. Or does it? When Neil tries to go on a date with her, she betrays him!
But it's all because the S.S. were hiding behind the trees and she had no choice. As soon as she gets the chance, she springs him from jail, which incurs the wrath of her commanding officer. Looks like she'll meet her mother's fate.
But: LOVE!
Will she die, and that's why she doesn't appear in another O.S.S. strip? Don't fret, it's Neil to the rescue. He mows down the nasty German officer, brings Fleur back to England, and debriefed her saving countless Allied lives!
And then they got married and left O.S.S. Or something. So yeah, Who's Who, Fleur BARELY counts as an O.S.S. agent. Where's Neil's little head? He was actually on the roster!

O.S.S. was basically a framework in which Kanigher (and a few other writers) could tell World War II spy stories. At its core, it was really an anthology series. Simple, but brutal, with art by the likes of Estrada and Cruz. I wouldn't mind reading (or re-reading; I got a lot of 80s G.I. Combat for the Haunted Tank stuff) more of those stories. I've got to find the one about Control's wife (Dina). It sounds really harsh!

Who else?
The best-known character in vol.17 of Who's Who is also one of its most obscure. Who am I talking about?


Simon said...

Ooh! I guess the next character is Ju-Do, Marv Wolfman's short-lived reinvention of Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure. (DC picked up the rights when they acquire Classics Illustrated.) He debuted in a Teen Titans story that remains his best-known appearance: "Hey Jude, Don't Make it Mad....(Mod)!"

Siskoid said...

Hahaha! Well, THERE'S a character that got short-changed by Who's Who!

Erich said...

I'm guessing that "the best-known and most obscure" is the Outsider, a.k.a. Alfred Pennyworth. That was one of the weirder aspects of the original Who's Who series..."civilian" characters rarely got their own entries unless they'd had a costumed identity at some point. (See Jimmy Olsen/Elastic Lad and Lana Lang/Insect Queen.)

Siskoid said...

Yes, it was my major complaint with the original. I'm surprised Lois Lane didn't show up as Superwoman.

Luke said...

Siskoid, thanks for posting this entry on the OSS.  I have read many of there stories over the last few years as I have sunk deeply into the well of DC's War comics output.  In fact, just this week I picked up 6 issues of GI Combat (from it's oversized "Dollar Comic" era) featuring the OSS.  These little one off stories work really well in the short feature format, because you only have a handful of characters to deal with usually, and the violence tends to be of the "in your face" variety, rather than involving armor or aircraft.  

As an aside, I got those issues of GI Combat for a dollar apiece. You have to love paying cover price for comics which are almost 35 years old!  

Siskoid said...

For sure! I once got X-Men #99 for 25¢!

There are a lot of cool DC war comics, whether you like it played straight or thick with fantastical ideas. It's its own universe!


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