Friday, April 13, 2012

The Losers

I rarely read War comics when I was a kid. I was mostly a super hero guy. I would occasionally pick up a Disney or Archie comic, but for the most part I was only interested in the adventures of Superman, Batman, Spiderman, and the like. However now and again I'd buy a War comic, probably because I'd already read all my favorite titles that month and I lived and breathed comics in those days and needed a fix.
My two favorite War comics were The Haunted Tank and The Losers. The former was about, well , a tank that was haunted, and the latter was about a group of soldiers from different branches of the armed services who were considered 'Born Losers' because of various disasters in their pasts. Funny thing was, the four members of the team were losers in real life too, because all of them had formerly been the stars of their own series or comic book, which had been canceled.
They were an odd group. Gunner and Sarge were Marines. Johnny Cloud was an Air force pilot, and also a Navajo Indian, which made him a surprising hero for a 1960s-70s comic book. Captain Storm was a former PT boat Captain. They all found themselves without a unit, and using the sort of logic that only applies in comic books, they were put together as a special missions team, known originally as the Born Losers, but within the span of a couple of issues, simply as The Losers.
I can't really tell you why I liked this concept so much, but something about it just appealed to me. I think a lot of it was the artwork, which was by the late John Severin by the time I discovered the title. If you're not familiar with Severin, he had a beautifully realistic, understated style that was well suited to real life subjects like soldiers or cowboys. Severin's world looked gritty and lived in. This isn't to say that he couldn't handle superheroes or fantasy. Severin had an amazing run on Marvel's The Hulk and later on the Kull comic. (Sometimes working with his sister Marie.) He was also a gifted cartoonist and caricaturist and turned out reams of pages of art for the Mad Magazine knock-off Cracked. (He also worked on the original Mad in the early days when the magazine was a standard size color comic book.)
Anyway, when I discovered the comic in the early 1970s, Severin was doing some of his best work, so it was a great time to come across him. If I've piqued your interest about John Severin and The Losers, you're in luck, because this week DC Comics released one of their 'phonebook' Showcase volumes with 500 or so pages of Losers reprints, the better part of which are drawn by Severin. There's also some great art by Joe Kubert, Ross Andru, and other Silver Age comics legends. Oddly enough, toward the end of his career at DC, artist/writer Jack Kirby would take over The Losers for a memorable run. Those comics aren't included in the Showcase volume, but they're available in a Hardback Omnibus edition which I reviewed here a while back.
So if you want some fun comics with great art and stories, and who doesn't, glom onto a copy of the Losers. Don't let the title fool you. These comics are winners.

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